Silver Efex’s Kodak Film Simulations

Leica M240, 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for Nik’s Silver Efex software. While Nik is long gone, having apparently been bought out by Google, their Silver Efex software lives on. It’s my go-to choice for converting digital DNG files to B&W ‘film’ capture; in addition to adding characteristic grain of a specific B&W emulsion, it overlays the film’s exposure curve to re-create the tonalities of the film capture. Is it perfect? No. As I’ve attempted to explain elsewhere, the fact that you’re starting with the linear exposure curve of a DNG file as opposed to a native film file with the exposure curve ‘baked in’ makes perfect emulation impossible. But it’s close, and most folks are easily fooled.

Below are the various emulations of the digital file above. There’s been no tweaking the files at all except to load them into Silver Efex and choose the film emulation. You can click on them and open them in a new window for larger jpegs. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see the various looks of the different Kodak film stocks, which I think Nik did a great job of simulating. My preferences: Plus-X for a clean tonality, TMAX 3200 for a grittier look. As for Tri-X, I never much liked it, preferring instead the better tonality and decreased contrast of Ilford HP5. Of course, Silver Efex gives you the option of tweaking grain and tonality after you’ve loaded the film emulation preset, but then you’re not emulating a given film but modifying it as you might do with various developing choices, and that’s a rabbit hole I’m incapable of going down.

Panatomic – X, ISO 32

TMAX 100, ISO 100

Plus-X, ISO 125

TMAX 400, ISO 400

Tri-X, ISO 400

TMAX 3200, ISO 3200

Hits: 17

44 thoughts on “Silver Efex’s Kodak Film Simulations

  1. Dan Newell

    I tried the Silver Efex Tri-X for a while with prints, it’s hard to like it. I switched to DXO Film Pack 5 and used the Tri-X but I changed the size from 24×36 to large format. I think it’s truer to Tri-X when you adjust the grain under the large format setting.

  2. Rob Campbell

    Funny thing is, back when I was working, the aim was to have as little grain visible as possible whilst still having a virginal ASA useable under most circumstances; it’s why we had Ilford making FP3/4 that let us use small cameras (135 format) without paying too highly – in terms of print quality – for the convenience. I tried using their Pan F as well as Kodak’s Pan X, but both were cursed with very low ASA values that, most of the time, made them impractical films.

    This fascination with grain is something that has come of age with digital and “art” photography, where imperfections are thought to contribute some essential oils (snake?) to the product, some undefined truth otherwise absent. Tump should squeeze in a pardon or two for this: it has made me fake some of my own digital shots just for the hell of it. But not to be too harsh: there is a time and a place for a little faux grain as a look of its own, but not as a pretence that the original was shot on film. Best regard it as just any other effects filter, whether dialled in via a software product you purchased or by your own efforts at digital manipulation, and with little to do with archaic processes.

    There’s an irony in the fact that film is now such an expensive, exclusive medium, whereas it used to be digital that cost the Earth…

    1. Stephen J

      Maybe you have a point Rob, but not one that you should perhaps overwork. You always write your comments from the point of view of a commercial artist rather than an amateur, and that is refreshing, since if there are others here, they choose not to.

      Perhaps the amateur might like to try to capture the feel of those great snappers pre-50’s, with their Leicas’? Who can say? Think Tony Vaccaro and his dead friend, snapped with an Argus, developed in an army helmet with looted chemicals, and then further damaged in a flood many years later, but sending a very strong message, that is only amplified by its gross mishandling.

      For some perhaps, the travelling is as interesting as the arrival.

      (Oh and Tump was too busy doing all that great stuff, to bother with the constant siege by some REALLY bad losers.)

      1. Stephen J

        Oh, I forgot to add that perhaps trying to ape film photography is a route to OKness from an aesthetic point of view, but perhaps not making the best of both mediums….

        I wonder, since the camera makers spend much time on their jpeg engines, might there not be mileage in adopting a given setting and just popping them off, either in print or electronic format?

        I met a bloke when out with some folk on my first and last “photowalk”, he did not have a computer at home. He had a Fuji camera, he took the data-card to “Jessops” and got the jpgs printed… job done… he was happy.

