New Agfa Print Films
Ultra 100 And Vista Series

Agfa manufactures a full line of 35mm films of all types, with the Vista series being their most popular consumer-grade product. In 2001, Vista was chosen as "European Color Print Film of the Year," by EISA, a group composed of some 50 magazines. Since that time, Vista 100, 200, 400, and 800 color print films have been improved and the new version began shipping in late spring 2003. Released at the same time was an entirely new film, Agfa Ultra 100, designed to produce images with ultrahigh color saturation.

The Vista line benefits from a new blue-green color coupler for improved color graduation in the entire red range, and an improved version of Agfa's Eye Vision Technology. Another improvement concerns the highly efficient silver halide crystals known as SXM (Surface eXtended Multistructured); these are now available in all dye layers and not just in the red layer as in the past. According to Agfa, the combination of technologies produces finer grain and "natural, precise colors in all ranges, which come even closer to the color perception of the human eye."

The Ultra 100 film employs much of the same technology with new measures, intended to produce intense color saturation without a loss of color fidelity. Other benefits claimed for Ultra 100 include wide exposure latitude, fine grain, excellent skin tones, high definition, and superior color/contrast in images made in overcast, foggy, and misty conditions.

While Agfa Vista 100 produces the best image quality of any of the Vista films, Vista 200 is similar in most respects. Unless you need prints larger than 8x12", or prefer the slightly richer colors produced by Vista 100, the ISO 200 film is an excellent choice. (Canon EOS-3; Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di zoom at f/8; Hoya polarizer.)
Photos © 2003, Peter K. Burian, All Rights Reserved

Testing The New Agfa Films
The technical information is interesting, but how well do the new Agfa films perform in the real world? In order to determine just that, I photographed subjects that included informal family portraits, the colorful action at a go-cart and BMX cycle race, plus a broad variety of travel subjects encountered on a vacation trip to Ottawa and Quebec City, Canada. Occasionally, I shot photos of the same subject with several of the new products, but most often, I simply used the film that seemed most appropriate for the situation.

Due to limitations of space, we can only publish a few of the photos, but this review is based on an examination of numerous prints including a broader variety of subject matter. For additional opinions on the characteristics of each film, I asked several photographers, both amateur and pro, to evaluate all of the 4x6" prints, and also the larger prints of my best images.

While Vista 800 is a fine choice in low-light photography when a tripod or flash is not practical, this very fast film can also be useful whenever high shutter speeds are required. In spite of the high ISO, image quality is excellent in 4x6" prints and very good in 5x7" prints. (Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM; Hoya polarizer; 1/1500 sec exposure.)

Agfa Ultra 100
Billed as "the most color-intensive negative film," Agfa Ultra 100 certainly produces brilliant hues and tones. Blues, yellows, and greens are particularly stunning but the entire spectrum is "enhanced." As with any film, use a polarizing filter outdoors (to cut glare) for the richest color rendition. Ultra 100 prints offer very high visual appeal, useful for travel, landscape, or nature subjects, and for events with participants in colorful outfits. In spite of the high saturation, colors do not seem artificial or garish. Whites and grays appear "clean" and accurate while skin tones are pleasing, if slightly "warm."

However, there is a tradeoff for the intensified color saturation, according to my tests: slightly more visible grain than in Vista 100 images, noticeable in 8x12" prints. Because the grain structure is fine and even, it's certainly not objectionable even in the large prints, particularly when viewed from a typical distance of 3 or 4 ft.

Combined with accentuated color effects, high contrast makes Ultra 100 perfect in the soft, flat lighting of a heavily overcast or rainy day. The prints exhibit great richness of color as well as an impression of great sharpness. On bright sunny days--with ultra-bright highlights and dark shadows--the high contrast is less desirable. In such extreme conditions, this film emphasizes the effect of harsh lighting, creates shadows with little detail, and makes it difficult to capture subtle differences in hues and tones. Use flash with nearby subjects in such lighting to fill in shadows and your Ultra 100 prints should be very pleasing.

Evaluation: According to Agfa, "Ultra 100 is aimed at consumers who prefer prints with particularly intensive colors" and this film will certainly attract photo enthusiasts whose favorite slide film is Velvia. While examining dozens of prints, all but one of my friends praised the gorgeous color rendition. The group did not find the grain obvious in 8x12" enlargements.

Ultra 100 may not be ideal for city scenes or landscapes in very harsh, high-noon lighting, but it was my favorite Agfa film for most subjects in other lighting conditions. Do note that Ultra 100 produces the very finest prints--in terms of exposure, highlight/shadow detail, and optimum color rendition--from correctly exposed negatives. Hence, it's most suitable for use with an SLR camera with a sophisticated light metering system.

