VSCO Cam Alchemy Collection — review
Cross processed look? "Dramatic color shifts"? "High contrast"? Utter nonsense. I don't know what VSCO's marketing department was thinking when they came up with that description.
The new Alchemy Collection (Q series) presets are gentle, not dramatic. They basically take a bit of warm or cool tinting in the midtones while leaving whites pretty much white, and add it to the common VSCO formula of increased brightness, an S-curve to increase midtone contrast and saturation at the expense of highlight and shadow detail, and cyan/blue shades in the deep shadows. Any "dramatic color shifts" are pretty much just those that come from significant brightness increases: blowing out of bright colors causing them to go white, pastel, or to shift toward a secondary color.
Here's what real film cross-processing looks like. Now look at what the Q series does. Check out the before/after blinking GIFs in that second link. Do you see any dramatic color shifts? Anywhere? There are definite increases in brightness, and some increase in contrast and saturation. And a bit of warming or cooling with some presets. But that's it. [Note: at this writing, some of the captions at the latter link are incorrect. The "Town of Milton" doorway is Q6, not Q7, and the couple in front of the green wall is Q9, not Q8.]
True cross-processed looks would probably be unmarketable. VSCO Cam's users seem to like their processing conservative. They're not looking for wild contrast and color shifts; the P series seems to be the least loved of all the presets, and even the toned B&W X4-X6 series is pretty much ignored. So the Q series really does fit in with what I think most VSCO Cam users are looking for. It just doesn't fit with the absurd description that VSCO's marketing department has saddled it with.
Let's look at the individual presets. I'm going to take them out of order, starting with the warm ones first. I've included links to the VSCO Grid search for each preset.
The Big Three warm-tone presets
Together, Q5, Q2, and Q1 account for three fourths of the Alchemy-processed images on the VSCO Grid right now. They're clearly in a class by themselves.
Q5 is proving to be the superstar of the Alchemy Collection: at this writing, almost a third of the Q-series images on the VSCO Grid were processed with Q5. With only a touch of magenta tinge added to the lighter midtones, Q5 is the most conservative of the bunch. Did I mention that VSCO Cam users seemed to like conservative processing? Even though foliage may get pushed a bit toward the blue side, Q5 has proven popular on a wide range of subject matter.
Q2 is a strong second-place in popularity. It incorporates a stronger S-curve for more midtone contrast and saturation, and some orange tint to the midtones. The increased contrast seems to be the big draw for Q2.
Q1 is a strong third-place in popularity on the VSCO Grid. It's similar to Q2, but has increased brightening and a more standard S-curve, and increased orange tint in the midtones. The increased brightening and the orange tint conspire to mangle greens, but the effect on skintones makes Q1 popular for people pictures.
Other warm-tone presets
Q7 isn't getting much love. Fairly conservative with a bit of yellow toning in the midtones, it keeps bright yellows and greens from washing out so much. I think it can give a nice look to some foliage, but apparently most people don't agree, or at least they're choosing something else. Maybe the slight bluish shift of the brighter greens bothers them. Some skintones might not appreciate the yellow toning, depending on the original color.
Q8 also is getting passed by. Like the much more popular Q2, it has a stronger S-curve for more midtone contrast and saturation, but the brightening is increased and the midtone tint is more red.
Q10 so far has been completely ignored on the VSCO Grid. There are more than 80 Alchemy-processed images on the Grid at this writing, and not one of them used Q10. All that currently appears from the search are 11 pictures that don't really use Q10. The Q10 preset is heavy-handed, with extra brightening and a strong red-orange cast in the midtones that turns blue skies violet.
The cool-tone presets
Q3 is the most popular of the cool-tone presets in the Q series, with as many VSCO Grid images as the other three cool-tone presets combined. It's unique in the Q series, with a high-contrast S-curve and a strong blue cast in the darker midtones that manages to make blues considerably brighter and neutrals markedly blue, yet leaves most other colors pretty much alone. Skintones can "pop" with this preset, if the blue tint provides enough contrast.
Q4 had been the early popularity leader of the cool presets until Q3 blew past it. Q4 is the most conservative of the cool presets, with a bit of cyan cast to the darker midtones. This produces noticeably blue foliage, but skintones are mostly unaffected.
Q9 has been chasing Q4 in popularity. It has increased brightening and less cyan toning in the darker midtones. Aside from the washing out of bright colors by the extra brightening, Q9 exhibits brighter blues and bluer foliage.
Q6 hasn't gotten much love, and with reason. It has a strong green cast in the midtones that few images can comfortably wear. It even makes foliage look funny. I suppose it's the closest to a true cross-processed look in the collection, but it's literally a pale imitation. To me, Q6 tends to look like a white-balance mistake, not cross-processing.
I don't know that the Alchemy Collection really adds that much to the VSCO Cam canon. They certainly don't add cross-processed looks, I don't believe that VSCO Cam is inherently capable of cross-processed looks, and I don't believe that many VSCO Cam customers are interested in cross-processed looks anyway. These are gentle adjustments, but VSCO Cam offers many other presets with gentle adjustments; the E series comes to mind.
So it's a question of whether you like these looks, or maybe you're fine with paying three bucks (US) just to have them.
The open-source LightZone Project: http://lightzoneproject.org/