        Maybe that is the difference between film and digital since many of us had no control over the development process, we did not have darkrooms generally.

      2. Leicaphila Post author

        “(Oh and Tump was too busy doing all that great stuff, to bother with the constant siege by some REALLY bad losers.)”

        I’d ban you, Stephen, but I like you.

        1. Stephen J

          It wern’t me, it were ‘im sir. The bait was succulent, and I thought he was speaking in code so that you wouldn’t notice Tim.

          I dunno whether I have mentioned this before, but I don’t have access to rental software from Adobe and the like, I might have an old copy of PShop 3 or something laying around, but it isn’t installed.

          The program that I have got used to (because of its simplicity :)) is Iridient Developer, it is small and fast and because it doesn’t do the library bit, I can use the standard PC tools for viewing, filing and cataloguing.

          The application is in my view the closest virtualisation of the traditional darkroom, it is used to develop rather than transform a snap. I cannot remove lampposts from people’s heads, or remove a reflection… I just have to try to do better when composing.

          I like you too Tim, I also like most other commenters here, this is one of the best places on the net. But surely at such times, a little banter regarding the strangest US election ever seen is not out of place? More of a victory parade than an election, the states knew the results long before the first physical voter had made his mark.

          So, anyway, he has gone now… When’s the next war Jo?

          1. Leicaphila Post author

            ” More of a victory parade than an election, the states knew the results long before the first physical voter had made his mark.”

            OK, Stephen, you’re frightening me. You’re not one of those batshit crazy Q guys are you? Not that there’s anything wrong with being batshit crazy – I’ve been there once or twice along the way – but it’s just not very becoming for an otherwise urbane sophisticate like you. It’s what the kids refer to as a Bad Look.

          2. Stephen J

            I am only repeating what the BBC and all major US media outlets shouted from the rooftops when your man looked like he was winning.

            But… they all said, wait ’til the mail in vote is counted, and we did and we saw.

      3. Rob Campbell

        Sadly, Stephen, I can only honestly be the person I am as moulded by the life I have lived.

        Not only does it affect my point of view, photographically speaking, but also my ability to avoid typos: I suffer from a pretty unique disability that I term dyslexic fingers, something that appears to have arrived along with keyboards, because had it existed in my life before, I’d have found it impossible to type letters when typing implied with a typewriter: one could not send letters with mistakes, and lumps of white, transferred paint counted as mistakes. I sent lots of letters. As bad, my eyes also tend to read too fast, and keyboard errors get missed, especially at the scale of my wee iPad, but hey, the office is freezing and my fingers go painfully numb in there, and so it becomes a choice: write on the ‘pad, sitting almost horizontally on the couch, or just listen to the machine. I do both, mostly, but I have yet to discover if I can chew gum at the same time. As I don’t chew gum, it will go down as one of the unresolved issues of my life.

        What a lovely and inspiring Inauguration it was today! Credit where it’s due though: the last time, the FLOTUS held my attention much more strongly. Both wore blue, is how I shall remember the two events. Sex sells, especially when there’s nothing much else on offer.


    2. Dan Newell

      I think we are dealing with the limitations of the sensor and the effect of pixelation. Most of the time all I do is work with dodging and burning as usual but that is working with Leica Monochrom files.
      The problem I have with digital is the computer to printer interface where I’m fighting various programmed adjustments that effect the contrast.
      They haven’t figured out how to add a bar below the Grain adjustment bar that adjusts for Randomness so the eye picks up this more clinical presentation.

  3. Keith Laban

    I don’t do much in the way of B&W conversions but wouldn’t be without Silver Efex Pro, or at least the free version I’ve had for years. My aim when using the program is not to mimic particular film types and their qualities but merely to arrive at an agreeable conversion. Would I pay for it, well, given my use is limited then probably not, but I’d certainly miss it if it went AWOL.

    An example.

    1. Hank Beckmeyer

      Very nice picture, Keith.

      “to arrive at an agreeable conversion” is the general best way to look at it. Trying to reproduce Tri-X is not (not aiming at you here!)
      To try to say that “my pic looks like Tri-X” after running it through one of these pre-sets is flat out wrong.

