To see Fujifilm Pro 400H exposure tested and compared with several other film stocks, follow this link. To see a review of Pro 400H, go here.
While I had previously shot through multiple rolls of Pro 400H as can be noted in my review, I had yet to give it a fair shake metering exclusively at ASA 200. On a recent outing, I decided I would do just that.
As you may recall from my review on this film, I’m not particularly a fan. I don’t think it does a good job with skin tones on lighter-skinned people, I think it’s quick to get muddy shadows, and it’s a bit too contrasty without subtle transitions between the darkest part of the frames and lightest parts.
Shot at ASA 200, however, I must admit that these results of this roll have been very appealing to me. I very much look forward to heading back out again and shooting it again at 200. Perhaps I’ll even shoot it at 100!
I still look at this shot and find myself in love with the color. It’s so light and airy and perfect. This is what I imagined Pro 400H should look like from the beginning.
To see Fujifilm Pro 400H exposure tested alongside 10 other films, follow this link.
I have wanted so badly to like Pro 400H. My father picked up a Pentax Spotmatic back when he was in the service, living in Guam. Much like myself, he experimented with a lot of different film stocks to see what he liked best and eventually he settled on Fuji’s film over Kodak. To this day, he insists that Kodak still cannot mimic the beautiful blues and greens that you get with Fuji’s film. Though he exclusively shoots digital now, I still feel a bond with him over photography and film in particular. It’s because of that that I want to like Fuji’s fim. Being that Pro 400H is their flagship film, I really want to like it.
I do not like it.
Fujifilm Fujicolor Pro 400H was released in 2004. Today, Pro 400H is often compared with Kodak Portra 400, though it has not reached anywhere close to the same hype.
I think that what I dislike most about Pro 400H is the color palette. It’s tough for me to put my thumb on what it is, exactly that I dislike so much. Tones that I know should be somewhat warm or outright warm are often made too cool for my taste and the saturation almost always feels like it’s cranked up too high for my taste. Through the years and attempts of shooting this film, I’ve started to wonder if in fact I’m just not shooting the film the way that it was designed. Every roll I’ve ever shot has been metered at 400 on the dot and again – I really don’t much care for it. Ive been told that it benefits greatly from being overexposed. That, much like each film in the Portra family, over exposure my a stop or so often leaves the film with a much saturated look.
Though I’ve not used this film at all in the studio, I’ve taken portraits with it and I dislike all of them. I’m a fair skinned person and most of the friends I’ve photographed with 400H are fair skinned and all of us look ghostly white surrounded by dark and saturated colors around us. It’s not a good look. I shot through a roll of 35mm on a work trip to Orlando where I got a few frames in of a good buddy of mine which far from fair skinned and the shots look okay. Not good. Just okay. One of my favorite portraits I’ve ever taken are of the same person so I can’t help but conclude it’s the film.
As you can see from the exposure testing article, Pro 400H has an amazing dynamic range. Truth be told, I think it’s a good deal better than Portra 400. I actually think that it looks better overexposed 1-2 stops. It’s weird.
I don’t have too much experience with this film. To date, I’ve only shot through 6 rolls of it. As such, I haven’t got too much experience with it in extreme circumstances. At least not like I do with Portra 400. Given the fact that it is now a good deal cheaper than Portra in 120, there’s a good chance that I will be giving it more chances for exploration as we move into the summer.
I do not like this film stock. I wish I did – I just don’t. I’ll admit that I haven’t shot enough of it to really feel like I’ve been giving it a fair shot but I will sooner than later. I currently have plans to do an experiment somewhat soon to compare it with Portra 400 in a range of scenarios, shot in duplicate – one for a neutral exposure and one over exposed by 1 stop. Hopefully with some experimentation, I can find where this film would shine in my work.
“I think the big change I have noticed since moving to shooting film is striving to make more authentic images…”
Seth’s work is incredibly interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone who has such tasteful first of the roll shots or light leaks. Much of his work is based on coastal living and captures a life that inspires. I love his work and look forward to hearing what he has to say about film photography. His instagram account can be found here.
