The range of available 35mm films was once pretty extensive, but the obvious market forces associated with the shift of most photographers to digital have conspired to reduce the range considerably. However, those films that remain on the market seem to have benefited from advances in technology, making them notably better than the films of the past. Given the limited number of choices out there for film diehards, it seemed worth a brief discussion of Filmosaur’s recent (and admittedly limited) experiences.
Fuji Superia Xtra 400 is their basic color negative film offering. The major advantages it has are two: it is widely available (even Walmart carries it), and it is cheap ($2/24 exposure roll from B&H). Aside from the purely practical (anyone using film is clearly not solely concerned with practicality), Superia Xtra has some characteristics that bear attention.
It’s a fairly sharp film, and not too grainy for a 400. Color is very vivid, especially reds. Now, I like vivid colors, but the Superia Xtra is seriously vivid. It might be too much in some situations. The real problem, though, is that it really doesn’t seem to like underexposure. There’s a lot of contrast, and the darkness of shadows is exaggerated by any underexposure. Some of this can be fixed in post-processing, but it’s not an ideal solution. In a camera with auto-exposure and accurate metering, it’s less of an issue, at least in fairly uncomplicated lighting situations; if you’re using a manual camera and “sunny 16,” probably best to err on the side of overexposure.
I’m going to shoot the next few rolls as a 200-speed film and see how it works. Again, not an ideal solution – people tend to buy 400-speed film expecting to be able to use it as such – but as it stands the sensitivity to underexposure makes it risky to shoot it at box speed.
NOTE: An update to this post may be found here.