One of my good intentions for 2016 is to get some experience with film combined with flash light. I have to admit that I had great expectations with Fujifilm Pro 400H. The plan was to try a little overexposure, but in fact I ended up in underexposing this film. My rolls should be rated as ISO 200, not 400 as the marked box speed, so the shots with estimated +1/3 EV were in fact -2/3 EV.
This time, I am going to show what I experienced after scanning and editing the files. Film reacts softer in the highlights than a digital sensor and 400H might excel expecially in portraiture photography, also in outdoor environments. So I am starting with a single light source setup, teaming up with a beauty dish for the first time.
The picture on the left shows my favorite result in terms of color grading, temperature and green-magenta-balance, but it was a long way to go and after all this, I still don’t know how to describe the characteristics of 400H. The files have to be interpreted, there is no best result. What I already know beforehand: A perfectly exposed picture doesn’t equal a pretty picture. Someone has to dig out the gold. Either it’s the lab, or the scanner software or it’s done by yourself. But the result of correct exposure is a picture with as much information as possible. And that’s usually a balanced, but dull sight.
The first picture shows my favorite – in terms of realistic skin tones.
Scans as positives and inversions with colorperfect demand many decisions: what color temperature, what green-magenta ratio? Where should the black point be? Should there be clippings in the highlights? Or in the shadows? A photographer with lab experience knows how to deal with this when printing color. A pro working for a magazine knows it all as well. I am just starting out with all this and have to find out many things for myself. The lab also delivered prints after processing the film, and as the film was underexposed, the prints showed the “correct” interpretation which was more like Film Noir exposure. So I lifted up the exposure and got decent results, but not what I was looking for.
The picture on the right shows the color palette with a cooler look (just a shift in the white balance), which also fits nicely. I like it, but I don’t know if going for this is doing the 400H justice or not. You might or might not get results like this with cheaper or different films as well. Fujifilm Pro 400H is not a low-cost solution.
In terms of color grading all the different possibilites overwhelmed me. When you know what you are looking for it’s easy with 400H to get there. But if you try to get to know your film there are just too many possibilies.
As the conductor Sergiu Celibidache said: If he rehearses with an orchestra and he is looking for a special phrasing of a flute solo, the musician of a good orchestra can provide him with two or three interesting variations. An exceptional flutist of an extraordinary orchestra like the Berlin Philharmonic can give him seven or eight plausible interpretations. So he has more work to do because there are more decisions to make.
The picture on the left is again a reasonably realistic interpretation. Again: There is no right or wrong here, except you are verifying the colors with a colorchecker. But why doing this and not going for digital? I feel that not the colors, but the luminance behaviour makes the difference between digital and analog results – with color grading, you can adjust the analog behaviour of 400H or Portra400 and you can imitate the analog color palettes in your digital files, but you cannot emulate the softness in the film highlights with blown out digital highlights. The colors can be graded and have to be graded. Right ouf the scanner, 400H shows a considerable tendence towards the greens and a scan file which has all the information looks dull and flat. You have to process it. Like a RAW-file from your digital camera.
In the motion picture industry, the color graders need exactly these dull raw files to distillate the right colors for the final picture (example link). So the picture on the left might be adequate to what was going on in the studio, but it does not catch my attention.
Not that this is my favourite interpretation, but this is a result of the usual 8-bit scanning with automatic inversion to a positive by the scanning software Silverfast with the preset for Fujifilm 400H. It is different to the first examples becaused it is biased in a way that the expression is already boosted towards a special aim. I left the Magenta the way it was delivered by the software and I can’t even tell if I like it or not. But I see that it works somehow. Doing this, I feel that I like to decide more what the results look like before I get them. This has been graded already, and the look might or might not fit your needs.
Of course you can imagine a similar result like this hanging in a barber shop or illustrating a magazine or the portofolio of an actress, but this can also be said from examples #1 or #2.
So what’s the story?
- I underexposed a film (about -2/3) when I wanted to overexpose it (+1/3).
- The wide range of possible conversions of the negative to a positive I take as a sign of the film’s quality.
- For my personal work, Fujifilm 400H is not my favorite.
- For assignments such as portraits this film might be a way to go. But I’m not sure. After all, digital has also its merits because of the mass of shots you can take and the instant check of the display.
- In fact, the last time in the studio I had good results with digital and analog together, and in the studio I like to keep on shooting both systems simultaneously.
- The next of these specific rolls of 400H will be exposed as an ISO 200 and with more light from bigger light sources.
Pollux on 52rolls:
- Launch Status Check: Pollux [Intro]
- #1.0 Neopan 400 & Rodinal
- #1.1 Silvermax
- #1.2 The White Stripes
- #2.0 Fade To Grey
- #2.1 Pushing Silvermax
- #2.2 Know Your Gear
- #2.3 What Took You So Long?
- #2.4 Diary Shots
- #2.5 Compact 28 + Ultramax
- #2.6 On 400H
- #3.0 Hard Boiled
- #4.0 Film Noir
- #5.0/5.1/5.2 Remain In Light
- #5.3 My Personal Holga
- #5.4 The Exhibition Cam
- #5.5/5.6 Portra and 400H
- #5.7 A Peculiar Roll (1993)
- #5.8/5.9 Great Photographer, Wasted Film
- #6.0 Diary Shots, 135mm on the F4
- #6.1-#6.3 Purchasing New Material, Celebrating
- #7.0-#7.2 Concert
- #8.0 Helicopter
- #9.0 Tres Cosas
- #10.0 One Shot per Roll
- #11.0/11.1: Parklife (Nikon F2)
- #12.0/12.1: Silvermax, F2 (24mm) + F5 (17mm + 210 mm)
- #13: Diary with a Point & Shoot
- #14: Medium Format: The Rangefinder of ’51
- #15: Memories of Friendship
- #16: [Pollux]: Epilogue