TrueGrain v1.1 — Black & White Film Emulation Review

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, February 2008
Published by: Grubba Software
Requires: Source Files in 8 or 16 bit RGB TIF Format, 2GB RAM, Windows XP SP2 or later; Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later
MSRP: US$300.00

Grubba Software was formed to create a solution that could answer the problem of creating digitally originated images that are accurately modelled after real world black & white films. TrueGrain v1.1.7 is a standalone application which uses a combination of real-world samples of grain types, film-specific spectral response curves and dynamic range settings that further refine the greyscale conversion process. There are a number of software solutions which do parts of what TrueGrain does, but none which do it all with such ease and effectiveness.
TrueGrain has sample grains and conversion profiles for a number of film types which I've listed below by film pack.

Film Pack 0
Ilford Delta 3200 Professional
Ilford FP4 Plus
Kodak Professional T-MAX 400

Film Pack 1
Bergger BRF-200
Ilford HP5 Plus
Kodak Professional T-MAX P3200
Konica Infrared 750nm

Film Pack 2
Kodak Panatomic-X
Kodak Professional TRI-X 400
Kodak TRI-X Pan 400

Grubba Software have made a commitment to add more stocks as and when demand requires. The beauty of this model is that your library can grow independent of program updates. Each film stock type comes with settings that also include a number of traditional glass filter profiles and grain samples for a variety of film sizes. For instance, Ilford Delta 3200 Pro comes with the following profiles and grain sizes:
Ilford Delta 3200 Professional 120 (Exp: 6/2007)Exposure: 3200 ISOProcess Date: 1 September 2007Ilford Ilfotec DD-X 1:4 20C 7:30 - Drum Processor

Included filter profiles
Wratten 8 Yellow
Wratten 11 Yellow Green
Wratten 21 Orange
Wratten 25 Red
Wratten 58 Green
Wratten 80B Blue

Included grain sizes
110 17mm x 13mm
135 36mm x 24mm
120 56mm x 45mm (6x4.5)
120 56mm x 56mm (6x6)
120 56mm x 70mm (6x7)
120 56mm x 75mm (6x8)

This film type was modelled on samples processed with Ilford Ilfotec DD-X in a drum processor. Not all film types in TrueGrain have this range of media types but they are very comprehensive where possible.

Using TrueGrain is a breeze and really couldn't be any simpler. Open your image, pick your film type, select your filter if needed, then pick a grain sample and process. The whole workflow is really simple and allows a great deal of modification from the base effect. The interface features three control panes which allow you to refine the simulation by modifying the spectral response, dynamic range and film grain attributes and settings.

Spectral Response basically maps how a particular film type responds to different wavelengths of light. The Spectral Response panel controls, via a mapping curve, how color ranges are mapped to black & white values. The curves are again really simple to use, and can be used by anyone with some knowledge of color to create more interesting effects with your images. This panel is also where you pick the wratten filter you wish to emulate.

The Dynamic Range panel is where you affect the tonality of your image via a tonal response curve. According to Grubba software this feature basically affects "the overall nonlinear response of a given film stock to brightness." The attenuation slider affects the overall intensity of application of the dynamic range.

The last panel, is the Film Grain application control curve, where you define how the film grain is applied. In this panel, you can select the scale of the grain, for the film type you have selected. The scale is reliant on the film size you select and bearing this in mind, I would make an effort to size your source image appropriately, for your intended print size. The curve in this panel isn't editable, but it's intensity of application and appearance can be increased by the grain intensity slider.

Film grain is one of the hardest attributes to effectively emulate, and it is often something which many imageers are asked to remove from scans and images. In TrueGrain this attribute is required as the user is actually trying to emulate this realistic quality, which has its own aesthetic value. Grain modelling is nicely implemented with controls for affecting the inclusion of grain in shadows, midtones and highlights via the predefined curve, as well as controlling the grain size.

One of the attributes which would greatly improve the handling here, is the inclusion of features like clumping and grain shape, to allow for special effects and more customizable grain effects. It might be possible to create application curves and profiles for different types of grain and effects.

I found the best results were created when using fairly neutral, low ISO images with no overt color casts. I also found that using higher resolution images was a necessity, as with lower resolution images the grain effects proved unrealistic—a 6 megapixel image being a recommended baseline or minimum size.

TrueGrain is impressively simple and it is my feeling that the only real way to improve the application, is to add color film types to it, and some facility for custom effects as outlined above. However, as Grubba indicate in their FAQ, they want to focus on handling B&W first, before tackling the additional complications involved in modelling color film types.

Cons: Would like to see more B&W film types. No support for color film types.

Pros: Fast and really easy to use. Highly configurable. TrueGrain is aimed at professional users who can appreciate the work that's been put into this excellent product. The interface makes it easy to achieved the desired result and the available presets further simplify the process. All things considered, TrueGrain is a must have for any photographer and imageer who wants a digital equivalent of black & white film. Highly Recommended.