JM – Why do you shoot film?
SG – I shoot film for the love of the process and the challenge. I know a lot of people talk about quality or the archival aspect but I just love the whole process of shooting film so much more than digital. I feel that with film you really focus on every shot; there is no looking at the back of a screen to take you out of the moment…
JM – What is your favorite film? Camera?
SG – I think my original love and the reason I really got into film photography, the Nikonos V, would have to be my favorite camera.
SG – Although I am a big time Kodak Portra fan and user, that is just so boring. Haha. I actually really love Fuji Superia but unfortunately it is getting harder to find these days. This shot was taken with my Nikonos V on Fuji Superia 400.
JM – What proportion of your shots turn out as you hoped (or better)?
SG – Hmm… That is a tough question. I would say it depends on what I am doing and what camera I am using. It took me a while to figure out the Nikonos. There were a few rolls I shot in the water that were total duds with maybe only a couple okay shots. It is a funky camera with zone focusing and shooting surfing with a 35mm camera in the water, you really have to get closer than you think and wait for just the right moment to click the shutter. I would say now most shots I get I am pretty happy with because I am more patient. I usually swim out with just a 24 frame roll and it might take me two hours or more to finish it.
SG – But lately for instance I have been playing around with double exposures on my mamiya RZ67 and that can be very hit or miss for me.
JM – Would you say that your style has changed since you’ve started shooting film? What was the catalyst for this change?
SG – I think my style has always been and will always be an evolving thing. I think the big change I have noticed since moving to shooting film is striving to make more authentic images and getting away from the super saturated epic sunsets. I have learned to really enjoy the process of being out shooting and I am much more patient now. Instead of going crazy shooting image after image, I wait until I see something I want to capture. In a way I think it trains your eye more than digital photography can.
“I think film has made me really appreciate the happy accidents and the images I get that were not as planned out.”
JM – What is a personal goal you have for your photography?
SG – A personal goal I have for my photography is to capture more authentic everyday moments and to try to capture more of my life through photos. I have been really into shooting landscapes and surfing, but I want to try to have a camera on me more often for everyday moments. I think film has made me really appreciate the happy accidents and the images I get that were not as planned out.
JM – What do you look for in a photograph? Is what you find compelling in a photograph different when it’s one of your photographs compared with one from someone else?
SG – I think whether it is my own photograph or someone else’s makes a difference. The images I am drawn to have a composition that just pulls you in. I usually find that my favorite photos I have taken have a very clean and minimal composition.
JM – What is your favorite shot you’ve ever taken? What’s the story behind it?
SG – I am not sure if I can decide on one favorite shot, but I really love this shot I took of my friend Scott. The surf was really going off and we went out to this little secret spot. I had never seen surf like this in Maine. It was an epic day. After the session I left the roll in my Nikonos and forgot it was loaded. I opened the back before re-rolling it, and I was so worried I had ruined the whole roll! Luckily I closed it quick and just about all the shots were salvaged, and a bunch had some really cool light leaks. This one was my favorites.
JM – If someone told you they were thinking of getting into film, what would your response/advice be?
SG – Do it! Haha, seriously though it has been so much fun for me. I fell like it really brought a whole new excitement to photography for me moving to shooting mostly film from all digital. It gives you a whole new layer of things to learn, and I just think it is a super fun medium to shoot with.
SG – I also think it is really cool that for pretty cheap you can get gear that was, and still is top of the line in many respects. There are so many different types of cameras too. Since you can usually sell cameras for what you buy them for, (a benefit unobserved in digital photography) you can experiment with all sorts of gear. You can really find the perfect camera that matches your shooting style.
To ensure consistency throughout the experiment, the film stock was the only experimental condition. The control conditions are as follows:
Camera: Hasselblad 501CM
Lens: 60mm f/3.5 CB
Lighting: 2 Profoto B1X with diffusers
Light meter: Sekonic Lightmaster
Focusing Aid: Schneider Kreuznach 4x loupe
The loupe was used to set the focus at the start of the exposure test for each film stock. To ensure the exposure value (EV) was correct, the light meter (using an incident setting) was used to identify the neutral exposure as well as each EV in the center of the frame.
