As longtime readers of this blog will know, I’m just getting started in the videography game. As such, while I have a decent grasp on certain concepts (e.g. aperture, depth of field, composition, shutter speed, etc.), I still have a long way to go when it comes to learning about some of the more complex workflows.
One of the things that still eludes me is color grading. I’ve tried using Final Cut Pro X with its built-in grading, but I find the tools frustrating to use and never really get the results I want. I’ve also tried playing with presets you can find online, such as those available at Color Grading Central. They are okay in a pinch, but I was really looking for a more effective solution.
Many illustrious filmmakers, including Philip Bloom and Vincent Laforet, have espoused FilmConvert’s virtues, so my curiosity was already piqued. Plus, the demo videos I’ve seen all look spectacular. The fine folks at FilmConvert were kind enough to offer me a copy to test out. For the purposes of this blog post, I used only the Final Cut Pro X plug-in, and not the stand-alone software.
Loading up FilmConvert is pretty easy, as is inputting the .fkv registration key. After you do so, a “Film Emulation” category is added to your Effects box. When you apply this to a clip, you see the following window in the “Inspector.”
One of FilmConvert’s selling points is that they analyze the unique color profiles and Picture Styles for a huge variety of cameras. By taking into account this information, they are able to let you make modifications to color and exposure that would otherwise be much more challenging (see the explanation on their homepage for more info). Click here for a partial list of the available “Source camera” profiles. As you can see, the list is massive and they are adding more every day. Note, though, that each time you want to obtain a new color profile for a new source camera, you must download a fairly bulky file (300+MB) from FilmConvert’s website.
FilmConvert then allows you to change Exposure, Color Temperature, and to select film/size options. You can see the latter drop-down menu choices below.
I was particularly keen to get a hold of this software since I’d just shot a video about my friends’ daughter Eowyn, and I was not particularly happy with the final results from a color perspective. I didn’t spend as much time as I should have during the grading process and for most shots, I ended up just applying a preset to them. For outdoor shots, the result was actually pretty impressive, but for some of the indoor low-light shots, they not only didn’t really match the other footage, they just looked plain bad.
Below is a before/after comparison of two frames. The first is from the original video; the second is from the video regraded with FilmConvert.
I realize that the second result could have been achieved with any other grading software. But with FilmConvert, I felt like I was able to speedily match many of the elements in all of my footage, and retain a ton of detail in the shadows and highlights. Also, here is the ungraded image straight out of the camera. As you can see, it’s very underexposed:
Here is the full video regraded using FilmConvert. For the wide shot with my two friends, my settings were to convert to KD5206 Vis3 with size being 35mm FullAp, plus I zeroed out the film grain. For the other footage, I and set it to FJ Prov 100 using Super 16 at the default level of film grain (100), to provide a contrast between the two types of footage. The film grain results are extremely impressive and the program gives you a lot of control over the quantity and quality of the grain that you want added. Note: I’ve just noticed that Vimeo’s compression really messes with the film grain effect. The actual file looks considerably better from a grain perspective than what you see below.
For comparison, here’s the original video:
The regraded video definitely has a more “film-like” look in my opinion. The dynamic range feels a lot higher, the “looks” of each type of footage are more subtle, and the parts of the footage with film grain look really authentic. I’m not going to say the regraded video is unequivocally better, but if you’re like me, then you want the footage to resemble our conventional conception of film whenever possible. FilmConvert is a really great shortcut that can help get you a significant part of the way there.
Here are some other thoughts:
- The Exposure and Temperature settings are executed incredibly well and in my opinion are far easier to use than Final Cut Pro X’s native support for these functions.
- Spectacular attention to detail, with continuously updated camera profiles.
- The grain looks amazing!
- Responsive staff/customer service.
- Not really a con, but I wish that in addition to having a “temperature” dial, they also had some kind of “tint” setting for adjusting the spectrum from greens to purples. That would make this thing perfect. (See Update below. It’s coming!)
- A personal con: only provides support for 5D Mark III’s native “Standard” Picture Style, which is a suboptimal Picture Style. Other supported Picture Styles must be loaded onto the camera using the EOS Updater.
- Relatively expensive compared to other similar presets, such as Gorilla Grain.
- Documentation on their website is relatively sparse. This review is my way of contributing to the internet’s collective knowledge about this product. I hope to do so again in the future.
After playing with it for a few hours, I’m really looking forward to incorporating it into my workflow further.
FilmConvert is sold as stand-alone software, or as a plug-in for Photoshop, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, and Sony Vegas. The bundle seems like the best deal and they seem pretty understanding with how they handle licenses.
UPDATE: A spokesperson from FilmConvert responded to one of my points above:
“We are in the process of adding all of the color wheels other color correctors from the stand-alone into our plugins, along with OpenCL Hardware acceleration. We are just putting the finishing touches on the Premiere/After effects update. This should be out within a week. The FCPX plugin is next up for an upgrade.”