This year may be the last time I use Fujicolor Pro 400H film. I'm ok with that.
Sometime last week, citing challenges sourcing materials, Fujifilm announced the discontinuation of production and sale of Fujicolor Pro 400H, a popular daylight-balanced colour negative film . The psychological reactions from photographers on the interweb are as varied as one would expect. While some photographers are dealing with feelings of loss, some other photographers are dealing with feelings of denial, and some are accepting of the reality of what professional photographers have known for decades. The film industry is in a long and slow death spiral. Will some film photography be around in thirty years? Perhaps, but it most likely will resemble the horse and buggy industry1.
The resolution of 35mm film cannot compete with modern digital sensors. 120 film beats the highest modern digital medium format cameras. The grain of 35mm film is unmistakable, and in many circumstances, is considered obtrusive. The fact of the matter is every professional photographer believes in the benefits of modern technology currently available in newer digital cameras. After developing about 4000 35mm film frames, you would spend enough to buy a brand-new full-frame digital camera when comparing costs. The economics of the film industry is not sustainable. Film production uses chemicals and processes that are not eco-sustainable. Perhaps we could do more to focus our efforts on cleaning up the film industry while developing digital workflows to re-create whatever it is about the film that we enjoy. The only advantage is film photography is the availability and affordability of medium and large format cameras.
Whether the remaining stock of Fujicolor Pro 400H is bought up by obstinate photographers stuck in unchanging "no growth" mindsets or casual photographers, or Internet opportunist is irrelevant. Like my father and father-in-law, Fujicolor Pro 400H is gone. Acknowledge your grief and cry. Then go find creativity to ways to work around the problem. I think digital photographers are inventive, creative and brilliant. Don't let the worship of long-dead film photographers put chains around that.
Last year, while I was locked down at home bored, I rekindled, after a nearly 30 years hiatus, my joy of 35mm film photography. My father and father-in-law were avoided casual photographers, and after their passing, I developed a nostalgia for old things (including record players) from my lived experience. I was also experimenting with digital film simulation. During the Spring and Summer of last year, I experimented with various digital film simulation recipes via Ritchie Roesch's film simulation challenge. Ritchie has a good eye for colour, experience with film photography, and has created several dozen film simulations. His work shows ingenuity and a willingness to experiment and build community, a tendency I don't see as much with film photographers.
I shot a roll of Fujicolor Pro 400H Film Simulation and loved how it rendered the greens. My wife and I spent a lot of time hiking in the local woods and forests during the spring and summer last year, and I was excited to run a roll into a film camera. I read up on Fujicolor Pro 400H but had problems purchasing it, and my Pentax ES II was out for repair. Eventually, I had some in hand and started and completed a roll of Fujicolor Pro 400H in Autumn. Fujicolour Pro 400H tends toward green and magenta which I think are just perfect for landscape photography and "non-white" skin portraits.
When I read the announcement, I went online to find some 35mm rolls to shoot in my Minolta XD-11 this summer. Film Photography Project, Amazon and B&H Photo were sold out, but I found that I had already put one roll in Adorama shopping cart some months ago. I bought five rolls of 135. It may be the last five rolls of Fujicolor Pro 400H 35mm film I ever shoot. I'm ok with that.
NOTE: I’ll begin this experience report with a brief disclaimer. It’s been less than three years since I returned to shooting 35mm film after switching to digital photography over 20 years ago. I’ve inundated myself with as much film education as possible between web articles and advice from experienced film shooters. But, since my prior experience with film is decades old, this review is from a rather novice point of view.
When I was a young teenager, I had lots of hobbies. I collected stamps, coins, and shells. I learned a lot about physics designing paper aeroplanes, kites and trebuchets.
My buddy, Andy, and I experimented with the aerodynamics of different wing and body shapes, trying to see how far or how high we could throw a paper plane. Far, very far.
