Fstoppers Reviews: Mastin Labs Portra Pushed Film Presets

Mastin Labs out of Seattle is the creator of some of my favorite film emulation presets for Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Today they're releasing their latest preset pack, Portra Pushed. Check it out my review of the pack after the jump.

Push processing film is the practice of "overdeveloping" less sensitive film to increase the exposure. This typically results in a more contrasty image with more, and sometimes some funky, oversaturating of colors (among other things). It's a technique that film shooters have been using for decades, and it's a look that a lot of popular film presets are using as a starting point before going way over the deep end.

I love Mastin Labs presets because they're originally designed for hybrid shooters who work with both film and digital, to get as close a match between their film shots and their digital files as possible. What that means is they tend to be extremely close to the film stocks they're emulating, and they don't go overboard with crazy fade effects or wild levels of saturation and contrast. The new Portra Pushed presets continue that legacy of subtlety and accuracy, doing an excellent job of giving you that slightly over-processed effect, without ending up look like you set all of your Lightroom sliders to 100. The pack includes presets for Portra 160, 400, and 800, pushed +1 and +2 stops. They also include Kirk Mastin's excellent soft/hard shadow and highlight adjustments as well.

"But how close are these presets REALLY to emulating film?" you ask. Glad you brought that up! Check out some comparisons below between actual film scans and digital files edited with the Mastin presets and guess which is which.

Could you tell which was which? Well good for you because I'm not going to tell you!

Just kidding, film was on the right. But the point is the images are damn close. You're never going to get a perfect reproduction of film aesthetics with digital files, it just isn't possible, but being able to get your images this close to film is quite an achievement. Editing is not a process with individual parts; everything you do is connected to some degree, so finding a way to balance all of those tools to get you to a single unified look without compromising in some areas is quite an achievement.

I feel a little silly gushing over presets, but the fact is that Kirk has put crazy amounts of time that I don't even want to think about, into making these as realistic and accurate as possible, and it shows. From the subtle adjustments to contrast and saturation to the included 35mm and medium format grain tweaks, each one of these film stocks shines in digital form. 

I'm selling one of my cameras and just tossed it on the table in the conference room at my office to snap some shots since the light was decent. I went into Lightroom to do some quick touch-ups and decided to give the new presets a try. Color me surprised when I actually really liked the photos as photos, and not just as images for Craigslist. It's subtle (I seem to be using that word a lot, probably because it's accurate) but the colors pop out a bit more, the contrast in the shadows is lovely, the highlights feel edgy and a little sharp; the images are just better. And yes, I could have spent time and toned them myself and tweaked the colors and all that but again, the beauty of presets is that someone else has already done the heavy lifting to get this 95 % of the way to where I want them. So with one click, my for sale posting becomes a lot more attractive.

Mastin Labs is using the tagline "Moody. Not Muddy." to advertise the new presets and I think that's right on the money. When using the presets on portraits, I felt like they added just enough mood without going so far that I needed to spend excessive time pulling every photo back to keep them from looking overbaked. I've found that most presets I've used in the past that go for that "moody" look, tend to do some hefty damage to the skin of my subject, but I found the Mastin presets give me that "mood" without making the skin all blotchy and awful. In particular, the presets really shine when you take an already contrasty image and give them a whirl.

I have a feeling that the Portra Pushed presets will become a new go-to for me when I need some quick editing. They're a great starting point if you want to dial in more towards your own look, or they are fantastic as a 1-click solution to add some quick character. Each of the three film stocks included in the pack has some unique characteristics, just like the actual film, so make sure to play with them and see which looks you like best. Check out some more samples below.

In case you couldn't tell, I really like these presets. My goal is to start shooting film by the end of this year, and I am looking forward to being able to match my scans up almost seamlessly with my digital files. I have some editorial shoots coming up in the next month that I think this "pushed" look is especially well suited for. If you do happen to buy the presets, please make sure to comment below with some of your own images, I would love to see what other people shoot with this new tool.

What I Liked:

  • Subtle.

  • Excellent contrast.

  • Actual film emulation, not just an over-edited "look."

  • Grain emulation is on point.

What Could be Improved:

  • This section is hard when you genuinely love everything about a product.
  • I could say that the price is high, but knowing a little about the amount of time and effort that goes into these presets, it actually feels like a pretty fair price to me.
  • Maybe if the presets were delivered via singing telegram?