All B&W film was developed by the Darkroom Lab and all C-41 film was developed at home using a Jobo CPP2. All scans were done at home using an Epson V600. Each frame was scanned flat and adjusted in PS identically for all frames (‘true black’ was set by the darkest part of the record).
The results did not turn out as I expected. Although, for most of films tested, I had no idea what to expect. While there are some sources out there doing some exposure testing, I have not found a source completely satisfactory. I approached Matt Seal about this idea and told him I wanted to do it. His interest, skillset, and appreciation for the scientific method made the compliment to my own intellectual pursuits and scientific rigor. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to learn about how exposure changes an image and how that change differs by film stock.
For those getting into film, with the exception of the famously linear response curve of Acros 100 (R.I.P.), most all film stocks have a logarithmic-type response curve. While every film stock is different, most all of them adhere to this pattern. As such, when you get to a certain point, it becomes more and more difficult to increase exposure by a full stop. In the film world, this is known as reciprocity failure. It generally only affects long exposures and depending on the film stock, can result in some color shifting after a certain point.
Getting back on track – it is because of this behavior in the response curve that allows you to continue to pour in the light without blowing out the highlights. It should be noted that the response curve is what makes film so unique and separates it from digital. Between film stocks, it is not just that colors are rendered different ways but it also interprets light differently. Comparing film with digital, digital has a perfectly linear response curve. This means that it blows out the highlights much faster but conversely, it does not lose details in the shadows near as quickly.
Results – Color Film
Comparing the neutral exposures, the Ektar is good bit more punchy while having a more delicate transition in tones. Portra 800 is noticeably warmer than even the Portra 400 – something I expected as it’s more contrasty but I didn’t expect it to quite the extent that it was.
I think I was most impressed with the Ektar of all the film stocks. I’ve only used it twice and neither time did I like the outcome. Although admittedly, both times I only had the scans from the local film lab in Charleston – and they had a really bad habit of over saturating any and all scans to the Nth degree. After those, I’ve stayed away from it from it until this testing. As soon as I saw these results, I picked up 2 pro packs to take on a trip to Banff.
Between the 2 400 speed films, I think that the Portra 400 held up a bit better than the Pro 400H when it comes to overexposing by more than 2 stops. But if you prefer cooler tones, you would probably conclude the opposite.
Results – Black and White Film
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the stocks behaved in a similar way except for the Delta 3200 – which didn’t get crushed blacks near as quickly or dramatically. This isn’t particularly unexpected given the difference in emulsion and the fact that it’s actually just a really flexible 1000 asa film.
Probably the most surprising performance was TMax 100. I think that it stood up to underexposure better than any of the other stocks and while I don’t see myself ever accidentally (or purposefully) overexposing by 5 stops, I think it handled the contrasty parts quite well. All in all, I’m going to have to pick some of this up an shoot it immediately.
As for second place in the biggest surprise, Ilford HP5 did a great job in my opinion. Since I tend to find myself in positions of not having enough light more than too much light, I care a lot about the ability to be underexposed. In this area, I think HP5 did really well.
Last specific thing I’ll touch on – I was genuinely surprised to see how similar T-Max 400 and Tri-X were. The Tri-X had a bit more grit but overall they were pretty similar.
Of course, a huge thanks to Matt for the encouragement and supplying the all the equipment and his technical know-how to make sure the scientific rigor was above reproach. Could not have done it without him.
Thanks to Pete for his input, insight, and participation in the peer review(-ish) process. His input has been extraordinarily helpful in ensuring everything was reported in a clear and reproducible way.
Similar to the story when I went to NYC, I went to Arizona in mid-late 2018 for Brittany’s birthday and we planned to go the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff for two days of hiking – two places I’ve never visited and was very excited to see. To make it even better, the quaking aspens outside of Flagstaff happened to be changing color. It happens only for about a week a year and there was no way for us to have planned for that when we booked the trip. As you can imagine, we felt quite lucky and wanted to take full advantage.