Agfa Vista 100 And 200
The Vista films feature a more typical (not intensified) color rendition. Vista 100 and 200 colors are fully saturated; reds and blues are particularly deep and rich. Contrast is snappy but not high. This is an advantage over Ultra 100 in very harsh lighting, but in photos made in flat light, the apparent sharpness is lower and colors are somewhat drab. Both Vista films benefit from a wide exposure latitude; with some expertise, a lab can make very good prints even from over or underexposed negatives. Vista 100 is a fine choice for use with SLR cameras on sunny or partly cloudy days. Owners of point-and-shoot cameras--with built-in lenses with small maximum apertures--should use Vista 200 even in bright conditions for faster shutter speeds.

Evaluation:
These films produce accurate skin tones and "memory colors," rendering subjects as we remember them. I preferred Vista 100 over Vista 200 because it produced slightly more saturated colors; grain was also a tad finer, noticeable only in large prints. When you do not need the "amplified" color saturation or higher contrast of Ultra 100, try Vista 100 or 200. You'll find their rendition of the subject to be more realistic, if not as bold and dramatic.

Agfa Ultra 100 produces images with ultrahigh color saturation for great visual appeal but maintains good color accuracy. The various hues are deep and brilliant but pure, while skin tones are pleasing, though slightly "warm." (Canon EOS-3; Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di zoom at f/8; Hoya polarizer; fill flash.)

Agfa Vista 400
Prints made from Vista 400 negatives bear a strong family resemblance to those made from Vista 200. Color rendition is very realistic although blues, reds, and yellows certainly "pop." Grain is more noticeable in large prints, but only in close-up viewing. Like most "fast" films, this one is characterized by higher contrast. That's useful under light cloud cover, in deep shade, and on overcast days when we're most likely to use an ISO 400 film for higher shutter speeds. With fill flash, the high contrast is less relevant but it can be problematic in photos of more distant subjects, taken in very harsh sun in the hours around noon. In such conditions, shadow areas tend to be quite dark when prints are made to favor highlight detail.

Evaluation: Many of my Vista 400 photos are excellent. A marching brass band in early morning, poppies in evening light, and a soccer game on an overcast day are crisp, clear, and sharp with snappy contrast. For photos of high-speed go-carts and BMX cycles, made under harsh midday light, I preferred the prints produced by Vista 200. Even so, my friends agreed that most owners of point-and-shoot cameras would be happy with Vista 400 as their primary all-purpose film.

Even in mixed lighting--indoor lamps, skylight plus fill flash on this overcast day in Quebec City--the Vista films produce excellent color accuracy. (Canon EOS-3; Tamron 28 75mm f/2.8 Di zoom at f/4; Agfa Vista 400.)

Agfa Vista 800
In the past, the ISO 800 films tended to be quite grainy, but current products are superior in this respect. The 4x6'' prints from Vista 800 negatives are excellent, without apparent graininess; they resemble prints made from Vista 400 negatives. Overall color saturation is a tad lower but reds and yellows are quite bold. As expected, Vista 800 is more contrasty than Vista 400. That was an advantage in the extremely flat light of a rainy day in Quebec, for snappy prints of 16th century buildings. In photos made inside a cathedral--with some window light plus artificial lighting--the high contrast produced some loss of shadow detail when printed to optimize the highlight areas.

In 8x12'' prints, grain is certainly visible but quite fine in properly exposed images. Like most fast films, Vista 800 should not be underexposed. For the best results when shooting in low light without flash, overexpose by a half stop to shed grain and to enrich colors. Avoid further overexposure because dark backgrounds become a bit "smoky": brownish instead of rich, deep black.

Designed as a problem-solver for low-light photography, Vista 800 can be very useful when flash or a tripod are not practical: inside museums and castles, for example. This fast film can extend the effective range of flash, a real plus especially with a camera's small, built-in flash unit. Vista 800 is also a fine choice for fast shutter speeds during indoor sports events or outdoor games in the evening. During the day, you might select this ISO 800 film for "freezing" high-speed action when using a "slow" f/5.6-6.3 telephoto zoom lens and a polarizing filter in overcast conditions.

Evaluation: Vista 800 offers very high image quality in 4x6'' prints. Photographers who often order prints larger than 5x7'' will prefer Vista 400 because of its finer grain plus slightly higher sharpness and resolution of fine detail. Consequently, Vista 800 is not the perfect all-purpose film for everyone but it is a great choice in low-light situations. You should be pleasantly surprised with the results it will produce, especially with generous exposure.

Do you sometimes use a point-and-shoot camera with a 38-140mm or 38-160mm zoom with small maximum apertures, such as f/5.6-f/13? At the long focal lengths, such cameras set moderately long shutter speeds even in bright light. Consider making Vista 400 your sunny day film and Vista 800 your cloudy day film for sharper photos. Because not all point-and-shoot cameras accept high ISO film, check your Owners Manual for compability information before trying Vista 800.

For additional information on these and other Agfa products, visit the Agfa U.S.A. website at www.agfa.com/photo/.

Note: It is extremely difficult to reproduce all image characteristics with absolute fidelity on the printed page. If the illustrations do not seem to exactly match the written analysis of each film's characteristics, rely on the text as the accurate representation of the prints.

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