Photography

Shooting Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

I love a bargain. Whenever a store has a Clearance sign, I am drawn to it like a magnet to iron. So drawn one day at my neighborhood Walgreens, I found a four-pack of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 for $3.97. No matter that the box was pretty ratty, or that the expiration date was just a couple months into the future. A buck a roll!

I shoot a lot of Fujifilm’s Fujicolor 200 and figured the Superia X-tra 400 would behave much the same, except for being a stop faster. But it turns out that while Fujicolor 200 has the usual three layers of color-sensitive material, one each for red, green, and blue, the Superia X-tra films all add a fourth layer meant to render greens and violets more accurately. Apparently, fast color films often don’t get these colors right.

I dropped a roll into my Nikon F3 with the 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens and took it along on a trip to St. Charles, Illinois, with Margaret. She grew up there; it was fun to explore her hometown. The Fox River flows through St. Charles, and these twin bridges span it just north of downtown.

Trestles

On the way to one of the houses Margaret lived in as a girl, we passed by a church with some interesting architectural features. So we stopped for a look.

Steps

A school was attached to the church, with this interesting cornerstone.

A.D. 1929

I have a little Potawatomi Indian ancestry, and so was delighted to find St. Charles’s main park named for the tribe. Pottawatomie is an alternate spelling.

Pottawatomie Park

I have no complaints about the color the Superia X-tra 400 returned. Just check out the blue in that sky, and the good detail in the shadows! But I’m coming to appreciate how films of 400 ISO and above are best for gray days and indoors no-flash work. If you look at this image at its full scanned size, the sky is mighty noisy with grain. On this sunny, snow-covered day, I would have been better off shooting something like Ektar 100. Even good old Fujicolor 200 would have been a lower-grain choice.

House

I finished the roll at home. I think I would have been better served reducing exposure by a half stop when photographing snowy scenes, as the snowy portions of these photos look blown out. This film’s grain really shows up on my blue car’s flank.

Snow-covered Matrix

It’s not entirely fair that I’ve compared Superia X-tra 400 to Ektar 100 a few times here. Superia X-tra 400 is a consumer-grade film meant to work in any camera, and is priced accordingly. You pay more for Ektar, which is marketed to professionals. But at any price, when shooting handheld with my f/2 lens, Ektar 100 is way too slow to get this photo of my living room in the morning.

Morning living-room light

I like this film well enough. I’ll enjoy shooting the rest of the rolls I bought. But I’m not sure I’ll buy Superia X-tra 400 again. For everyday color work the Fujicolor 200 works fine and is a little less expensive. And when I need to take candid shots indoors, this film’s faster brother, Superia X-tra 800, gives me one more stop of exposure with no noticeable increase in grain.

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23 thoughts on “Shooting Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

  1. bwc1976 says:

    I’m kind of the opposite of you, I’ve almost always used 100 or 400, once in a while 800 but almost never 200. That was an awesome deal on the film, I’ll have to keep checking my closest CVS and Walgreens which have both stopped developing film just as I was about ready to start shooting some again. Also I love the shadow of the railing on the church stairs, looks like you got there at the perfect time of day!

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  2. Nice photos. The color looks good. If you don’t like grain Kodak Ektar is definitely the way to go. One of the advantages of digital is you can adjust the ISO. With film one way to match film to lighting conditions is to take two cameras or camera bodies one with 100 and one with 400 speed film. I do this on trips but not when going out for the day.

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    • I frequently have two cameras slung over my shoulders. On the day I shot most of these photos I also had a Canon EOS 650 along too. But I wasn’t thinking it through – I shot the same film in it!

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  3. 400 speed color and I have never found our happy place. 200 speed, however, can be such washed out fun in bright stark light.

    These deals are such great fun. Found a bunch at a scratch & dent in Pennsylvania. I think it was Fuji’s Walmart brand. Exciting at a buck a roll!

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    • I can see why 400 speed color has never connected with you. I can see it might never truly connect with me.

      But honestly, if I find this film for a buck a roll again I’ll buy as much as they have and shoot it with no complaints.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. bodegabayf2 says:

    I shoot so little color these days that when I do, I don’t want to leave anything to chance.

    My “go to” film is Ektar 100. For 400 speed, I find that Portra has acceptable grain for a “fast” color film.

    When Kodak stops making these emulsions, it’ll be a monochrome world for me.

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  5. Sorry you’re not a big fan of the 400 yet, it’s still a favorite of mine, though looking at that blue sky, I’d say you’re right about the noise. I was prepared to blame it on your scan, then I went back and took a look at whatever I had where I shot the sky with 400 and have the same problem. Of course, I don’t mind a bit of grain, myself. ;)

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    • Oh, this film isn’t so bad. I just get less grain with the Fuji 200 and under normal circumstances it’s less expensive too! I still have 2 rolls of this stuff left and will shoot it happily.

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      • Great pictures Jim, but I think Joe’s initial thoughts were partly right; I definitely think the grain has been accentuated by sharpening during the scanning. That’s particularly apparent in the shot of the car, which I would saying is almost all sharpening artifacts rather than grain. Did you get these scanned at the lab? They tend to sharpen the amount required to make decent 6×4 prints, and I find with my prints that grain / noise is far more subtle than on the screen. When I scan my own negatives, if there are areas of sky, I tend to switch off sharpening and then sharpen selectively in Photoshop afterwards.

        Also, have you noticed (or is it just my dodgy eyes) that when viewing photos in the Lightbox, Flickr throws on another splash of sharpening?

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  6. I couldn’t pass up this deal either. And like you’d I’d keep shooting with it for that price. I especially like your shot of your living room. I don’t think you could ask much more of a low light film. I think the Fuji films are hard to beat for price and results. I like Ektar, however to me the results look too much like digital.

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    • Yeah. Fast film + fast lens = indoor handheld pics. I really like that. But what I like about Ektar is that I can shoot it in almost any camera and get good results.

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  7. pj931 says:

    A note on your film speed issues: I mostly shoot BW and develop my film in Caffenol CL. Caffenol gives me great, scannable results on TMax 100 from shooting at ASA 25-800 all on the same roll. Ever tried developing your own film? I got perfect results on try 3 and good drying by my 5th try.

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    • I’m too busy now to process and scan my own film, but when my teens are both grown and gone my schedule will open up considerably and I will give it a go.

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  9. ilya says:

    I really like the Superia film, but I found that the scanner makes a huge difference in my experience with any film. I’ve had pretty bad results from all sorts of film when I was paying for lab scans (at 3 different serious development labs), and started getting significantly different and much better results from the same negatives after I got my own Nikon Coolscan IV. The difference is huge, in both the tones and the grain. Having 12-bit TIFF scans as opposed to JPEG can probably make or break one’s entire interest in shooting film. Also metering the exposures has big effect too. But it’s a fascinating hobby :)

    Here are a couple of examples:
    Baffin Island, Canada
    https://flic.kr/s/aHskTRQRqf

    Mount Cook, New Zealand
    https://flic.kr/s/aHskNsxsG9

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    • Labs can be such a crapshoot. I’ve had some bad luck. My best luck has come from Old School Photo Lab and from Dwayne’s. I have used them the most of anyone, and I used one or the other of them to process the roll in this post.

      I’m dabbling in scanning my own, with my Epson V300. It’s a passable scanner. I wouldn’t mind having a dedicated scanner like your Coolscan. I’d want it to handle 35mm and 120, though. Even my V300 doesn’t do 120. I shoot just enough 120 to make it worthwhile to scan my own.

      I’ve scanned to TIFF, but for what I do, JPEG has been more than fine.

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