I decided to do the best, most well-thought out thing I could do. I was going to shoot through two stocks I’ve never used before and have little to no idea how they would behave. I may well never go back to these places again and it is extraordinarily unlikely I’ll be there again at the time of year to experience those same or even similar experiences. Obviously, if you want to make sure you leave with shots to remember the trip by, you would want to shoot with something reliable.
Instead, I loaded in a roll of Fujichrome Provia 100F into the Mamiya 645. I let the camera’s auto exposure mode do its thing as I’ve come to learn it’s pretty spot on. In fact, I would argue it’s more reliable than the meter in my F2. So there we had it. I put my faith in a new film and went for it.
On the same trip, at the same time in fact, I had a roll of Ektachrome E100 loaded in my Nikon F2. Given that the 645 only goes through 15-16 frames on a roll, I knew I could finish that and load in some Portra and get something from the day. But for the F2, the camera I shoot with primarily, it was a bit more of a vote of confidence in both myself, the camera, and the film. As with all slide film, the exposure latitude is narrow but the payoff is great. I 100% suggest it. It is without a doubt the most additive thing about film photography.
One of the primary reasons I started this site was for a lack of a information on the web that provided film reviews from one person – I always found forums and flickr to have to much variety. On filckr in particular, photos ranged from terrible pictures that makes one wonder if the photographer knew how to use a meter or if the photo was taken by a professional and all of their pictures look amazing. One site I look to a lot is Alex Burke’s (his work is amazing and I have learned a lot from reading through it) but I sometimes found it frustrating that some film stocks he reviewed were discontinued.
With all that said, let me talk about the film stock that got me back into film photography. It was cheap, widely availble, and came in rolls of 24exp so I could shoot through them quickly and get them developed the same day. Was great for someone transitioning back into film after owning a digital camera for years.
I won’t talk to much about it because there isn’t much else to say. It’s discontinued. Even when it was sold, it was cheap and didn’t have any of the personality and capabilites of any of the more popular stocks. I found the colors to be really saturated for my taste and it wasn’t the sharpest film I’ve come to learn. But that’s okay. Cheap doesn’t have to mean great. What is that saying about food? It can be fast, good, or cheap- or a combination of two but never all three. This film was fast and it was cheap. But I think calling it good would have been a stretch.
If you’ve never shot a roll of slide film, you should absolutely do it now. The sensation you get from holding the diapositives (or slides if you’re shooting 35mm and you get them mounted) is exhilarating. I still get the same rush of looking at them the 20th time as I got the 1st time.
It’s hard to overstate how much I love Provia. My first foray into slide film was Ektachrome as soon as the new stock came last year. Since Ektachrome wasn’t available in 120 and I wanted the chance to shoot through a roll in my Mamiya on a trip to Arizona we were taking in October, I picked up some Provia. The vibe of it is just unreal. The tones are amazing and there’s so much clarity… I took a good scan of the first photos and printed it out into a 24in x 36in sheet and it couldn’t look any better. I honestly think it’s sharper than an equivalent shot on my digital camera (Sony a7).
That’s enough of the good; as for the bad, it suffers from the same qualities all slide film have and it can be a bit persnickety. Like all slide film, you have to nail the exposure and keep the scenes fairly low contrast or the scene or will get blown out in a hurry. That said, Provia has one the widest exposure latitudes of it’s slide stock peers. As for its quirks, it tends to be pretty cool. If you don’t have a warming filter on your lens, you will almost assuredly have to do some post processing white balance adjustments. For those that have warming filters, I typically use an 81A but if it’s particularly cloudy or closer to dusk, I’ll switch out the A for an 81B and everything tends to work out fine.
Those first shots are from my first roll on a visit to Arizona. The weather conditions were perfect – a lot of sun and crisp temperatures. The second set are from a quick stop in Hocking Hills one late afternoon. It was a lot more cloudy and all the shots came out with a bit of a blue wash that had to be corrected post.