The Portra Pushed film presets pack from Mastin Labs is available for purchase from their website for $99. You can also find their additional equally-fantastic presets here.

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J Bedford's picture

Mastin produces some very polarizing results. Not visually, per say, but with regards to those of us who have purchased his presets and have either loved or (hand raised) felt like they were a rip-off for what you get. Personally, for a company that seeks to emulate the 'truest' (my word) Portra look and for one who uses the word 'Lab' in his name, I'd expect him to source and create calibration profiles based on some of the more popular cameras being used today (Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, etc...) instead of using the default 'Adobe Standard'. Even if this has been accounted for in this new preset pack (I doubt it), it's still hard to pull the trigger on $100 for a few presets that mimic one type of film only.

Kelsey Schwenk's picture

Hey! I actually have every preset that Mastin Labs has produced and $100 is such a steal when I think about the quality of each set as well as the time I'm gaining. I don't have to worry about the quality I'm getting and I don't have sit behind a computer matching film - since each pack is so dialed in. As well, each pack IS calibrated for different camera profiles. I shoot with Nikon so it's important for me not to have a flat standard.

Dave Morris's picture

Lol. I shoot with 5DIV then apply Mastin Labs Portra preset 'calibrated for Canon' and get this. What's wrong with me? Do I have to start worrying about the quality?

Greg Wilson's picture

That's typical Mastin, yeah. Actually they're not that bad under normal lighting but generally I don't use them too often because of their overcooked colours, poor details in highlights and some odd artefacts like in your example.

michael rochin's picture

Hey, J. In your Mastin Labs account, you will have a download for the preset that you have purchased. You will be able to download the preset for whichever camera you have. There is Fuji, Canon, Nikon, and Sony. Before leaving a review, just make sure to do some homework! I purchased the presets when they were $150, I believe and it was worth every penny. Now the presets are only $100 which is a steal and I believe a majority of people who have purchased it and use it as their main editing preset will agree.

J Bedford's picture

Hi Michael, I'm going off what I see under calibration settings. I know that the installer gives the option to install for your aforementioned camera brands, but the proof's in the pudding, so to speak. I'm seeing only a few slider adjustments, not a full copyrighted calibration preset for specific camera types. I may be splitting hairs here, but for $99, I feel somewhat justified. If you're enjoying using them, keep on keeping on, I say.

J J's picture

Yeah I am in the same boat as you. Wish I had used that money on something else. All hype no results for me. Lots of salesmanship going on - lots of internet push. When I bought I they didn't have a satisfaction guarantee or anything like that - don't know if they do now - if they stand behind their product they should.

Greg Wilson's picture

To my taste Mastin produces the results which are quite far from real film. All those blotchy skintones, overcooked greens and reds - it's just bad taste. Film never does that.

Greg Wilson's picture

"I'd expect him to source and create calibration profiles based on some of the more popular cameras being used today (Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, etc...) instead of using the default 'Adobe Standard'."

You need to check RNI then. That's precisely what they do. Also RNI's film simulation is not a substitution for real film, but comes quite close if you get your lighting and WB right.

Dave Morris's picture

Polarising? I'd say Mastin Labs presets are complete rip-off for their low quality.
Just look at this, this is a 'truest Portra look' according to that guy's claim:

Andrew Janjigian's picture

I've long been a fan of Mastin Labs presets, and this set does not disappoint. I was a part of the beta test, and I know for a fact that a lot of serious work went into these in order to get them as close to the look of real pushed Portra films. Mastin solicited real scans of pushed Portra film from loads of people, and tweaked the presets for many months to get the looks just right. And the proof is in the pudding, as you can see above. I personally have never found the price point too high, and the lack of camera profiles is not really an issue in practice, IMO.

Jay Jay's picture

From these presets based on your originals, you really have to shoot your photos a full stop/stop and a half under to get these tones. VCSO doesn't require shooting that underexposed to get a lot of their looks- i only shoot a half stop and still get great toning. i've also never liked Mastin's presets compared to VSCO's.

Andrew Strother's picture

No, I just prefer to underexpose by a stop and then bring up in post regardless of how I'm editing. I shot all of these images in the past year, well before these presets came out. To each their own, but I prefer the subtle quality of Mastin over the aggressive quantity of VSCO.

Jeremiah Spray's picture

I'm primarily a film shooter, but we love using Mastin on our digital images. Pushed kodak film has always been one of my favorites for personal and travel work, but was basically near impossible to match the look of digitally until these came out. Nothing quite has the magic of film, but these are way closer than any other option out there for matching to real film, and the workflow is as simple as it gets.

