Although Fujichrome Provia
100 Professional is a top-rated transparency film, the engineers at
Fuji have not been resting on their laurels. Aggressively continuing
their Research and Development activity, they achieved a breakthrough:
an ISO 100 film with the finest grain structure in the world. As mentioned
in our "First Look" report (October, 1999), the RMS 8 granularity
rating of the new Provia 100F is significantly lower than the RMS 9
rating for Velvia--making the new product a "virtually grainless"
color reversal film.
It is important to note that Provia 100F (designated RDP III) is not
a "fast Velvia." The latter features hyper-saturated colors
while Provia 100F offers "rich, vivid color reproduction, subtly
enhanced, following in the Provia 100 tradition." My tests confirmed
that the new film produces striking, fully-saturated hues and tones,
but not the "wet paint look" that tends to define Fujichrome
Velvia. Consequently, the new product is more likely to be a general-purpose
film for a broad variety of applications: from portraits, to product
to fashion to news, travel, wildlife, and sports photography.
Field Test Results. In addition to color rendition
and grain, there are other factors that must be considered in the evaluation
of any film. In order to test all facets of Provia 100F, I shot a full
20 rolls in 35mm format under various lighting conditions. I frequently
also shot the same scene with Velvia and conventional Provia 100 for
comparison testing purposes. My subjects included the bold primary colors
of costumes at a Renaissance Festival, the neutral tones of uniforms
at a Civil War re-enactment, a broad variety of people, and natural
subjects such as flowers, grass, and foliage. After examining all of
the slides under a 10x 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, Velvia remains the leader with
super-high resolution as confirmed by the technical specs. Even so,
the Provia films produced excellent definition of the most intricate
details, such as the fine lettering on distant sailboats.
· Acutance (Edge Sharpness). Not surprisingly, Velvia maintains
its lead in this category, too. The distinction between different subjects
in an image is incredibly high and this factor is enhanced by high color
contrast. Still, Provia 100F is among the "sharpest" ISO
100 films. To maximize its potential, use a hefty tripod, high shutter
speed, or flash to "freeze" subject motion and minimize
the effects of camera shake.
A professional film should produce exceptional skin tones
because it will be frequently used for images including
people. Provia 100F excels in this regard, with faithful,
"clean," and highly pleasing flesh tones. (Model:
A. Colvin; Canon EOS-3 with EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM zoom;
Program mode; fill flash with 550EX.)
· Grain Structure. As
expected, Provia 100F is the hands-down winner in this category. Even
in a blue sky (where grain is generally most noticeable) the new film
is indeed grainless. Only under a microscope does an extremely smooth
grain pattern of consistent size become visible. Granted, Velvia comes
close in this category but it is an ISO 50 film, often rated at ISO 40.
For a conventional ISO 100 slide film, Provia 100 features very fine grain,
but for oversized reproductions, the new Provia 100F would be a better
· 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 such as Velvia will not hold
detail in all three but the subject will appear particularly sharp, especially
in very flat, overcast daylight. Both Provia films feature moderately
high contrast although the new film has an edge: slightly better detail
in the highlights in a contrasty scene. Under harsh lighting--with extreme
highlights and dark shadows--fill-in flash or a diffuser screen would
still be useful, as with most color reversal films.
· "Push" Characteristics. Some photographers will occasionally
shoot a slide film at a higher Exposure Index (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.
Now there's less risk of blur from camera or subject movement while
depth of field (the range of acceptably sharp focus) is more extensive.
When Provia 100F is pushed two stops to an EI of 400, the grain pattern
is still barely visible under the loupe, an incredible achievement.
· High sharpness and "clean" color (without a color
shift) is maintained, while contrast also remains acceptable: high, but
not excessive in the low-light conditions that generally call for the
higher effective film speed. This factor will be a strong advantage for
the new film, since "pushing" beyond one stop is not recommended
for the conventional Provia 100. At a one stop push, both Provia films
are excellent, although the superfine grain of Provia 100F remains a significant
· Reciprocity Characteristics. Anyone who frequently shoots very
long exposures is well aware of the loss of effective film speed and color
shift that can occur. With Provia 100F both problems are minimized. In
fact, Fuji specs indicate that no filtration or exposure adjustment is
required even with exposures as long as 127 sec. Frankly, I was unable
to find any subject matter requiring such long exposure times, but confirmed
that Provia 100F maintained its qualities in the more typical 10-15 sec
exposures. (Fuji also indicates that no exposure adjustment or filtration
is required in up to eight consecutive multiple exposures using flash.)
Although the color rendition of Provia 100F is quite neutral
and accurate, it is a fully saturated film. Especially when
polarized, the images will satisfy photo buyers' demands
for vivid/brilliant/rich hues and tones. (Minolta Maxxum
XTsi; AF 80-200mm f/2.8 APO; B+W polarizer.)
