Very early on in this exercise, I wrote about Fuji Superia 400 in what were rather unflattering ways. It’s still not my favorite film by a long shot, but I’ve also come to understand a bit more about how film characteristics are affected by other factors, so it seemed like perhaps I should write an update taking these things into account. Problem is, I haven’t shot Superia 400 in ages, so instead I decided to take a more thorough look at its slightly slower cousin, Superia 200.
Each film emulsion has its own character – color palette, grain, latitude – but I have come to appreciate more and more that the end product is not solely the result of the film. The lens has an awful lot to do with it as well, not just in terms of sharpness, but in color rendition and tonality as well. This should perhaps be a fairly obvious realization, but Your Humble Filmosaur is not always the sharpest tool in the shed. Note that these photos were not altered in any way except to remove dust from the scans and to add the watermarks.
Take for example this photo I recently posted. Superia 200 shot with a 1950s-vintage Canon Serenar 50/1.9. The colors are muted, tending toward a pastel-like palette, with low overall contrast. Not unpleasant at all in this shot, but a particular look to be sure, and one that might not be well-suited to other subjects. If one were to make a judgement about the film based strictly on this and other photos from this particular camera/lens combo (as I did in my earlier condemnation of Superia 400), you might form the impression that this film is going to produce these colors in any camera with any lens.
As the photo above shows, this is clearly not the case. This was taken with my Pentax SFX and a Pentax M-SMC 200/4, a considerably more modern lens than the Serenar, with more modern coatings. The camera was shot in aperture priority mode, ensuring proper exposure; not that the earlier shot was incorrectly exposed, but one should not fail to account for variables. Here the colors are vibrant and saturated, with higher contrast as well – if I were shown these two shots and asked if they were taken on the same film stock, I would have to guess that they were not, the differences in appearance simply being too great. And yet it was the very same film, from the very same production batch even.
What is going on here? Well, simply put, these examples demonstrate that the lens is a major factor in determining the look of the photo; not just the sharpness, not just the depth-of-field, but the color and contrast as well. Certainly, different films add important variables to the mix as well, but not the only ones. Having acquired many cameras and lenses, and shooting more types of film through them, I’ve begun matching films to cameras to achieve particular looks – for example, I’m not going to load Superia 200 in my vintage LTM rangefinders if I want high saturation; Kodak Ektar would likely be a better choice, or I could simply choose a different (probably more modern) camera. If nothing else, such considerations should make the end results a bit more predictable.