Fstoppers Reviews: Mastin Labs Fuji 400H Preset System

Fstoppers Reviews: Mastin Labs Fuji 400H Preset System

Late last year, Trevor Dayley wrote an article which introduced me to the Mastin Labs Portra 400 film emulation preset system. As a long time Kodak Portra 400 shooter I was thrilled to see side-by-side comparisons of Portra 400 against digital with the preset. They looked darn near identical. Now Kirk Mastin, the mastermind behind the presets is gearing up to release his Fuji 400H preset system and I couldn't be more excited.

With spring here, and summer right around the corner I couldn't think of a better time to try out the 400H preset system. From my experience 400H excels in beautiful greens, pinks, blues, and has fabulous highlight rolloff — making it a favorite film stock for wedding shooters. The Mastin Labs system is unique in that it isn't meant to completely replace your film stock, rather it's designed to supplement it. With these presets you can "hybrid" shoot with 35mm/120 format and digital; seamlessly integrating the film images you take with the digital ones.

Please be aware that these presets are not meant to be a one-click editing solution, in order to match the digital images to the film ones you'll need to manually adjust exposure, temperature, and tint to taste (matching digital to film precisely takes practice). Kirk has a great little tutorial on matching digital and film images on his website (accessible with a password from your purchase). As you'll see below,  it's relatively easy to match the digital files to film, once you get the recipe right, batch editing will allow you to apply the preset to multiple images in similar lighting conditions.

Over the weekend I was able to use the Mastin Labs system side-by-side with the real deal in several different situations and was very pleased with the results.

I'll display the image SOOC from my D610 (shot in NEF raw, auto white balance), digital images processed with the Mastin Labs system, then 35mm 400H film as seen below.

Left: Raw Digital | Middle: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Left: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Here's a quick rundown of the equipment I used in this review:

35mm Film Fuji 400H

  • Minolta X700 35mm SLR
  • Minolta 50mm f/1.4
  • Fuji 400H 35mm film
  • Fuji Frontier film scanner*

Digital Fuji 400H

  • Nikon D610 DSLR
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
  • Adobe Lightroom 5 / Adobe Camera Raw
  • Mastin Labs Fuji 400H preset system

* It's important to note that Kirk's preset system is based upon Fuji 400H scanned with a Frontier scanner. Thus good replication requires you scan with a Frontier.

Skin tones:

The preset system handles skin tones just as well as the film it's modeled after, giving beautifully rosy highlights. Skin tends to be rather demanding when using any preset system, this is no different. I spent much longer adjusting the following image to match the film than I did any of the others.

Left: SOOC Digital | Middle: Mastin Labs Digital  Right: Fuji 400H Film

 Left: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Highlights:

Highlights are where 400H and the Mastin Labs system shines. Highlight rolloff from the preset is smooth and rosy, perfectly matching the film. My favorite images processed with this system have been high-key.

Left: Raw Digital | Middle: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Left: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Shadows:

Shadows are also pretty strong with these presets. Like the film, shadows processed with these presets are crunchy, often going to full black to give a lovely filmic look. Of course, if you want more / less clipping you can easily adjust that with curves in Lightroom.

Left: Raw Digital | Middle: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Left: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Indoors:

Fuji 400H is a daylight balanced film. This is where I thought the biggest discrepancy between the two would be, my Nikon's white balance can be altered while the film's is fixed (short of in-lab / scanner alteration). I was pleasantly surprised to find that my indoor test images turned out very similarly albeit with slightly more detail in the blacks from the digital file. The whites and silvers of the digital images have the same beautiful tones as the 400H film, lovely falloff.

Left: Raw Digital | Middle: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Left: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Outdoors:

400H is meant to be an outdoor film. Whether you're shooting a wedding on a beach, camping in the forest, or just walking around the city the combination of mellow colors make for a perfect spring / summer film stock. The preset system certainly didn't let me down.

Left: Raw Digital | Middle: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Left: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Mixed Lighting:

These images are shot in mixed incandescent / window light. I was pretty curious to see how the 400H handled mixed lighting, typically when both light sources are equally strong I'll be tempted to process b+w but was really happy with the color from both images after the slightest big of tweaking.

