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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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