cable drum and sewage pipes
Film

Fuji Superia 400 – Single Roll Review – by Christian Schroeder

January 19, 2021

Let me set things straight: I do love Kodak Portra. It is the color negative film I use all the time. And, probably like many of you guys, could easily deal with it if Portra was the only color film available. However, I recently decided to test out some alternatives. To a large extent, curiosity drove me: Which other looks can I achieve with different film stocks? Another aspect was the price. In Germany, a roll of Portra 400 in 135 comes now at roughly 11 Euros. So maybe I can find a cheaper alternative for the bulk of my work?

In this article, I’m going to talk about my first candidate: Fuji Superia 400. You will read rather subjective impressions based on a single roll, not an in-depth review.

Testing Fuji Superia in the Field

A good comparison of two different film stocks usually consists of several side-by-side shots. Such always remind me of these “Spot the difference!”-kind of riddles I used to love as a child. However, in film photography related posts, I lately find comparison shots more and more boring. Especially, if they are rather meaningless photographs only taken to reveal subtle differences in their tones. Or sharpness, vignetting, bokeh… Don’t get me wrong, comparisons are really helpful. But for the sake of this post, I wanted my images to stand for themselves.

As usual, I would like to give you some context. I shot the roll in question during a photowalk with my friend Hans. On a sunny day in late November, we met at an industrial inland harbor in Hannover. Warehouses, factories, scrap yards – but no people strolling around (except us). In these crazy Covid times, the harbor proved itself as a relaxing environment. Our plan was to have at least two hours prior to sunset and then continue into dusk. Shooting until we wasted all our films / couldn’t stand each other any more / would be frozen to death.

For the trip, I brought my Leicaflex SL2 in combination with not one but two 35mm lenses (the f/2 Summicron as well as the PC Curtagon shift lens). As I had wisely loaded the film in complete darkness , I was able to obtain 40 frames from the single roll. An impressive number to be reduced to a not-so-much impressive count of 37 useful frames by camera operator error. By the way, my point-and-shoot cameras often get one more frame out of a Fuji than of a Kodak film. To have a little more room for exposure errors, I rated the Fuji Superia at EI 200.

The Images – Day-Time Shots

For development and scanning I sent my roll of Fuji Superia to Carmencita Film Lab in Valencia, Spain. They offer to scan the whole frame, including black edges. For me, these edges look rough and “dirty” – and they slightly vary from frame to frame. I love them, as they give the image an authentic look in my opinion. And hey, why do we bear all these burdens and shoot film in the digital age if not to get imperfect photographs?

a modern warehouse lit by the afternoon sun

First location: Brinkhafen harbor in Hannover. This rather dull, modern warehouse has recently replaced an old factory. The nice reflection of the afternoon sun in combination with the tree’s shadow convinced me to snap a picture anyway.

The strong vignetting at f/2 gave this shot a gritty, vintage kind of look. I like that!

a factory building during sunset at Brinkhafen in Hannover, Germany

a bright red garden shed shot on Fuji Superia 400 film

We found this garden shed at nearby residential house. It easily dominates the image, although the shed sits there rather distant.

When we stepped onto the bridge, this ship was still a kilometer away. So I invested precious pre-sunset minutes waiting for my picture.

two old brick buildings shot on Fuji Superia 400 film

Consider the brick building in the background as a real hidden gem. The famous architect Hans Poelzig, member of the New Objectivity movement, designed the house in the 1920s. Unfortunately, Poelzig’s creation has been sitting in a deep sleep for decades.

The Images – Night-Time Shots

Especially during the winter season I practice a lot of night-time photography. During the day, one photograph might take up 1/125th of a second of your time. However, at night, things change drastically. You should have much more time on your hands as a single exposure can easily consume several minutes.

After the sun had set, the frame counter of my camera read 25. Enough shots left to check out what Fuji Superia is capable of in the absence of natural light.

a stack of sewage pipes and a cable drum shot on Fuji Superia 400 film

Shortly after sunset, my friend Hans and I changed location to the nearby Nordhafen harbor. On our way, we came across these sewage pipes and cable drum. Only when I saw the scan I realized, I had all the basic colors in this frame: red, green, blue and yellow. (Note the tripod shadow.)

night-time shot of warehouses at Nordhafen inland harbor in Hannover, Germany

The light sources often show red halation effects – no need for Cinestill here.

coal-fired power plant at Herrenhausen, Hannover shot on Fuji Superia 400 film

The coal-fired power plant at Herrenhausen. I framed the shot such that the steam plume would point into the upper right corner. Exposure time was roughly 10 minutes at f/8.

a factory at night, shot on Fuji Superia 400 film

The Superia exhibits a rather moderate reciprocity failure. If you have to expose longer than one minute, you should add one stop of light. Compared to Kodak stock, long-time exposures are way more convenient.