Left: Raw Digital | Middle: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

Left: Mastin Labs | Right: 35mm Film

What I liked:

  • Ease of use. Once you dial in the exposure, temperature, it takes very little time to mimic film — even less once you get the hang of it.
  • Accuracy. When properly dialed in it's really tough to tell the difference between the digital and film images — perfect for hybrid shooting.
  • Education. The online tutorials have been incredibly helpful in getting the hang of editing with Mastin Labs.
  • Grain. I'm a huge grain buff, it's just one of those things. The grain that comes in these presets is to die for — truly, it's better than VSCO, ReallyNiceImages, and any other preset system I've tried. The system offers two different grain types; 35mm and medium format. These are both really lovely and give grain that, to my eye, is more pleasing than the scanned film.
  • Versatility. This preset system doesn't have to be used to give a filmic look, recently I've been loving using it for portraits with subtle split toning. Example here.

What could be improved:

  • Compatibility. With only Canon and Nikon options at the moment Sony, Fuji, Leica, Olympus, Pentax, etc. users will be out in the cold. This doesn't mean that you can't use the system with cameras from these manufactures, it'll just take some more fine-tuning.

A note on price:

When I first purchased the Portra 400 preset last winter I was slightly intimidated by the cost of the system. at a normal price of $119 (though Kirk has been known to offer presets at special, discounted rates) the Mastin Labs system runs around the same price as those from VSCO. But assuming I spend around $6 per roll of Portra (400H runs around $10) and another $10-$20 for processing and scanning, it doesn't take too many rolls to make up for the cost of the preset system. Even if you replace one roll of 400H at every wedding / shoot over the course of a few weeks you'll more than make back your money — I have.

If you're interested in picking up a copy of your own check out  Mastin Labs or their Facebook page.


Spoiler alert:

The next film stock Kirk's set his eyes on is from Ilford — there are great things ahead.

 

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13 Comments

Spy Black's picture

As someone who grew up with film, I don't get film emulation. Not only does it ever not look right (which these samples demonstrate), the ultimate viewing mediums can't match up gamut-wise. This has always been a problem for me and all the Kodachrome 25 I shot in my life. There simply is no other medium, photo-optical or digital, that could match the colors. You settle for something decent, but that's about it.

Although grain is a nice effect sometimes, the clean imagery you can get from low (and even medium) ISO digital is really something to love after putting up with a lifetime of film grain. :-)

David Vaughn's picture

Sometimes the aesthetic is nice. I use VSCO's slide film LR presets (most of the other packs are kind of...crap), but I don't do it because I want my photos to look like film. I generally use them because (some of) the presets give photos pleasing tones with minimal effort. I always turn off the grain though. I don't get the appeal.

Michael Brinkerhoff's picture

I know this might strike a bruise for some photographers but I really do not miss the film days. The many number of reasons why I am happy to not have to deal with developing film are the very reasons others enjoy the process.

Each type of film gives us a different look and feel just like each digital sensor does. Actions and plug ins are wonderful because they give us more options.

Thank you Austin for the review!

Kirk Mastin's picture

Hi Daniel,

I'm sorry I did not see your comment until just now.

I'm also sorry to hear you aren't happy with the presets you purchased. A few things: are you using LR4 or above? If not, most of the adjustments won't work when you apply the presets.

Also - I would be happy to personally edit a raw image of yours that you are having trouble with and share the exact settings I used to edit. We do this all the time with customers to help them learn how to get the look they want. It's a little different than anything else out there so having help with a few images really gives you a head start. We also do this because it is impossible to offer a trial version of a preset since it is not stand alone software. If there was a way to offer a trial we would do it.

If you are interested in having me do some edits for you just email me at kirk@mastinlabs.com
(It helps to send in an actual film scan you are wanting to match or a url pointing to a film photo that you want to match.)

To me, this is an insult to both film AND digital.

If you want the look of film, support it, shoot the real thing, else it will go away and you'll be left copying something that few people remember or know anything about. This kind of practice blurs peoples' idea of what is and what isn't film and furthermore, if people are lead to believe digital can actually look like film, the value of shooting real film will decrease in many peoples' minds. The first thought of many is "why pay the expense of film when you can have the same look for a fraction of the price and ease of workflow?"

And digital photography can be about so much more than just copying what has already been done. Digital imagery allows for such an unlimited array of styles and looks, why chain it down to mere forgery? Why not contribute to the myriad new paths that can be trailblazer in this incredible time of new technology and creativity?

These are just practical concerns with film emulation, it only begins to touch on the aesthetic and workflow offenses that separate, and properly so, each medium.

It's very sad when such a skilled and valuable film shooter contributes so fervently to the death of the medium by claiming it can be faked successfully and personally profiting from the method. Money to Mastin, let Kodak, Fuji and Ilford fall.

Kirk Mastin's picture

Hi Johnny!

