When it comes to film emulation software and plug-ins, FilmConvert is the popular choice for many editors. It was one of the earliest tools for film stock emulation in digital editing workflows. It not only provides excellent film looks, but also functions as a primary color correction tool in its own right. FilmConvert has now been updated into FilmConvert Nitrate – a name that’s a tip of the hat to the chemical composition of early film stocks.
The basics of film emulation with Nitrate
FilmConvert Nitrate uses built-in looks based on 19 film stocks. These include a variety of motion and still photo negative and positive stocks, ranging from Kodak and Fuji to Polaroid and Ilford. Each stock preset includes built-in film grain based on 6K film scans. Unlike other plug-ins that simply add a grain overlay, FilmConvert calculates and integrates grain based on the underlying color of the image. Whenever you apply a film stock style, a matching grain preset, which changes with each stock choice, is automatically added. The grain amount and texture can be changed or you can dial the settings back to zero if you simply want a clean image.
These film stock emulations are not simply LUTs applied to the image. In order to work its magic, FilmConvert Nitrate starts with a camera profile. Custom profiles have been built for different camera makes and models and these work inside the plug-in. This allows the software to tailor the film stock to the color science of the selected camera for more accurate picture styles. When you select a specific camera from the pulldown menu instead of the FilmConvert default, you’ll be prompted to download any camera pack that hasn’t already been installed. Free camera profile packs are available from the FilmConvert website and currently cover most of the major brands, including ARRI, Sony, Blackmagic, Canon, Panasonic, and more. You don’t have to download all of the packs at first and can add new camera packs at any time as your productions require it.
New features in FilmConvert Nitrate include Cineon log emulation, curves, and more advanced grain controls. The Cineon-to-print option appears whenever you apply FilmConvert Nitrate to a log clip, such as from an ARRI Alexa recorded in Log-C. This option enables greater control over image contrast and saturation. Remember to first remove any automatic or manually-applied LUTs, otherwise the log conversion will be doubled.
Taking FilmConvert Nitrate for a spin
As with my other color reviews, I’ve tested a variety of stock media from various cameras. This time I added a clip from Philip Bloom’s Sony FX9 test. The clip was recorded with that camera’s S-Cinetone profile, which is based on Sony’s Venice color. It looks quite nice to begin with, but of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tweak it! Other clips included ARRI Alexa log and Blackmagic BRAW files.
In Final Cut Pro X, apply the FilmConvert Nitrate plug-in to a clip and launch the floating control panel from the inspector. In Premiere, all of the controls are normally exposed in the effects controls panel. The plug-in starts with a default preset applied, so next select the camera manufacturer, model, and profile. If you haven’t already installed that specific camera pack, you’ll be prompted to download and install it. Once that’s done, simply select the film stock and adjust the settings to taste. Non-log profiles present you with film chroma and luma sliders. Log profiles change those sliders into film color and Cineon-to-print film emulation.
Multiple panes in the panel expand to reveal the grain response and primary color controls. Grading adjustments include exposure/temperature/tint, low/mid/high color wheels, and saturation. As you move the temperature and tint sliders left or right, the slider bar shows the color for the direction in which you are moving that control. That’s a nice UI touch. In addition, there are RGB curves (which can be split by color) and a levels control. Overall, this plug-in plays nice with Final Cut Pro X and Premiere Pro. It’s responsive and real-time playback performance is typically not impacted.
It is common in other film emulation filters to include grain as an overlay effect. Adjusting the filter with and without grain often results in a large difference in level. Since Nitrate’s grain is a built-in part of the preset, you won’t get an unexpected level change as you apply more grain. In addition to grain presets for film stocks from 8mm to 35mm Full Frame, you can adjust grain luminance, saturation, and size. You can also soften the picture under the grain, which might be something you’d want to do for a more convincing 8mm emulation. One unique feature is a separate response curve for grain, allowing you to adjust the grain brightness levels for lows, mids, and highs. In order to properly judge the amount of grain you apply, set Final Cut Pro X’s playback setting to Better Quality.
For a nice trick, apply two instances of Nitrate to a clip. On the first one, set the camera profile to a motion film negative stock, like Kodak 5207 Vision 3. Then apply a second instance with the default preset, but select a still photo positive stock, like Fuji Astia 100. Finally, tweak the color settings to get the most pleasing look. At this point, however, you will need to render for smooth playback. The result is designed to mimic a true film process where you would shoot a negative stock and then print it to a photograph or release print.
FilmConvert Nitrate supports the ability to export your settings as a 3D LUT (.cube) file, which will carry the color information, although not the grain. To test the transparency of this workflow, I exported my custom Nitrate setting as a LUT. Next, I removed the plug-in effect from the clip and added the Custom LUT effect back to it. This was linked to the new LUT that I had just exported. When I compared the clip with the Nitrate setting versus just the LUT, they were very close with only a minor level difference between. This is a great way to move a look between systems or into other applications without having FilmConvert Nitrate installed in all of them.
Any color correction effect – especially film emulation styles – are highly subjective, so no single filter is going to be a perfect match for everyone’s taste. FilmConvert Nitrate advances the original FilmConvert plug-in with an updated interface, built around a venerable set of film stock choices. This makes it a good choice if you want to nail the look of film. There’s plenty you can tweak to fine-tune the look, not to mention a wide variety of specific camera profiles. Even Apple iPhones are covered.
FilmConvert Nitrate is available for Final Cut Pro X 10.4.8 and Motion running under macOS 10.13.6 or later. It is also available for Premiere Pro/After Effects, DaVinci Resolve, and Media Composer on both macOS and Windows 10. The plug-in can be purchased for individual applications or as a bundle that covers all of the NLEs. If you already own FilmConvert, then the company has upgrade offers to switch to FilmConvert Nitrate.
©2020 Oliver Peters