Do straight-out-of-camera JPEGs from Fujifilm X cameras actually resemble film?
I used to shoot film. I learned photography at the height of film, in the late-1990’s. I disliked digital when it began to get popular. Yes, I was a film snob for at least a decade, almost two. I don’t want to rehash my journey (you can read about it here), but I simply want to convey that for a long time I was a film-only guy, and I have a lot of experience with it. Now I rarely shoot film (only occasionally); instead, I use Fujifilm X cameras. I make Film Simulation Recipes that often mimic various film stocks and analog processes. I know a thing or two about film, Fujifilm, and making Fujifilm resemble film.
But does it? Can SOOC JPEGs really resemble film?
Why I’m writing this post is because I stumbled upon two articles on The Phoblogger: Fujifilm vs Film Photography and We Challenge You to Identify the Fujifilm Negative Film vs Simulation. Neither of these articles are particularly profound, and Film Simulation Recipes are not mentioned, and I’m pretty sure not used. I don’t know if any of my tips for achieving a film-look in-camera were implemented, but probably not. However, as I read these two articles I began to contemplate: what makes a film photograph special, why do we even want our digital pictures to look like film, and can they?
The answer to the first question—what makes film photographs special?—is soul. Digital and film, while very similar, have unique attributes—there are advantages and disadvantages for each. Digital is often very mathematical and clinical, which certainly serves a purpose. Film is more random and serendipitous, which is the character that gives it soul. With digital, the possibilities for an exposure are endless, but with film it is much more limited—yes, there’s a lot that can be done in the darkroom, but you’re still limited by the film itself and how it was shot. You get what you get—especially if it’s slide film—but that’s the fun of it.
You might want your digital pictures to look like film for that analog soul. How can you get the best of both worlds and achieve a film-soul in a digital picture? How can you leave some of that clinical-ness behind and replace it with randomness and serendipity? My first advice is to use Fujifilm cameras, as Fujifilm has sought to use their vast film experience to infuse a little of that soul into their digital cameras. Next, I suggest shooting JPEG using Film Simulation Recipes, which make it a you-get-what-you-get process more similar to film. Then try some of my tips for achieving a film-look in-camera, such as diffusion filters, vintage glass, high-ISO, etc., etc.. This isn’t the only method, but simply what I use and recommend.
Can you capture digital pictures that resemble film? Could they actually trick someone into thinking you shoot film when you don’t? While I think the answer to both questions is “yes” (at least to some extent), I think they’re the wrong questions. Instead, the questions should be: what process works for me? And: do my pictures have soul?
If your process doesn’t really work for you, then change it. It took me years to figure out what process works for me: shooting SOOC JPEGs using Film Simulation Recipes on Fujifilm cameras. I don’t edit (aside from minor cropping, straightening, and very occasional small adjustments), which saves me tons of time. The three pictures in this article are recently captured camera-made JPEGs using different recipes on different cameras. That process is great for me, and it might be for you, too, but it’s not for everyone because people are different. You have to do what works for you and not worry about what others are doing.
While the serendipity of film gives it soul, and some of that soul can also be found in Fujifilm cameras (and even in other cameras and processes), the number one thing that gives a picture soul is the photographer. What you do with your photography gear to craft an image is what’s most important. When you infuse a bit of yourself into your images, that’s what makes it special—much more than anything else. So whether your pictures do or don’t resemble film doesn’t matter, just as long as your process works for you and you are photographing with vision. Capture the images that you want to create in the way that you want to create them. The rest just doesn’t matter.