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Fuji Provia 400F
by Vivid Light Staff

A 400 speed film with the grain of a 100 speed film that you can push a full 3 1/2 stops to shoot at 4800.  Yeah right.

That's what I thought several months ago I shot my first roll of Provia 400F.  Generally when I try a new film for the first time I consider any images on that roll to be throwaways as I'm mostly experimenting to see how the film behaves.  But two images from that roll wound up in the April issue.

Frankly this film blew me away - something I normally don't say about film.  Film makers generally make incremental improvements, and while film has made great strides in the last few years this film was surprising.

Among the images I shot at ISO 400 were some flowers shot wide open at f1.4.  The slides looked good on the light table but it was when I printed one of these shots up to 13x19 that I started to realize just how good this film is.  At f1.4 anything not in the plane of focus is soft and it's in these soft continuous tone areas that grain is most noticeable.  Folks this 400 speed slide film is on par with most 200 speed films for grain and compares very favorably to all but the latest generation of 100 speed films.

As is the fashion today this film has a little added punch over more neutral films such as Astia.  Reds and greens in particular seem to be a little more saturated - although not so much as films like Velvia or Kodak Extracolor, and while you may find it a bit warm for portrait work it's not objectionably so.  And this isn't a contrasty film.  There is a good balance between contrast and details in shadow areas, which are retained nicely.  Those of you familiar with Provia 100F will immediately see the family resemblance.

All this adds up to a nicely saturated all around slide film that solves a lot of problems when you're shooting in soft light that won't allow hand holding with 100 speed films.  It's also a good problem solver for situations where a higher shutter speed is required (wildlife and sports photography).

But take a look at the spec sheet and you'll find another surprise.  Fuji claims that you can push this film a full 3 1/2 stops to ISO 4800!  We took that statement as a challenge and did some shooting to find out just how far we could really push this film.

At ISO 800 Provia retains it's ISO 400 character.  There is an increase in grain but it isn't at all objectionable.  Contrast remains the same as at 400 and the images looked great.

At ISO 1600 grain becomes more pronounced but it's still not terrible.  Color characteristics haven't suffered and contrast is still good.  Images still have pop, flesh tones are good.

The real surprise came when we got to ISO 3200.  We're now pushing a full three stops and we expected the images to start falling apart.  But the grain was still on par with the film when rated at 1600.  And more importantly the texture of the visible grain was uniform and smooth without any of the choppiness that you sometimes see when film has been pushed hard.  Colors were still rich and contrast was good, especially considering that Provia isn't a particularly contrasty film to start with.

But by ISO 4800 there was a noticeable drop in image quality.  That extra half stop made a big difference.  There wasn't a visible increase in the apparent grain but both contrast and saturation dropped off noticeably yielding unacceptable images.  Well there's an upper limit to everything.

But a 400 speed film that can deliver fine grained, saturated images at it rated speed, that still yields publishable images when pushed a  full three stops to ISO 3200 is pretty amazing.  Kudos to Fuji on a fine film!

Provia 400F is available in 35mm, 35mm bulk load (100ft.), and 120 formats.

The Problem with Extreme Push Processing
We called the lab that normally handles our E-6 work and asked if they could handle a 3 stop push.  "No, only a two stop push, and the cost doubles for the push."

Next we called a pro lab in the city that we've used on occasion for bigger jobs. "No two stops is the most we'll do.  It's double the cost and we can't guarantee 24 hour turn around."  But they did recommend another pro lab that might be able to handle the job.

We called and they could, and at a reasonable $2 over their regular processing cost, and yes they could do it in 24 hours.

The moral of the story is that while a 3 stop push may give you publishable images we wouldn't recommend it if you're up against a deadline unless you've confirmed that you regular lab can handle it in a timely fashion.


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