7 Film Simulation Recipes for Ultra-High-ISO Photography

Garden Spiderweb – Buckeye, AZ – Fujifilm X-E4 – GAF 500 Recipe – ISO 12800

I remember when ISO 400 used to be consider high ISO. In fact, the “H” in Fujicolor Pro 400H means high ISO. When I shot film, I usually didn’t go higher than ISO 400, although on a rare occasion I did go wild and use an ISO 800, 1600, or (gasp!) 3200 emulsion (those were ultra-high-ISOs back then), when the expected light was dim and a tripod wasn’t practical. When I started shooting digital almost 15 years ago, I remember that ISO 1600 on my first DSLR was barely usable in a pinch, and it was best to stay at or below ISO 800. Nowadays those limitations are long gone.

Thanks to the X-Trans color array, Fujifilm is better able to differentiate color noise from color information (than with a Bayer array), allowing more control over how noise is rendered. Because of this, the APS-C sensor on Fujifilm X cameras does pretty darn well at high-ISO photography. Yes, it can get noisy, but the noise is more organic-looking and less color-splotchy (perhaps even a little film-grain-like) than non-X-Trans cameras typically produce.

Still, a lot of photographers are hesitant to try high-ISO photography. I’ve had someone tell me that they never go beyond ISO 800 on their Fujifilm cameras. Someone else said that they don’t use Film Simulation Recipes with DR400 because it requires an ISO that they’re not comfortable using. Everyone has their own preferred upper ISO limit—mine might be higher than yours, and that’s ok. What I’d like to do, though, is encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone, and try some ISOs that you would not normally—or perhaps ever—use.

You might want to use ultra-high-ISOs—which I consider to be ISO 12800 and higher, but your definition might be different—in dim light situations, such as at night or in a poorly lit room. That’s probably the most common reason. I will sometimes use really high ISOs in daylight when it’s not even necessary just for the aesthetic of it. Crazy, right?! I think sometimes digital can appear too clean, and an ultra-high-ISO can give the picture a grittier look, more similar to some film emulsions.

Of course, using ultra-high-ISOs in daylight can be problematic because the light is strong. My Fujifilm X100V has a built-in ND filter, which makes it more practical. Otherwise, screwing an ND filter onto the end of the lens will help. If you don’t have one, be sure to use your camera’s electronic shutter (instead of the mechanical one) because it is capable of faster shutter speeds. You might also have to use small apertures like f/11 or f/16 to reduce the light entering the camera.

If you want to give it a try, below are seven Film Simulation Recipes that use ultra-high-ISOs. Many of them go “up to” an ultra-high-ISO, so in that case you’d want to purposefully choose a high ISO instead of a low one. Give one or more of these Recipes a try today! Leave a comment to let me know which one (or ones) you like. My personal top favorites are GAF 500 for color and Kodak Tri-X 400 for B&W.

ISO 12800

Up to ISO 12800

Up to ISO 25600

ISO 1600-12800

ISO 12800

ISO 3200-12800

ISO 25600-51200

Find these Film Simulation Recipes and nearly 300 more on the Fuji X Weekly — Film Recipes App!

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  1. lu · March 11

    The grain looks so great on B&W high ISO photos

  2. stuartshafran · March 11

    The recipes are nice but those black and white photos in particular are superb. You have a very natural and creative eye for photography!

  3. randomguineapig · March 18

    the first thing i wanted to do as a baby photog was push
    102400 is a dream come true
    did have to learn it only works with mechanical shutter
    (my other obsession was Ilford Pan-F at ASA 25 processed in 1+100 Rodinal for 30 minutes: now that would be a film simulation!)

    • Ritchie Roesch · March 20

      Very interesting! Do you have examples of it that you can share?

  4. Ama · March 19

    (The first time I posted this didn’t seem to have saved, so I’m trying again. Sorry if this ends up as a duplicate comment!)

    I’ve been lurking on your website for a little over a week now, and I figured it was time for me to come out and tell you how much I appreciate all your work. I’ve been going through very stressful times lately, and photography has been a way for me to manage my stress; however, it was never quite centering me the way I wanted it to, at least until I found your blog and film simulation recipes. Working with just the JPG is liberating. There’s instant gratification, no need for me to fight against my old iMac to open Lightroom when I’m shooting to feel better and less stressed, and making myself use just one of these for a whole day (as if I had only one film, albeit I do allow myself to change the ISO) made me enjoy photography like never before. It’s even better when I put cheap glass on my X-T4 (rocking the 7artisans 35mm f1.2 and the Meike 25mm f1.8 lately), crank the ISO up, and just… allow myself to fully enjoy the process, and even the normally-dreaded digital noise (which actually looks fantastic on Fujifilm JPG files, especially in black and white).

    I’ve worked in a photo lab for a few years and scanned a ton of film, and most of the recipes give me that gorgeous vintage look without the hassle of that old scanner that ate the rolls and wouldn’t always be able to spit them back up. So here I am now, subscribed to the app and eagerly looking forward to tomorrow morning, when I will press that randomizer button and learn to enjoy what life will give me.

    I don’t think I’ll comment much in the future (because clearly I won’t shut up if I do, and you probably have better things to do than read entire paragraphs of comments), but for giving me back my love of photography, thank you Ritchie. I’ll be looking forward to your next posts and next film simulation recipes.

    • Ritchie Roesch · March 20

      Thank you for the kind message, encouragement, and support! I’m glad that you found this website! 😀

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