The difference between the two Provia films is minimal in this regard,
at least to my eyes. Some had predicted that the new film would feature
a "warmer" balance, but I found a very neutral look. This
characteristic will be appreciated by professional photographers who are
a conservative group: most would rather use a warming filter when they
deem it necessary. Because Velvia is a warm-tone film, I find this precaution
is not necessary with that film except in extremely "cool"
light as in open shade.
Although Velvia colors are more dramatic, the subtlety of the Provia 100
films 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 individual veins in even the reddest tulips. My more specific notes
on the color rendition of Provia 100F read as follows:
· Skin Tones. Light, smooth, and natural; not warm or "ruddy":
no artificial "suntanned" look. Both Provia films are ideal
for people when fidelity to the subject is required.
· Yellows, Pinks, And Pastels. Light, very "clean,"
brilliant, and vibrant; very pleasing; slightly richer when underexposed
by 1/3 stop.
· Reds. Bright, bold, rich, and pleasing; excellent overall.
· Greens. Very neutral, but more brilliant when fill flash is used;
without the stunning effect produced by Velvia. Some prefer the latter
film for more "punchy" greens in nature and landscape photography,
but this is a subjective judgment.
· Blues And Purples. Gorgeous; rich and fully saturated; very striking;
exceptional sky tones, particularly deep when polarized.
· Black. Very good D-Max: rich, dark blacks; perfect in this regard;
retains these qualities even when pushed a stop to EI 200.
· Whites And Grays. Close to perfect; no apparent color caste.
· Color Differentiation. Very good especially in the reds/yellows
and skin tones; good distinction between tones of a similar--but not identical--color.
· Saturation. A vividly saturated film, there is absolutely no need
to underexpose Provia 100F in an attempt to boost color saturation. A
half stop of underexposure can be useful when a bold, graphic effect is
desired, but at the risk of lost shadow detail. Overexposure of up to
1/2 stop still produces acceptable slides, but results in colors that
are rather pale. When bracketing exposures, I was generally most satisfied
with the properly exposed slide.
Conclusion. Available in all formats from 35mm to 11x14
sheets, Fujichrome Provia 100F Professional has no counterpart in the
"consumer" line of films. However, Fuji may eventually decide
to apply the same technology to the affordable Sensia line as well. And
how about a Velvia film employing the new technology, for an ISO 100 film
with the more intensely saturated colors and even finer grain? Only time
will tell; Fuji has offered no indication of any plans in this direction.
In the meantime, Provia 100F maintains its role as the transparency film
with the finest grain, while offering several additional benefits as discussed
in the technical section.
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 match the captions exactly, rely on the
written analysis as the accurate representation of the image characteristics.
With any film, granularity is visible when a 35mm slide
is examined under a 10x loupe. A Provia 100F image is virtually
grainless however, at this level of magnification. When
this slide is viewed under a 50x microscope, the grain pattern
is visible but superfine and consistently sized, ideal for
making oversized enlargements. (Minolta Maxxum XTsi; AF
80-200mm f/2.8 APO; B+W polarizer.)
Fujichrome Provia 100F
(RDP III) Technology
With conventional emulsion
technology, faster "speed" (higher ISO rating) generally means
a coarser grain pattern. The reason is simple: the ability to capture
light decreases as grain becomes smaller, reducing the effective "speed"
of the film. Thanks to a Fuji innovation, however, light capturing ability
and efficiency of the Provia 100F emulsion has been substantially improved,
allowing for a superfine grain emulsion in an ISO 100 product. This was
achieved by incorporating Superfine Sigma-Crystal Technology that produces
greatly enhanced light absorption and utilization rates.
There is a second challenge in attempting to reduce grain size. The smaller
the grain the more it dissolves away in the developer used in processing
transparency films. As a result, the grain may not appear as fine to the
eye as one would expect because of a deterioration of the grain structure.
Fuji engineers employed a new Micro-Grain Solubility Control Technology
to prevent this phenomenon in order to maximize the visual impression
of superfine grain.
Other less radical improvements
are also claimed. 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 already employed in other Fujichrome films was further
enhanced with newly developed DIR compounds to attain greater efficiency
and "dramatic improvements in the film's color reproduction
and push-processing characteristics." As well, a newly developed
yellow filter dye is used for superior development of the blue-sensitive
layer for greater stability in push processing.
Indeed, Provia 100F is recommended for "pushing" to a full
2 stops (for an effective film speed of 400) with minimal variation in
color balance or degradation. For the conventional Provia 100, 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"
or shifts in color balance during extremely long (or short) exposure times.