      It doesn’t – it’s not.

      1. Dan Newell

        OK, it’s not real Tri-X. Depends on what you’re after. Most of the shots coming off the monochrom sensor are tapioca. If I can use an emulation to get there quicker, why not? It’s just another tool if your objective is to punch ’em in the eye.

        1. Leicaphila Post author

          You have a very good B&W eye. I like your color stuff, don’t get me wrong, but everything is better B&W. Do more and send it to me. We’ll do a piece on the color man who turned to B&W.

          1. Keith Laban

            Tim, thanks, appreciated.

            As a painter I see in colour, I would limit the palette but that would be the extent of that particular limitation.

            As a photographer I often find work that has been shot in monochrome to be compelling. There’s a long history of wonderful work, much of which has been shown here, including personal favourites.

            That said there’s no doubt the monochromatic is also viewed favorably by those seeking to promote with the moniker ‘fine art’, riding on the back of others gone before, this all too often an affectation, the medium in danger of becoming the message, adding interest where none exists.

            B&W and colour are just different, neither being better nor worse than the other and to be able to do both well a skill set worth having. When shooting I see in colour, but once shot I can distinguish those images that would benefit from the conversion. I am however less than enthusiastic about shooting in colour and subsequently converting to B&W, it simply doesn’t float my boat.

            I am a colour man, but admit a mono sensor could change or at least add to that.

    2. Leicaphila Post author

      “My aim when using the program is not to mimic particular film types and their qualities but merely to arrive at an agreeable conversion.”

      Pretty much mine too. I use it for all my B&W work, which is basically everything I do, but simply tweak as necessary to get a look I like. The Film simulation really isn’t a concern.

    3. Rob Campbell

      You can do that easily in Photoshop without external bits. I suppose you must have used that route too, so what attracted you to the additional programme if not the “film types” facility? Obviously, I don’t have it, so what am I missing? It’s probably academic, because I think I looked into it once during the slot when it was a free download, but Windows 10 was required, and I have the second version of W 8.

      Going a bit off topic: people talk a lot about learning to see in black and white as opposed to seeing in colour. I can’t say that I find myself consciously doing any of that anymore: if anything, the subject makes its own suggestions right away. It’s by virtue of its attractions that I’m drawn to going click in the first place. On my farm, in the vicious circle of chickens or eggs, it’s the coop makes the call, all by itself.

  4. Dan Kapsner

    Though I love my film Leica’s, I will photograph with anything I can get my hands on. What I like about Siiver Efex is the ease of conversion and the ability to tone photographs. I often crop micro four thirds photos to the 35mm aspect ratio and occasionally introduce grain simulation if I think it works. Happily, now and then print from those files will resemble Portriga from the early 70s, I guess that’s paper simulation on top of film simulation.

    1. Rob Campbell

      I was a purist: Kodak’s WSG D as well-glazed as I could get it. The better the glaze, the better the range of tones that the paper could reveal. If I’d been able to have them look as alive dry as they did swimming around in the wash…

      In a nutshell, that’s where digital papers fall behind. Glossy digital might be pretty good today – been three or four years at least since my HP printer died, and in both protest and disgust I gave up printing, so I’m bound to be a bit out of touch with advances – but I never found one that didn’t bronze or otherwise show surface effects surplus to both expectations and requirements! Matt papers were always an abomination, often a cover for poor photographic techniques (darkroom) or just the least likely to go wrong option in the digital world. I won’t stoop to airing any opinion regarding canvas!


  5. Rob Campbell

    Bad look: or as the Italians might say, fare una brutta figura.

    But hey, look at the leaders – in both the States and the UK. Funny thing: anyone else notice how bad luck and destruction seems to accompany heads of state who marry models? Nick Sarkozy comes to mind. Even Samson had a shitty outcome. I’d put a couple of pennies on a new, glamorous American divorce in the not too distant future. With so many women devoted to being “Women for Trump”, you can see both the temptation for one, and the get out of jail free card for the other, right there in the script.


