Review: Mastin Labs Filmborn App (Apple iOS)

In general, there are two major sides of the vintage film filter wars when it comes to mobile devices: Mastin and RNI. RNI chooses to focus on trying to emulate every single look of films out there while Mastin takes a different approach with an emphasis on only a few key film emulsions. We’re not the biggest fans of Mastin’s desktop presets, but admittedly their presets in the Filmborn app for iOS aren’t too bad. Do they look like film? They’re close, but RNI still does a better job at trying to emulate it. However, if you’re looking to get a film-like look and then edit to your own heart’s content, then Mastin may be a good option for you.

Before I dive into the review, just a heads up that a while back I published the same image on our Instagram account where I showed off an edit from RNI and Mastin both. And overwhelmingly, many of you liked what RNI gave us.

Features

Taken from the App store listing.

FEATURES:

● Gesture Based Controls
Dial in the perfect shot quickly with gesture based white balance and exposure, highlight clipping, 2-Axis Level, Rangefinder mode, and quick review.

● Non-Destructive True-to-Film Presets
Our presets are born from an intensive side-by-side comparison process between actual film scans from a Fuji Frontier Scanner, and digital images shot with the iPhone. Mastin Labs’ proprietary color science makes it so no other app can match film as accurately as Filmborn.

● Curves
Filmborn’s curves control is powerful. The curves tool gives you the ability to control the details of the shadows, midtones, and highlights, allowing maximum creative control.

● Tone Profiles
We’ve included real scanning tone profiles such as all hard, shadow soft, and shadow hard, to help with tricky lighting situations.

● Custom Camera Kits
With 4 viewfinders, 3 virtual lenses, and 9 true-to-film presets, you can create camera kits for specific uses, such as a street photography kit, or a large format landscape kit. Effortlessly switch between your kits with a simple swipe in camera mode.

● Learn to Shoot Real Film
Filmborn™ is designed to bridge the analog history of film with its digital future. Built not only to emulate film, Filmborn also educates digital natives on the techniques and history of film. Users will find education on film photography peppered throughout the app, and ongoing education in our Filmborn User Group on Facebook.

Ease of Use

The last time we reviewed a product of Mastin’s, we did what I believe is a very fair review. I personally don’t like the use of film-like filters, but I accept that lots of people digg them. For this reason, I’ve been trying to create a set of my own methods to create images that look and feel like film and home videos made in the 1990s. I’m doing it based off of a lot of research and so far a lot of my friends and other journalists are really liking the effects. Do they completely mimic the look of video? They probably won’t, but they’ll give you that feeling!

Filmborn is an app designed to work with a few key films: 9 in total. From there, you can edit your image via a number of parameters. Kirk Mastin chose three of his favorites from Fujifilm, three from Ilford and of course three from Kodak. These film presets were initially and primarily developed and marketed amongst the fashion crowds, but now that the Filmborn app is out, there are others that are using it. It seems to be more for everyday general use for the serious travel photographer.

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In true entrepreneurial spirit, you can purchase additions to make your app even beefier. One of these is a rangefinder for the camera so you can see what’s going on outside the frame. The other is the curves tool.

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Yes, to get more from this app, you need to buy stuff, but that makes sense. For what it’s worth, everything Mastin offers is significantly more affordable than all that RNI offers. But, RNI offers a lot more versatility overall. 

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When you first load up an image, you’re supposed to choose a preset film. You don’t have to though. From there, you can then go and edit certain parameters. If you’re a user of many image editing apps, these will all just come to you and you’ll understand what they are.

But if you don’t tend to putz around with apps, then you may be a bit confused here. Either way, know that you get a lot of options when it comes to editing, but again nowhere as much as what RNI offers.

Image Quality

So to really put this app to the test and negate anything major that anyone said about our last Mastin review, I’m using the same method as with our last RNI films review. As many of you who have been reading this blog for years know, I’m an incredibly experienced film shooter. In fact, I do it for fun. My commercial work is all digital, but otherwise I enjoy the slow and almost sensual process with a scene, and the act of simply taking a picture that film allows me to have. 

I’m part of a group on Facebook that I joined with our Curation Editor, Anthony Thurston. It’s called LooksLikeFilm, and every time I see images from there I keep thinking to myself that they don’t look like film. Instead, they look like someone took a film preset and murdered the original creator’s intentions, all in the name of delivering what they think looks like film but instead doesn’t at all. It’s got great work, but 99% of the images in that group don’t look like film at all.

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Anyway, back to the review: the image above was shot years ago on Medium Format Kodak Portra 400. It’s one of my favorites that I’ve shot with the film. For curiosity’s sake, I applied both Filmborn and RNI Films to the image.

Here’s what it does:


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I kind of like what it does when using the Kodak Portra 400 preset to be honest. But then I went about looking at what it can do to other images.

Model: Grace Morales

Model: Grace Morales

Here’s an image of Grace shot with Daylight white balance: that’s what most film is balanced to and it’s what all of the films that Filmborn offers is balanced to.

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Here’s what Filmborn does at Portra 160:

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Not bad, not bad.

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Now here’s what RNI Films does.

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Admittedly, I like what Mastin does more straight out of the editor. But when it comes to actually emulating the look of film, I much prefer what RNI does. Look at those shadow tones on her face for example. Anyone that’s shot with film knows that in general, the more light you give it the better it will look especially when it comes to the shadows. Sometimes the best thing to do with Portra 400 is to shoot it at ISO 200 and develop for ISO 320.

Don’t believe me?

Pro Tip: the latest emulsions of Kodak Portra were designed to be scanned. We recommend Portra 400 more than almost anything else out there.

Pro Tip: the latest emulsions of Kodak Portra were designed to be scanned. We recommend Portra 400 more than almost anything else out there.

Above and below are two images that didn’t have the major diffusion properties and spread of light that the original Portra film photo I shot and presented in this section shows.
This image was shot with Kodak Portra 400 on a Bronica ETRS: which means that it was done in the 645 format.

This image was shot with Kodak Portra 400 on a Bronica ETRS: which means that it was done in the 645 format.

Now take a closer look, RNI is giving you actual film results, or closer to it than Mastin is. Mastin is close, but still no cigar. In fact, neither of them are dead-on, but RNI is still closer.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Conclusions

So do I like Filmborn? Yes, but honestly not enough for me to continue using it. Will you like it? I can totally see how a lot of people will. But I can’t like it enough to keep using it. If I want a film look, I’ll shoot film. But if I want something close, RNI does it justice enough for me to be able to say, “Okay, I can accept this.” However, I think it’s easier to get an acceptable photo in Mastin.

Give it a try.