So… FilmLab. Honestly, it’s still early days for me with this software. Already, I’ve gone from “this is world-changing!” to “eh… I like my old process better” to… well, I don’t really know. FilmLab (version 2.0.1, anyway) is good for many things and not so good at some other things.

What do I mean? Well, let’s throw some random images at it and see how it fares.

First up, some recent shots from a trip to Fossil Rim Wildlife Refuge earlier this fall. The film is Lomography Color 400, exposed at 320 or 250 (I changed it partway through the roll). My version is on the left, FilmLab’s is on the right, and unless noted, I left all the FilmLab sliders on Auto.

I had some trouble getting colors I liked from this Lomography Color, and I don’t really know why. Perhaps because it was underexposed 1/3-2/3 of a stop? Could that shift things that much? I don’t know. I prefer FilmLab’s color, but found it very difficult to brighten them up a bit, especially that first one. I took these on a cool September morning at about 8:30am. It was a bit foggy, but bright. My versions are hyper colored and took me hours of fiddling with levels in Capture One to get to the poor results above. And while FilmLab’s color is much better than mine, the images are a bit dim and muddy.

Next up, some Lomography Color 100. I shot this cute picture of my wife in 2014 with the Lomo LC-A.

Here, FilmLab shines. The color and exposure is much truer to life if, again, a bit underexposed, while my original processing is way too blue and a bit bright.

How about some Homelife 200, shot in the early morning sunlight on the back porch in 2016.

Here, my version wins. No question. The brick on our house is pink-ish, and in the golden, early morning sun, goes slightly orange. My version might be a bit on the magenta side, but FilmLab is rather green and the shadows are way too dark. If I didn’t know what the back porch looks like in the early morning, I’d probably be happy with the FilmLab one, and I probably could’ve fiddled with the sliders in FilmLab and gotten closer.

Next up, Lomography 800: Samie and my little nephew Daniyal at Monster Jam 2018 and my sister-in-law’s wedding party, 2019.

Here, again, I think my process mostly wins. Daniyal and Samie look sharp and natural in mine; they look green in the FilmLab version. And the Moni/Saad wedding party looks bright and flash-lit in mine, and dim and muddy in the FilmLab version.

I messed with the sliders on that second one a bit, to bring up the shadows some, but I still think my version wins.

Even lifted, the color is off somehow, like too magenta or something, but a very muddy magenta.

Ok. So we’ve seen conventional films at 100, 200, 400, and 800. How about some exotics? Some Ultrafine Green Kitten 320, perhaps?

I shot this one on de-redscaled Ultrafine Red Dragon in 2017 with the Olympus XA, and it’s one of my favorites from back when I actually had an office to go to. My employer closed its Dallas office a mere 5 months after I took this…

My version is cooler, bluer; the FilmLab version is more muted, duller, and given that this was midmorning on a winter day in Texas, the light was probably closer to my version, though it is indeed a bit too cool.

I think it’s sort of a toss-up here. With a bit of work, the FilmLab version could get closer; but so could mine, so I guess it’s a toss-up.

FilmLab fares less well with regular Red Dragon…

Um. No. Just… No.

I messed with the sliders, pushing temperature and tint all the way and fiddling with the others to get sorta there. I’m guessing its baked-in curves expect something more traditional; it also seems that whatever it’s doing, it’s not really looking at the photograph, but only at the curves, and it’s not acting anything like a minilab processor… it is a computer program, after all. Even after playing with the sliders, it’s nowhere near redscale.

How about something a bit more straight-ahead: Adox Color Implosion.

Honestly, the FilmLab version looks more like Color Implosion, I guess… to me. My version is too blue, though it looks more like a normal Fuji stock or something. Even though the FilmLab color is better, there’s a loss of shadow detail, and the black on the guy’s backpack on the right looks red rather than black. (And mine looks, admittedly, more blue, as it might in early morning sunlight.)

How about some Color Implosion at night?

Well, in the first pair, mine is more magenta while FilmLab is bluer, for once, but in the second, well… FilmLab’s Auto mode couldn’t handle it, so to the sliders I went.

Ok, so the darkness is black now, but the reds are blown and the sodium vapor lights have lost their orange glow. It seems FilmLab needs red, blue, and green, and stumbles when one (or more) of those are missing.

So how about Lomochrome Metropolis, with its modified red layer?

Well, I’ve long wondered if I got the Metropolis color right, and maybe I look a bit zombie-ish in my version, but my t-shirt is the right color, and I was lit by a soft white lightbulb from above and had three computer monitors lighting my face (my work office is now in the guest room closet) well before sunrise, so the zombie glow is probably about right, and the circles under my eyes and lines in my neck are visible. FilmLab just blew my face totally out, and I’m definitely pinker than I am white.

Alright… let’s finish (say: “Finally!”) with some bog standard Kodak Max 400. Well, it was bog standard when it was originally purchased, anyway.

My dad loaded this roll in to an Olympus Infinity Zoom 210 sometime ago, took a shot of his dashboard, two shots of the Home Depot where he worked at that time, and 3 or 4 shots of one of his then wife’s cats. He then threw the camera in his garage for, oh, I’m guessing maybe 10, 12 years, winter to summer, winter to summer, and then gave the camera to me.

I saw there was film in it and finished the roll, and the base fog is crazy. The base looks green and images are barely visible through the fog. It took massive overexposure (flash at 1/2, f/4) and led to incredible bleed from the sprocket holes and edges of the film.

As far as accuracy goes, FilmLab probably actually got closer than I did, but I got both the cat’s white hair (almost) white, and Hana’s flash-lit hand, closer to flash-lit-colored…

So… Final thoughts…

Final thought? I have none. FilmLab is great, no question, but it’s not (yet) a silver bullet. Or, I don’t think so. It’s trivial-enough to run images through it after scanning, I guess, but I’ll probably wait to do so (or hide the results from myself) until I’ve already processed the images with my usual process, as I find myself trying to match the FilmLab color rather than finding the color that I like… I guess that’s really the issue I have with FilmLab: I worry that it’s going to homogenize my photography, make everything look the same, or make my pictures look like your pictures, and while I know my color is off, that’s the beauty of this hybrid process I’ve developed… my color can be off, and I’m afraid FilmLab will limit that.

I guess that’s quite a few “final” thoughts.

Really, I need more time with the software. I mean, if you read this four-post series, you may have gathered that I only started messing with FilmLab last week, and I’ve fed it less than 500 negatives from maybe 10 different stocks, so there’s much more to test out and play with and try to figure out, much more trial and error, before I can figure out whether and/or how FilmLab fits into my process. I certainly hope it does somehow.

If you’re a film photographer, do yourself a favor and go pick up a month-to-month subscription for a few dollars, then try it out. If it works for you, use it!

For me, well, I need more time with it.

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