Instagram, Filters and Films

One of joys having a blog is seeing search terms that led to your blog and one day I saw this „35 mm film that looks like Instagram”. After tweeting it, I got suggest by @filmdevelop to write blog post about this. So here we are.

On disclaimer side I would like to say that I have never touched iPhone or any other modern Apple device. And so I have never used Instagram, all references and pictures for this article will be taken off web. I have once seen one picture in iPhone and had some iPod’s which I bought for my not so successful idea of MP3 player repair business. My only real experience with Apple products is with Macintosh II that I got use when I was a young boy. By use I mean play games and delete files.

As this article is mostly written to Instagram using hipsters and other hip people, I won’t go down and explain what Instagram is and what it does. But I would like to talk about various filters and how they try to replicate film and which films they replicate.

There is interesting page under www.1000memories.com, about which film and camera combo will give your favorite filter look. Instagram filters give film look not other way around as you may have expected. Although page mentions that film look is dependant from age of film, exposure and chemicals used. What isn’t mentioned is that film look is very affected by light color and you can’t change white balance (warm, cold light) for film, like digital cameras and phones does it.

Instagram Filters from www.1000memories.com

Instagram Filters from http://www.1000memories.com

Picture samples in 1000memeroies page are taken on film, filters may get that look under certain light and exposure conditions, but mostly they will give you quite different looks. Coupled with fact that Instagram “updates” it’s filters, even same filter will look different with each new version.

First filter I would like to talk about is X-Pro II, it tries to replicate cross processed film magic, which is very popular among Lomography community. From aforementioned page, X-Pro II replicates Cross Processed Velvia 50. Although under very specific condition it may look a little similar to that film, in reality its colors are no where near cross’ed Velvia. Difference is even bigger when using newer X-Pro under Instagram 2.0, in this version saturation is turned down and colors are more “normal”. While cross’ed Velvia is looks like has been shot though green filter (glass), but cross processed Velvia 100 has very pinkish look for instance. I personally don’t cross process my slide film, as I really like super saturated colors from Velvia. Velvia’s colors will hit you so hard you won’t even know who you are and will blind you.

Instagram X-Pro II filter from http://www.nuwomb.com

Instagram X-Pro II filter from http://www.nuwomb.com

Cross Processed Velvia 50 - http://iheartfilm.wordpress.com

Velvia 100 X-Pro'ed - From http://www.lomography.lv

Another one of favorites, Walden filter tries to get that old school look that experimental Impossible Project PX70 integral film has. And again it comes close in few instances but in other situations film gives different look than filter.

Walden filter

Image taken using Impossible Project PX70 film

It’s also true for other filters. While filter may have some luck recreating incredible magic of film, in majority of situations film look will be way different than filter look. Now dead Gotham filter gives monochromatic image with slight yellowish cast, while Ilford XP2 processed in color negative chemistry gives you more redish/brownish look.

Gotham filter

Picture made using Ilford XP2 film - From http://fromme-toyou.tumblr.com

As you may have understood from these examples that film look can’t be emulated by some filter. Problem with these filters is that they always change specific parameters by absolute value, but as you change exposure (amount of light that gets to film) and light itself changes, film will give different, much more interesting and unpredictable look. Same holds true for PhotoShop presets, which tries to emulate film look, but fails in most circumstances. And why would you want to simulate film look if you can actually shoot film and have fun with it.

Another bad news for Instagram is that in version 2.0 some of fun filters have been taken down and changed for several new ones. Problem here is that all 4 new filters look very similar to each other, while canned filters had some nicer distinctive look, like Gotham and Poprocket.

Old instagram filters - from http://www.myglasseye.net

Latest Instagram filters - http://www.myglasseye.net

Although this article is about Instagram, same holds true for all iPhone and other Phone apps, which uses different filters to achieve that famed “film” look.

In end I would have to say there is no film that has Instagram look or via verse. Why constrain yourself with couple of filters when you can use several hundreds of film types, with different processes which each give distinctive look. Films can be cross processed, bleach bypassed and etc. together giving you infinite amount of different looks and feel. Also keep in mind that it doesn’t matter in which camera you put film in, colors will be same, just better cameras have several features that make you life easier and have better lenses for less optical defects, which you may or may not like. So it doesn’t matter if you use Diana or high end Nikon, or maybe even Leica.

And don’t worry about terrible tales of slide film processing being very expensive. Some evil labs are trying to rob every last coin from you, because of “rare” film process and because usually prints aren’t ordered from slide film. It’s an old wives tale and kept alive because of greed coming from processing labs. In reality slide film chemistry is just a notch more expensive so cost differences are be small. So when you start shooting real film, you can send film to me for processing as I offer better prices than most of European labs. Here is link for more information – https://nameisisfilm.wordpress.com/film-developing/ But if you live in United States of America there is super great lab called Old School Photo Lab and you should sent your films to them. Like Carlsberg would say: “Probably the best film lab in Western Hemisphere”

That concludes this article, if you have any questions, suggestions or just want to add something. Write me at tvaika2[at]gmail.com or post comment here.


P.S.   Small advice would be that Kodak films look better cross processed than Fuji films.

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4 thoughts on “Instagram, Filters and Films

  1. Problem with instagram is it devalues these film techniques to the common person. They don’t see a photograph in a gallery and are amazed by it and say “how did they do that?” They say, “I can do this with my phone”.

    This adds to the long list of problems photographers have in trying to portray their work as art.

  2. Pingback: Yesterday Instagramer, Today Film Photographer « Nameisis Film Paradise

  3. Hi, congratulations for your blog. I’ve seen that you wrote about Gotham, the filter removed by Instagram.
    I would like to point your attention on this App: Photam
    Photam is a photo-effect iPhone App that revamps the old Gotham filter by Instagram. The app provides additional features built around the «missing» filter: photam-feed, camera-filter and “serendipity” (Photam user of the day). A refined design we’re proud of and deep integration with Instagram APIs.
    Launched on the App Store on May 2013. You can get it at http://www.phot.am or watch the #photamfeed collected on our Tumblr http://photam.tumblr.com/

    I think it could be an interesting item for your reader and I’m glad if you talk about this.
    Thank you for your attention.

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