Like many of you, I have a bad habit of cruising auction sites looking at cameras I shouldn’t be buying. I also have a habit of dropping low-ball bids on cameras under the assumption that someone else will come along and outbid me. It’s a relatively harmless habit, as losing doesn’t carry with it the dread of missing out on a piece of gear I actually wanted and winning entails getting a camera for a price that I can always get back. This is the story of how I wound up with two Fujifilm Natura S cameras; one finished in blue and the other finished in a lovely shade of lavender with factory adorned floral patterns.
I planned to shoot a test roll through each and send them on their way. My initial impressions were that the lens felt too wide and the camera itself wasn’t exactly sexy. After the (admittedly bad on my part) test rolls and confirming the cameras worked, I loaded another roll and really tried to utilize the full field of view. Hmm, shooting this wide is kinda…fun? Then I made my fatal mistake; I loaded up a third roll…this time Fuji Trebi 100C (a beautiful, Japan-only consumer slide film once produced by Fuji). The results blew me and any chance of selling both cameras away. The blue one found a new owner. The lavender Fuji Natura s is sitting next to my computer as I type this.
The Fuji Natura S resembles an early 2000s digital point and shoot, especially when you turn the camera over and see the massive LCD screen on the back. Since it was a Japan-only release, the menu is in Japanese. However, there aren’t too many things you can control so everything is easy enough to decipher. The only settings I use are the various flash modes and the infinity focus setting for the rare instances I’m shooting through a window.
As a truly pocketable point and shoot that sports a stellar 24mm f1.9 lens, the Fuji Natura s camera has very few peers. The wide-angle lens + fast aperture + lack of mirror allows for handheld shooting using 400 speed film in situations that would leave most people running for their tripod and cable release.
The Fuji Natura s became my commuter companion and I quickly realized how perfectly it would pair with my Fuji medium format camera for travel. When the light fades and my Fuji GA645’s 60mm f4 complains, the Natura S seamlessly fills in for the rest of the night. Loaded with the film it was made to be paired with, Fuji Natura 1600, the Natura S shoots away in NP mode capturing night as if it were day.
What’s NP mode?
This is the mode everyone raves about and what apparently makes the Fuji Natura S special…though there seems to be some confusion as to what NP mode actually does. NP mode is automatically turned on when the camera is loaded with film 1600iso or faster. What this does is automatically turns off the flash and sets the exposure compensation to +2. At a glance, this may seem silly…but Fujifilm’s reasoning is that interior lights trick camera meters into underexposing. By automatically going +2 and flashless, your photos will come back perfectly exposed with the natural ambiance of the interior spaces they were shot in (hence the Natura name). This seems to work equally well for outdoor street scenes at night where streetlights and bright store windows may trick the meter into underexposing.
So NP mode must make this camera the king of low-light film photography…right?
That’s what I thought at first. However, as I used the Fuji Natura s more I realized this NP mode had a glaring flaw…it can’t be turned off. What this means is that you could never load up a roll of Tri-X and shoot it at 1600. If you DX-hack the canister to be read as 1600iso film, the camera will jump into NP mode and shoot it at +2, basically treating the film as 400iso. Before I understood how NP mode worked I did just this with a roll of Provia 400X. I DX-hacked the canister to read as 1600iso and had the film pushed 2 stops in development. What I essentially did, thanks to the NP mode, was shoot the roll at 400 and then pushed it 2 stops. See below for the result.
Despite this annoyance, I love the Fuji Natura S
As a travel camera, the Fuji Natura S is nearly impossible to fault. Wide and fast lenses almost always = large and heavy…which are two adjectives you don’t want to use when describing your travel kit (especially since we’re already dealing with the extra burden of carrying enough film around). It’s liberating having a 195g(!) camera stashed away in my front pocket that can shoot in such a wide variety of situations.
The size and fast lens means I miss less moments since there’s no reason not to have it with me regardless of lighting conditions. The Natura S will shoot happily in broad daylight (1/360th max shutter and a smallest aperture of f18.3) just as much as it will at 2am. The meter works great and I don’t hesitate to throw a roll of slide into it. Sure, it’s fully automatic…but if it can shoot a roll of Velvia 50 perfectly, who am I to tell the camera what to do? It’s been my only 35mm camera (my only other camera being the Fuji GA645) for the past 7 months and I wouldn’t change that decision. I can’t see myself ever taking a trip without this tiny wide-angle shooter.
Let your new purchase marinate
In our seemingly never-ending hunt for the perfect camera or lens, it’s worthwhile to give a new piece of gear a bit of time before deciding whether we like it or not. What may at first feel uncomfortable may eventually lead us to enjoyably shooting in completely new ways.
Prior to owning the Fuji Natura S, I was never a fan of shooting wide. 28mm felt too wide for me most of the time, hence me originally thinking I wouldn’t own this camera sporting an even wider 24mm lens for much longer than a test roll or two. That wide lens surprisingly proved to be good thing. Despite loving street photography and having the desire to pursue it, I’ve always been timid about shooting photos of strangers. The combination of this camera’s nearly silent operation and wide-angle lens gave me the little bit of comfort I needed to get close and press the shutter. With that early 2000s digital point and shoot look and a finish more suitable to a springtime shade of nail polish…the camera is anything but intimidating.
Time spent behind the camera and learning the ins-and-outs of our gear by using it is the best way to improve our photography. Many of us are still looking for that perfect camera or lens. When trying a new piece of gear, don’t be so quick in your judgments and give yourself time to adjust. Maybe all it will take is a third roll of film (preferably E6).
Thank you Hamish for the rad site and opportunity, and thanks everyone else for reading my blabbering! There’s not much info in English on this camera out there, so drop any questions you have in the comments below.
For more Fuji Natura S and other film photos from a wide variety of cameras, come find me on Instagram @zen_zanon!