|Fuji Press 1600/Superia
by Jim McGee
We all cheat in little ways. Maybe it's getting in the 10 items or less isle in the supermarket when you have 11 items and all the other lines are long. We're basically honest but we'll cheat in small ways now and then if we think it really won't hurt anybody.
That was sort of the logic behind my purchase of several rolls of "sacrificial" 1600 pro film before leaving for San Juan early last spring. Like most photographers I'd become a little paranoid about my film going through x-ray machines. I'd heard horror stories about fogged film down to 400 speed. But they always seemed to be "I knew a guy who knew a guy." Normally I don't give much credence to these kinds of stories. But my requests for hand checks of film were being refused about 50% of the time. The idea of shooting a couple of dozen rolls of film in San Juan and having them ruined by an miscalibrated x-ray machine was more than a little scary. So I cheated.
The immediate reply when you ask for a hand check of film is "the machine doesn't affect any film 800 speed or less." So when I ordered film for the San Juan trip I threw in three rolls of Fuji Press 1600. This same film is marketed in a non-pro version as Fuji Superia 1600 (see the sidebar pro vs. consumer films below). This way I could honestly say to the gate inspector that I needed a hand check because I was carrying high speed pro film. When they hit the mental play button about 800 speed film I could point to the rolls of 1600 inside the clear film bag.
Flying in and out of San Juan it worked like a charm. So over the course of the year anytime I was flying I'd throw my sacrificial rolls of 1600 into my film pack and off I'd go.
But even after telling me high-speed film was affected by x-rays; I was still denied hand checks on several occasions. I seldom shoot with anything faster than 800 speed film so I knew on any given occasion I was probably OK. But I did wonder about cumulative effects. On any given assignment you have a few rolls of film left over.
Since I always carry a camera bag, even if I'm just flying out for a meeting, it's possible that a particular roll of film can be x-rayed several times before use. Now that my sacrificial rolls had been zapped a couple of times what better test than to see if they'd been damaged?
The roll I pulled out for this test had been zapped exactly four times, twice in Philadelphia and once each in Orlando and Key West.
I used it while shooting the New Year's Day Mummer's parade in Philadelphia and then did some shooting down in the subway afterwards (see I'm in Trouble). I must admit the extra speed shooting at night is nice. But the noticeable grain in 1600 film has always turned me off. Past experience also told me that high-speed films weren't as vibrant, contrast was low, and shadow detail would be almost non-existent. These are not traits to make a photographer all warm and fuzzy.
Sometimes you're happy to be proved wrong. I was pleasantly surprised when the images I got back were sharp, the colors vibrant, the contrast good, and the grain well controlled. Best of all shadow detail held up well. Was this really 1600 film!
Grain is present in all images captured with this film. But it's not the gritty hard-edged grain that you think of when you think about high-speed films.
The costumes of the parade marchers are a kaleidoscope of colors and sequins. 1600 Press is daylight balanced and a flash really brought out those colors. Reds, violets, yellows, and greens all popped. Yet flesh tones still looked good. There was no over-warmed or artificial look to skin tones as you can get with some saturated films. Fuji credits this successful performance to its fourth layer color technology.
Most color films use three color-sensitive layers, one each for red, green, and blue. With three color-sensitive layers some films, particularly high-speed films, can have difficulty accurately rendering certain shades of green and violet.
To address this problem Fuji developed a proprietary 4th color layer. Fuji claims that this layer reacts to color in the same way as the human eye, rendering shades of color more accurately than conventional three-layer emulsions. I can't vouch for the chemistry but the results are obvious.
Finally I checked for any signs of x-ray fogging. I had deliberately left a number of blank frames at the end of the roll so that any x-ray effects would be obvious. I'm happy to say that after four passes there were absolutely no signs of x-ray damage on this film. The other two rolls will continue as sacrificial film. After four more passes I'll shoot another roll, and I'll shoot the final roll after 10 x-ray passes.
The bottom line is that now I won't feel like I should reach for the Tums if my film goes through a gate x-ray machine - and neither should you.
This isn't a brand new film. It was first introduced at Photokina in September of 2000 and became widely available in 2001. So why did it take more than another year for me to purchase a couple of rolls? I have to admit that my prejudices about high-speed films kept me from really considering this film. Now I know better. It's more than a little ironic that digital photography is coming on so strong at a time when we're getting better films than we could have even imagined just a few years ago.