Comparison of Mastin Labs & VSCO Presets

     I want to tell my fellow photographers about these amazing presets from Mastin Labs.  I had never heard of them until I randomly came across them via Facebook, but as soon as I visited the website I was hooked and dying to give them a try – once I had these, any and all other presets went out the door. If you are or want to be a film photographer, Mastin has, in my opinion, the best and closest film emulation presets available on the market.
     My opinions on making the switch: the aesthetic Mastin gives is very much the style I’m attracted to, love, and want in my own work.  It definitely takes some adjusting, especially if you’ve been using and have perfected your technique with VSCO.  Several women from a local photography group on Facebook have already tried Mastin and they didn’t care for the results on their own images; they can chime in with the why’s and why not’s if they would like to.  It is definitely a refined and distinct style, and if it doesn’t match your aesthetic and branding, I wouldn’t recommend switching.

Here are my opinions on VSCO vs Mastin:
-Mastin gives you 3 film emulations in each pack, with easy one-click adjustment options and grain options (35mm or medium format film), not to mention crop presets to match actual film dimensions.
-VSCO gives you many different film emulations in each pack, so you do have a lot more variety from the beginning, although my experiences with them required extensive tweaking to get them to look the way I wanted.
-VSCO also gives you versatility in your images, catering to a wide range of styles and preferences.  Mastin is clean-cut, I haven’t even tried tweaking it to different styles yet, but it’s because I’m so happy with the initial result.  Plain and simple, Mastin Labs looks like film.
-Mastin presets preserve the detail in the images, giving you brilliant whites and rich blacks while maintaining depth and dimension; my VSCO images always looked flat.
-Mastin’s presets work with both Lightroom and ACR, and come with presets for both Canon, Nikon, and Fuji X-series users; I love this, because if I have a second shooter at a wedding who shoots Nikon, I’m not left having to tweak their images to match my own in post-processing.
-Mastin’s customer service is excellent, and there is a Facebook group for users where Kirk Mastin himself, along with a handful of other longtime Mastin-masters, is involved and able to answer questions, critique, and support.  This group is much, much smaller than the other VSCO groups I’ve been a part of, offering a tighter knit community of photographers and artists.
-Mastin Labs absolutely has the closest film emulation presets on the market, and contrary to what the digital era is telling us, film is not dead; in my opinion, its look is utterly timeless.

Side By Side Comparisons

Here are a few side by side comparisons using my images (edited with the Fuji pack):

Determine the Style You’re Drawn To

The site is all VSCO users; if you’re attracted to this style, I’d recommend VSCO.
If you’re attracted to work from those like Erich Mcvey, Jose VillaJeremy Chou, or Kirk Mastin himself, then maybe think a little harder about Mastin Labs.

Comparing the Packs/Before & Afters

I now own all three of the Mastin packs: Fuji, Portra, and Ilford.  I use the Fuji pack for 95% of my outdoor shoots, the Portra pack for 95% of my indoor shoots, and Ilford all the time, because it’s gorgeous.Mastin Labs Comp (1 of 1)

Before & After Portra 400 (natural light)

| A Twist of Lemon Photography

Before & After Fuji 400H (shot with off-camera flash)

| A Twist of Lemon Photography

Digital Matching to Film

For my first two years using Mastin, I was only shooting digital, and it worked out wonderfully for me. But when I started film, I wasn’t ready to leave digital behind completely. It can be scary (and expensive!) to make the change exclusively to film, so I am currently a hybrid shooter, and I use Mastin Labs to match my digital photos to my film scans. For anyone who is interested in trying film, I’m going to save you some time right now: send your film to PHOTOVISION PRINTING. They are, hands down, the best film lab in the country. Not only do they do a fantastic job with my scans, their customer service is nothing short of phenomenal! They won’t be perfect the first time, but as you work with your lab and develop a relationship with them (couldn’t resist that wordplay!), they will understand what you want and get better and better results each time. Photovision had my scans figured out within 5 shoots. That’s impressive. When you have a lab that you trust on your side, the learning curve for film is exponentially faster, easier, and more exciting!


Final Words

I know I should shut up already, “they’re just presets.”  Sure, but they completely, 100% changed my business, and I am incredibly passionate about them!

With Mastin:
1. My editing time has been cut down to a third.  Yes, it takes me 1/3 as much time to edit my photos now than it did when I was using VSCO or my own presets.
2. I am no longer afraid of less-than-ideal lighting, be it noon-day sun or a dark reception where I need to use OCF.  Mastin works gorgeously well on all lighting situations.  I used to nearly hope for a slightly overcast wedding or shoot day so I wouldn’t have to deal with shadows on my subjects’ faces; now I relish and lust after full sunshine.
3. Thanks to the techniques I’ve learned from the Mastin labs user group, such as Jeremy’s efficient wedding workflow guide (thank you PhotoMechanic!), my business is more productive than ever and I can spend more time with my family while still being excited and thrilled with my own work.
4. Working with Mastin Labs has taught me even further how to get my shots correct in camera, which again, saves me oodles of time and stress on the back end.

Kirk Mastin, just take all my money.

If you haven’t heard, Kirk just released two new packs, Portra Pushed and Fuji Pushed. As if it were possible for these presets to be any dreamier.

  • Sonja said:

    I hope these are the ones!

  • I LOVE this post! I've been a VSCO user for awhile now but it does require a lot of tweaking. I've heard about Mastin but wasn't sure if it was worth the've made me a believer! That first comparison you did above is especially breathtaking. xoxo

    • Thanks Jen! It definitely takes some getting used to but if you're drawn to a true film look then I think you'll love them! Best of luck!

  • Rebekah Baier said:

    Awesome comparisons - thank you very much for taking the time to write this. You sold me on Mastin, just purchased the Fuji pack and I'm sure the others won't be far behind. They are STUNNING.

  • Chelsea said:

    Thank you so, so much! This is exactly what I needed in order to make the Mastin leap! Just purchased the Fuji Film set, and am in LOVE! Thanks again!

  • Katelyn said:

    Thank you for writing this! It was very helpful!