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Overview

TrueGrain is a pro-grade tool for accurately recapturing the aesthetics of black and white film with digital photography.

With TrueGrain, you can:

Classic film stocks that TrueGrain can accurately simulate (click for details):

The following example demonstrates a straightforward aesthetic application of TrueGrain at both 10% and 100%:

example of source image before processing in TrueGrain

Source image from a Canon 1DS Mk II

example of source image after processing in TrueGrain

Same image processed by TrueGrain as Kodak® Professional T-MAX P3200

Achieving the look of film, digitally

Various Photoshop plugins and do-it-yourself techniques exist to mimic the generic “look” of scanned film by converting to grayscale and adding random noise to evoke film grain. However, the results from these approaches are not particularly convincing, because:

  1. real film grain is not random noise
  2. real film grain looks dramatically different across different film stocks
  3. real film grain expresses itself differently based on exposure

TrueGrain’s uniqueness lies in its use of empirical data collected, sampled, and profiled under carefully controlled conditions. It draws from a library of historic film stocks, some of which have been out of production for some time, and are not likely coming back.

TrueGrain can actually adapt a digital image to match the measured dynamic range and spectral response of a specific film stock and then correctly incorporate that film’s actual film grain into the image, even respecting how that grain expresses itself relative to exposure. The result is an image that is basically indistinguishable from a carefully scanned film frame of the same scene, using the same exposure, stock, and development process.

Hovering your mouse over the 1:1 examples, below, will reveal the underlying digital source image, which is the same in all four cases.

Example 1: Ilford™ HP5 Plus

Typical poor results from the conventional algorithmic approach:

Processed by TrueGrain with real, sampled HP5 Plus grain and honoring the actual exposure characteristics of HP5:

example of using noise to simulate film grain
example of using TrueGrain with real film grain

Example 2: Kodak T-Max 3200

The same poor conventional algorithmic approach. Note how the “grain” is just the same noise as the above example applied more strongly:

Processed by TrueGrain with real, sampled T-MAX 3200 grain and exposure characteristics:

second example of using noise to simulate film grain
second example of using TrueGrain with real film grain

TrueGrain implements a variety of different film stocks, and more will be added as they are completed. Please see our Grain Library for comparative examples.

Aesthetics

The purpose of TrueGrain is principally aesthetic. Photographs created with film have a different character from those taken digitally, and sometimes, the film aesthetic is desirable. Although film grain is most consciously noticeable when examining a highly magnified image, it is still evident in images that have been drastically scaled down to Web size:

aesthetics example of unprocessed source image

Original color image taken with a Canon EOS-5D, processed as RAW in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

aesthetics example of source image converted to grayscale

The same color source image, merely converted to black & white in Photoshop.

aesthetics example of source image fully processed by TrueGrain

The same color source image, processed in TrueGrain as Bergger™ BRF-200 (prior to being scaled down).

Looking at a detail at 100%—such as would be clearly expressed in a print—the aesthetic difference is not subtle.

100% crop of unprocessed source image example
same 100% crop of grayscale-converted source image example
same 100% crop of source image example fully processed by TrueGrain

Matching

What better way to prove the efficacy of our process than to compare, side-by-side, analog and digital equivalents of the precise same scene? Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. First of all, film stocks are simply not that consistent from batch to batch. Second, even if they were, there’s no way to insure that they develop exactly the same way. Third, different digital capture devices have their own peculiarities when it comes to exposure, and none behave like film. Less crucially, even if you use the exact same optics and set up special equipment for fine-tuning the depth of field, the images will not turn out identically.

Still, we got close. The film original was shot and developed conventionally, then scanned on a professional film scanner. The RAW processing of the digital original was on Adobe Camera Raw defaults, without any effort to “improve” the image. The only manipulation of the digital source material was adjustments to the dynamic range settings within TrueGrain in order to match the overall exposure characteristics of the scanned image. The only “trickery” involved is that the film original was shot and processed concurrently with the grain samples. (The point of this exercise was to validate our approach, not to create an experiment you could reproduce.)

rescaled, scanned T-MAX 400 image

Image taken with a Canon EOS-1 on Kodak TMAX 400, developed and scanned.

rescaled digital image processed by TrueGrain

Same scene taken with a Canon EOS-1Ds MkII, processed as RAW in Photoshop, saved as a TIF and processed by TrueGrain as Kodak TMAX 400 (mouse over for the color original; yes, the book’s pages are badly yellowed—the book is over 100 years old).

100% crop of scanned T-MAX 400 image

Detail of the above scanned film image.

nearly identical 100% crop of digital image processed by TrueGrain

Detail of the above digital image (mouse over for the color original).

second 100% crop of scanned T-MAX 400 image

Detail of the above scanned film image.

second nearly-identical 100% crop of digital image processed by TrueGrain

Detail of the above digital image (mouse over for the color original).

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