Friday, June 20, 2014

Fuji Superia 800 Film Review

I will admit to having done very little in the way of film reviews, mainly as I haven't shot enough film photos in my life to have merited it. These days there's getting to be less and less film stock to choose from, which is too bad, because when there was a wide variety of brands and types available, it would be like shooting with a whole new camera, just by changing films. I suppose this was seldom done - good photographers would have a preferred film and stick to it, normally.

Nonetheless, I finally completed a roll of Fuji Superia 800, loaded into my Elan-7 Camera last fall, and fortunately, included a few digital comparison shots with which to spark your interest. And as I've found in the past, comparing film to digital, especially when not using similar lens systems as I've done here is like comparing apples and oranges.

From the outset, I didn't think I'd like the Fuji 800 very much, as I'm not a Fuji fan. Back in the early 80's when I used my Spotmatic camera as a "sketchpad" for my paintings, I would occasionally try a roll of Fuji, but always had a strong preference to Kodak, which in most cases, seems to still hold true today. Being an 800 ISO film, I expected a fair bit of grain, and some times there was lots, and other times very little. A lot depends on the light level, just as it does for noise with digital photography.

I was surprised also to see a whole lot of colour shift toward purple under difficult lighting with the Fuji, just as I'd seen with the Kodak Ultra-400 last year. This could be due to the common link I use for all films - my Epson V500 Scanner, except I don't get anything near purple when I use Kodak Color Plus 200, which gives me just the opposite of purple - lots of amber, and a shift of orange to near-red, but only when used in the Elan-7 camera... otherwise, as in my FED camera, colors with this cheap-o Kodak film come off the scanner perfectly natural. This surely must resonate with passionate film users who love it's unpredictability... and I certainly wasn't expecting what I was seeing here.

The first pair of shots (below) are almost identical in composition, taken at sunset, but the film version is hugely purple in both light and dark reflective regions, although the sky is quite correct. Quite a bit of detail is lost to film grain with the Fuji 800, all of which is preserved even with the small-sensor DMC-LX5 compact digital. The Elan-7 is one of Canon's best film SLR's, and the EF 40 lens is no slouch, so this first pair shows what a great little performer the Lumix DMC-LX5 compact really is! Still, one thing I can say for film is that it is not "sterile" at all, even though this particular film seems faulty in so many other ways. From an artistic, rather than purely technical standpoint, I prefer the colours of the window reflections with the film, and I also feel that the row of pillars rhythmically interacting with the doors and windows is far more eye-catching with the film shot, where with the digital pic, this gets lost in the ho-hum predictability of digital. This particular "rhythm" is my whole reason for taking this picture, and I'm not sure why, but film "got it", but digital "lost it". It may have something to do with the way other details in the film shot get lost in the "purple haze", leaving the rhythmic pillars well emphasized.

Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Lumix DMC-LX5 Digital Camera, DxO Pro Optics

This next pair is pretty much the same thing, but taken from the opposite direction. Same comments - the film really lost detail in favour of grain (which grain fans would love). This shot isn't nearly as artistically interesting as the first - the "rhythm" of the pillars isn't nearly as tight, and so it fails in both pictures. Again, the digital shot is technically perfect, which again makes the little Lumix premium compact a real champ, and in so many ways the only digital camera you might ever need - it never fails to impress. But the film version of this pair has a certain "atmosphere" of foreboding darkness which I like, again an artistic quality which is the real reason for which "artists use film", even a not so great film like this one.

Perhaps I'm all wrong here - after all, this was sunset, which is often referred to as "deep purple" (think of the old song by that name), but with the digital shots, you'd never really know that, would you?

Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film

Lumix DMC-LX5 Digital Camera, DxO Pro Optics

Finally, this pair takes us into a completely different line of quality. Obviously far from being the same composition (I was just shooting what caught my eye this time), I should emphasize that these were both taken under daytime cloudy conditions, which is the photographer's friend - there's no tricky lighting to deal with when it's cloudy, thus eliminating any exposure related problems. This time, the film fared extremely well, with no visible grain, and plenty of detail. It has typical Fuji neutrality, and is a real complement to the Canon EOS system, even for the SLR film based line. I especially love the receding fade to white in the centre, which really emphasizes the space in this picture, and kind of tells a story about what a cemetery is all about - the coming resurrection. The same effect is present in the digital shot too, but not to the same extent. I'm not certain, but this pair might show how important having an optical viewfinder can be for serious photography (and the Elan-7 has the best I've ever owned, even superior to the VF on my EOS 5D DSLR.) The Lumix compact, of course, has no viewfinder - just the rear LCD screen. This time, I prefer everything about the film shot over the digital.

Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film

Lumix DMC-LX5 Digital Camera, DxO Pro Optics
Finally, without comment, I'm going to serve up a few more of the pictures taken with the Elan-7 EF-40 and Fuji Superia 800. These were all taken under high noon sunlight at Fort Beausejour, and I think they all show an amazing dynamic range for such conditions (No digital HDR stupidity required!):

Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film



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