Point & Shoot

Wide and Fast: A Fuji Natura S Review – By Andrew

Fuji Natura s

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.

Last light on Fuji Pro 400. The lens exhibits vignetting in dim, uniform light.

The Camera

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.

Fuji Natura S

From top to bottom: Flash, Self Timer, Focus, Date

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.

Handheld moonrise on Fuji Pro 400

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.

Midnight in Hanoi on Natura 1600

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?

Deep underground in Vietnam on Natura 1600

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.

Provia 400X DX-hacked to 1600, only to be shot at 1600 +2 aka 400 thanks to NP mode, and then pushed 2 stops in development

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.

Evening commute on Fuji Acros

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.

Hanoi Old Quarter on Natura 1600

Phnom Penh Water Festival on very expired Gold 100

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).

That fateful third test roll: Fuji Trebi 100C. Note: slight perspective correction applied in post

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!

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32 Comments

  • Reply
    Terry B
    May 12, 2018 at 8:21 am

    Andrew, a fine review. But this camera isn’t exactly cheap, is it, going by the few currently listed on ebay? Easily besting prices asked for the Yashica T4 and T5.

    Great images, but what a pity that the NP mode is not defeatable, but that f1.9 lens seems to be a cracker.

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 12, 2018 at 3:01 pm

      Yeah, the camera definitely commands a higher price than the T4s and T5s. It makes sense to me though, as there are plenty of other fixed 35mm lens point and shoots out there. There’s no alternative to the 24mm 1.9 on the Natura S aside from maybe the Ricoh GR21!

  • Reply
    Steve Ember
    May 12, 2018 at 8:30 am

    Thank you for this thoughtful – and thought provoking piece. The funny little Natura certainly endeared itself to you, and if it does so well on E6 films, that is mighty high praise for its metering and performance. Your story is also proof that, given a good eye and careful technique, the cost and complexity of more elaborate cameras can be wasted on a lot of people. I really enjoyed sampling your work with 24mm perspective, especially the street scene with the woman and child and the boy with balloons, both taking fine advantage of 24mm depth of field. You raise another very good point in suggesting that one take time to really try out a camera. Sometimes that “marination” can really endear a “new” camera to its user.

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 12, 2018 at 3:02 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Steve!

  • Reply
    Tom
    May 12, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Andrew, thank you for this great write-up and wonderful images. You succinctly described NP mode along with its benefits and flaws – something that is long overdue to the internet!

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 12, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks Tom! The lack of general info on the camera is what prompted me to write this review. Hope it helps people understand the camera a bit better.

  • Reply
    David hill
    May 12, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Fascinating. Naturally I immediately checked ebay, only to stagger in shock at the $600-$1000 asking prices. Hooo-eee.

    Lovely results, and a nice writeup. But about tricking that NP mode.. does it only engage at 1600? DX coding is in 1/3 stop increments. Does NP mode kick in if you code for 1250 or 2000?

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 12, 2018 at 3:04 pm

      Unfortunately the camera can only read full-stop DX codes. Otherwise that would’ve been a great work-around!

  • Reply
    James
    May 12, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Interesting. The back of the camera looks to be the same as the Fujifilm Silvi F2.8 – and I wonder if, like that camera, the Natura S is disinclined to shoot at maximum aperture. Certainly the depth of field in your selected shots would suggest so. Loving those floral embellishments, by the way!

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 12, 2018 at 3:05 pm

      I noticed the similarities too! I agree that it seems the camera will only start opening up the lens when it’s reached a critically slow shutter speed…which is a good thing in my opinion.

  • Reply
    Jim Grey
    May 12, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Your work with this camera is stunning, full stop.

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 12, 2018 at 3:06 pm

      Thanks so much Jim, appreciate it.

  • Reply
    Jose
    May 12, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    “Marination” can often work the other way too! Many times I have bought something only to find after using it a while that it just wasn’t for me, even when I’d been sure I would love it (…Olympus XA…). Even worse, sometimes I would something once and only once after getting it. Then sometimes things I bought on complete whim or because the price was too good to turn down end up becoming true favorites, like your Natura S (or my Bessa R). I think reading reviews on the internet can often be misleading as others have different ideas and preferences than one’s own, and there’s really no substitute for having something in your hands and using it. I still enjoy reading them though!

