In a previous blog post, I presented a Lightroom-based method to invert and color-correct digitized film negatives using profiles. I was very happy with the results and especially excited to have a relatively simple way to convert negatives in an all-RAW workflow. Then in October I was contacted by Nate Johnson, the developer of a new Lightroom plugin for color negative conversion called Negative Lab Pro that produces fantastic results and provides an all-RAW workflow within Lightroom. Now that I’ve had some time to work with the plugin, I’d like to share my thoughts and show some sample images with comparisons to my previous profile conversions. (Full discolsure: I was given* a fully licensed evaluation copy of Negative Lab Pro for this review.)
Negative Lab Pro is a plugin for Lightroom that provides a new dialog for converting negatives. Negatives can be scanned using a traditional scanner or digitized using a digital camera, and Nate has spent time optimizing the results for both types of scans. But to me, use of a digital camera provides many benefits over a scanner not least of which is the ability to capture RAW images of the negatives.
The conversion process is straightforward. Before conversion, the scanned negative should be white-balanced using the orange mask and cropped so that only the exposed image is showing. Then launch the Negative Lab Pro dialog to begin the conversion.
Aside from its ease of use, one of the incredible features of Negative Lab Pro are the color emulation modes based on the Fuji Frontier and Noritsu professional scanners. Nate set out to produce a product that could specifically recreate the wonderful tones associated with film images created by these scanners. Negative Lab Pro makes use of custom RAW camera profiles and a finely-tuned color matrix to reproduce the beautiful colors and tones of the scanners. The first option in the dialog is the Color Model. In addition to Frontier and Noritsu, other color models are available for black and white negatives or for basic color conversions. I’ve found that I prefer the Frontier profile for photos of people because of the warmer skin tones, and I like the Noritsu profile for landscapes. After selecting the Color Model, the negative can be converted by clicking on the “Convert Negative” button.
For a lot of images, Negative Lab Pro does a great job with just the default settings, but includes a number of advanced features that give you very precise control over the conversion. These include pre-saturation, auto-color, auto-density, tone profiles, tonal adjustments (lights, darks, etc.), and fine-tuned color balancing of highlights, midtones, and shadows. Many of these adjustments work similarly to their Lightroom counterparts, and I’ve found that making the adjustments in the plugin produces the best results (and avoids having to remember that the Lightroom sliders work backwards on negatives). Nate has produced a very detailed written guide to using Negative Lab Pro and also has several in-depth video tutorials on Youtube where he demonstrates the use of all of these features.
In this review, I am presenting several example images that were converted in Negative Lab Pro and also using my LUT-based profile method for comparison. Because the profile method can produce good results and does not require the purchase of an additional plugin, I think it is important to show the differences in the final images to help you decide if Negative Lab Pro is worth your money. Unless otherwise noted, the following images are all conversions of camera-scanned negatives taken in August 2001 on a trip to Utah on Kodak Gold 200 film. I used the Noritsu Color Model and various other settings per each image in Negative Lab Pro. For the LUT profiles, I used dedicated profiles for some images and the best match for others. The Negative Lab Pro conversion is shown first followed by the LUT Profile conversion.
Wasatch Range: The Negative Lab Pro conversion stands out because of the warm tones in the sky, clarity of the distant mountains, and perfect colors of the forest in the foreground.
Wasatch Waterfall: The LUT conversion has a green cast that I did not even notice until I saw the Negative Lab Pro conversion.
Balanced Rock: Negative Lab Pro wins with perfect blue sky and enhanced red tones in the rocks.
Delicate Arch: Negative Lab Pro wins again with great color in the sky and dimensionality of the layers of rock in the foreground.
Mount Timpanogos: Again, Negative Lab Pro has perfect color and clarity. The blue sky was created in Lightroom using a gradient mask, but definitely looks more natural in the Negative Lab Pro image.
Roberts Horn at Sunrise: The foreground in this image was badly underexposed while the sky was almost blown out. I used the Highlight and Shadow Color Balancing tools in Negative Lab Pro to add some warmth to the sky while keeping the shadowed forest cooler. This is a difficult image, and I’d say both methods perform well. I prefer the warmer highlights in the Negative Lab Pro conversion so I give it the edge.
Provo Sunset: Both images were enhanced in Lightroom after conversion because neither conversion retained the warmth of the sunbeams coming through the clouds which are evident in the original print of this photo. I spent a lot of time making sure the LUT conversion matched the print very closely, but only a few minutes on the Negative Lab Pro conversion. Both look great-this one is a tie.
Outdoor Portrait: One final comparison to demonstrate how Negative Lab Pro handles skin tones. This is a photo of my family in southern Colorado on a windy day on October 2017. The image was shot on Kodak Ektar 100 with a Yashica Electro35. The Negative Lab Pro conversion was done using the Frontier Color Model with no further adustments in Lightroom. The comparison image was converted in Lightroom using a LUT profile, then manually adjusted further to remove color casts and adjust highlights and shadows. While the LUT image is a little more vibrant, I see a blue cast on the mountains in the background and the skin tones are very red. The skin tones in Negative Lab Pro image are much more natural and there is no blue cast in the background. In this case, both are good conversions. I like the “pop” of the LUT conversion, but the Negative Lab Pro image looks more natural.
Hopefully you agree with me that based on these comparisons, Negative Lab Pro does a better job on the conversion in almost every case. I have processed several dozen images and have only come across one image that I thought was definitively better using the LUT profile conversion.
- All-RAW workflow within Lightroom.
- Fantastic results.
- Built-in color emulation modes based on the Fuji Frontier and Noritsu professional scanners.
- Advanced features such as tone profiles and tonal adjustments that allow for finely tuned conversions of scanned negatives.
- Batch conversion and ability to sync conversion to multiple images in Lightroom.
Negative Lab Pro is a very powerful yet easy to use plugin for inverting and color correcting film negatives. Nate has done an excellent job testing and optimizing the plugin to work with most modern digital cameras and types of images, and he provides useful and detailed instructions and video tutorials. Based on my experience using the plugin, I can highly recommend Negative Lab Pro.
*As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I was given a fully licensed version of Negative Lab Pro for this review. But I wanted to mention that I after trying out the plugin, I was so impressed with the results that I bought a license. Nate Johnson, the developer of Negative Lab Pro, contacted me and offered to give me a copy of his plugin in exchange for a review. But the version I downloaded was the trial beta that was limited to only ten image conversions. Thinking I has mis-understood Nate’s original offer, I purchased a license in November. Nate contacted me a few days later and offered to refund my money, but instead I asked to apply the money to the purchase of his X-CHROME black and white preset package. So in the end, I did receive Negative Lab Pro for free, but I certainly believe it is well worth the money.