Part I: The State of HDR Film Emulation LUTs

Part II: Moving Beyond Traditional Film Print Emulation

The final fundamental to grading photographically is to use a good print stock. This concept is largely forgotten today but for a century or more, print stock played a key role in defining the look of a film, providing a consistent baseline of creative contrast and color imagery and helping visually unify the images. Cullen Kelly

Color has been an obsession here for as long as we can remember. With the Sony a7s III in particular, however much we play around with the tint and temperature controls, the hue vs. hue curves, the color warper and the color wheels, skin tones still look video-ish. Would film emulation LUTs be the answer? While there are countless LUTs on the Internet, precious few are compatible with an HDR workflow. VisionColor and FilmConvert are both currently in the process of developing HDR LUTs; Light Illusion offers a wholly impractical solution for the budget-conscious; whereas Colourlab.Ai‘s Look Designer LUT portfolio has been available for three years running. We had a chance to play around with it a bit and the results looked promising, though it was difficult to deal with the contrast and the prominent watermark on the trial version meant we could only work with it for a few seconds for fear of ruining our display. There’s also Cullen Kelly’s Colloid, his version of what an ideal film stock would be like. We tried it out briefly and were pleased with it, if not overwhelmed. To clarify, it worked better than any other solution we’ve tried yet when it comes to getting pleasing skin tones – as easily as dropping Colloid on a node and adjusting printer lights a touch – but the plugin is not nearly as feature-rich as the others, some of which offer dozens of film emulations, as well as grain, halation, bloom, gate weave and so on. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend enough time with Colloid to determine how it transforms other colors aside from skin tones – something we hope to rectify very soon. Last but not least is Dehancer, a plugin offering what might very well be the most complete, flexible, cost-effective solution – and best of all, it’s not a subscription service. Below is a glance at the various developers’ products, along with Paul Leeming’s highly regarded corrective LUTs.

Colourlab.Ai’s Look Designer 2.0, a plugin for DaVinci Resolve, features a very deep collection of film emulation LUTs and works on macOS, Windows and Linux. A few of the many print stocks available include: Fuji CP 3510, Fuji Eterna CI 8503, Kodak Vision Color Print 2383 and Kodak Vision Color Print 2393. Negative stocks include Agfa XT 125, Fuji Eterna 8543 Vivid, Fuji Reala 8592, Kodak 5203 Vision 3 50D, Kodak Ektachrome 7294 Reversal and Kodak Kodachrome 40 7268. A tutorial explaining how to use Colourlab’s LUTs can be found here. Descriptions of the many film stocks, along with titles of some of the feature films shot on them, can be found here. Unfortunately, the trial version has gargantuan watermarks, rendering it fairly useless. The subscription service runs USD $24/month or $249/year. Try out the free trial version here.

Perhaps the biggest practical consequence of film versus digital capture is on the aesthetics of our captured image. Digital sensors are designed to accurately capture raw image data and they’re getting better and better at this all the time. Film has a fundamentally different design: it imparts aesthetics on our image that were not present in the original measurable light of the scene. Why is this? First, because film is an imperfect analog format and in fact, a lot of the qualities that we associate with film, that we find desirable about film – like grain and halation and gate weave – are technically imperfections in this analog system. Second, film is engineered to do more than to give you a neutral, accurate capture of your scene data. It’s trying to enhance the color of your image, and after nearly a century of engineering, it does a damn good job of it. So, if we choose to shoot digital, does this mean that we’re forever barred from the aesthetics of film negative? Absolutely not! All the qualities that I’m talking about can be measured, modeled and reproduced digitally. What it does mean is that it’s on us to do this and of course to do it well. – Cullen Kelly

VisionColor is currently in the last development stages for ImpulZ 2.0 which will make the entire library of Film Emulation LUTs ACES and HDR compatible. Release is scheduled for mid September. They don’t offer anything that specifically targets HDR at this time and ImpulZ 2.0 will be the first HDR product in their catalogue. VisionColor has a massive selection of LUTs for a reasonable price, and best of all, they are not a subscription service! A listing of their current film stock library can be found here (click on the individual pictures at the top of the page to reveal them). VisionColor’s Hollywood LUT Bundle that includes ImpulZ™ film emulations (not HDR) runs USD $106. We used to use their popular Osiris LUTs back in the day.

