Film Photography

Goodbye Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Fujifilm discontinued its Superia X-tra 800 film in 2016, so I’m four years late with this Goodbye post. I’m not sure what took me so long.

I’ve made a few truly lovely images with this film. But for the most part, its pronounced grain disappoints me. I kept shooting it because it was the least expensive ISO 800 color option while I lived on a tight budget.

I bought it primarily to make portraits of members of my church. We have occasional pitch-in lunches in our dim basement. I’ve tried ISO 400 films and an f/2 lens, but ISO 800 and an f/1.4 give me more margin for focusing error. My kit was always my Pentax ME with my 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens.

Dave on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800
Mother and daughter on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

I also made candids at these lunches, trying to build my skill at capturing an interesting moment.

Serving lunch on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800
Mom on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800
Sisters on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

This may be the film I’ve had printed most often, as I like to give prints to my portrait subjects. I am always surprised by how much better the prints look than the scans from which they’re made. It’s true when I have my usual pro lab make prints and it’s true when I upload jpegs to Walgreens for quick turnaround. The colors are richer, and the grain largely disappears. I would love to understand why.

I’ve also used Superia X-tra 800 whenever I knew the light would be challenging. I rather prefer it for that application. Here’s my all-time favorite photo I made on this film, from my Olympus XA. The grain is still omnipresent, especially at the bottom, but the film’s muted palette worked very well with the setting sun.

State Fair at dusk on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Here’s another good State Fair shot on this film, from the Pentax ME and that 50/1.4. I featured it in my book of photos from the Pentax ME — you can still buy a copy here.

I'm workin' here on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Sometimes I pushed this film too far. I know many people like a look like this, but it’s never what I envision when I compose and shoot. Pentax ME and 50/1.4 again.

Thunderbolt on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Superia X-tra 800 was at its best in diffuse, even light, as here. This is where the film delivers its best color. Nikon F2AS and 50/2 AI Nikkor.

Farmall on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

It even works fine in full sunlight, as here. You just get tiny apertures and gobs of depth of field. Still Nikon F2AS and 50/2 AI Nikkor.

Roann Bridge on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Looking back, I’m not sure now what made me choose this fast film on such sunny days! Olympus XA.

Bridgeton bridge on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

I did some nice close work with this Superia X-tra 800. I shot these flowers in a hothouse on a gloomy day. Pentax ME and 50/1.4.

Hothouse flowers on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

This film looks especially good in this photo of some phlox on the grounds of Newfields. It was known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art then. Pentax ME and 50/1.4.

Phlox, I think on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

I think I expected this stuff to look just like Fujicolor 200, the color film I shoot most. That’s not a great way to approach any film. If I had it to do over again, I would have spent more time figuring out what situations this film excelled in, and I would have found a film that came closer to delivering the look I wanted in my church’s basement.

We’re not at a loss for ISO 800 color films despite Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800’s exit. Kodak Portra 800 is the obvious film to try next at a pitch-in. It is famous for its fine grain, and I can afford it now. I know CineStill and Lomography offer ISO 800 color films and it would be fun to try them someday. Also, I’ve heard of people having good luck shooting Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 800 and then push-processing it by one stop.

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20 thoughts on “Goodbye Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

    • Thanks! I had mostly negative feelings about this film when I decided to write the post. Looking back through my images as I put the post together made me realize I got some lovely images on this film. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

  1. Back when I was shooting film ISO 800 was ‘impossible’ even with B&W. These days it seems everyone “needs” these super-high ISO ratings. What’s happened to the light? Perhaps the world really is a darker place now.

    • Oh, we were all just hardier back in the days before these fast films. We pushed Tri-X to 800, 1600, even 3200 and compensated in developing.

      Just you wait: I shot some T-Max P3200 in Chicago and the photos are forthcoming.

      • I test digital sensors by cranking the ISO up – and purposefully under-exposing. Then I bring the image up in GIMP using “Equalize” and see if it is recognizable or if it’s just a bunch of colour blots. That’s how you can tell if the high speed is ‘real’ with digital. With film it’s down to how much grain and contrast you can stand to look at.

      • Ian says:

        Curiously enough, I’m in the process of finishing a roll tmax P3200 pushed 3 stops! Looking forward to seeing results

  2. Sadly this film was discontinued before I cam back to film. Previously I thought ISO400 was fast. Those are nice shots. I have taken a bit of a liking to Portra 800, the grain is quite acceptable to me, nice colour palette, and works very well pushed to ISO 1600, which allows me to comfortably shoot hand held in quite poor lighting. I think you will like it!

  3. Ian says:

    Hi Jim, some nice shots here, not being a “people person” i find photographing anyone a challenge. I have not tried Portra 800 yet but have used lomography 800 in my Minox 35ML. The results are in my Flickr stream tagged as “lomography 800”. If you wish to have a look. Please feel free to browse and comment

    • I’m not much a people person either. I choose to photograph people at church because they all know me and most of them like me. And many of them are economically disadvantaged and would never get a portrait otherwise — they are all happy to see me coming with my camera.

  4. You got some great shots with that film in both normal and low light.
    The thing I most appreciate about modern color films is their great latitude. You can be about 3 stops out from “correct” exposure and still get very usable images.

    I am of two minds about the higher speed films for night work. It is nice that we have greater latitude in what can be captured on film. At the same time, I think that there is still a worthwhile challenge in making the best of what one has to work with. Look, for example, at what Brassaï did in the early 1930s with a clumsy plate camera and film that was ultra-slow by today’s standards. As you mentioned in an earlier post, Kodachrome came on the market with an ASA of 10, but photographers still did a lot of good low light work with it.

    • The brilliance of the faster films is how many more photos you can make handheld. That’s really about it. On my recent trip to Chicago, I could have shot T-Max 100 at night if I had wanted to lug my tripod around for the long exposures that would have been necessary. Instead, I shot T-Max P3200 (photos forthcoming), slung the camera over my shoulder, and brought it to my eye anytime I saw something I wanted to photograph.

  5. I’ve used Portra 800 and it looks beautiful in any light. Very nice colour and acceptable grain if not printed too large.
    I remember listening to the director’s commentary on my Out of Africa DVD and he said that they decided to use high ISO film for the intensely bright African afternoon scenes because it has less contrast. Then they used low ISO film for a dark firelit scene at night because they wanted everything but the fire and actors to be very dark. Very clever!

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