My main camera, the Canon PowerShot S95, wasn’t in its usual place the morning Margaret and I left for our weekend in Chicago. We needed to get on the road, so I grabbed my Nikon F3 and my Olympus XA — two cameras that have served me well in wintry Chicago before — and the fastest films I had on hand. It was going to be heavily overcast all weekend, and I’d need the speed. That called up my last roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800.
I bought a bunch of this film when I was the unofficial photographer at my church. I put it in one of my Pentax bodies with my 50/1.4 lens and made portraits for people. The colors were too muted and the grain too pronounced. But my subjects were always thrilled to get the prints I brought them.
I like this film better for these gloomy-day city subjects. The subject’s busy-ness makes it harder to notice the grain. And because color is sparing, it pops.
I shot this roll in my F3. Too bad there’s not a better way to find out your light seals have failed than seeing red streaks when you get the scans back from the processor. I cropped it out of most shots except where the effect was minimal, as in the photos above and below.
My 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens was on the F3 for this trip. It reaches out and grabs so much delicious Chicago context! I found myself making photos with no central subject. Every time I brought the camera to my eye, the viewfinder was crammed full of Chicago and I wanted to remember it just like that.
I shot this whole roll on a walk from our hotel in the Loop out to Navy Pier. We deviated for a stroll along Michigan Avenue as well. We love crossing the Chicago River and seeing all of those beautiful bridges.
I’ve been to NYC a few times and enjoy it but I prefer Chicago. The tall buildings seem almost artfully arranged. There are so many excellent details to look at in the built environment. It is so easy to compose an interesting photograph here.
I’m a sucker for public art. These are “The Gentlemen” by Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming. The city didn’t commission these statues — the nearby Langham Hotel did. They remind me of Japanese salarymen waiting for their train.
Here you can see some of that famous X-tra 800 grain. Not my favorite look in color film.
I grew up as downtown shopping districts were gasping their last breaths. Store after store closed in my hometown’s downtown. Nothing was left by the early 1980s. I liked going downtown as a child, and wish small-city downtowns had never lost their vitality. It’s exciting to walk State Street and Michigan Avenue in Chicago and find so much to see and do. We even stopped into Macy’s, bought my wife a gown for an event we’re going to, and had it shipped to our home. What a great life!
We stopped in a nearby Shake Shack for a snack. Even though it was just 4:30, light was already fading thanks to Daylight Saving Time. We wanted to photograph the nighttime Chicago skyline from the Ferris wheel. That involved a roll of Kodak T-Max P3200 I bought at Central Camera the day before. I’ll share those images when I get them back from the processor.
I’m not sad that I’m out of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800, or that Fujifilm discontinued this film a couple years ago. I’ve made a few lovely images with it, and it was reasonably priced. But I won’t miss its giant grain and muted colors.
Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.
Last updated on 14 February 2020 by Jim Grey