Fujifilm Frontier Scanners & Dynamic Range Priority

I received an email earlier this week from Anders Lindborg with an interesting discovery he made. You might remember that Anders is the creator of the Kodak Tri-X 400 film simulation recipe, as well as the Fujicolor Pro 160NS and Fujicolor Pro 400H recipes, which are actually much more than just recipes—they’re a new way to approach using recipes on your Fujifilm camera. Needless to say, I was intrigued!

“After reading the information on Fujifilm’s subsites about how they develop their film simulations for the 999th time,” Anders wrote, “I had a small revelation. The base for the simulations are professional photos scanned with their Frontier scanner with corrections applied, so apparently that scanner plays a major role in the final look. I googled around for a bit and found a PDF version of the software manual for the Frontier SP-3000. Here are the really interesting parts:
1) The image settings in Fuji’s cameras are more or less exactly the same as those found in the image correction settings in their Frontier scanner software;
2) There is a correction called Hypertone that turns out to be exactly the same thing as the dreaded D-Range Priority (DR-P) modes;
3) A bit of further research revealed that almost all Fujifilm associated photo labs used the Frontier scanner since the early 90’s and the recommended method was fully automatic mode which included both white balancing as well as Hypertone—both on auto.”

After reading this, I dug around the internet for articles on Fujifilm’s Frontier SP-3000 scanner. I immediately recognized Fujifilm’s “color science” in the photographs I found. There was a distinct similarity between the images that I was seeing, which were scanned negatives, and the pictures from my Fujifilm X cameras. Another tidbit I found was a remark that negatives scanned using the Frontier scanner have a similar aesthetic to negatives printed on Fujicolor paper, which makes sense, because you’d want the digital images to closely match the prints. All of this is to say that, based on these discoveries, I believe Fujifilm’s JPEG programming is heavily influenced by their scanner technology, which was heavily influenced by their photographic paper. This was a surprise to me, although it shouldn’t have been because it is very logical.

The similarities between Hypertone and D-Range Priority are interesting. I’ve written a couple articles that discuss D-Range Priority (here and here), but I’ve always thought of it as a “use only in extreme circumstances” kind of feature, and not a particularly useful tool for everyday photography. But if it was commonly used by photo labs around the world (as Hypertone), maybe it should be more commonly used now (as DR-P)?

It’s one thing to theorize about these things, and a whole other thing to put it into practice, so I created two different “recipes” that utilize D-Range Priority (which I will share in future articles). I wanted to see if this feature could be left on for extended shooting and produce good results, or would the results be flat and uninteresting? Here are a few pictures captured with each recipe:

Recipe 1

Tall Grass – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Peach Tree – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Summer Tree – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Northstar – Orem, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Arrow & Cones – Sandy, UT – Fujifilm X-E4

Recipe 2

Brownie on a Shelf – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
White Rose of Summer – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Last Red Rose – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Big Grass Leaves – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4
Suburban Reeds – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X-E4

D-Range Priority Weak is very similar to using DR400 with Highlight and Shadow both set to -2. When you compare the highlights and shadows of pictures captured with D-Range Priority Weak and those captured with DR400 with Highlight and Shadow both set to -2, you’ll notice that they’re nearly identical. What is a little different—subtly different—are the mid-tones. Anders observed, “I noticed that DR-P, just like its predecessor Hypertone, also applies a slight mid-contrast boost.” There is an advantage to using D-Range Priority Weak over DR400 with Highlight and Shadow reduced to their lowest option, but it is subtle. Another note is that D-Range Priority Weak requires a minimum ISO of 320 while DR400 requires a minimum ISO of 640.

If you use D-Range Priority Auto, the camera will almost always select DR-P Weak, and only DR-P Strong if there is a bright light source, such as the sun, in the frame (like Big Grass Leaves above). D-Range Priority Strong produces a very flat image, and it only looks good if there is a lot of contrast in the scene. Anders noted that both Hypertone and DR-P can produce “weird” results if applied too strongly, but the camera seems to do a good job of knowing when to use which DR-P option. D-Range Priority Strong requires a minimum ISO of 640.

“You have to be really careful with the exposure compensation when using it,” Anders advised. “A bit too much or too little can quickly kill the whole photo. I tried to keep it at 0 most of the time and only use Fujis recommendations for correct exposure.” I found this to be true, too, and rarely needed to go beyond +1/3 or -1/3 exposure compensation.

D-Range Priority is only found in Fujifilm X-Trans IV cameras. Using D-Range Priority Weak or Auto seems to be an effective strategy; DR-P Strong is more useful in extreme circumstances. Those who created this feature (and the other JPEG options) were influenced by Frontier scanners, and the programmers likely intended D-Range Priority and White Balance to be set to Auto. Of course, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do anything, and I’m certainly not afraid of doing things outside-the-box (as you know). D-Range Priority is something that I shouldn’t have ignored so much, because it is more useful than I originally thought. I’ve created two film simulation recipes to take advantage of DR-P (and I’ll probably create more down the road), which I’ll publish very soon.

Thank you, Anders Lindborg, for making this discovery and sharing it with us!

Let me know in the comments which recipe—1 or 2—above you are most excited for.

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