darktable’s filmic rgb module comparisons

The new standard in darktable for image editing seems to be the filmic rgb module. It is supposed to replace the tone transformation previously done by the base curve, and various other ad-hoc solutions that existed. The user manual describes filmic rgb as:

Remap the tonal range of an image by reproducing the tone and color response of classic film. This module can be used either to expand or to contract the dynamic range of the scene into the dynamic range of the display.

I thought I’d do some very quick editing to show examples of what images look like when we activate the filmic module. First, I will try and use only the tone curve to transform the initial flat looking image into something more usable. Let us compare this to using filmic and the tone curve together:

Tone Curve OnlyFilmic+Tone Curve

I tried to make as few other edits to this image as possible to show the basic effect. Now let’s compare filmic rgb with the tone curve to using the old-school base curve with tone curve:

Filmic+Tone Curve

Here are my conclusions about filmic from editing thousands of images with it:

  1. Although you can’t see it in the final examples here, the default activation of filmic tends to crush blacks too much on nearly all my of images and that has to be adjusted with the dynamic range scaling slider
  2. After making sure the filmic module does not crush any blacks, the highlights are fairly flattened and pretty much always need to be adjusted. You can do that to some extend in filmic but I think at this stage it is preferable to do that with the tone curve module to get the exact look that you want.
  3. Filmic’s default middle tones saturation is way too saturated for nearly all of my bird and wildlife images, and I usually have to turn it down
  4. Filmic does a better job than the old base curve defaults. Base curve was somewhat of a headache and usually made the darker parts of the image too dark. Going back to some of my old edits with the base curve module, it is clear that filmic rgb is a far superior solution
  5. Most of the time, filmic does a good job, but there are some fairly high dynamic range images that filmic does not work well on at all. In that case I revert to using tone curve only combined with various other modules

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