Fujifilm is widely considered the king of film simulations and for good reason. Anyone who has owned a Fuji camera over the past decade appreciates the variety of excellent film recipes that can be created in camera and no doubt has their own go-to simulations they love to use. But is there a better way to give your photos a vintage look? In this review of Dehancer Film Emulator, we will find out.
What is Dehancer?
Dehancer Film Emulator is a plugin that works with a variety of film and video editing programs, including Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, Affinity Photo, and DaVinci Resolve. It gives the user the ability to quickly and easily apply dozens of different film emulations to their photos, and includes many classic positive and negative films from companies like Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, Ilford, and more. In this review, I will focus on using Dehancer for editing still photos, and for full transparency, I will mention that Dehancer reached out to me and asked for this review. They have had no input in the content or my conclusions, however, and will see this review at the same time as the rest of the Fstoppers community.
The Dehancer user interface is extremely simple and easy to navigate. Once the plugin is installed in your preferred program (I used Capture One for all the photos in this review), it is as easy as right-clicking on the photo, selecting “Edit with,” and choosing Dehancer. The Dehancer window will open automatically and give you the ability to apply your preferred emulation and many other adjustments. The interface is very well laid out, and it is easy to preview many emulations as you edit your photo. On the left-hand side of the window, there is a grid of thumbnail previews showing the effects of each film simulation, and by clicking on a thumbnail, the simulation will be applied to your photo. Previewing different emulations is fast and easy.
On the right-hand side of the window, there are more tools to that let you refine your look with options such as color temperature, black point, halation, bloom, vignette, and more. One of my favorite options is the “Film Grain” menu, which lets the user apply grain to an image with a variety of ways to fine tune the look. Grain can be applied as either a positive or negative film, which gives even more refinement options since the positive film grain is much more subtle. Users also have the ability to create a list of favorite presets, which is much easier than searching through the entire library of over sixty.
There are a few things that are missing from the dialog window, however. There is no histogram, which would be a huge benefit, and no ability to adjust basic parameters like exposure, shadows, highlights, contrast, etc. Because of this, I found myself making basic exposure adjustments in Capture One before opening the file in Dehancer, and although it’s not a major issue, it would be easier to adjust these parameters in the plugin directly, even though it is technically a plugin.
I tested Dehancer using images I took at two recent on-location shoots. First, I took some behind-the-scenes photos at a recording session. The session took place at Milkhouse Studies in Huntington, New York, and as the studio was in an old farmhouse, it had lots of interesting photographic opportunities. I then captured images of a concert at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in New York at a tribute concert dedicated to the centennial of bassist Charles Mingus and used Dehancer presets as part of my editing process.
To be frank, I have never thought of using film simulations for my professional work, as I considered them more or less a novelty to use for fun and family photos. I suppose you can chalk it up to my semi-old-school mentality, but I usually create my own looks when I edit, mostly by color grading, or creating the colors and tones I want in my studio. My experience editing these two batches of images using Dehancer's film emulations has helped me to change my perspective on this matter.
In both instances, I found I could use the simulations to take a wonderful photo and make it look great. I was happy that I didn’t have to spend a ton of time creating a unique look for each image, but with one click, could preview and determine if it was more or less where I wanted to image to go. The ability to further refine each preset was also instrumental in getting the images exactly where I envisioned them and made the entire process fast and rewarding.
Is it Time to Ditch Fuji Film Simulations?
Before my fellow Fuji fans get upset, the short answer is obviously no. But, after a few days of testing Dehancer, I came to a few conclusions. Most importantly, I realized I prefer applying the emulations in post over shooting in a simulation mode with one of my Fuji cameras, for a few reasons. First, I appreciate the ability to preview many simulations to see which I prefer over having to choose a simulation in camera before firing the shutter. Second, the workflow is so simple and fast that it didn’t add a burdensome amount of time to my editing process.
I found, however, that the Fuji film looks, especially Reala and Provia, seemed a bit heavy-hand regarding color cast. I didn't find this to be true with Kodak and Agfa presets, and I believe Dehancer has some work to do on their Fuji emulations in particular.
Finally, there will always be times when I want to avoid editing at all and will opt to use Fuji’s exceptional in-camera film simulations. But, having an enormous variety of emulations at my fingertips definitely makes me less apt to use the in-camera options going forward.
As I mentioned, I used to think of film simulations as more or less a novelty, but using Dehancer has made me a believer in emulations as part of my professional workflow. In my real-world test that featured some challenging lighting situations, I found the results to be very pleasing and appreciated the ability to easily tweak the photos to create a variety of excellent looks. In the future, I am sure that I will use Dehancer more as part of a well-rounded workflow.