Fuji NPH 400 Professional
Fuji ReInvents Fast Color Negative Film

A very Fuji kind of clown. Bright reds, yellows, green grass, blue skies--all the stuff that NPH loves. The grain pattern on this negative rivals stuff I have shot on 100 speed transparency film, yet there is still tons of detail in the shadows--a negative film trademark.
Photos © 2002, Jay Abend, All Rights Reserved

I knew this would happen. I knew that just as digital cameras got really good and really inexpensive we'd see lots of great film stock. I'll admit that my own shooting, whether for clients or personal amusement, is mostly digital these days. Sure, I shoot a bit of 4x5 Fuji Provia and a bit of 120, but mostly I have replaced color negative film with digital. Of course, the more I shoot digitally the more I begin to notice the shortcomings of my digital images--the artifacting, odd color balance, and hours of Photoshop work sometimes make me nostalgic for the good old days of film, pro color labs and really crisp "C" prints.

When Fuji sent me a brick of their newly reformulated NPH 120, I was eager to put it through its paces. Fuji's 400 speed pro negative film has been a popular alternative for negative shooters for a while now. Fuji seems to really know how to tame the grain in negative film, and many portrait and wedding shooters have joined the Fuji fold. I've shot some NPH in the past and was curious as to whether the new film lived up to its billing.

Now this is some tough lighting--three rings, under the big top and nearly no ambient light. Holding my breath, I squeezed off this shot at 1/15 sec at f/2.8. The level of detail available here is quite shocking, and certainly unmatched by any current digital camera.
Fuji claims that the already bright, colorful, and supremely fine-grained 400 speed film now features much better skin tones, much more accurate color reproduction, better shadow detail, and wider exposure latitude. It all sounded good, so let's check it out.

Besides the slick new packaging, the 120 film itself features Fuji's new peel and stick paper backing. (Yes 120 fans no more lick and stick!) I'm surprised it has taken us so long to finally get this feature on roll film. Since almost all of my work involves four-color reproduction, which is a tougher test of color balance, neutrality, and shadow detail, I figured that I would scan up some film, run it through my color management system and have some Iris prints pulled.

To evaluate I shot some test charts and a few studio portraits, all of which looked excellent. Since this was 400 speed film I figured we needed some ambient light situations. Always impressed by Fuji's bright and poppy color sense, I headed to the circus. Armed with my funky and fragile Kiev 60 with 30mm fisheye lens I shot clown portraits at sunset, inside the circus tent wide-open, and even some shots of the concession stands in the last bits of amber daylight. As is my custom with color negative films, I overexpose everything one f/stop. (A denser negative scans much better than a thinner negative.) For the tent shots I just shot whatever I could, which resulted in me underexposing by one stop. This truly would be a good test for this new film.
You want color, here you go. Fuji films, even negative films, love color, and do tend to emphasize the reds and greens. It's a little hot in this shot, but certainly this negative would make a brilliant "C" print.

Film Performance
Once the film was back from the lab I drum scanned several frames. Severalthings become apparent when you examine images made with NPH 400:

1. This is seriously fine-grained film! Film grain looked about equal to the pro 100 speed negative film that I was used to using.

2. Color, color, and more color. Yes, even on color negative film Fuji's famous bright and occasionally exaggerated color sense was evident.

3. Accuracy is better. While I still noticed some oversaturation of reds, pinks, and greens, shadows stayed neutral and overall the images had a very pleasant sense of color.

4. Skin tones improved. While not a portrait film in the strictest sense of the word, NPH 400 does have a much more "normal" sense of skin color than previous Fuji stocks. I would still ask my printer to warm things up a bit, but my portraits were really quite impressive.

5. Sharpness is great. High-speed color negative films tend to get soft and mushy, especially when underexposed, and tight and grainy when overexposed. Fuji's NPH stayed very consistent and razor sharp.

6. Latitude is excellent. Overexpose, underexpose--it's tough to get an unprintable shot with this film. I think pushed one f/stop this film could rival some of the "press" stocks for bulletproof exposure latitude.

Snazzy new packaging and a bright red "NEW" sign denote the improved NPH 400 Professional 120 film stock.

Overall a very impressive performance. The new Fuji NPH 400 rivals 100 speed color negative film for fine grain, competes head to head with some "portrait" films for accurate and pleasing skin tones, yet can hang in there with the color and saturation kings like Fuji's own Velvia and Provia reversal stock. There is little not to like about this excellent new film. Fuji film tends to have a very definitive "Fuji look" that has won over many fans. For some it can be a bit much, color and saturation wise, but if you know this look and love it, here is one more excellent film stock to take full advantage of it.

For more information, call (800) 378-3854 or visit Fuji's web site, www.fujifilm.com.