Comparison of Film Emulation LUTs – Filmconvert vs Magic Bullet Film vs Juan Malera’s Free LUTs

In this article I compare three cool film emulation LUT software specifically to footage from the Sony A7s – in Rec. 709 and S-Log2. The three apps are:

I also wanted to try VisionColor but couldn’t find a free demo.

Points of comparison

As I’ve mentioned in the video (below), there’s no point comparing film emulation software based on color accuracy, but there are things we can look for:

  • It should preserve the dynamic range of your footage. If it reduces the dynamic range, then something’s wrong. To be fair, the conversion from log or RAW from 12 stops or more to the 6 stops in Rec. 709 reduces dynamic range. But then what’s the point of shooting Log or RAW? If you’re shooting Rec. 709 or a preset similar to it, then at the very least no dynamic range should be lost.
  • It must preserve the tonal range – if there’s banding or clipping or a lack of smooth tones, there’s a problem.
  • It should allow you to control grain. Some people prefer organic grain structure to mathematically created Gaussian grain.
  • It must allow you to make color correction changes after the LUT has been applied. LUTs by definition are definitive, but are not guaranteed to work automatically.
  • It must keep the look consistent across an entire sequence of shots. After all, matching shots is the most tedious part of color grading.
  • It must have a simple workflow and should support many editing and grading applications; and finally,
  • It should support the cameras and formats you are using. If a LUT has been designed with a specific set of criteria, then it will be the most accurate.

With these in mind, let’s watch the comparison.

Comparison: Filmconvert vs Magic Bullet Film vs Juan’s LUTs

Here’s the video:

Download Video

Notes:

  • I shot the tests in Rec. 709, S-Log2 standard (18% grey is 32 IRE), and S-Log2 wolfcrow system (18% grey is 60-70 IRE).
  • In the two-shot matching test, I forgot to expose the S-Log2 version of my close up one and a half stops over to account for the window, but the other two shots are fine.
  • In the shots exposed using the wolfcrow system, I used the S-Log2 +1 setting in filmconvert and brought down the exposure by roughly 0.50 to get it to look right.
  • I’ve reduced the grain on some shots, specifically the PIRD 600, in the two-shot matching sequence.
  • None of the film LUTs preserve skin hues, and they have to be corrected.
  • S-Log2 in standard exposure is already quite noisy, as explained in the wolfcrow system.
  • I was tempted to try filmconvert + Juan’s LUTs against Magic Bullet Film using the same stock, but I’ll leave that tedious task for someone else.

References:

All copyrights, logos and trademarks belong to their legal owners. Images and snippets only taken for educational purposes:

All film footage videos from Youtube

Juan’s LUTs: http://juanmelara.com.au/print-film-emulation-luts-for-download/

Darkness in a film theater, from Roger Ebert’s site: http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/the-dying-of-the-light

Color vs Slide reference: http://wwwca.kodak.com/CA/en/consumer/guideToBetterPictures/eStores/index.jhtml?style=&cat=3&subCat=1

Dynamic range of films stocks:http://www.dantestella.com/technical/dynamic.html

About film stocks:

Kodak Tri-X: http://www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/products/films/bw/triX2.jhtml

Kodak TMAX: http://www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/products/films/bw/tMax400.jhtml?pq-path=13399

Kodak Porta: http://www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/products/films/portra/400main.jhtml

Kodak 2383 dynamic range from Digital Cinematography: Fundamentals, Tools, Techniques, and Workflows By David Stump via Google

Kodak 2383 print film: http://motion.kodak.com/motion/uploadedFiles/US_plugins_acrobat_en_motion_products_lab_h12383t.pdf

Kodak Vision3 5207: http://www.motion.kodak.com/motion/uploadedFiles/Kodak/motion/Products/Camera_Films/Color_Negative/tech_data/TI5207.pdf

Fuji Velvia 50: http://www.fujifilm.com/products/professional_films/color_reversalfilms/velvia_50/#overview

Kodak motion picture videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbxEq4HrFy8F9CyrUiXPAMw

To buy Tri-X film for video, click here.

Why I chose the specific LUTs for review

Here are the LUTs chosen, with the reasons:

Filmconvert:

  • Kodak 5207 – because I liked it better of the two Kodak LUTs
  • Fuji 8553 ET – because of all the LUTs in all the apps this is by far the most pleasing to my eye. Fuji Eternia was renowned for giving the most naturalistic look and colors. Too bad the LUTs don’t adhere to that reputation.
  • Kodak P400 (Porta) – because Porta gives beautiful colors in still photography, and I wanted to see how it would look. I’m not impressed.
  • Pird* 600 (Polaroid) – This ‘red-tinted’ look seems to be the rage nowadays, and to be honest after the Fuji LUT this is the most interesting to me. I did spend some time playing with it, though I can’t imagine using it for more than one project, ever.

Magic Bullet Film:

  • Kodak 5207 + 2383 – because I wanted this to be a fair comparison
  • Fuji 8553 + 2383 – same reason as above

Juan’s LUTs:

  • Kodak 2383 print stock with Luminance mapping. I chose luminance mapping because it preserves the greatest dynamic range for log material.
  • Fuji 3513 – just as a variation, there’s no direct comparison to anything else on this list.

I did not bother with black and white stocks because they gave terrible results when compared to the real thing.

*Many film LUTs are given with pseudo-names possibly to avoid trademark problems.

If you want a free online film emulator, try this: http://29a.ch/film-emulator/ – though it only allows you to download the finished image. I believe the LUTs are open source and you can find them yourself.

My personal thoughts

Deep breath. It’s impossible to compare LUTs for generic situations. It’s like finding stock music – you listen to hundreds and you find what you like. Then you continue listening.

I really like how Magic Bullet Film allows you to grade in one plugin, and it offers many variations. However, it doesn’t do one thing well – it doesn’t take into account the camera and format you are shooting on. For this reason, I’d say Filmconvert is the most versatile tool if you just want to slap on a LUT and make some minor tweaks. It is also the best tool among these three for the Sony A7s.

Like I said in the video, I am not a fan of LUTs as finishing or grading tools, and I will not be using them on any project. After all, I don’t want my work looking like everyone else’s.