Fujichrome Provia 400F Pro Plus Sensia 200 And 400 Films

This colorful Las Vegas scene was my standard target when testing a variety of new films, including Provia 400F. Note that colors are neutral and accurate, pleasing but not overly saturated. In a reproduction of this size from a 35mm slide, grain is very fine, while sharpness and resolution are very good indeed. (Canon 28-135mm IS zoom at 35mm; f/8; B+W polarizer; Provia 400F.)
Photos © 2001, Peter K. Burian, All Rights Reserved

Over the past two years, we have seen significant improvements in all ISO 400 and 800 color print films, but few advances in the "fast" color reversal products. This is understandable because color neg film outsells slide film by a vast margin, even among professional photographers. Consequently, most have considered ISO 200 as the fastest color slide film that still produced exceptional image quality: in terms of sharpness, grain, and color saturation. When much faster shutter speeds were required, photographers generally "pushed" ISO 100 or 200 slide films to an Exposure Index (EI) of 400. This worked well with the pro films optimized for such extended processing, but added to the cost because most labs charge extra for such services.

With the introduction of Fujichrome Provia 400F Professional (designated RHP III) the situation may start to change. A new generation film which boasts extremely fine grain, said to be "the best among films of its speed class," it also produces nice, bright colors and moderate contrast for the speed. With an RMS granularity value of 13, Provia 400F offers much finer grain than its predecessor, the original Provia 400 with a rating of 15, indicating more noticeable graininess. In fact, the new film is competitive with some ISO 200 slide films--including new Sensia 200--in terms of granularity value. The resolution numbers are also impressive. With a low contrast target, Provia 400F can resolve 55 lines/mm; with a high contrast target, 135 lines/mm.

Because Provia 400F is not an excessively contrasty film, it will hold detail in both highlight and shadow areas. When reproduced on the printed page, detail in dark areas of this image may not be visible, but when projected, the results are excellent. (Canon 28-135mm IS zoom; Provia 400F.)

In order to fully evaluate all of the characteristics of Provia 400F I shot a dozen rolls in the 35mm format under various lighting conditions. Because I was also testing other films for a report to be published later, I shot several specific scenes with a variety of films, and this provided a useful comparison. My subjects included the bold primary colors of the New York, New York casino in Las Vegas, pastel-colored buildings in Miami, the gorgeous red rock formations in Zion National Park and Valley of Fire State Park, plus low-light situations handheld: the interior of a cathedral in Washington, DC, and neon signs against a black sky at night.

After examining all of the Provia 400F slides under an 8x loupe on a light box, I made the following assessments:

  • Resolution: Resolving power denotes the ability of a film to reproduce intricate detail in the lines of a test pattern or in "real world" subjects. In this factor, the ISO 100 films remain superior, with noticeably higher resolution. Even so, Provia 400F produced good definition of intricate details, such as the fine lettering on the exterior of the casino.
  • Acutance (Edge Sharpness): Not surprisingly, the ISO 100 films maintain a lead in this category, too. Nonetheless, the distinction between different subjects in an image is quite high and this factor is enhanced by high color contrast. As well, Provia 400F is among the "sharpest" ISO 400 slide films.
  • Grain Structure: As expected, Provia 400F is very impressive in this category. Even in a blue sky (where graininess is generally most noticeable) the new film exhibits a very smooth grain pattern of consistent size. Granted, Sensia 100 is even better in this regard, and Provia 100F is virtually grainless. Still, for a fast slide film, Provia 400F features unusually fine grain; it's unlikely to be visible even in a half-page reproduction in a magazine.
  • Contrast: This is a measure of a film's ability to reproduce detail in a wide range of tones, from shadow to mid tone to highlight areas within a scene. A high contrast film will not hold detail in all three but the subject will appear particularly sharp, especially in very flat, overcast daylight. Provia 400F features moderately high contrast so it does hold some detail in the highlights and shadows of a contrasty scene. Under harsh lighting--with extreme highlights and dark shadows--fill-in flash or a diffuser screen would still be useful.
White, pink, and other pastel tones are accurately reproduced by Provia 400F when accurate exposure is used, as in this case. A 1/3 stop of exposure produces a more vibrant effect, and the results are still highly acceptable, thanks to the moderately wide exposure latitude of this new film. (Canon 28-135mm IS zoom; f/11; B+W polarizer.)

