DxO FilmPack - Homage to the (good?) old times.
by Thomas Theuerkorn, ©May 2007
When DxO released the first update (4.1) for Optics Pro v4, a new plug-in was included for free for a limited time. The second update (4.2) also updated the FilmPack and users were faced with a price increase and even more so surprising was the fact that minor changes still required the 0.1 upgrade even if you acquired version 1.0 upon release. Prices are scheduled to increase again in July which begs the question if the gained functionality is truly worth its price.
The optional FilmPack plug-in requires at least Optics Pro v4.1 and simulates the color rendering and grain of popular films in the digital format. Why would anybody reintroduce the film imperfections to the digital world? Artistic freedom would be the most obvious answer, but think of long-term projects where pictures from different times and different equipment are included. In this case it's often best to try to match a certain look and convert other pictures to it. In the end, it could simply be that you fell in love with a certain color rendition want your document or publication look like that across all pictures. DxO FilmPack takes the expertise out of such work by simply selecting a style and be done, rather than color matching a target with the golden template.
FilmPack integrates into DxO Color panel.
Granted, this is a rather specific application as the re-introduction of film imperfections may be an artistic method that's probably best when used in moderation. Hence the market for such a tool is naturally relatively small. This may be the reason for the constant price increase of the plug-in, which is going to rise to $99 after June 30, 2007. (However, the 'special promotion' already has been extended once.) A steep price considering the minimal functional increase and certainly an attempt to get some money back from giving version 1.0 away with the purchase of v4.0 end of 2006.
As a plug-in, the FilmPack integrates tightly into Optics Pro v4.x and basically extends a few options in the DxO Color panel. The newly gained film profiles are listed under the Color Rendition Profiles where previously only different color profiles of digital cameras were listed. So one can first choose the film type (i.e. Positive, Negative ...) and then a special version (in this case Kodak's Ektachrome). Color Modes are independent from the FilmPack and remain the same as provided by Optics Pro v4. Unfortunately this also means that Contrast and Saturation still have only 5 predefined strengths and feel somewhat coarse as there is no fine adjustment. (Saturation can be adjusted via slider in a different place.)
Not only can the FilmPack recreate the color rendition of certain type film but also the typical grain (or noise in digital terms). The user is not bound to a grain that matches the color profile and in this case the pattern of the Fuji Neopan was combined with the Kodak Extachrome color profile from above. This is certainly a nice touch, though more or less a vehicle to find your own look rather than matching existing photos.
New in version 1.1 is the extended usability for the FilmPack as it can be integrated in Optics Pro as well as Photoshop CS2 or higher and Photoshop Elements 4 or higher. Worth noting is the new standalone interface (see below), which makes it possible to apply FilmPack without any host application, not even DxO Optics Pro. This is limited to JPG files and RAW still requires a proper host. Yet, given the niche market the need for a stand-alone application might be a rather rare case since the target audience of professionals and enthusiasts are likely to own at least one of the supported host applications. Besides, FilmPack can only applied to RAW files when used in Optics Pro. On top of the extended application support, five additional color profiles (monochrome toning: gold, selenium, gold sepia, terra sepia, and ferric sulfate) are included.
The standalone version is virtually identical to the plug-in option, but doesn't require any host application. (Doesn't understand RAW either.)
For those that don't need any of the additional plug-ins and color profiles --a.k.a. the vast majority of enthusiasts and even professionals-- the v1.1 upgrade is a relatively expensive proposal. In that light the "forced" upgrade with the installation of Optics Pro v4.2 is an unnecessary annoyance as you have no option to skip this update. Granted, version 1.1 reverts to 1.0 after the trial period, but initially DxO Labs had trouble to make that happen without annoying activation reminders.
Overall, DxO FilmPack is a great idea with a somewhat pushy marketing and a relatively big price tag. However, compared to Alien Skin's Exposure, it's a steal at currently $69 and still half the price of Exposure once DxO raises the sticker to $99. Functionality is good and when needed a great addition to a digital toolbox. However, the application is limited and the investment may only pay off for graphics artists and professionals that feel digital pictures are missing the character of film photography. If that sounds strange to you, consider cases where upsizing reduces sharpness. Added grain (to the upsized picture) can sometimes create the illusion of improved detail, but that would be mostly for print applications. For the budget minded user, consider the free Virtual Photographer plug-in from OptikVerve Labs for Adobe's Photoshop and compatible host applications. It's free and provides similar (not identical) functionality.