New Fujichrome Provia 100F (RDP III)

When compared, Velvia 50 (above) remains the leader in extreme color saturation, resolution, and sharpness, but the conventional Provia 100 film (center) offers excellent image qualities, too. The new Provia 100F (below) appears similar but it is virtually grainless even in very large reproductions. (Mural by ICD Studios. Canon EOS-3 with EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM zoom; Bogen/Manfrotto tripod.)
Photos © 1999, Peter K. Burian, All Rights Reserved

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 choice.

· 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 benefit.

· 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.)

Color Rendition. 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.