        1. Rob Campbell

          Yep, a result of living in Mallorca, where my Italian heritage (from which I’d expected some Sun protection) hasn’t let me avoid the unexpected effects of too much sunshine, beachcomber pretensions and yacht-luxuriating (not my boats, thank goodness!) that’s led to my having to put on a prescribed protective layer of cream before sitting down on the terrace for a coffee or even my lunch; I hate making my own food, but in these times of closed restaurants and cafés… That sunshine has cost me a tiny bit of both a nostril and an ear. Maybe the damage happened much earlier in life in India; my local doc here told me that skin has memory. I’d rather not dig into that one too deeply. Worrying to think my skin remembers more than my brain does.

          Rather than a California Beach Boy (CBB), I resemble one of those poor, pale cricket players who wear those distinctive slashes of colour across their faces when they play almost anywhere outwith England. Who knew it could happen to me?

          Speaking of lunch out on terraces: today, I had to stack the chairs against the wall to stop them blowing in through the glass of the French windows. But to compensate, not quite so cold as it’s been.


          1. Dan Newell

            It’s well known on the Spanish Riviera that no chemists stock of sunblock is safe when a busload of Campbell’s arrive.

  6. Rob Campbell

    “But… they all said, wait ’til the mail in vote is counted, and we did and we saw.” … Stephen J.

    Indeed, we saw that it’s less disagreeable to send a vote by mail than to subject oneself to the indignity of queues (and, now, the First World possibility of physical violence and intimidation) in order to exercise one’s right to vote, than do so at a physical site.

    What your man in the American Moon overlooked is this: not all have had their innate sense of what’s right and what’s not right yet driven out of them, however much the forces that seek it try. Not everybody is for sale. Fortunately, in this case, it included senior Republican officials who refused to alter reality and create false numbers, despite direct requests and implied threats; that shows there are still good, brave people on both wings of broad US politics.

    The collective sigh of relief across the world that Trump is now yesterday’s man is quite tangible. Trouble is, he has weakened (by division) the Republican Party to a great degree, and it now faces the problem of staying true to its ideals and roots, or of turning itself over to the crazies for a liifeline to survival. It’s mirror to the fate of my once-beloved Conservatives in Britain. All it takes is one rotten apple, and like the rabbits, multiplication becomes the name of the game.

    1. Dan Newell

      The whole thing was our attempt to mimic the Welsh insofar as we wanted to take it to the very limit and not go over the edge.

      1. Dan Newell

        “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain’t so.”

      2. stefano a.

        Please do us all a favour and stop this nonsense, if people want to read conspiracy lunacies they go to other sites. Time to start repairing the damage done by the most incompetent man on earth in his job and move on.

        1. Stephen J

          Well why don’t people stick to making comments about photography then?

          I never instigate this stuff, I only respond. I accept that is a failing of mine. I just won’t stay silent in the face of ignorant (and I mean that in the sincerest sense) proclamations.

          I have been reading and commenting here since Tim instituted the comments section, and not once have I ever initiated commentary about politics, and I have certainly never had anything to do with conspiracy theories.

          My final comment regards your new POTUS, I will be interested to see just how much of any real substance passed during the last four years, will be undone. My bet is nothing.

      3. Rob Campbell

        Would that make them losers, then, like old dead soldiers?

        I’m thunderstruck to learn that these bone rattlin’ voters are still always on the opposite side to yours; I’d have imagined that nature would have evened out the numbers, at least in the US of A where they have better technology and some even have the ability to “speak in voices”; of course, I didn’t expect any such thing happening in the UK where the Kool-Aid already comes in handy buckets at every pub and personal vision is frowned upon, the great thing being belonging to the parochial tribe. Must be in the potty-training, along with the cricket. There’s not much cricket above Hadrian’s Wall.


  7. stefano a.

    One of the most useful pieces of software ever released, in my opinion. It is fantastic for conversions from colour to B&W, but absolutely indispensable to process images taken with a Monochrom.

  8. Dave Baker

    I have just recently found this site and enjoy the insights, especially about B&W. I must say, however, that the discourse into politics gets way off subject. I can turn on the TV and get political banter all day long. I do photography for relaxation.

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