Jeremiah Spray's picture

Also, I like VSCO for its own look. It's a great product, but anyone who shoots a lot of real film knows that its really not a film "matching" look. It has its own great look, but if you are really wanting to blend film and digital seamlessly for clients mastin is awesome.

Peter Brody's picture

As someone from the film only era I can't help but be amused by such things. For the most part I always thought of the color of most films as being awful. I also don't see why people simply don't create their own presets. It's not hard. It's also not hard to make digital look like film.

I'm far more happy with the color and color possibilities of digital than I ever was with film. I will say though my favorite color from film was from Kodak's Ektar 25 in the early 90s. A shame it scans with a sprinkled white pepper effect.

Andrew Strother's picture

Amused by the idea that people who shoot both digital and film would want their images to match as closely as possible? Or that people might have a different preference than you when it comes to how their images look?

And no, making presets isn't difficult, but making good presets is.

Peter Brody's picture

Why would one need to shoot film if they could easily match the results they get with digital?

I don't think making good presets is difficult at all. Every time someone does a good job of editing an image they have a potential preset staring right back at them.

As for people having different preferences regarding how their images look, of course. I was simply stating mine. I wasn't suggesting or saying that they should not like the look of certain films, real or created.

Andrew Strother's picture

Because the fact of the matter is they are different and you can never perfectly replicate film with digital, even if you can get really close.

Making a good edit on a single image means you have a potential good preset for that image. Making a preset that can be applied across multiple images and maintain a consistent look is more difficult, particularly if you're trying to replicate a very specific look like the color and tone of a film stock.

Peter Brody's picture

But you went on about how hard it is to tell the difference, and of course you are right about that. That's my point. When it's essentially impossible to tell the difference then you have achieved something that makes the shooting of the actual film unnecessary. Sure, people have other reasons for shooting film, but this is a discussion about image quality.

A preset in LR/ACR is not adaptive. The adjustments are fixed for all images they are applied to. So whether you apply them to one image or a batch of images, the adjustments are the same. Differences in color will be inherent to the originally captured image. The only way to get consistent color in this scenario is to first try and get all images to have similar color, contrast, saturation, etc, before applying such a filter. Of course in most cases digital cameras are excellent at keeping a consistent look. I wish that was the case with film. But that's another topic.

Andrew Strother's picture

Actually what I said was
"You're never going to get a perfect reproduction of film aesthetics with digital files, it just isn't possible, but being able to get your images this close to film is quite an achievement."
I don't know if that qualifies as "going on" about it. I was emphasizing the amount of effort that went into getting them to be as close of a reproduction as possible. I wasn't aware this was a discussion about image quality, I thought it was a general discussion about film vs digital.

You are correct that you can't make adaptive presets, but you can build presets with the specific intention of working well on a wide range of images. Mastin presets are configured in a way different from any other presets I've seen and, as such, I find them to be far more consistent when editing than other major "film" presets. Specifically in how highlights/shadows are treated and in how contrast is achieved.

Peter Brody's picture

You were enthusiastic about how close they were, to the extent that they were essentially indistinguishable without being told which was which, which you specifically addressed. That's certainly a pro for the capabilities of the preset.

Trying to match the image quality of film, and certain films, is a discussion about image quality.

Sure you can make a preset that would be better off for more types of images, but that simpy entails not going to extremes in the creation of such a preset. That is still something that one can achieve on their own.

If someone doesn't want to spend the time to create their own film like filters then there is certainly value in buying such filters. I just think that we are now at a point that the use of both the actual film and the use of filters for digital images isn't necessary, putting aside other reasons that people may have for shooting film.

Joseph Requerme's picture

I can't wait to try this preset. Been using mastin for a year now and it fits my style. This one is a real deal.

Marie Monforte's picture

I am IN LOVE with this Preset! Portra 160 +1 has made me love my work in a whole new way! Sometimes I tweak it to lower the contrast a bit (though if you want a truly pushed film look don't do that!) but other times it is just perfect - a one-click wonder! So happy I FINALLY (after buying and hating so many others) have a Preset that I love more than my own tried-and-true-developed-from-scratch version! And this one is way more consistent too!

Greg Wilson's picture

Not impressed with Mastin somehow. Also many positive reviews in comments look quite suspicious.
Just can't see any advantage over VSCO or RNI.