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Fuji Press 1600/Superia 1600 
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.

Colors were vibrant and skin tones 
were accurate. The red is his 
cheeks is from the cold. 
Nikon F100 & 24-120mm, SB28 
flash w/ LumiQuest pocket bouncer diffuser.

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.

Playing with patterns. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of shadow detail. You can zoom in and clearly see the patterns in the concrete and old paint. 
F100, 28-105mm, SB28, and LumiQuest pocket bouncer.

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.

How well does it hold up in low light? 
A schedule is posted on the wall above the flag. You can see that its
for the subway elevated line.
We're in very tight here and the original was not scanned at the scanner's highest resolution which would have rendered some additional edge detail. Image color corrected
for overhead fluorescent lighting. 
F100, 24-120mm, SB28, and LumiQuest pocket bouncer.  

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.

Professional vs. Consumer Films 
In general professional films have more saturated colors and finer grain than consumer films.

But photographers are often surprised to learn that many professional films have consumer counterparts that have identical emulsions. The difference in name and price refers to the quality control of how that film is produced and handled before it gets to you.

Professional photographers need to know that a given emulsion will always produce the same results with no surprises. This can be particularly important for catalog and fashion photographers where accurate color reproduction is a must.

Film ages. That can lead to subtle differences in shades and grain. Imagine a fashion photographer shooting for a magazine layout. Let's say he shoots fifteen rolls of film with a model in several locations. Now imagine if the model's dress is a different shade of blue from one roll to the next. You'll have an unhappy editor and a very unhappy photographer (because he'll have to re-shoot the layout).

Film also has a peak where the colors are the most vibrant and accurate. Refrigerating film dramatically slows the aging process and preserves the film at it's peak. Professional film is manufactured to tighter tolerances and is kept refrigerated from the time it is produced until it reaches the photographer. The idea is that by slowing the aging process and manufacturing to tight tolerances you are assured that every roll of brand X pro film will produce results exactly like every other roll of brand X pro film.

In reality today's films are much more accurate and temperature tolerant than the films of yore. They also age better with fewer noticeable shifts in color, contrast, and grain. Films like Fuji Superia and Press are identical emulsions. The difference is in the handling. The same is true of some slide films. Kodak Ektachrome 100 ExtraColor and Kodak 100VS for example, are the same emulsion.

Whatever film you buy it's a good idea to throw it in the back of the fridge if you won't be using it for a while. This slows the aging process and assures that you'll get the best performance from your film.

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