Color Balance And Rendition
The overall color rendition of Provia 400F is similar to that of Provia 100F. (The same applies to the new Sensia 200 and 400.) In other words, you'll see a difference in the deepness of tones due to the differences in saturation, but the two films are similar in balance (neutral, not warm like Velvia) and their rendition of individual hues. This can be important to professional photographers shooting both films on a single assignment because the overall "look" of the images will not be dramatically different. Because Provia F films do not have a "warm" balance, it's worth using a warming filter in shade and overcast conditions when the light is somewhat "cool" or blue.

In terms of color saturation, the difference between the old and new Provia 400 films is minimal in this regard, at least to my eyes; both offer color saturation that's high for an ISO 400 film. Naturally, the ISO 100 films produce more vibrant colors while those of Velvia are far more saturated.

Although Velvia colors are certainly dramatic, the subtlety of Provia 400F produces a pleasing but understated effect, with memory colors: hues and tones that are closer to our recollection of the subject. Because saturation is not excessive, the slides show subtle details such as textures and veins in the richest red rock formations. A 1/3 stop of underexposure boosts saturation and can be useful when a bold, graphic effect is desired. Overexposure of up to 1/2 stop still produces acceptable slides, but results in colors that are rather pale.

As to color rendition, yellows, pinks, and pastels are light, "clean," and accurate. Reds are rendered as bright, bold, rich, and pleasing; excellent overall. Greens seem very neutral, without the "exaggerated" effect produced by Velvia but not particularly striking. I found blues and purples gorgeous: rich and fully saturated, very striking. Sky tones are exceptional and particularly deep when polarized. Thanks to a good D-max, blacks are rich and dark, and this factor changes little when the film is pushed one stop. Finally, I found that whites and grays are close to perfect, without any apparent color cast.

In low-light conditions, the higher shutter speeds possible at ISO 400 proved to be useful in situations where flash and a tripod were not practical (top). However, when using longer focal lengths, I rated Provia 400F at EI 800 and specified a one-stop push at the lab (bottom). The results were still impressive. (Canon 28-135mm IS zoom.)

"Push" Characteristics
Some photographers will occasionally shoot a slide film at a higher EI than its factory-specified ISO rating. With extended processing by the lab, this provides an apparent increase in film speed, for higher shutter speeds and smaller apertures. This makes for less risk of blur from camera or subject movement while potential depth of field (the range of acceptably sharp focus) can be more extensive. Although the tech notes indicate that Provia 400F is suitable for push processing up to three stops, the difference in image quality would be very noticeable. I would not push Provia 400F that far. When pushed even two stops to an EI of 1600, the grain pattern is far more visible, while resolution and color saturation are lower. However, when pushed only one stop to an EI of 800, the new film produces highly pleasing results: graininess and resolution comparable to that of the old Provia 400 shot at 400 and equally rich colors.

But how does Provia 400F compare to Provia 100F when that slow film is pushed two stops to an EI 400? Frankly, the results are similar in terms of graininess. As expected, Provia 100F still produced sharper slides with higher resolution of fine detail. However, the contrast of Provia 400F at ISO 400 is less harsh, an advantage in situations including important detail in both highlight and shadow areas.

Those who hate to carry a tripod while hiking or touring an area on foot, will appreciate the higher shutter speeds provided by Provia 400F. Especially in low light--or when small apertures are required for adequate depth of field--this fast film is certainly useful. (Tamron 24-135mm zoom; Tiffen Warm Tone polarizer; f/11 at 1/30 sec.)

Conclusion
Available in both 35mm and 120 roll film, Fujichrome Provia 400F Professional makes using an ISO 400 slide film practical even for serious photo enthusiasts or on professional assignments. In fact, I recently interviewed an advertising photographer--Toronto's Frank Hoedl of Westside Studio--who has used Provia 400F on two recent jobs, on location, when high shutter speeds were required. He was pleased with the grain structure in the 645 images, and praised the color rendition: "It's very similar to Provia 100F, so that's an advantage, too."

