Review: Digital Film Tools Film Stocks v1.0

With its full-width interface, magnifier, histogram, adjustment parameters, layers and blending features, and its masking capabilities, the Film Stocks plug-in looks more like a complete image editor than a film stocks simulation filter for Photoshop, Aperture, Avid Media Composer, and Final Cut Pro (but not X — yet). Film Stocks is by far the most complete filter for changing a photo’s look-and-feel I’ve come across.

Digital Film Tools’ (DFT) Film Stocks simulates 288 different color and monochrome photographic film stocks, motion picture film stocks, and historical photographic processes. In addition, users can modify and create new stocks. Film Stocks’ built-in simulations are very close to the original stocks they simulate. I tested this with two different Kodak Portra films and with Kodak Ektachrome and Kodachrome slides. I couldn’t test the roughly 40 stocks based on film used for motion pictures.

While Film Stocks’ preset film stocks are every bit as accurate as Alien Skin’s Exposure’s or DxO Labs FilmPack’s, there’s a big difference between these plug-ins and DFT’s, and it’s not just Film Stocks’ support for video editing suites.

It’s Film Stocks’ customization features that puts this plug-in at the top of the list. Consider these elements:

  • There’s no posterization with any of the parameter settings at any level
  • The complete set of customised parameters amount can be set with one slider
  • There are eight parameter categories to choose from: Color Correct, Grain, Vignette, Film Response, Filter, Sharpen, Diffusion, and Black and White
  • Color Correct uses Saturation (Master and individual channels), Brightness, Contrast, Midtones, Highlights, but also Gamma (Master and individual channels), Tint and Temperature.

Filter applies a digital version of a colour lens filter. Film Response is a Curves setting. Sharpen applies edge sharpening. With Diffusion and Vignette combined you can even create light leaks. The Grain filter has 12 parameters for you to set, including Size, Amount, Softness, and even Response.

So much control in the hands of an inexperienced user means a mess; in the hands of someone who is familiar with the technology of analogue film, or a photographer / Photoshop artist who has done her/his homework, it allows for unprecedented creativity.

EZ Mask with subtle effects applied to mask only.

Film Stocks secret weapons: Layers, Blends, Masks

In addition to the already powerful filter customization features, Film Stocks has three secret weapons: layer, blend and mask capabilities. Yes, you can use those of Photoshop as well, but doing it all inside the filter interface saves time, and don’t forget: you can use the same Film Stocks in Photoshop, Aperture, Final Cut, etc.

Layers allow you to apply individual presets and/or parameters to an image, and by blending these layers differently, achieve a completely different look.

Masking goes even further. You can paint a mask with a brush, apply a gradient mask (think of gradient colour lens filters), a spot mask, or use DFT’s famous EZ-Mask technology. Brushing a mask isn’t as easy as I’d wish for: you can either see the image or the mask, but there’s no overlay so you can “see through” the mask what you’re doing like in Aperture. But the three other masking techniques make up for that big time.

Exaggerated effect on EZ-mask selection (face and hair)

Gradient masking is easy as pie: Select the Gradient mask item from the masking pop-up and all parameters of presets applied will affect the mask.

Spot masking is equally simple: by selecting spot mask from the pop-up, you’ll get a perfect circular mask, of which you can change the size, falloff and aspect ratio.

By stroking inside and outside your desired effect area, you can quickly create accurate masks with EZ-Mask, even when hair is involved. I came across DFT’s EZ-Mask several years ago, and back then I couldn’t believe it would work on fine hair against a backdrop of almost the same colour. Today, I’m every bit as much surprised that it works so well. What took Adobe several versions of Photoshop to get it right, the folks at DFT got right six or seven years ago.

The EZ-Mask is accurate to a point that you will rarely need to edit a mask even when the area has a “fluff” component in it. And yes, this allows for very subtle effects when portraits are involved, for example, on a very focussed area.

Would I recommend Film Stocks v1.0?

DFT made the best decision they could have made by enabling Film Stocks for Adobe Photoshop CSx, Elements, and Lightroom, After Effects (CS5 and up), Premiere Pro (CS5 and up), Apple Aperture, Final Cut Pro 6 and 7 (with X under scrutiny), and Avid editing systems. Why? Because if ever there was a must-have plug-in to change an image’s look, it’s Film Stocks.

The plug-in costs approx. €65.00 for the photo edition and €150.00 for the film/video version. What you get in return is unparalleled in terms of effect quality and customization control.

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