04 Agfapan 25
At the time I was using it, I think this might have been the slowest black and white film on the market. Even so, it was far from grain-free (though I used to process it in Rodinal, which wasn’t exactly a fine-grain developer), but it was sharp, super-rich and contrasty.
Only two of these programs offer an Agfapan 25 simulation – Alien Skin Exposure 5 and DxO FilmPack 4.5 – and the results look pretty similar. The only real difference is in the grain pattern. Exposure 5 produces a faint, hard, tight grain pattern which looks more authentic to me. FilmPack 4.5 produces a very fine grain pattern which looks just a little too smooth.
05 Agfapan 100
Agfapan was my ‘meat and drink’ black and white film. I always processed it in Rodinal, which gave tight, visible grain, excellent sharpness and good contrast.
The differences are very pronounced here. The Alien Skin and Silver Efex Pro renditions look pretty similar, but the DxO FilmPack 4.5 version is much brighter and, under magnification, has very coarse grain – it’s a long way off the results I used to get.
The other two look very close, but under magnification, the Silver Efex Pro has the most realistic grain pattern – the Alien Skin version is just too smooth, in my opinion.
06 Kodak Tri-X
This was my other ‘meat and drink film’. I liked its contrast, grain pattern and exposure latitude, so if any of these plug-ins can come up with a realistic digital equivalent, I’ll be very happy.
Here at least these plug-ins do seem to agree. The tonal rendition look almost identical in all three versions, in the way that the colours are translated into shades of grey (spectral sensitivity).
You have to zoom in to see the differences. All three make a good stab at reproducing Tri-X grain, but I think the Alien Skin Exposure 5 version is perhaps a little smooth, the grain in FilmPack 4.5 version is a little hard and the Silver Efex Pro version is – just – the best.
I’m not impressed at all by the colour film simulations. I honestly think you’re better off adjusting the colours manually for your digital images to replicate the film ‘looks’ you remember.
Plug-ins like these are good at simulating faded films, vignetting, light leaks and other retro effects, but I think that’s as far as it goes.
Besides, they can only apply a new colour rendition to the image you start with – what if that is already oversaturated or has distorted colours?
With black and white films it’s a different story. I’m not sure these plug-ins properly replicate the spectral sensitivity of specific films – though they do offer some convincingly complex controls – but they do produce some nice-looking grain effects.
My very limited tests, though, do at least confirm what I’ve thought for a while – that Silver Efex Pro is the best for silver halide effects.