LUTs and Filmconvert: Pros and Cons

When making video for the web, DVD or TV, what we shoot seldom looks like the final product. Depending on how the footage was originally shot, and a multitude of tweaks are made, we get what we normally consider to be a good looking show. As any videographer worth their weight in gaffer's tape knows, there are an almost infinite number of ways to manipulate your footage to achieve the look you want for a scene. Right now, let's talk about the benefits and drawbacks of LUTs and Filmconvert.

A while ago, I wrote a short article about Color Grading, LUTs and Filmconvert that went into two popular ways that many shooting video can make their footage look like it was shot on film. These techniques, with a little bit of additional work can drastically change the look of your footage as you can see in the example below.

The example above uses the popular plugin, Filmconvert, which boasts it's "The best Film Stock Emulator you've ever seen". But is it the right tool to use?

The other technique that many use are LUTs, or Look Up Tables. While LUTs have many uses, I've seen them most commonly used to change the color information of a shot based on an existing set of parameters that are often based on actual film stocks. 

So which is better, LUTs or Filmconvert? That's not an easy question to answer, as they both have their benefits and drawbacks. To answer that question for myself, I did a little bit of experimentation. 

So here are a few takeaways:

  • LUTs (when used properly and with some additional color correction) produce fantastic results that look very much like film, yet I've noticed a significant increase in render time for the clips with LUTs applied. 

  • LUTs are very specific, and to get the look you want, you have to really search for the right base to start from. Understanding the differences between each LUT, and having a good idea of the look you'd like to achieve will give you a better chance of getting there, rather than blindly experimenting. 

  • Filmconvert renders quickly, yet the quality of your footage may suffer, as artifacts can be introduced.

  • It's more difficult to selectively grade with Filmconvert than it is with LUTs. 

  • Filmconvert is much faster to implement, and your can experiment easier within the plugin itself to achieve a variety of unique looks. 

So again, which is better? The answer is neither of them. Depending on your individual situation, budget, and timeframe, either one will fit your needs. For film, you may want to invest in a set of LUTs to establish a consistent look as a baseline, and grade from there. Your quality stays high, and if you manage your time well, you won't have to worry about any additional render time that you may incur. For video for the web, Filmconvert may allow you to be more creative with your looks, and explore different possibilities while optimizing your video for the smaller screen. Depending on the size of your video, the dip in quality may not be as noticeable as compared to something that may be shown on a television. Of course, each situation will call for a different approach, and as with any art, nothing is set in stone. Remember, the most important piece of equipment you take to any shoot is what's behind the camera. 

If you'd like to try some of the Filmconvert presets I made in the video above, you can download them for free here!

Note: These presets do not include the Filmconvert plugin are based on the Canon T3i/600D shot in Cinestyle for use in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014. Use them as a starting point for your own looks. 

Be sure to show me your results by tweeting me at @philwesson.