Andy and I were inseparable. We did covert chemistry experiments in my bedroom, making a mess of the rug and the bedroom walls. I loved physics and chemistry. We took apart discarded electronics and built new things with them. I remember one time, we built a radio transmitter. I insisted on hooking it up to the television antenna. We had fun broadcasting our ramblings on the airwaves. Dad was not amused.
But we loved biology too. One year we got into fishkeeping. My dad bought me an 18-litre fish tank where I kept some guppies we netted from a nearby stream. Later he bought me a larger tank, perhaps 100 litres. I kept guppies and swordfish and platys. Dad gifted me the book he had used when he had a tank as a young boy. That surprised me. Up to then, I had had no idea Dad was into fishkeeping. I read the book cover to cover, learning about the difference between fish that lay eggs and fish that have live births. I was fascinated by fish breeding.
I saved up my birthday monies and bought another 100-litre tank to breed guppies and platys. I wanted to see what wild combinations I could produce. I wanted to know if I could do it successfully. We created all sorts of fun combinations of these fish. Other than curiosity, there was no point in breeding tropical fish. We lived on a tropical island with lots of "free" fish to be caught from nearby streams. It was a fun challenge.
I can speculate as much as I want about why I think photographic film is making a comeback. I think it’s nostalgia and a desire for a more challenging and hands-on medium. After decades of digital photography, I recently started using 35mm film again. I bought a film camera on eBay, had it cleaned, lubed and adjusted, slapped in a roll of film and failed. I had forgotten the film roll in the pocket of my jeans, and it didn’t survive the laundry.
I think 35mm film is inferior to 35mm digital. 35mm digital IQ is superior. 35mm digital lenses are superior. 35mm digital dynamic range is higher, and the colour is more true to life. Too many things can go wrong with making prints from 35mm film - in the camera, in the development process, and in the printing process. There are far fewer variables with 35mm digital. 35mm film takes much more work. More work does not mean better images. It just means more work.
From seeing it in magazines or family albums, we are used to how 35mm film looks. We have cultural emotions and memories associated with 35mm film. At some point, all these people, including myself, will die, and only weirdos will make inane statements like “I like the aesthetics of film”. Sometimes I like to fish, and sometimes, I like chicken, but in 50 years, when vegans rule the world, that statement will seem quaint.
I use 35mm film because it reminds me of the 1970s when I was ten. Dad would pile us into his white Volkswagen Beetle for a road trip around the mountains of St. Vincent or to the beach. He always took photos using his Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II. Or when my uncle, Dad’s brother, would host his yearly “cookout” with all the family. He would break out his slide projector, and we would go through the family photos, laugh, and have fun.
Every time I pick up my X-700, those are the memories that come back to me.
I’ll quote Ken Rockwell, who hit the nail on the head.
If and only if you're an accomplished artist who can extract every last drop from film's quality, then film, meaning large format film, technically is better than digital in every way. Few people have the skill to work film out to this level, thus the debate.
Convenience has always won out over ultimate quality throughout the history of photography. Huge homemade wet glass plates led to store-bought dry plates which led to 8 x 10" sheet film which led to 4 x 5" sheet film which led to 2-1/4" roll film which led to 35mm which led to digital. As the years roll on the ultimate quality obtained in each smaller medium drops, while the average results obtained by everyone climbs. In 1860 only a few skilled artisans like my great-great-great-grandfather in Scotland could coax any sort of an image at all from a plate camera while normal people couldn't even take photos at all. In 1940 normal people got fuzzy snaps from their Brownies and flashbulbs while artists got incredible results on 8 x 10" film. Today artists still mess with 4 x 5" cameras and normal people are getting the best photos they ever have on 3 MP digital cameras printed at the local photo lab.
So why the debate? I suspect the debate is among amateurs who've really only shot 35mm since it's been the only popular amateur film format for the past 25 years. Pros never say "film," they say a format like "120," "4x5," "6x17," "8x20" or "35" since "film" could mean so many things. Amateurs say "film" since they only use one format and presume 35mm. Therein lies the potential for debate when people don't first define their terminology. Today's digital SLRs replace 35mm, no big deal. Ken Rockwell
The second roll came out better, but the results are nowhere close to what I can do with my digital camera. My wife chided me for wasting money. I bought another gently used film camera, and my results were much better. Then the most recent roll was developed after the film door on one of my cameras accidentally opened. My wife looked at the photographs.
