I mentioned in a previous post that I'd share a few more thoughts on Fuji's Acros emulation. Specifically the in-camera grain. I've finally gotten around to making a few pictures of StupidCrap™ to demonstrate it's characteristics as compared to other grain simulations out there including Lightroom's.
I'm kind of a stickler about grain emulation. I've not found the "perfect" solution but there are a few fake grain emulations out there that do such a good job even I would have a hard time differentiating results on many pictures compared to the real thing. Google/Nik Silver EFEX Pro 2, Exposure 7+, and Capture One 8+ do a great job with varying degrees of difficulty matching real film results across cameras. Lightroom has some hideous flaws but can be made work-able within narrow parameters.
When using real black and white film I've never been one of those people trying to get a grain-less large format look for everything. One of the things I loved about using 35mm film, especially of the high speed variety was how wonderful the grain looked at very large print sizes. When using digital cameras and want that 35mm high speed pushed film look I don't want just some vague impression of grain at small reproduction sizes, I want it to look every bit as fantastic as the real deal looks at large print sizes. I care a lot about how the structure of the grain looks and how it interacts with the tones and details of an image.
How Does Acros & Fuji's Grain Stack-up?
Here are two very generic comparisons. We'll take a closer look in a moment. First is what I consider a middle of the road high-speed slightly pushed simulation strait out of the camera. You might think it's a bit over the top tending towards radical. I guess it depends on taste.
In-camera settings for the above?? Well that would be ISO 1600, Acros (no color filter), and grain effect set to strong. I also bumped exposure in-camera to +2/3 from what the meter wanted, set highlight tone to +2 and shadow tone to -4. No post processing whatsoever.
Next up we have what is probably the most common RAW processor in use for Fuji cameras — Lightroom CC.
I processed the above image from the corresponding RAW file to the JPEG in-camera Acros. I didn't make any particular attempt to match these up at all. Instead I took the most basic way I could to do the same thing I intended in-camera. I only used the basic panel in develop except for the grain as follows:
- Black and White
- Exposure +0.7
- Contrast +60
- Highlights +10
- Shadows -60
- Blacks -20
I could get much closer looking at them side by side and using a curves adjustment too if that was the goal. Who cares we're looking at the grain simulation right? Here's the Lightroom grain settings I used:
- Amount 35
- Size 25
- Roughness 70
You might know I rant about Lightroom's horrible grain simulator all the time. Hey, it can be truly awful. The settings above are less awful and within useful ranges for it not to look like absolute dog shit. Generally speaking you want to use high roughness values, definitely 50 or over and stay on the lower end of size using slight tweaks to size and maybe more on amount to go grainy-er. It goes south real quick with low roughness settings and or high size values.
Under The Microscope
Let's take a look at a couple screenshots. Feel free to download these and look at them at a 1:1 pixel ratio to see all the gory details.
First up are a microscopic view of all of the settings described above side by size with the RAW being on the left and in-camera Acros/grain to the right. Note that the exact point of focus is not shown in the view above. Some times using a wider range of tonalities as well as various degrees of detail are a better way to evaluate a grain simulation than looking at only the critically focused areas.
Next up is the same thing but using the settings in Lightroom's grain effect that I told you to stay away from to illustrate a point. A quick and dirty "match-up" to get that in-camera Acros look.
Not a perfect match but who cares, just a little closer. Here's the rub, if you've not picked it up from reading between the lines, I don't care at all for a few of the characteristics that are now more similar than not. Too uniform, too digital looking, and honestly doesn't look anything like any real film I've used. I've only shot a little bit of Acros and that was a while ago but it didn't look like this. This looks like a really bad digital noise thing and nothing like real film grain at high magnification.
Looking At Other Grain Simulators
Just for comparisons sake here's two grain simulations that do a pretty decent job when measured by trying to match up digital and real film shot back to back of the same subject as I've done in the past as research for long term projects that included both film and digital content.
First up is the ol' standby of Google/Nik Silver EFEX PRO 2. Just for the heck of it I chose a Fuji emulation of Neopan 1600 which one would thing might be close to what Fuji is trying to do in-camera at 1600 with strong grain. ;-)
Looks a lot closer to what I would expect from real Fuji Neopan (RIP) 1600 for sure. Let's see what Alien Skin Exposure has to say about it with the same Neopan 1600 emulation from their point of view.
Again, in my opinion Exposure is far and away the better simulation. Don't agree?? Well that's up to you and your particular taste and needs but take a look at some real film.
Above is Agfa APX 100 medium format developed to a normal-ish CI in real Agfa Rodinal from way back. Here's something a bit grainy-er but with very different structural characteristics. Kodak Plus-X developed in Pyro/Metol
How about something with giant grain so you can see how it looks even better structurally and compare why those "lousy" setting in LR and to an extent the in-camera Fuji grain is ummmmm, not good. One of my all-time favorites in 35mm, Kodak TMZ (TMAX 3200P).
Here's the bottom line from my point of view. At smaller print sizes the in-camera Fuji grain emulation is perfectly fine for giving some sort of grainy impression. Under magnification it looks pretty bad. I won't get into a debate about accuracy, quite possibly there is a black and white film that looks like Fuji's emulation. If there is, I don't like that either and it would be pretty far off the beaten path from Fuji's Black and White film I've use extensively. Here's some Neopan 400 in D76…
In my opinion the above is gorgeous, Fuji's emulation, not so much. What does it do sorta right? Well, at least it doesn't look like some ridiculous all-over noise overlay. It also doesn't suffer from the same Lightroom calamity of having an over all softening effect on edges which is a good thing for sure.