The good folks over at FilmConvert have a library of no fewer than 19 color positive, negative and reversal film stocks that are compatible with both macOS and Windows and their plugins work with Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects, Final Cut Pro and DaVinci Resolve. They are in the initial research stages of how to implement HDR for their products, so they don’t have an ETA at the moment. They encourage those interested to sign up for their newsletter or subscribe to their social channels, as they’ll be sending out updates once they have something to share. As of this writing, a license for their plugins (not HDR) starts at USD $139. A free trial (not HDR) of their plugins is available here.

Colloid 2.0 has been overhauled with a streamlined UI for more intuitive and precise control and faster performance and features next-gen synthetic print stocks purpose-built for HDR and wide gamuts. It’s compatible with DaVinci Resolve Studio 17 and later and boasts native support for Davinci Wide Gamut, ACES, RED IPP2, Arri LogC, and film scans. There is a free 7-day trial, including for users who’ve tried previous versions. The Master Bundle consists of all Colloid tools: Print, Exposure, Points, Contrast Plus and Saturation Plus and download includes five user-adjustable DaVinci Resolve OpenFX DCTLs with automatic installer, PowerGrades for recommended node tree and free product updates for the life of the subscription. There is no renewal commitment – you may cancel your subscription at any time. A monthly subscription runs $99.00, quarterly is $249.00 and yearly is $899.00. If that sounds extortionate, Cullen Kelly’s color grading tutorials will help up your game even without any plugins or LUTs.

Dehancer, an OFX plugin suite for film-like color grading and film effects in DaVinci Resolve, is compatible with macOS and Windows and comes in no fewer than eight flavors: a Pro and Lite version, as well as individual plugins for grain, bloom, breath (with gate weave), false colors, halation and a photo edition with a single frame per clip export limitation. The Pro package includes input camera profiles, 62 film profiles with print options, CMY color head (a subtractive color correction tool), film grain, bloom, halation, gate weave, defringe tool for simple chromatic aberration control, vignette, false colors, a LUT generator and ACES support and runs $399.00. The Lite version comes with all the above except for halation, gate weave, LUT generator and ACES support and costs $199.00. The Dehancer website has extensive documentation, including answers to FAQs, in-depth articles explaining the different features in Dehancer, the ACES workflow, how they built their library of over fifty film profiles and even a free book on color in photography! Unlike many of the other plugins listed here, there are also a number of in-depth online tutorials. Dozens of videos graded with Dehancer can be watched here. We spent a little time with Dehancer and found several of the warmer film profiles that prioritize skin tones – Cinestill 800T, Kodak Pro Image 100, Fujicolor Pro 400H and Kodak Gold 200 – quite lovely; and the film grain, which looks convincingly like it is integrated into the image, is preferable in our opinion to the effect in DaVinci Resolve Studio, which appears to be overlaid on top of the image. Another bonus is that, unlike some of the other plugins, Dehancer’s film emulations don’t heap on gobs of contrast. For those still on the fence, you can upgrade any valid License to any more expensive one, within the same host application, whenever you like; there are 10% off promotions everywhere; and a free trial version for Windows or macOS is available here. We purchased the Lite version ourselves for $179.10.

Is sampling accuracy important?

It would seem that there were and still are many programs, plug-ins, LUTs and other solutions with film emulation used by millions of people, although most of developers rely on scanning negatives with linear image processing.

Looks like these ‘imprecise’ solutions work well, allowing one to enrich the ‘soulless’ digital picture in a certain way. After all, users still further adjust the contrast, brightness, saturation, white balance and other image parameters. Is it really so important to super-precise the original profile, if it will suffer from further massive digital correction?

We believe accuracy is important.

First of all, we want to use specific film color solutions because they have been carefully designed and revised for decades. For example Kodak spent 34 years and $2 billion (old index value) on lab research for the purpose of film development and improvement.

