The last time I posted one of these “just for fun” set of photography samples was in 2015. So it’s high time for another one. Earlier this year I reviewed FiLMiC Pro’s iOS movie application and put together a small demo highlighting the capabilities. At the same time I installed Firstlight – FiLMiC’s iOS still photo/camera application.
Firstlight extends the power of the iPhone camera system with extra controls and features. It also adds film-style looks, including grain, vignettes, and film stock simulations. My past Photo Phun blog posts have showcased post processes that could be applied to existing images. The examples in this article used no image manipulation in post (outside of size and crop adjustments). The “look” of all samples was done in-camera, using Firstlight’s built-in features. This is using a stock iPhone SE 2020 – no lens attachments, filters, or tripod.
I occasionally throw shade on the true quality of the best iPhone images. If image quality is the critical factor, then give me a high-end DSLR any day. But, the iPhone is “the camera you have with you” and as such is the modern digital equivalent of the Kodak Instamatic camera, albeit with a lot better image quality. We can pixel-peep all day long, but the bottom line is that iPhones and top-of-the-line Android phones create some stunning imagery in the right hands.
I’ve shot a fair amount of 35mm slide and print film over the years as an amateur photographer. I’ve also manipulated images in post for my share of motion film. Any film stock emulation LUT is suspect in my eyes. You can get close, but ultimately the look designed by a company can only be an approximation. FiLMiC positions its looks as film simulations inspired by 19th and 20th century photography. I think that’s the right approach, without claiming that a given simulation is the exact same as a specific photochemical stock from a film manufacturer or a development process at a lab.
Firstlight includes a wide range of film simulations to choose from. Bear in mind that a look will change the saturation or hue of certain colors. This will only be readily obvious if those colors are in the images that you shoot. For example, C41 Plus shifts blues towards cyan. If you have blue skies in your shot, the resulting skies will appear cyan. However, if your scene is devoid of blues, then you might not see as much effect from that simulation. Think about matching the look to the content. Shoot the right subject in B&W Noir and any shot will look like it came from a gothic tale!
Remember that your iPhone has no true viewfinder – just the screen. If you are outside in bright sunlight, you can barely see what you are shooting, let alone the color differences between film simulations. If you intend to use a film simulation, then plan the shot out ahead of time. Become familiar with what each setting is intended to do, because that look will be baked in. If you get back to the computer and realize you made a mistake, then it’s too late. Personally, I’m keen on post rather than in-camera manipulations. However, if you feel confident in the results – go for it.
The gallery below features examples using Firstlight’s simulated film looks. Each choice has been noted on most of the screens, although some will be very obvious. Other than the changes in the film simulation, the rest of the Firstlight settings are identical for all images. The camera was set to 3:2 aspect ratio, AE mode enabled, and HDR active. Both a fine grain and a vignette at the lowest setting were also applied to each during Firstlight’s image capture.
Click any gallery thumbnail below to view an enlarged slideshow of these photos.
©2021 Oliver Peters