I’ve never really cared for Fujifilm’s Provia film simulation. I mean, it’s alright, but I like most of the other options better, and I wondered why they made it the “standard” film simulation. It doesn’t much resemble real Provia film—why even call it Provia?—yet it is front-and-center on all Fujifilm models.
I Recently stumbled across a fascinating article that helped me better understand why I don’t like Provia, and why the other film sims look the way they do. Exibartstreet.com translated and summarized an interview of two Fujifilm managers who discussed at length the different film simulations found on Fujifilm cameras (the original interview articles can be found here and here, and is two years old). I now have a little better understanding of Fujifilm’s philosophy behind the creation of their profiles.
Specifically to Provia, I discovered that I was never supposed to like it. It wasn’t designed for me. “When it comes to Provia,” one of the Fujifilm managers stated, “photographers that started with film find it hard, but photographers that only shoot digitally find it just right.” Well, I started with film; I don’t know if I’d describe it as “hard” but it is far from “just right” for me personally. “Provia aims at the greatest common denominator that makes you feel ‘beautiful’ at a glance.” In other words, they weren’t trying to mimic any emulsions, but create a profile that looks nice to those who have only ever shot with digital cameras. “In my personal opinion, I would like to change the name ‘film simulation,'” the Fujifilm manager said. “Film simulation is not film imitation.”
Diving into the interview, we discover that Velvia was, in fact, modeled after the film of the same name, but digital sensor and processor limitations have made it difficult to reproduce the film’s aesthetic; however, beginning with X-Trans III, Fujifilm has been able to get closer. Enabling Color Chrome Effect allows you to achieve the appropriate color depth.
The Astia film simulation looks so much different than real Astia film. “We often receive comments that ‘reproducibility is different from Astia of silver salt,'” the manager explained. “The reason for this is that ‘the image quality design is not aimed at silver salt Astia.’ You may wonder what it means to bear the name of Astia even though it is different, but it is not completely unrelated. In fact, both film and digital are aiming at the same place. In other words, the film simulation ‘Astia’ was developed to bring it closer to the ‘ideal Astia’ that the development team aimed for when developing the silver salt film Astia.” Put more simply, the film simulation is the aesthetic that Fujifilm would have produced with the film if they could have.
Classic Chrome was modeled after an unmentioned slide film… they can’t say Kodak.
PRO Neg. Std and PRO Neg. Hi were not modeled after any specific emulsions, but are for faithful color reproduction. “The main difference is the tone curve. PRO Neg. Hi is adjusted to tighten the shadows and tighten the highlights. On the other hand, the color design is the same.”
The Eterna film simulation was modeled after Eterna motion picture film. Regarding Eterna Bleach Bypass, “This setting is equivalent to ‘half of the silver remaining’ on film….”
“Classic Negative is a very special kind of film simulation, designed so that the appearance of colors changes depending on the brightness. Therefore, I make adjustments so that dark tones are cyan, and bright tones are magenta. Classic Negative… was originally ‘Superia.'” It’s clear that this film simulation was carefully crafted to closely mimic Superia film. “To tell you the truth, I feel that Classic Negative was a little too bold.” I think Fujifilm should consider going “too bold” more often!
There’s a heck-of-a-lot more said in the interview that’s quite fascinating. I think Fujifilm doesn’t want its users to interpret “film simulation” as “film imitation” because not all of their film sims are intended to mimic film. Some are, and some are not. But, even the ones that are not, the digital side teamed up with the film side to assist in designing all of the film simulations—including Provia/Std—and I think their careful attention to detail and vast film experience translates into profiles that can be made to resemble film, even if the film sim was never intended to. Still, the film simulations that are, in fact, modeled after film are my favorites.
This is really interesting… I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Provia. In a general sense I’m happy with the different film sims I have on my XT-3 and when I’m shooting color most of the time I’m going to lean toward something that uses Classic Chrome, Pro Neg Hi, or Velvia (for some landscapes). But then there are times when I am looking for color more like what I would have gotten out of my old Nikon or Olympus DSLRs, and in those instances, I’ll generally choose Provia.
But in a way that preference really fits the way I came to love photography. I shot color film as a kid, but I didn’t really get into photography until high school, and then I pretty much exclusively shot black and white. While I never had a color film (or color films) that I loved, I became quite devoted to T-MAX 100 and 400. So in a sense, when it comes to color, I really started out shooting digital, but with black and white I really started out with film.
Thanks for exposing me to this! I enjoyed reading the translate article as well as your thoughts re: it.
I’m so glad that you found it interesting. I know I did! I think the backstory is really fascinating, and helpful to understanding my own impressions about different things. Thanks for your kind comment!
I wish Fujifilm would go “too bold” more often as well. My favorite thing about Classic Neg. is the tone/contrast profile – otherwise my favorite simulation for its color profile is Classic Chrome. The thing that is occasionally maddening about Classic Neg. is that in some situations, its rendering of green isn’t “shifted,” it’s just flat out wrong. Which is difficult because my kid’s school uniform shirt that he’s wearing in a significant number of his photos is kelly green, but with Classic Neg. it renders turquoise. It seems it could be interesting if some of the built in simulations could have a “bold” switch that could apply an appropriate version of Classic Neg’s tone/contrast/DR/levels magic in a way that manually tinkering with highlight, shadow, DR, etc. just can’t do.
I think it would be pretty difficult for Fujifilm to go too bold in my opinion… the bolder the better! Definitely don’t play it safe.
