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Any colour you like

it’s all subjective

in Hasselblad XPan , Thursday, July 08, 2010

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently wondering about what type of film to take to Svalbard next month. The arguments about the subjective qualities of different types rage across the internet (yes, still), with no end of “expert”, dogmatic opinions (as well as the odd voice of reason).

I won’t go into the arguments here, but I did remember an interesting experience from a few years back.

During a photographic trip around Iceland in March 2008 with Daniel Bergmann, we were driving towards the town of Vik while a storm front was approaching from the south, making a very dramatic contrast between thick, dense cloud reflect dark sand and sea, and snow covered dunes.

We stopped to take a few photos. I was using my XPan loaded with Fuji Velvia 100F, Daniel was using his Canon EOS 1Ds Mk whatever.

When I got the processed film, it looked like this:


uncorrected scan

Not at ALL what I remembered!  No, I remember a leaden gray sky and pure white snow, so after some fairly drastic Photoshoppery (the slide has very low contrast, which should have given me a clue) I ended up with this:


the Truth ... is out there ?

Daniel meanwhile worked on his RAW file, without any idea or sight of what I had done, and some later mailed me this (cropped by me from his 35mm FF format):


Daniel Bergmann’s view (© Daniel Bergmann)

Interestingly, he’s ended up with much more blue, pretty much as the Velvia 100F slide suggested, and a lot lower contrast: I think he’s believed the camera, as opposed to me trying to recreate whatever I could remember of my impression.

The point of all this is this: with such a range of subjectivity, which can give results which are neither “right” nor “wrong” (even removing a colour cast is subjective), what characteristics of film can really be so important ? In the digital age, the main issue surely is to capture a neutral image which will give as much latitude as possible for subjective interpretation.

Which pretty much rules out Velvia 50, the great favourite of landscape photographers since Noah launched the Ark…


Posted in Hasselblad XPan | Photography on Thursday, July 08, 2010 at 02:28 PM • PermalinkComments (5)


Tim Parkin July 08, 2010 - 7:03
re: velvia 50. Not necessarily, if you want to separate out tones in a very flat picture, it's indispensable. However, if you are only going to take one film and you want neutral with a large dynamic range (and transparency film) you really only have the choice of Fuji Astia or Kodak E100G (the latter being ludicrously neutral - almost like a raw file).

Personally I would take Velvia 50 and Astia 100 (although you need to get Astia from the states) or alternatively E100G


david mantripp July 08, 2010 - 10:03
Oh god - more choices! Thanks for the suggestions, Tim - actually one some my main reference points are your comparisons.

Actually I remember using E100G way back, and yes, it is very neutral. The standard advice was Velvia 50, and if you don't like Velvia 50, Provia 100F. I find Provia fine for warm sunny places - for example the Greek islands. But for nordic landscapes the casts it tends to suffer from are more tricky. There is of course another factor: the scanner. My scanner deals with Velvia 100F pretty well. It has casts, but they're pretty linear, by which I mean there's usually no significant midtone offset to deal with. Velvia RVP, well, that's another story. I usually have to correct first at scan time, then fine tune in Photoshop. And for my tastes, even when the exposure is spot on, it has too much contrast, with too much density in the shadows.

Astia I tried once. It is actually available direct from Fuji here in Switzerland. Maybe I should try it again. I haven't seen E100G (or any of its variants) for quite a while.


Tim Parkin July 08, 2010 - 10:26
I think you'll like Astia - it's warmer (especially the shadows) and has a lot of latitude. Takes a little getting used to if you've used the velvias as it looks very different.

I'm currently extending my tests to covering every colour film available for large format (positive and negative!). I've got two graphmatics with all films loaded which I can fire off if I find the right subject. Two comparisons done so far 😊

Astia will push happily to 3-400 too!


david mantripp July 09, 2010 - 4:54
I'm beginning to be convinced. Having read a few other reports, I have a hunch that Astia could well be the way to go for Arctic photography. Totally non-intuitive choice, but then again, under dull light I even found that Velvia 100F was not giving me optimal results last time out in Iceland in winter. And V100F is absolutely NOT a "Velvia", more a Provia without the green/blue tinge.

Actually, could it be said that Astia is somehow similar to Kodachrome 64 ? Because K64 (and K25) were really perfect for capturing delicate high latitude, low sun angle light.


david mantripp July 09, 2010 - 4:56
oh, and I might add in a few rolls of Provia 400X too, to be safe.

Velvia 50 ... dunno. I guess, but only if I had two bodies, and I haven't.

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