Fuji X Weekly reader Luis Costa shared on his website, Lifeunintended.com, a brilliant black-and-white film simulation recipe for Fujifilm X-Trans III cameras. I’ll get into why it’s genius in a moment, but I wanted to give Luis a big “thank you” for coming up with these settings and sharing them. I strongly encourage you to visit his site and check out his photography and articles, as it’s worth your time to do so.
For most of the 20 years that I’ve been making pictures, one rule of thumb has been to keep the ISO as low as you can get away with. A big reason for this is that high-ISO film typically wasn’t very good. In fact, my favorite choice for high-ISO photography was Ilford Delta 400, and if I needed something higher than ISO 400 I might push that film a stop or two. So, if I really needed to, I’d go as high as ISO 1600. I did shoot Delta 3200 once and found it barely usable. Usually ISO 800 was my limit. Most often I was shooting between ISO 50 and ISO 100.
I was a little late to the digital photography game. Even so, my first digital camera, a Pentax DSLR, didn’t look great at ISO 1600 except for “grainy” black-and-white pictures. At one time I used a Sigma Merrill camera that even ISO 400 was pushing it. The crazy high ISOs that are common today are a recent development. Now ISO 3200 doesn’t seem all that high, and many people use it freely without thinking twice about it. It’s really quite amazing!
I have found on X-Trans III cameras, such as the Fujifilm X-Pro2, that ISO 12800 is the upper limit, and it’s better for black-and-white than color. Even so, I stopped using ISO 12800 and made ISO 6400 my upper Auto-ISO limit some months ago just because I felt that ISO 6400 was a better top ISO for color photographs and I didn’t want to bother changing the ISO depending on if I was shooting color or black-and-white. Besides, ISO 6400 is plenty high for almost any situation. As it turns out, that wasn’t the greatest idea I’ve ever had, and I’ll explain why.
Luis made a film simulation recipe that requires the ISO to be high. In fact, he uses ISO 12800, and only moves the ISO down when he has to because there is too much light. In case you didn’t catch that, he purposely chooses ISO 12800 because of how it looks. This is a radical move! It works because of the genius of the Acros film simulation. You see, Fujifilm designed Acros to have a built-in grain effect that automatically increases the graininess of the photograph as the ISO increases. At and near ISO 12800 the grain looks absolutely beautiful, and his recipe takes full advantage of that.
The film simulation recipe that Luis invented produces results that resemble Kodak Tri-X 400 film that’s been pushed one or perhaps one-and-a-half stops, and I would add using Agfa Rodinal. The grain pattern and structure isn’t a 100% match, but for straight-out-of-camera results, it’s pretty darn convincing. I’ve only been using it for a week, but it has already become one of my favorites! It’s better than my Acros Push-Process recipe that I use frequently, and I like that one a lot, too.
The one thing that I do different than Luis is I set Auto-ISO to be between ISO 3200 and 12800, with the minimum shutter speed 1/500. I find that ISO 3200 is the lowest ISO that still gives an acceptably grainy result (but the results are better when the ISO is higher). Using 1/500 as the minimum shutter speed forces the camera to use a higher ISO except for when there is a lot of light. Initially I tried a lower shutter speed, but it wasn’t pushing the ISO up enough, so I found 1/500 to be better. Now the camera will often choose an ISO of 6400 or higher, which is where this recipe shines.
Acros (Acros+Y, Acros+R, Acros+G)
Dynamic Range: DR200
Noise Reduction: -4
Grain Effect: Off
ISO: Auto between 3200 & 12800
Exposure Compensation: +1/3 to +2/3 (typically)
Example photographs, all straight-out-of-camera JPEGs made using [Not] My Fujifilm X-Pro2 Tri-X Push-Process Film Simulation recipe: