I love Fujifilm’s film simulations. It’s not the same as shooting actual film, but the concept is similar. We choose specific film types or profiles to add certain visual effects to our images – black and white, high contrast, low saturation, increase red sensitivity, high colour accuracy, etc. Each film type is unique and becomes part of our photographic vocabulary. Think of famous films like Kodachrome, Tri-X and, of course, Provia that can define a photographer’s style, sometimes throughout their entire career.
Today, most camera manufacturers create at least one decent digital profile, but the rest are typically generic or useless. Even the names are boring: Standard, Vivid, Monochrome, etc. Not very inspiring. Ricoh is the only other manufacturer that creates decent film-like simulations: Positive Film and Hi-Contrast B&W. In contrast, Fujifilm gives us more than a dozen film simulations, many of which are so awesome I wish they were still available as actual film. Over the years I’ve experimented with all of Fujifilm’s colour profiles, but I do have my favourites. When Classic Chrome was first launched in the Fujifilm X30 back in 2014, it immediately became my number one film simulation for the next few years. Over time, I realized that Classic Chrome didn’t work in every situation so I started experimenting with other simulations.
For instance, when I want more shadow detail for night photography, I like the look of Pro Neg Std. When I want more punchy colours (not overly saturated), Provia is the way to go. When I need high contrast but also vibrant colours, Pro Neg Hi hits the spot. In 2019 Fujifilm released Classic Neg, which quickly became one of my favourite film simulations for street photography. Even though it’s tricky to use in certain lighting situations (just like real film) when you get it just right, it works perfectly. The latest film simulation is Nostalgic Neg which I had the opportunity to test on the new GFX100S. Initially, I wasn’t a fan of it, especially for street photography. However, the more I tested it against the other film simulations, the more I began to appreciate its qualities.
In this article, I decided to share 8 photographs captured with the new GFX100S + GF50mm with different film simulations applied. I didn’t use all film simulations with every image, and some simulations I didn’t apply at all (Monochrome, Sepia). However, I did use the ones I thought might work for these specific images, or I applied a film simulation just to show how different each can look under specific lighting situations. I also included the standard ADOBE Color profile as the baseline image. I rarely use the ADOBE standard colour profile, but I was actually impressed. If I could apply a single film simulation to every photo and get consistently good results, I would probably still pick Classic Chrome or Pro Neg Std. However, if I only shot with ADOBE Color, I would still be impressed with the overall look of my Fujifilm images.
This experiment also shows the value of shooting with RAW images. In the past, I use to JPEG bracket my film simulations, typically Classic Chrome, ACROS and Provia. However, this took up more space on my memory card than just shooting a single RAW image. By shooting RAW, you can either create the various film simulations in-camera, or do it later in Lightroom, Photoshop or Capture One. This is something you can’t do with many other camera manufacturers’ profiles, although you probably wouldn’t want to anyway. Fujifilm sometimes adds new film simulations to older cameras, like updating the entire GFX line-up with Classic Neg. I wrote an article on how I applied this newer film simulation to breathe new life into my older images.
For this article, I made sure I was in the standard ADOBE Color profile and made all my adjustments first (exposure, highlights, shadows, white balance, clarity, etc.) before applying any film simulation. After applying each film simulation, I did not make any more adjustments, even if I knew it could improve the image. If I thought the simulation didn’t look good, I didn’t apply it. Other times I applied a film simulation just for comparison.
As you look through these images, let me know which film simulations you prefer on which image. Overall I feel that Classic Neg is the most stylised look. It either works or it doesn’t. My tip is to make sure you get the white balance correct initially, then -1 magenta. If I was forced to use only one film simulation for everything, I would still go Classic Chrome. For night photography when I need more shadow detail, I typically go Pro Neg Std. If there’s enough light, then Provia also works well. For black and white images, my go-to is ACROS+R (Red filter) which lightens up skin tones but also darkens up the sky. I rarely use Eterna (too flat for me), Bleach Bypass (too desaturated) or Velvia (too saturated and contrasty), but they do work in some images.
In conclusion, have fun with Fujifilm’s award-winning film simulations (IF Design Awards 2021). Even though the title of this article asks which film simulation is ‘best’, there is no one film simulation for everything. The more choices we have, the better. Classic Chrome, Classic Neg, Provia, ACROS are unique profiles and deserve to be applied to our images. I recommend shooting RAW + JPEG if you have the space on your memory card. Revisiting previous images and playing with different film simulations can transform and breathe new life into older photographs. In each set of images, there were at least two film simulations that I thought worked out really well. In the photo with the old abandoned house, almost every film simulation uniquely matched the image. If I had to pick my two favourites from that set, I would choose the Classic Chrome and ACROS+R images. For the images of my wife, my pick would be ASTIA and VELVIA. I’ll leave the rest for you to guess and comment below. Let me know which film simulation you thought worked best with these images. Also, share with us your favourite Fujifilm film simulation and why. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!