Do Fujifilm Photographs Look Like Film?

The Big Ocean – Fort Stevens SP, OR – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Fujicolor Super HG

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?

Horsetail Falls from Bridge – Columbia River Gorge, OR – Fujifilm X100V – “Improved Velvia

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.

Desert Snow – Canyonlands NP, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro3 – “Old Ektachrome

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.

17 comments

  1. Wonderful message to everyone that finds their passion in photography.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. georgesimpsonart · March 29

    Its a good thought. I strived a lot for film looks but in a way settled on organic digital. One thing that struck me was how digital can “underexpose” well. I take a lot of low light and obscured shadows. Purposeful near-blacks to be abstract, or just night photography, and i both realised it was pointless to achieve with film and that digital gave so much more! Digital means i can walk around the city at night or be in a forest at dusk, no tripod+ to me there is more soul in that than worrying and hauling gear and getting useless negs back. Yet also, because of DR mode can also achieve a look similar to when intentionally expose at a lower iso on film if not quite as many stops. I use a x-e1 so without many options (i add grain, even sims in Snapseed) sometimes i feel its “alternate universe film” but who cares, i think its just as organic.

    Also, thanks for the diffuser suggestion. I really feel its nailing the softness i just got a k+f black mist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · March 29

      Digital is definitely better for walk-around low-light, for certain. It’s crazy how good the pictures look at ridiculously high ISOs. Thank you for the comment!

      Like

  3. Eric Anderson · March 29

    This December 2020 two part explainer from Fujifilm Engineering is quite enlightening on the background and internal thinking of creating digital images based on a very long history of film engineering.

    How is Fujifilm’s film simulation made: Mr. Kinsuke Irie (Technical Manager, Optical and Electronic Video Product Development Center), Shinya Fujiwara (Optical and Electronic Imaging Product Development Center)

    Part 1: https://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/interview/1291049.html
    Part 2: https://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/interview/1291056.html

    Google Translate to read the interview in your language of choice: https://translate.google.com

    Cheers,

    Eric

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Francis.R. · March 29

    I just finished a roll of Kodak Color Plus 200 in a Fujifilm DL Super Mini : D maybe is a prejudice but I feel lenses see closer to what eyes see the bigger the film or sensor. About colors I only tried negative film, and scanning them myself with my digital cameras, nevertheless I always find so amazing how the colors have more shades, more nuances, and comparing colors they seem to have more… organic? versions of the digital ones, which sometimes are a bit electric to what I see, a bit too sharpened. Neg. Hi. is a good approximation I think. I understand the technics and engineers that produced film for Fujifilm have a say in the simulations, maybe the simulations are the ideal of what they tried to reach with film.
    In the end I’d say I like film because it matches closer to the way I recall my memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · March 29

      I think, to an extent, that an effort was made to make the film simulations a “more perfect” rendering that wasn’t possible with the film, but I think it is more: how can we make something that looks good yet doesn’t feel digital? So they included film people in the development process, yet didn’t necessarily set out to 100% faithfully mimic any film, but more having a general film-like “memory color” that produces pleasing results.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Torsten · March 29

    The question was: Do Fujifilm Photographs Look Like Film?
    Answered briefly and concisely. NO
    Why? Therefore: „the number one thing that gives a picture soul is the photographer“

    A very nice article, Ritchie!

    Cheers Torsten

    Liked by 1 person

  6. stuartshafran · March 30

    Your advice about what process works for you is exactly what I needed right now, thank you! I have been a little hung up recently on the difference between film and digital but you’re right… photographing with vision is absolutely key. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Khürt Williams · April 1

    Respectfully. I’m afraid I have to disagree. Digital isn’t clinical and mathematical. Film (I don’t know which film format you’re referring to) isn’t magical and full of soul. I think that’s absolute garbage. I believe this is one of those pointless manufactured distinctions.

    If you were to make a print from a digital image and tell someone it was a film print; they’d say it was magical and had would. If you showed them a print from a film negative and tell them it was a digital print, they would say it was clinical and mathematical. Your get the person who loves film saying the

    I think the distinction is manufactured so that each camp can justify its existence.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Khürt Williams · April 1

      Disregard the first two sentences. I copy-pasted from a text editor. Looks like I got some spurious text.

      Like

    • Ritchie Roesch · April 1

      Maybe I didn’t explain it well. I do that sometimes.
      Math and science are a big part of photography, and really art as a whole. Both film and digital rely heavily on math. Digital cameras in particular require unfathomable calculations in order to make a picture. But I guess what I had in my mind specifically is more the grid and pattern of the sensor, which ultimately renders small squares of various colors and luminosity. You can see it when you zoom way in on your pictures, but it’s not noticeable when viewed normally (on old, low-resolution cameras you can see it when viewed normally). The micro building blocks of the picture are blocks and maybe resembles Tetris a little. Of course much is done in the processing to reduce this effect. With film, the grain isn’t uniform, the shapes aren’t uniform, there’s a blotchiness when viewed super closely (each film being different)–it’s not as predictable. You can set up your digital camera on a tripod and capture two identical exposures one right after the other, and study them closely, and you’ll notice that they look identical. If you repeated this experiment with film, you might notice small variance in the grain, and the pictures are 99.9% identical but not 100%. That’s part of the serendipity, not including other variances that can occur in the analog process that make it less predictable.
      I think from the standpoint of the viewer (not the photographer), what the image speaks to that person is what matters, and the other details, including if it was film or digital, matters not. The viewer doesn’t care about the details that the photographer cares about. And the point that I probably didn’t communicate well enough, which is the concluding point of the article, is that using vision to communicate to the audience is what is most important. In other words, one shouldn’t care so much if a “film look” was achieved or not, as long as the process works for them and the photographer had “a vivid and imaginative conception” when he captured the image.
      I hope this all makes sense.

      Like

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