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.


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.

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.


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.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Film Photography, Travel

Shooting Fujifilm Superia Venus 800

Palmer House lobby

The whole point of fast films is to let you get shots in challenging light. Not just indoors, as in the photo of the stunning lobby of Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel above, but outdoors on overcast days too. Fujifilm Superia Venus 800 did a fine job on a Chicago weekend getaway my wife and I made early in January — prime time for dim, gloomy days in the Windy City.


The generous folks at Analogue Wonderland gave me this roll of film to try in exchange for this mention. I wish I had shot it earlier, as Fujifilm discontinued this film late last year. It’s out of stock at Analogue Wonderland (check on it here). But fear not, they have more than 200 other film stocks to choose from. If you can’t find the film you need at Analogue Wonderland, you should question whether you need it at all.

Red Line

Oh my gosh is it ever great to go into the Chicago subway and make a perfectly exposed photo with all the depth of field you can ask for. Also, the Venus 800 seems to be less grainy, and tolerate greater exposure sins, than Fujifilm’s Superia X-tra 800. That was my go-to ISO 800 color film until it was discontinued in 2016. I shot my last roll of X-tra 800 on this trip, too; I’ll compare the two in an upcoming post.

Central Camera

I shot my Nikon F3 with a 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens on this trip. I hadn’t shot the F3 in a year, and in that time its light seals finally degraded enough to leak a little light. You can see a faint red band on this photo of the iconic Central Camera sign. The longer I went between shots, the more pronounced the red band. Time for new light seals. I didn’t know this as I shot the roll, of course. When the leak intruded too much, I cropped the photos to remove it, as below.

River view

It was great to to shoot at f/8 for good depth of field, at shutter speeds fast enough for me to hold the camera in my hands. It may have been unusually warm for the first of January in Chicago — temperatures above freezing — but the days were plenty gray.

River view

One day we did get a few hours of partly cloudy skies. The Venus 800 let me choose even faster shutter speeds. It rendered Chicago’s colors beautifully — not too saturated, not too muted. The photo below lines up with my memory of that moment. That’s my favorite outcome for any film.

State Street

Even on a heavily overcast day, the Venus 800 got accurate color while delivering managed grain. My big beef with Superia X-tra 800 is pronounced grain. The Venus is a welcome improvement.

State Street

I’m super happy with the excellent color I got from Venus 800. I shot a roll of X-tra 800 right after I finished this roll and the colors were just meh.

Miller's Pub

Let’s take one more look at the spectacular Palmer House lobby, and pretend the light leak didn’t leave a red streak on the image. I’m used to my digital cameras being able to handle this shot, which I’ve made many times as the Palmer House is my favorite place to stay in Chicago. Only at ISO 800 have I been able to get a credible film photo here.

Palmer House lobby

Finally, I made this mirror selfie in our room on the 20th floor of the Palmer House. Those are my skin tones, all right. Not bad.


Fuifilm Superia Venus 800 is a lovely fast film. It’s a shame it’s discontinued.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Film Photography

When you shoot old gear, you have to expect it will develop faults sooner or later

Nikon F3, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Superia Venus 800

I took my Nikon F3 along on a trip to Chicago with Margaret early this month. I shot two rolls of color and one of black and white in it. The color rolls are back from the processor and immediately upon opening the files my heart sank.

Dollars to doughnuts my F3’s light seals have failed. This red streak appears in direct proportion to how long it was since I made the previous photo. A photo made quickly after a previous photo didn’t leave enough time for light to sneak past the failed seal.

I’m going to try to replace the seals myself. I’ve never done it before, but I’ve read instructions and it looks tedious but totally within my skills. A set of seals with instructions were just $12 on eBay (here). Many thanks to everyone who has “bought me a coffee” with the button at the bottom of each post for your part in buying those seals!

This makes me realize, however, that I should send my F3 out for CLA (clean, lube, and adjustment). This is one of my go-to cameras — indeed, it’s the only camera I’d keep if I could keep only one. I want it to work reliably for the long haul. The friend who donated the F3 to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras suggested Blue Moon Camera and Machine for the CLA, and so that is where it will go.

Several cameras are in my CLA/repair queue. First up: my Nikon F2A, which has had a fussy meter for as long as I’ve owned it. It’ll go to Sover Wong in the UK. Eric Hendrickson will eventually get both my Pentax KM, which I dropped and damaged the last time I used it, and and my Pentax ME-F, which has an inaccurate meter. I also want to send my Yashica Lynx 14e to Mark Hama to give it an overhaul and correct its meter, which is a stop off.

I have also received a Pentax ME Super and a Kodak Retina IIa from a reader, both of which minor issues. I’ll put test rolls through both as soon as I can, but I’ll be shocked if I don’t enjoy them and want to keep them. They’ll end up in the CLA queue too. The Pentax will go to Eric Hendrickson but the Retina will go to Chris Sherlock in New Zealand.

Finally, my sister-in-law gave me the Kodak Retina Reflex III that had been her father’s. My initial inspection shows that it basically works, though the meter is hit or miss. I’ll eventually put a test roll through it. If it functions well enough mechanically, I’ll send it to Chris Sherlock for overhaul in honor of the family connection.

Readers left lots of great suggestions about where to send cameras for CLAs and repairs in this post.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

Film Photography

Expired Kodak Max 400 in the Nikon F3

Iron fence

Checking for a suspected shutter fault in my Nikon F3 I put two rolls of film through it late last year: one Kodak High-Definition 400 (see some of those photos here) and the other Kodak Max 400, photos from which I’m sharing here. Both rolls expired in 2007. I’m not a fan of expired film’s unpredictable results. So to me, the stuff is best used for a job like this.

Old house

The F3 went along on our day-after-Christmas road trip up the Michigan Road. All of these photographs are from the road, in and near Rochester. As I shared in this post, Rochester has a long row of lovely old houses on the road as you approach downtown from the south.


Even though it was midafternoon, given the time of year the sun rode fairly low in the sky and delivered some delicious light. The film’s colors all shifted a little, which is a hazard of being expired. But the Auto Tone tool in Photoshop fixed that right up in a second.

Catholic Church in Rochester

At full scan size you’ll see considerable grain in all of these photos. But at blog size the grain is managed well enough. I’m pleased that I was able to get a little blurred background at EI 400 with the 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens I was shooting.


On Rochester’s square, apparently Santa comes to visit in this little house. On the day after Christmas it had not yet been removed.

Santa's house

I also aimed the F3 at the abandoned bridge abutment north of Rochester, which I wrote about more extensively here.

Old bridge abutment

This is the Tippecanoe River, placidly flowing past the bridge on which I stood.

Tippecanoe River

That bridge, a simple modern steel stringer, features this plaque commemorating its 1982 completion. I love the typeface they used for the plaque.

New bridge marker

Standing by that plaque I focused on the memorials on the old approach, enjoying the ever-fading afternoon light.

On the old bridge abutment

The F3 performed flawlessly, by the way. My worries about the shutter were unfounded.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.