The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 17
PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE by Simon Stafford
The new Fuji Velvia 100 film on test using a Nikon S2 rangefinder and a Nikon F6.
Ask any photographer to name a colour transparency film and I would lay a wager that a very high percentage would utter "Velvia". Such is the dominance that Fuji Velvia 50 has achieved in this particular sector of the film market that it has, for a number of years, been the benchmark by which all other films have been judged. Other manufacturers have tried to emulate its unique qualities but none have quite achieved their goal.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
Velvia 50 is renowned for rendering colours with a high degree of saturation which was rarely, if ever, present in the original scene but Fuji have never claimed the film offered veracity of colour. I suspect very strongly that if it did Velvia would never have attained such popularity. I am sure there are many doctoral thesis and weighty academic tomes to read on the subject of 'colour memory' but in essence our perception of colour and the way we recollect that colour subsequently vary enormously.
The concept of long-term colour memory is based in the way we associate everyday, frequently seen objects with a particular colour, for example, a blue sky, green grass, or a yellow banana. We compare these reference colours, most of which are based on information we accrue during our formative years, with the colour we actually observe, and in many cases our long-term colour memory shifts our perception of the observed colour toward the former. Add to the mix a colour preference effect, where, for example, we react more or less favourably to a subject depending on whether a colour is rendered with a warmer or cooler tone, which then influences our short-term colour perception even further, and you begin to understand why the whole subject of colour perception is a complex issue.
Besides colour saturation, Velvia 50 stands out from all other transparency films due to the characteristic rich, dense black that it drops to rapidly anywhere beyond two stops below the optimum exposure. Consequently, many commentators have mistakenly labelled Velvia 50 as a "high contrast" film; if anything it exhibits a rather modest level of contrast. It is this trait for a solid black combined with a colour palette that has a slight bias in its hues towards magenta and blue tints and very strong but well-separated greens, which has endeared the film to landscape and natural history photographers everywhere!
The foundations to the reputation acquired subsequently by Velvia 50 were built on the early Fujichrome 50 and Fujichrome 100 transparency films introduced during the nineteen-eighties. The vibrancy they imparted to colour was markedly different to the Kodak Kodachrome film that many photographers had used previously, including myself. Although the Kodachrome films offered very fine grain they were far from colour neutral; red had a strong bias toward magenta, greens were short on yellow, and apart from this idiosyncrasy of colour all versions (Kodachrome 25, 64, and 200) had a tendency to 'block-up' in the shadow areas but without any great depth.
A couple of years ago Velvia 50 was joined by Velvia 100F, a film with an ISO100 sensitivity rating that possesses a slightly lower saturation. At the time of its launch many photographers assumed it marked the end for Velvia 50 but Fuji stated the film would remain in production for as long as there was a demand.
Enter the new pretender to the throne in the kingdom of colour saturation - Velvia 100.
Like the final piece of a jigsaw dropping into place with a satisfying precision, the new Velvia 100 completes a line-up of ISO 100 professional transparency films for Fuji comprising: Astia 100F, Provia 100F, Velvia 100F, and Velvia 100.
Some shrewd thinking on the part of Fuji has also enabled them to pair the four films, as the sensitivity and colour curves for Velvia 100F and Velvia 100 are for all intents identical; it is only the level of colour saturation and, to a much lesser extent, contrast that sets them apart. Similarly, although they possess different values, the same qualities are mirrored between Astia 100F and Provia 100F, although in this case the differences in the level of saturation and contrast are rather more pronounced.