Leica M7 with Fuji Superia XTRA 400 film

One more post concerning film for today. It seems that lately film has once again been my primary medium of photography. Despite the evolution of digital cameras (which I enjoy shooting very much, especially the Sony NEX 5N and the classic Leica M8), film remains my favorite.

I don’t know how much the arrival of the Nikon D800E (which I have preordered) will change that, I guess I’ll find out in a few days.

Today’s photos are from a a recent roll of Fuji Superia XTRA 400 color negative film. This is not considered to be a pro choice when shooting film, it’s one of the cheap emulsions with vivid color and a considerable amount of grain.

(Leica M7, Voigtlander 15mm f4.5, Fuji Superia XTRA 400)

I consider XTRA 400 a travel film since its ISO 400 speed will allow me to shoot all day long and even make a few images after dusk with a fast lens. I normally rate it at either 250 or 320 ISO, since at box speed sometimes I get underexposed and more grainy images.

What I really like with this film, is the oversaturated results it can produce. The image below has not been post processed, what you see is what came out of the scanner.

(Leica M7, Voigtlander 15mm f4.5, Fuji Superia XTRA 400)

Now, that’s pure vivid color, which I happen to like very much. I got the same shot with my Sony NEX 5N, and it didn’t even come close. Even with applying saturation and contrast in Lightroom, it could not reach this look. Basically that’s one of the main reasons I keep shooting film, it’s not that it’s better than digital (each medium serves its purpose and I never got involved in the never ending film vs digital debates), it’s just different. And for my tastes, it is just what I want from an image to look like.

Now, for great color and contrast combined with high quality I have always preferred Kodak 160VC (or 400VC). Unfortunately this emulsion is not produced anymore, the new Portra 400 is a great film with extra fine grain, but it does not look like the VC. The new Portra 160 is even more close to the NC version, so if I want a vivid look with top quality I must shoot Ektar 100. It’s a tricky film to expose and scan, and so far I didn’t get the results I expected. Also Ektar has a more limited dynamic range than other color negatives, so I just shoot the good old Velvia instead.

(Leica M7, Voigtlander 15mm f4.5, Fuji Superia XTRA 400)

One other thing I like about shooting a color negative film is the very wide dynamic range. It’s always easier to blow out highlights with digital than with film. Even if you don’t nail exposure, it almost always retains information that can be recovered at post process. Also, the smoother tonal transition, is a great asset, and if you move to medium format film, that is even more evident.

The Superia XTRA 400 is also cheap, so I can shoot more rolls when traveling, that’s also a factor to consider when shooting film. And with wide angles lenses like the Voigtlander 15mm and 21mm it records light evenly with less vignetting than a full frame camera. On my Sony NEX 5N, I will notice from time to time a color shift in the corners (and I’ve read that on the Leica M9 the same effect happens, unless you invest on the new 6-bit coded Leica wide angles which are of course very very expensive).

(Leica M7, Voigtlander 15mm f4.5, Fuji Superia XTRA 400)

When printing images taken with the XTRA 400 film, you will see grain, but also the sharp details are there. In many cases, the oversaturated look of this film combined with the grain, will produce very interesting prints. I have printed up to 20 inches wide and some images looked very artistic (if I can say that !). In cases where I have shot with a 81A filter (to add even more saturation) you can get painting like photos, and this combination also works great for overcast days.

Overall, the Fuji Superia XTRA 400 is a great choice for a cheap travel film, with the ability to produce very interesting images.

Enjoy the rest of the images.

(Leica M7, Voigtlander 15mm f4.5, Fuji Superia XTRA 400)

(Leica M7, Voigtlander 21mm f4, Fuji Superia XTRA 400)

(Leica M7, Voigtlander 15mm f4.5, Fuji Superia XTRA 400)

(c)2012 Konstantinos Besios. All Rights Reserved.

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12 Responses to Leica M7 with Fuji Superia XTRA 400 film

  1. Jeff Bates says:

    Nice stuff. How are you scanning your film?

    • kbesios says:

      I am using a Nikon Coolscan 9000 scanner, it works great with 35mm film.

      • Jeff Bates says:

        Are you using Nikon scan software or Silverfast or Vuescan?

        • kbesios says:

          I use both Nikonscan and Vuescan. I prefer Nikonscan especially for color negative or slide film.

          • Jeff Bates says:

            Have you had any luck scanning B&W film. I have been using Chromogenic (XP-2 or BW400CN) since the grain aliasing and callier effect of traditional b&w film seems way too grainy and the GEM on the scanner causes a loss of sharpness on my Coolscan 5000.

          • kbesios says:

            I have scanned lots of b&w films with the Coolscan 9000. I prefer traditional b&w so I don’t use the GEM. Scanners will show more grain than a traditional print, you cannot avoid that. I mostly shoot medium format and large format film, so grain is not such a big deal with large negatives. Using slower films (50 or 100 ISO) is a good away to have reduced grain, and maybe you could use noise reduction software, although I suspect that it will also decrease sharpness. On my 35mm negatives, I expect grain to be there (especially with films like Kodak TRI-X 400), although I notice that when printing scanned b&w images, the grain seems more subtle than on my monitor screen.

  2. Jeff Bates says:

    Yes some of the grain is less prevalent depending on the paper surface. I scan a lot of medium and large format b&w film with no problem with a Epson V700, I decided to go that way since I shoot a lot of 4×5 and pass on the 9000 (that may have been a mistake). I can’t afford a Imacon and have been told the 9000 with glass carriers can do about as well. The BW400CN and XP2 Super do quite well in 35mm in the Coolscan 5000 but requires a run to a lab for C-41 processing. I still have a wet darkroom and some 35mm b&w photographers are making a master darkroom print and scanning on a flatbed. Whatever works I guess.

    • kbesios says:

      I was lucky to find a used Coolscan 9000 in a good price. The 9000 really makes a difference over the flatbed especially at large prints. I have also compared Imacon scans with the 9000 and the difference is very marginal, to my opinion not really worth the price difference between them.

      I also use the V700 for my 4×5 sheets, it does a good job. I have also scanned 4×5 with an Imacon, better results of course (especially at recovering shadow details and at the color accuracy when scanning slide film) but I wasn’t that impressed. A drum scan is really the way to go for 4×5 but the prices are very expensive.

      Traditional printing in a darkroom and scanning the paper seems to work very good. There’s really no comparison between a darkroom print and a scanned b&w file, but unfortunately I don’t have the time to spend in a darkroom these days.

      • Jeff Bates says:

        One technique used by a famous Leica rangefinder photographer is to make a 11×14 master silver print in his wet darkroom, squeegee off the water and scan it wet on his oversized Epson scanner. The wet print of course will lay flatter and wet prints have a tonality that is lost after drying, works very well for him and I need to get off my lazy butt and try it with a 8×10 print on the V700.

  3. Pann says:

    I’m just wondering, did you apply any saturation to the scans or is that what you got directly from the negative. Anyways, excellent photos! Love them!

    • kbesios says:

      Xtra-400 is a warm film and it gives you a saturated image. I use very often a polariser filter on a sunny day and that can also enhance saturation. I will maybe add a little contrast in post. This look is the reason I am still using this film despite being quite grainy compared to other emulsions.

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