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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Film Photography, Travel

Chicago on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

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.

Smith & Wollensky - Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800 - Nikon F3 - 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor

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.

Smith & Wollensky - Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800 - Nikon F3 - 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor

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.

Bus - Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800 - Nikon F3 - 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor

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.

Michigan Ave

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.

Wabash Avenue

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.

Over the River

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.

Under the Umbrella

Here you can see some of that famous X-tra 800 grain. Not my favorite look in color film.

Statues

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!

Boss

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.

Cup

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.

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Film Photography

Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800 vs. Fujifilm Superia Venus 800

I admit, this isn’t much of a test of Fujifilm’s Superia X-tra 800 and Superia Venus 800. But I shot one photograph at the end of one roll, and the other at the beginning, in the time it took to rewind and reload. The conditions were as alike as it gets.

Riveting
Riveting

The X-tra is above, the Venus below. I post-processed both images similarly in Photoshop. It’s interesting to me how the two films rendered brown differently. I’m not sure which I like better. Looking through all of the photos on both rolls, the X-tra gave more pronounced grain, and seemed less tolerant of underexposure. But in these two photos, except for the brown tone, it’s hard to tell them apart.

There has been some speculation that these are the same film branded based on distribution, the X-tra 800 offered worldwide and the Venus 800 only in Japan. The spec sheets lay waste to that claim (the X-tra here, the Venus here) — these are different, although similar, films. Check out the curves on page 4 of each spec sheet.

It’s all academic, as Fujifilm discontinued Superia X-tra 800 in 2016, and Superia Venus 800 last year. If you buy either of these films, it’s leftover or expired stock. That was my last roll of X-tra 800, which I kept on hand for indoor candid shots at church. I guess I’ll switch to Kodak Portra 800 for that now.

Analogue Wonderland gave me the roll of Venus 800 in exchange for this mention. They appear to be out of stock (click here to check) — but no worries, they carry more than 200 other films to satisfy any need you can think of. Check out their selection here.

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Film Photography

Portraits in a church basement

It’s funny how much I had to push up my courage to ask these people if I could take their portraits. I go to church with them; we know each other pretty well!

I shoot mostly old buildings and old cars because I like them. I like people, too, but they have feelings about being photographed that my usual subjects don’t. But my fellow congregants sure do enjoy it when I bring them prints of the portraits I make. And when I make their portraits I can speak with them as people far easier than I can otherwise.

So for our recent pitch-in lunch, I mounted a 50/1.4 onto my Pentax ME and loaded a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800. I set the lens to f/2, which I figured would give me the depth of field I wanted, and used the camera like a point-and-shoot.

This is Debra, a woman of few words but of vast faith. When I need prayer, I ask Debra first.

Debra

Meet Margaret. This is not my wife Margaret but one of the other two Margarets in our congregation. Our church is a Margaret-rich environment. This Margaret is an elder and has sung in our praise team (and in the choir that preceded it) since 1962.

Margaret

Here’s Dawn, going to town carving a ham. We all come to church on our best behavior but I bet Dawn is quite ornery outside the church!

Dawn

We had a guest preacher this Sunday, Nick, pictured here with his daughter whose name I didn’t catch.

Nick and daughter

Dave is a longtime member who at some point moved out to the suburbs. He drives in every Sunday.

Dave

Jenny and I had a moment of connection recently when she saw on Facebook that I’d been to the Anthrax concert. She was surprised that I even knew who Anthrax was. I project a pretty buttoned-down image.

Jenny

We see Amber only sometimes. She’s a young adult making her way. Amber could well be the happiest person I’ve ever met. Every time I see her, anyway, she seems to be on the verge of rapturous joy.

Amber

Amber’s mother Rhonda is on the right, with her man Steve. They’re a great couple and seem to be good for each other.

Steve and Rhonda

I think these compositions are all right and I did get the depth of field I was looking for at f/2. I wish the colors were fuller, but I guess this is what you get shooting ISO 800 film. I had the processor make prints of these so I could give them out, and the prints have better color and less grain. It seems paradoxical, really — the lab made the prints from these scans.

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At the Fair

The fair at dusk
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800
2015

Photography
Image

Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800
2015

Photography
Image