Final Thoughts on Fuji Superia 400

It excites me to test out unfamiliar film stocks. A specific emulsion has often a much greater impact on the final image than a new piece of gear has. Consider this as an easy way to spice up your analog life without spending a fortune. I think these images have a distinct “analog-ish” appearance to them. The look of Fuji Superia differs from the one of Kodak Portra, indeed. However, it is not a difference between day and night, both are solid films. Superia’s colors seem more punchier to me, as expected.

Some years ago, I once tried another Fuji film. Fuji 160 NS in 120, if I remember correctly. I shot the film in the countryside in spring. Back then, the results disappointed me. Grass, leaves, plants on the fields – they all appeared way too green to my taste. This effect gave the images a rather artificial look. In my eyes, the organic vibe of film photographs was almost absent. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter a similar behavior with Fuji Superia. Maybe it’s because the vegetation reveals a totally different color palette in May than in November. Whereas in spring bright and intense greens are prevailing, the late autumn is characterized by yellows and browns. Should have an eye on this.

So, will I use this film again? Of course, as I bought two more rolls of it. Joking aside, Fuji Superia gave me pleasing results, so I will probably use it again from time to time.

Thanks for reading!

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Steve Curzon
    January 19, 2021 at 10:21 am

    Great photographs! I am going to try this film myself. I hope you carry on posting articles about your experiments!

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      January 20, 2021 at 12:28 pm

      Hi Steve, thanks! Next in line would be Lomography 800.

  • Reply
    Rock
    January 19, 2021 at 10:22 am

    Lovely photos as usual Christian. I agree about the black borders: they do seem to frame the image nicely. It might be worth buying a whole bunch of the Superior and stick it in the fridge as I wouldn’t mind betting that Fuji will cut this emulsion in the not too distant future!!!

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      January 20, 2021 at 12:32 pm

      Hi Rock, I can’t live without these black borders anymore. They really emphasize the film look. – I recently ordered some fresh rolls of Superia. Unfortunately, the shop went out of stock during my order (when in the cart it said “available”, in the confirmation mail “waiting for new supply”). Guess there are a lot of folks around stocking up Fuji products.

  • Reply
    Michael J
    January 19, 2021 at 10:33 am

    Hi Christian, lovely pics! Also top marks (from me at least) for namecheck of Hans Poelzig!

    I guess we’ll be seeing more of Superia 400 as Fuji are apparently discontinuing PRO400H. I’ve been using both of these in the last couple of years and where PRO400H has given me great results at 120 in a Rolleiflex (that takes pretty good pics on anything) I haven’t seen anything that justifies the substantial additional cost over Superia on 35mm.

    It’s also quite commonly held in real shops (when/if they ever open again) which gives one the rare opportunities for spontaneous choice.

    Yeah, I like the stuff. I’m also inspired by your night shots…

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      January 20, 2021 at 12:44 pm

      Hi Michael, thank you for your feedback. Happy to hear you are probably going out at night yourself! Fuji’s stock is in general a good choice for these tasks as all the films exhibit a pretty good reciprocity behavior (at least to my knowledge). I just exposed an expired roll of Fujichrome 64T 2 reversal film. For night shots, a little bit slow – I admit. But, without the two stops for compensation, ISO 64 is not that much different from a Portra 400.

  • Reply
    John Murch
    January 19, 2021 at 10:52 am

    The scans and the quality of the photos are incredible. Nice job!

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      January 20, 2021 at 12:35 pm

      Thank you, John!

  • Reply
    Huss
    January 19, 2021 at 11:26 pm

    Great pic of the ship! How do u calculate the exposures for the night shots?

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      January 20, 2021 at 12:39 pm

      Thanks, Huss! I usually meter for a rather yet not too dark spot in my surrounding, maybe the pavement. If the meter reads a lot time, I take reciprocity failure into account, according to the manufacturer’s data sheet. With Portra or CineStill 800T, I add two stops. If it’s a rather dark scene with no good spot for metering, I expose by feel – normally, the more the better.

  • Reply
    Alexander Seidler
    January 20, 2021 at 5:36 pm

    Yes the ship 🙂 beautiful

  • Reply
    Holly Gilman
    January 22, 2021 at 11:34 am

    It’s true, a more scientific way to decide which films are your favourite are to do direct comparison tests but I just can’t help feeling that it’s a waste of film. Particularly if you are doing it for yourself rather than as a demonstration for others. I’m currently working my way through black and white film stocks and it’s really helped me to work out what I’m looking for in my images and therefore whether the film stock is able to give me that.
    Keep on sharing your musings!

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