Film manufacturers are working for decades on the subtlest nuances of color rendering, rightly considering it important for perception. If we want to use this aesthetic ‘heritage’ with digital image processing, it makes sense to simulate films and processes as precise as possible. It’s a complex task to recreate real film features, no matter how we distort them later.

Further correction multiplies the initial inaccuracy. The aesthetic error of 1 mathematical unit during sampling, can easily turn into 10 units after digital post-processing.

Finally, the digital correction tools themselves are basically relying on technical (rather than aesthetic) principles. This usually leads away from aesthetically acceptable result, rather than bringing us closer to it.

By the way, such tools can also be built upon the instrumental measurements of analogue processes. That’s how, for example, Exposure, Contrast and Analogue Range Limiter tools are implemented in Dehancer video plugin, allowing us to significantly reduce the digital ‘inaccuracy’ in post-processing, making it possible to work with color relations even in a face of significantly increased contrast, brightness changes and overall massive correction. How we build film profiles, Dehancer Blog

Filmbox is a fully-featured film emulation plugin for DaVinci Resolve that works with macOS 10.15 or later and Resolve 16 or later and includes gate weave, halation and film grain, ACES support and HDR PQ compatibility. According to the information provided on their website, film negative test data was produced using a custom apparatus that illuminates a chip chart with a broad spectrum illuminant across a 20 stop range in half-stop increments and photographed on several high-end cinema cameras along side s35mm Kodak Vision3 stocks. The Filmbox color pipeline as a whole is based on an actual contact print of the 250D negative to 2383 print stock which was characterized with a custom scanner rig using a broad spectrum illuminant. Filmbox uses a unified color pipeline with a characterization based on scene data from the Sony Venice that has been tuned in reference to Alexa footage. The UI guide is exemplary. An indie quarterly license costs $129.00, yearly runs $349.00 and an indie perpetual license requires a one-time payment of $999.00. Be prepared to shell out $4,999.00 for a production or studio license. Filmbox Lite, a free version for non-commercial use with considerably limited features (2K maximum resolution, only one film stock with embedded dust and gate weave, no HDR), no time limit or watermark is also available. It would appear that with the free version, you’ve got no choice but to work in DaVinci YRGB and that DRCM is not an option. To the best of our knowledge, there is no Filmbox sample footage available anywhere.

Light Illusion has generated a selection of three ‘Look LUTs’ that can be downloaded for use in different graphics systems. The LUTs include True Film Emulation for Cineon/Log C & TV Legal Rec709 images, as well as an additional LUT generated via ACES data, also for Log C images. Cost is USD $13.90. These are not HDR. Steve Shaw, CEO of Light Illusion, says ColourSpace is required to generate HDR LUTs. The in-built film profiles can be used to generate any HDR LUTs. The cost of the software ranges from USD $868 for ColourSpace LTE to $4,064 for ColorSpace INF. We’re not kidding!

CORRECTIVE LUTS

Leeming LUT Pro™ is the world’s first unified, corrective Look Up Table (LUT) system for supported cameras, designed to maximize dynamic range, fix skin tones, remove unwanted color casts and provide an accurate Rec.709 starting point for further creative color grading. The Pro LUTs are designed for perfect Rec709 colorimetry and have a linear luma curve, with an average measured dE(2000) of less than 1, meaning they are visually indistinguishable from reality to the human eye. Athena LUTs are a brighter version of Pro, designed around how the eye sees, while retaining the same perfect colorimetry as Pro. Combo packs for Sony alpha, Panasonic G and S, Canon EOS, Fujifilm X, Nikon Z and Blackmagic Pocket cameras are only around USD $35 and best of all, updates are free. Paul Leeming assures us he’ll begin working on HDR corrective LUTs once he’s done putting the finishing touches on his Sony alpha cameras update.

Part I: The State of HDR Film Emulation LUTs

Part II: Moving Beyond Traditional Film Print Emulation

4 thoughts on “The State of HDR Film Emulation LUTs & Plugins

    1. Thanks, Val. I’m seriously considering purchasing Colourlab’s Look Designer just so I can upload samples to YouTube. Haven’t been able to shoot any models since Vietnam’s been in lockdown.

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