Is there a better way to get a retro film look? In my opinion, the answer is yes!
Notice that I didn’t say the best way, only a better way. The best way to get a retro film look is to shoot actual analog film on a retro film camera; however, film is expensive and the process inconvenient. Digital is much more convenient, but digital images inherently don’t resemble film—one must manipulate them. There are numerous programs, plugins, and presets that will provide you with a film look without a lot of fuss, but it does require some level of post-processing; editing pictures is a good way to get a retro film look, but a couple downsides are 1) you must have access to (and pay for) the software and know how to use it and 2) it takes time to edit all of your pictures. There is another way, which I believe is a better way.
It’s very simple: shoot JPEGs on Fujifilm cameras programmed with analog-like Film Simulation Recipes and use vintage lenses. I say that this is a better way because you can achieve a retro film look without the hassle of picture manipulation. Better, of course, is subjective, but this is an increasingly popular method, largely because more and more photographers are deciding that it is indeed a better way for them.
Fujifilm cameras are an important ingredient to this because, when programming their digital output, Fujifilm utilized their film department to assist with the image rendering. In other words, using their vast film experience, they set out to infuse an analog aesthetic into their digital photographs. Film Simulation Recipes take it a step further by fine-tuning the camera settings to better replicate specific film stocks and/or processes or mimicking certain looks. There are nearly 300 Recipes on the Fuji X Weekly App (available for Android and Apple), so be sure to download it if it’s not already on your phone. You can do pretty much the same thing as Recipes with software, but it will not 100% match the straight-out-of-camera images and you will have to work for it (at least a little), while camera-made JPEGs are good-to-go without editing (the work is already done for you). This is a paradigm shift that can dramatically transform your workflow by drastically simplifying it, which saves you a lot of time, hassle, and potentially money, while simultaneously making photography more fun. Like I said: better.
The final ingredient is the glass. Modern lenses are often precision engineered, making them nearly flawless. That’s great if you want a digital look, but if you want a retro film look you should employ the same lenses that were used to shoot film, which often have flaws that give them character—an important aspect of the analog aesthetic. Find some old glass and shoot through it! You’ll need an adapter—the exact one depends on the mount of the lens—and set the camera to “Shoot Without Lens” in the Menu settings. These lenses are manual focus, which can be tricky at first, but thankfully Fujifilm provides you with some excellent tools to assist with it, making manual focus much easier and more enjoyable. Alternatively, you could use inexpensive third-party lenses, which often have similar characteristics to vintage lenses, and you won’t need a special adapter.
For the pictures in this article, I used a Fujifilm X-T5 programed with my AgfaChrome RS 100 Film Simulation Recipe shot through various tiny Pentax-110 lenses. The straight-out-of-camera results are very analog-like, and could probably pass as actual film photographs if I didn’t provide any background information. You’re not likely to think that these are out-of-camera pictures from a modern camera. If you weren’t convinced that they’re film, you’d likely assume some post-processing was done to make them appear film-like, yet they’re unedited. In any event, if you want a better way to get a retro film look, use Fujifilm cameras programmed with Film Simulation Recipes and shoot through vintage lenses. Simple. Easy. Convincing. Fun.
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