I would still use an ISO 100 slide film when the extra speed is not essential, but Provia 400F was a blessing when shooting interiors where flash and a tripod were not practical or prohibited. This film would also be useful in some action and fashion photography as well as in photojournalism. Whenever high shutter speeds are essential to get the image, the new film would be a suitable choice, and would save the cost of push processing. When even higher shutter speeds are required, I would not hesitate to push this film one stop, although I would think twice about more extensive pushing unless there was no other way to get the required shots.

To my eye, the new Sensia 400 appears identical to Provia 400F under an 8x loupe and when projected.

No one is suggesting that even an excellent ISO 400 slide film should be the standard choice for serious photographers who want the highest sharpness, resolution, or color saturation. Consider Provia 400F (or Sensia 200 or 400) as a problem-solving tool and carry some rolls in your camera bag as I have been doing. When a situation calls for a fast film, shoot it with confidence, knowing that it offers surprisingly fine grain, contrast that's not excessively harsh, and satisfying color rendition. Viewed in this light, the new film may become indispensable, and may save on push processing unless even higher shutter speeds are necessary.

Note: It is extremely difficult to reproduce all slide characteristics with absolute fidelity on the printed page. Hence, if the illustrations do not seem to exactly match the captions, rely on the written analysis as the accurate representation of the image characteristics.

Fujichrome Provia 400F (RHP III) Technology
The three new films--Provia 400F, Sensia 400, and Sensia 200--share some of the same technology as used in Provia 100F, which is a virtually grainless film. Naturally, the "faster" films cannot be as fine-grained as an ISO 100 product, but the light capturing ability and efficiency of the new emulsion has been substantially improved. This was achieved by incorporating Super Fine Sigma Crystal and Super Uniform Grain technology that produces greatly enhanced light absorption and utilization rates; in layman's terms, the end result is unusually fine grain.

However, Sensia 200 is very slightly superior in terms of sharpness and grain structure. (Canon EF 28-135mm IS zoom; B+W polarizer.)

Fujifilm's tech notes indicate other benefits: "a rich tonal scale for greater highlight and shadow detail, wider exposure latitude than any existing high-speed film" plus increased interlayer effect for "faithful and brilliant color reproduction equal to that of ISO 100 films."

Other less radical improvements are also claimed for Provia 400F. Advanced Emulsion Aging Stability Technology is said to improve long-term storage characteristics of unexposed film with minimal changes in color balance and sensitivity. The Advanced Development Inhibitor Releaser Technology has been further enhanced through newly developed DIR compounds. These offer improved edge and interlayer effects that make for "superb resolution and color reproduction." As well, a yellow filter dye is used for superior development of the blue-sensitive layer for greater stability in push processing. The result is said to be "superb color reproduction and more consistent color balance even during extended push processing."

Indeed, Provia 400F is recommended for "pushing" to a full three stops (for an effective film speed of 3200) "with minimal variation in color balance or gradation." (The new Sensia films are not recommended for push processing.) For the previous Provia 400, only a one-stop push processing was recommended. As a bonus, the new film is said to be highly resistant to film speed loss or "reciprocity failure" during very long exposure times. No exposure or filtration compensation is required in exposures up to about 60 sec.

New Fujichrome Sensia Films
After the introduction of Provia 400F, Fujifilm released a consumer version of this film, Sensia 400 and also an ISO 200 product, Sensia 200. Both employ the Super Fine Sigma Crystal technology developed for Provia F emulsions and replace the previous Sensia II designated products. However, the tech notes do not make any claims for pushability as with the Provia 400F. (Note that Sensia II 100 has been renamed Sensia 100 for consistency but is not new and does not include the emulsion technology discussed in the technical section.) The granularity and resolution specs for Sensia 400 are the same as for Provia 400F and the slides made appear identical--in terms of color, sharpness, resolution, grain, etc.

When checking my slides with an 8x loupe, I noted that images made with Sensia 200 are a bit sharper since its resolving power is higher: 60 lines/mm with a low contrast target and 140 lines/mm with a high contrast target. The grain structure appears slightly finer, although its granularity value is also 13--perhaps a low 13 vs. a high 13 for the ISO 400 films. All three films feature superior reciprocity characteristics, too, as mentioned in the Provia 400F technical section. Contrast for all three films appears identical: only moderately high, so detail is visible in both highlight and shadow areas except in extremely contrasty light. When the extra speed is not required, I would use the ISO 200 film because of its minor advantages.

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