One of the little discussed topics is Fuji’s digital grain algorithms. From the interview:
“ The thought is that humans find images that are too uniform to be artificial and unnatural so adding a little noise can have a positive effect since the human eye forms perceptions from the noise”
My personal aesthetic is to include minimally a fine grain, not digital noise, adding a texture to my images. I appreciate the added depth/crispness/tonal transitions Fuji’s algorithms provide. Their grain is color neutral, so is not the ‘color noise’ as you get looking at a film negative under a microscope.
Going forward I’d like Fuji engineering to dig in a little more with their new designs and upgrade their grain algorithms, perhaps bringing the ‘smart’ Acros grain tech to the remaining simulations.
Yeah, I found that interesting, too. I read once (in a different article) that the X-Trans sensor allows Fujifilm to differentiate color noise from color, so they’re better able to control it. And it was smart for them to make it more organic/film-grain-like in appearance. I do wish the faux grain options acted more like the built-in Acros grain—that would be wonderful! Mixing the faux grain with some digital noise often produces a result that I’m generally pleased with. Thanks for the input!
To be honest, I’m finding that I don’t care for film sims. By having more options for sims, and nearly none of them being very faithful replications of film, I find it annoyingly overwhelming. The only film sim I actually like for street photography is plain e100…er I mean…classic chrome….or the basic acros (which lets be honest, is perfect and a 1:1 faithful representation). Velvia as it is, is fantastic for landscapes minus a few tweaks.
I’m about to switch both of my cards to just raw shooting, and use the across/classic chrome settings in capture one.
Why? Because I find myself wanting to edit my JPG as well. Because coming from a strong background in film. The colors just don’t hit right.
I might as well have a back up to my work, right?
And touching on my velvia comment…if I’m going through the effort to shoot anything that would require a velvia look…I’m going to be retouching it and doing color touch ups anyways, just as I would with a print from velvia or a scan. So I might as well just have a raw shot I can change how I want/need.
And if I’m doing landscapes, it’s fairly important work since I often don’t go to the same place, so again, raw back ups are more important than a jpg.
I love the JPG’s don’t get me wrong.
But classic chrome, acros, and pro neg hi are literally all that’s needed (for me). They have the closest reporoduction to film.
Well, what’s most important is finding what works for you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, only what you are doing, and whether that process is working out well for you. I do have to ask: have you tried the Kodak Tri-X 400 recipe? Or Kodak Portra 400 v2? Or other recipes? If so, you didn’t like any of them?
The tri-x recipe is good, it’s just not as close to tri-x (I’ve shot a TONNNNN of tri-x.)
Portra is okay, but I’ve never been a fan of general use of portra, it’s kind of a bland film that it’s intention was very neutral colors, so you can edit them in print….so I might as well shoot raw.
The acros sim is good enough to substitute tri-x. As much as it pains me.
As long as you are figuring out what works for you, that’s what is important. The Kodak Tri-X 400 recipe was created by someone (Anders Lindborg) who also shot a ton of Tri-X, and put in a ridiculous amount of research and work into the recipe. One film can produce many different looks depending on how it was shot/developed, etc., etc., so it’s pretty darn close to Anders’ Tri-X, but not everyone’s experience will be the same.
I am still amazed to shoot with my Canon EOS 7 film camera or a Fujifilm DL SuperMini, with ColorPlus 200, and then discover how digital (digital in 2005 or 2009 years and without software editing) my photographs look. There is a bit of harshness in the colors, a bit limited in in dynamic range. I like that Fujifilm does film simulations in terms of color, contrast and moods that express a goal to achieve for some scenes or subjects; and not a filter, which is the reason I like your recipes as well, the photographs are not like applying a filter to mask reality, just a way to express it through subtle parameters of the same camera hardware. I think the other thing, the nostalgic idea of film that means using a Holga and some expired film, they cover it too in their “toy camera” mode. Provia makes me recall a bit the neutral color profile in my old Sony camera.
Inversely I think the digital look most people have in mind comes from the early compact cameras and the colors through editing with Lightroom.
It is interesting… the Provia film sim is meant to look pleasing to those without a background in film, yet it doesn’t come across as applying a filter, either—more organic, which is likely thanks to the film guys who provided input during the creation of it.
I first started shooting with Fujifilm when the XE-1 was released. I would shoot RAW & jpeg, but would invariably edit the RAW files in Lightroom. However, I began noticing that I usually liked the color of the jpegs SOOC better than LR’s renditions. I just love Fujifilm’s color science.
When I purchased my X100V, I discovered this whole film simulation community just as I was really getting tired of spending time on the computer doing post editing. I really became intrigued with shooting jpegs with the intention of creating images that were more analog. The goal became more about creating a more vintage and film like feel. Now I pretty much use images SOOC with the X100V. Photography has never been more fun.
Over time this has evolved into more of chasing a certain kind of vibe rather than faithfully reproducing the look of a particular film stock. In the referenced article, the Fujifilm engineers infer that is the aesthetic they are trying to achieve with Classic Negative. Not surprising, 4 of my 7 custom setting slots use Classic Negative as the recipe base.
My story is similar to yours (first Fujifilm was the X-E1, shot RAW, noticed the wonderful JPEG quality beginning with a Fujifilm X100F). Classic Negative is my favorite color film sim. Classic Chrome and Eterna are second and third… Nostalgic Neg. might leapfrog Eterna, but I’m still deciding on that. Thanks for the comment!