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 12, 2018 at 3:11 pm

      It can definitely work the other way around! It happened to me with a Mamiya 6. Took 4 years of denial before I finally realized it just wasn’t for me.

      Reading reviews can definitely mislead. That’s why I ended this review the way I did. No amount of research can compete with using something yourself!

  • Reply
    Dale Willetts
    May 13, 2018 at 11:26 am

    I’d heard of this camera a while ago from someone else who gave a very similar review to yours. Such a shame that they cost so much, would really love one……… Hmmmm……. anyone want to buy a kidney ? 🙂 Oh and the shot of the girl in the water and the shot of the boats …… STUNNING.

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 13, 2018 at 12:36 pm

      They definitely command a premium! Brand new in the early 2000s they were selling for about $300USD. Glad you like the shots!

  • Reply
    Duncan
    May 13, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Cool review. I think I actually saw this lavender model haha. It’s a camera I want but not sure if price v usability is there for ME.

    Thanks again.

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 13, 2018 at 12:39 pm

      Their prices are pretty stable. So long as you don’t overpay, you could always buy one and try it out for a bit. If it turns out to be too niche just send it on its way!

      • Reply
        Michael Kay
        May 16, 2018 at 10:12 am

        Andrew,
        May I ask how much you paid for yours?

        Cheers.

        • Reply
          Andrew
          May 21, 2018 at 8:19 pm

          I got a deal on it in Japan. Paid ~40,000yen.

  • Reply
    guadalupehuntsma
    May 15, 2018 at 3:36 am

    Andrew, thank you for this post. Its very inspiring.

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 21, 2018 at 8:19 pm

      Thanks so much!

  • Reply
    Michael Kay
    May 15, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Those photos are wicked Andrew. Looks like a stellar package in a camera, but those prices will turn most people off, sadly. My GAS built up super quick for a few mins there & then slowly fizzled back out when seeing their prices. But I can’t really complain. I own most pieces of AF compact royalty that are currently coveted by most folks. But that GAS unfortunately never stops persisting…

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 21, 2018 at 8:21 pm

      It’s definitely a nice camera…and the only ‘premium compact’ I’ve bought. I don’t see the appeal of the other heavy hitters as there are much cheaper alternatives with the same focal lengths. It was the wide and fast lens that caused me to try this one out!

      • Reply
        Michael Kay
        June 5, 2018 at 8:21 pm

        Andrew,
        I ended up buying one off a German bloke on eBay.
        Made him a decent offer on his already reduced price due to aesthetics not being quite up to scratch (his was a bit scratched on the top & bottom), but all is otherwise in order and the lavender model it also is…hahaha.
        I’ve yet to get my film back from the lab, but I’m really digging this focal length (refreshing), and just how small but good it feels in my big hands. I may just get rid of my mju-ii now.

        • Reply
          Andrew
          June 5, 2018 at 11:37 pm

          Fantastic! Glad you’re enjoying it so far.

  • Reply
    Taffy
    May 21, 2018 at 2:02 am

    Hi Andrew

    Can you manually set the ISO on the camera making it possible to load 400 film and activate the NP mode?

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 21, 2018 at 8:17 pm

      There’s no way to manually set the ISO unfortunately!

  • Reply
    Peter Boorman
    May 22, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    Those pictures are gorgeous. You say you didn’t feel that comfortable with composing with wideangles, but you’ve certainly nailed it!
    .
    I’d be longing for one of these – if I hadn’t sort of satisfied that need with a GR21 already.

    • Reply
      Andrew
      May 22, 2018 at 4:35 pm

      Thanks so much Peter! The wide angle is definitely fun to use once you get the hang of it.

  • Reply
    enaaem
    June 16, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    I have the Natura Black, pretty much the same as the S. If flash is set on auto, it almost always fires. My Yashica T4 doesn’t do it. Is it supposed to work that way?

    • Reply
      Andrew
      June 16, 2018 at 1:48 pm

      It obviously depends on what iso you’re shooting and TR right conditions, but if you’re outdoors during the day that sounds strange.

      To be completely honest I always had the flash disabled, so I couldn’t tell you how often the camera wanted to use it.

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