Unlike any other preset company out there, Mastin Labs is not decrying film in any way, or trying to get people to switch from film to digital. In fact, we actively encourage digital-only shooters to get into film, with weekly film camera giveaways that include a film camera, free film, and free film processing. In fact we just gave away a Contax 645 to one lucky winner in our weekly side by side competition (where people show how well they match their film to digital during hybrid shoots.) Check out some of the amazing things our hybrid shooters are doing here: http://www.oninstagram.com/whyhybrid

At this point in time, we acknowledge that film has an uncertain future, with many never having experienced it at all. Ever. I think my generation (30-somethings) were the last to maybe start with film as a photographer before digital took over. I started with film, I still shoot it 100% of the time for personal work as I enjoy the *process* of shooting film as well as the look. For client work though, shooting 100% film is not always possible and this is why I created my presets. Sometimes I need to mix in digital. I just want to keep it consistent with film, and nothing else was doing it for me :)

I applaud your passion of film, and even though it may not seem like it to you, we are on the same side.

Hi Kirk, thank you for your diplomatic response. I hope you know that my comments are not personal and I do admire your photography and passion for film. I just do not agree with your view on presets and feel that you could use your influence and quality of work to make a less ambiguous, greatly more impactful, statement to distinguish the value of film photography from digital while also not providing competition for Kodak, Fuji and Ilford films.

I just bought these pre-sets and they are a total waist of money. There is nothing in these pre sets that someone with any experience in LR can't do by themselves. Great marketing though, feel completely suckered.

Kirk Mastin's picture

Hi Marcel,

I am so sorry to hear that you are disappointed with the presets. As I stated in a reply above, we will happily edit any images you are having trouble with to help you learn the system we use, and get an accurate film look that you are happy with.

What you say about creating a look in LR is true. As with ANY preset in the market, yes, you could make it yourself in Lightroom. The tricky part is knowing how to adjust over 80+ variables to accurately match film in any lighting situation, and at any exposure. It took me nearly 3 years to perfect Portra 400 to a point that I felt it was good enough for me, let alone good enough to bear my name, and be for sale to the public.

I am super slow when it comes to releasing new preset because of my approach. My presets are created by shooting film and digital, side by side, in many hundreds of tests, and then scanned by me personally on a Fuji Frontier SP3000. I actually *own* a Fuji Frontier SP3000, and unlike any other company that I am aware of, I do not outsource any part of the scanning, so I know exactly how my test shots are scanned, ensuring accurate data for creating the presets.

You've got some amazing wedding photos Marcel, and I hope that we can help you get the most out of your purchase. Please send us a few raw files at kirk@masitnlabs.com

Also - be sure to join the Mastin Labs User Group on FB. It is a treasure trove of information and great examples by photographers all over the world that use Mastin Labs.

Kirk

First, let me just say how much I truly love these presets. Before they were released I had tried VSCO and Replichrome and while sometimes they would be a somewhat similar match to my film scans, I was constantly having to do serious tweaks from wedding to wedding or session to session. When I found and tried Mastin I cut down my "matching" time by about 95% and actually had true accuracy in my matching. Second, I don't think that Kirk developed these presets to get rid of film, but to allow photographers that love film but don't necessarily feel the need to shoot it 100% of the time due to a number of factors (cost being the most popular) and to be able to shoot both and to provide a seamless look and feel to their clients (AKA being a hybrid shooter). Third, yes, maybe some are LR masters, but you are a very small percentage of the market and I think to say that these presets are easily replicated would be a false hope to those that aren't, because I tried for several months to replicate film when the others weren't working and was completely unsuccessful until the Mastin presets came around. Lastly, film is film, digital is digital and no one is saying that they are the same and no one is saying that Mastin's presets can 100% replicate film, but if you are interested in being a hybrid shooter and delivering seamless digital + film photos to your client, then these are definitely the best!!

These presets are amazing and have certainly made my workflow so much easier!
Thank you Kirk for taking the time to create such amazing presets. :)

Austin Trenholm's picture

I have to say that I also started with Film when I first started photography, and now I am fully digital. But not since the beginnings of my interest in photography have I come across a product that emulates film so so well as Mastin Labs. I loved VSCO very much because it was one step closer. But the biggest difference with Mastin Labs is the subtly. Yes technically speaking anyone could do exactly what the presets themselves do on their own, but to be honest I don't think anyone has. The adjustments themselves are not intuitive nor are they obvious to me (full time pro for 10 years). Like anything their is a learning curve. But if you give Mastin labs an honest try, and READ the info on the website before buying them I don't think you would be unhappy with the product at all. I can't wait for some Ektar!! Keep it coming Kirk!