“Why are you doing this to yourself? You don’t even know if the pictures will be good.”
I looked at her trying to think of an answer.
“It’s a fun challenge. It’s my hobby within a hobby.”
Unfortunately, like other Fujifilm stocks, Pro 400H is prone to green and magenta color casts. I was really hoping this wouldn't be a problem with Fuji's flagship film, but it remains a distinct characteristic of Fuji's color science. ~ Fuji Pro 400H — 35mm film review by Tobias
All images in this post were made on a 36-exposure roll of Fujicolor Pro 400H 35mm Colour Negative Film in a Minolta X-700 with MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 lens and developed and scanned at The Darkroom. in San Clemente, CA. The images are presented here as scanned, without any colour correction, to show the characteristics of the film. If you don't like the green cast, use another film or shoot digitally and use a film simulation. Now that I understand Fujicolor Pro 400 film better, I may use it when the subject matter can benefit from the green cast, e.g. on a bright sunny day out in the woods or a sunny winter day in the city.
For the seventh episode of the Film Simulation Challenge, I chose Ritchie's Fujicolor Pro 400H Film Simulation Recipe. The goal of the challenge is to use the same settings for 24 or 36 exposures, similar to shooting a roll of film. This particular film simulation recipe is intended to imitate the look of Fujicolor Pro 400H film. I “loaded” this “film” into my Fujifilm X-T2, and exposed 36 frames at the Ironbound Farm in Asbury, Hunterdon County. Not all the frames are shown.
This was my first visit to the farm and also the first time using my newly acquired Fujinon XF27mmF2.8 lens which coincidentally was delivered from KEH as we were leaving the house. I'll write more about that lens in another post. According to Ritchie, Fujicolor Pro 400H is a popular portrait photography film. I've never used this film, so I'll let Ritchie give you his overview of Fujicolor Pro 400H film.
Fujifilm Pro 400H is a color negative film that was first introduced in 2002 (originally named NPH400). It’s a popular print film that has survived the digital era, as Fujifilm continues to manufacture Pro 400H to this very day, while many other films have seen the chopping block. It’s a fine-grain (for ISO 400), natural-color, versatile film that’s especially good for weddings and portraits.
The first part of the "roll" was shot with the lens at f/8 and ISO400. While that worked well for the outdoors once we entered the farm building, I realised that my shutter speed had dropped down under 1/25s. I switched to auto-ISO but after a few shots realised that while my shutter speed was better, the ISO had jumped to ISO 12,800. I then switched the lens to full auto-mode. The images captured on the inside of the building all have a very shallow depth-of-file.
The later part of the "roll" was exposed in the beautiful outdoor space. Despite blue skies and near midday sun, the sky was full of fluffy clouds. Most of the scenes were covered in soft light with weak shadows. I don't think the lighting conditions indoors gave me a true sense of this film simulation, but I like how the outdoor shots were rendered.
I need to experiment more with this particular film simulation and perhaps try an actual roll of Fujifilm Pro 400H when my Pentax ES II returns from being repaired.
Ritchie offered some advice that I might have paid attention to had I not been so gung ho to start taking images.
The X-Trans III sensor has a lot of dynamic range, but it cannot hold up to a three-stop overexposure. I found that DR200 is a good setting in many circumstances, but in high-contrast scenes, DR400 might be a better option.
The photographs are all straight-out-of-camera JPEGs captured using my Fujifilm X-T2, Fujinon XF27mmF2.8 and Ritchie's Fujicolor Pro 400H Film Simulation recipe. I think the Fujicolor Pro 400H Film Simulation recipe produces a convincing analogue film look, delivering pleasing results. If you want to see my RAW edits, I have another blog post detailing my trip.