• Price: $95 (£68)

  • Company: Digital Film Tools

  • Pros: Clear attractive interface, lots of filter categories, 32-bit image processing, GPU acceleration with OpenCL, higher resolution interface, 288 different colour and mono film stocks.

  • Cons: Awkward layer system, random variation in elements working, not enough grunge and distortion options, even budget apps can deliver better results, many of the stocks give very similar results.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 5 out of 10 We rate this 5 out of 10

Is this plugin for Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom the best way to apply film looks to photos?

In most things you have to keep moving forwards just to stay in the same place. Film Stocks 1.5, a plugin for Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom is a case in point. A year after the original release – which was outclassed by rival Alien Skin Exposure 4 – there’s an update to the plug-in from Digital Film Tools.

Does Film Stocks 1.5 address all the shortcomings of the original release or add some newer effects to combat all the retro and vintage apps that have been released this year? Well, no, unfortunately for DFT, it doesn’t. What it does do is add OpenCL graphics acceleration – using the power of your graphics card to boost performance for non-3D tasks – so that when adjust the opacity of a layer, the effect is updated in realtime in the preview window.

It isn’t smooth, but it’s better. There’s now 32-bit floating point precision for faster processing and the user interface is much higher resolution which those with Retina displays can enjoy. There are some bug fixes as well.

If you haven’t come across this plugon before, it aims to emulate chemical film stocks, split into black and white, lo-fi, cross processing, Polaroid, print, slide, faded, historical, colour lo-fi, lo-fi cross processing and motion picture film categories. Each category has a range of presets (below) with thumbnails that give a preview of the effect using the image currently loaded.

Simply click on a preset to load it and it then appears in the layers stack on the left.

One of the strengths of Film Stocks is that multiple filter effects can be stacked and the opacity and blend mode of each can be set accordingly. There’s also a mask system with gradients, spots, a cut system – or you can hand-paint effects on or off.

The layer system though is clumsy and could be implemented in a clearer fashion. To start with, the original image is presented as a layer, but then there’s a duplicate, current layer above it, even if nothing has been selected at that point – which makes no sense.

Once a filter has been selected, it takes effect on that current layer. If you add another layer, it appears as another duplicate layer and shows what the current state is, until you apply a filter to it, then it changes to that. It’s also fairly random in that sometimes it doesn’t recognise the control points or display the mask brush immediately, and sometimes it does.

Another odd behaviour happens after you change the blend mode of the duplicate layer – for example to Multiply. To begin with, everything's fine: the image preview responds, then you add a mask (which by default masks everything). The main image preview changes to show that there is a mask active. So far so good, but when you then paint on the mask to remove it, the thumbnail layer preview updates correctly but the main image sometimes doesn’t change at all. Sometimes it does.

I also managed to crash the plug-in completely by brushing off the image.

Back to the interface and the centre of the screen houses the preview image, with a shuttle (above) that allows you to scrub backwards and forwards to see how your effect works/. You can also take snapshots to return to.

The key feature though is that there is access to how each preset works by clicking on the Parameters tab. These cover all the functions used to generate the various film effects from film response, colour temperature, sharpening, blur and grain. If you create something unusually with them you can save the settings yourself.

When rendering out the final concoction, again, this has been speeded up and now is very quick. That however, is one of the few plus points. The other is if you need a specific film simulation. The fact of the matter is that there have been a number of film stock and vintage apps released this year, and sure enough, Alien Skin’s Exposure 5 has just come out as well. While Film Stocks 1.5 isn’t in that league in either functionality or expense, it doesn’t even offer enough compared to the budget offerings either.

With version 1.5, Film Stocks has actually gone backwards in a year rather than forwards. There are much better alternatives at the budget and more expensive ends of the market. While some aspects have been speeded up, it still isn’t particularly quick or smooth and there are numerous cases of random behaviour from the interface.