One of the reasons I settled on Fujfilm for my professional (and personal) photography are the built-in film simulations and great output without the need for post-processing. Soon I found out about the community of people designing so-called “recipes” intended to mimic film stock or the look and style of other famous photographers. I think the most prolific designer is Ritchie from Fujixweekly. Thus I entered a phase of trying out every possible recipe to get a feel for what I can do with a Fujifilm camera. I made myself a spreadsheet on my phone to have access to all of these recipes on the go. I enjoyed it very much.
Lately though I was browsing through my catalogue and found everything to be a giant jumble of colors and styles. I did not like what I saw. I realized that I need to find my own kind of style. Soon I will be able to take more pictures in Berlin which is my personal photography playground and niche. I want to set myself the goal to be consistent in my styles. But where to start? So I sat down with a test scene and took images with every possible film recipe that my camera is capable of to see what would fit most to my photographic plans and artistic vision. The sheer number of images was overwhelming. I could not sort through them.
So I thought about not using a systematic approach but rather to see which film recipes I used the most. Thankfully I wrote them into the image metadata. I found 15 recipes that have clearly dominated all the others in my years of shooting Fujfilm. Some I only used for personal photography (like family and such) so I chose the 12 most popular ones for this article. My plan is to use these 12 styles to narrow down what I am maybe subconsciously drawn to. In the end I want to settle with six (four color, two b/w) distinct styles that I try to develop from these recipes. Writing this post is in this sense a way for me to articulate what I like or dislike about some recipes and take you along this journey.
Note: I have always taken some freedom with film recipes. I often omitted the extra grain setting which I find almost always pretentious. Fake grain is for hipsters or Instagram. I’d rather just accept the modern equivalent of grain called “sensor noise”. I also did not follow very low sharpness settings (especially with old lenses). Some recipes are made for different generations of Fujifilm sensors and had to be adapted somewhat. You can compare film recipes to real film stock on this wonderful site.
12. Kodak Tri-X 400
I enjoy black and white very much. I think it is often the best choice for urban scenes or street photography. It accentuates structures, light and textures by taking out the colorful distractions. Tri-X has a good reputation as a photojournalistic film therefore I was drawn to the recipe. But it kind of does not work very well for me. The minimum ISO 1600 introduces too much unnecessary noise when I would prefer cleaner images in daylight. Comparing simulated Tri-X with film stock, it never really captures the panchromatic look in my eyes. Nevertheless it made it into my most used recipes for some reason. It might be the sharpness, the strong shadows and the white balance shift that makes it interesting to my eyes.
11. Agfa APX 400
Another black and white recipe. This one has even more contrast than Tri-X 400 with the shadows pushed even more and highlights brought back. It also added some very slight toning on the warm side which I like very much. My personal black and white style will very likely be toned even warmer with some of the blacks crushed. Hard blacks are something that speaks to a part of my soul that I need to connect to from time to time in a controlled manner. The recipe also cranks up the sharpness which I think works well for urban structures. A sharp, hard, black and somewhat aggressive look. Even though this recipe is only the 11th most used over the years it is one I am using more and more lately. I even saved a preset on my camera with it.
10. Kodacolor VR
One of the most used and most popular Fujifilm film simulations is Classic Chrome which mimics what people call “Kodak colors”. I think the majority of film recipes use Classic Chrome as a baseline. I like the subdued and de-saturated colors of classic chrome although I usually push the vibrancy a bit. This recipe actually reduces color a fair amount and therefore looks quite flat. It seems to be suited to urban photography though especially for an emotionally darker and more thoughtful look. What I really like about this recipe is the fixed white balance of 6300K. This gives a consistent warm look to my images. Automatic white balance while often very useful can produce quite varied results under different lights. Using a fixed white balance is something I will keep in mind. Classic Chrome will also be definitely a base for one of my styles.
9. Kodak Ektachrome 100 SW
This recipe uses the Velvia sim as its base. Therefore it tends more to the vivid which is something I don’t really like. I do see it’s use in nature photography but for urban landscapes it seems too much. Maybe for really colorful neon lit scenes it might work but I tend to shoot either in a more realistic or even gritty style. I wonder how this ended up on my list. Velvia will surely not be part of my vision.
8. Kodak Vision 3 250D
This recipe intrigued me because it mimics motion picture film stock. The idea of going for a cinematic look appeals to me. It uses the mostly flat looking Eterna film sim but pushes highlights, shadows and colors. It is a very versatile recipe with somewhat muted colors but less so than anything based on Classic Chrome. I also like the fixed white balance. I might just keep this recipe as it is.
7. Fuji Acros
The whole reason for me to buy the X100F was to get access to the Fuji Acros film sim. This sim looks great straight without any modifications. This recipe cranks up both highlights and shadows which is totally my thing. Crushed blacks, blown highlights and good sharpness. Makes for a “cutting” image. I would modify this recipe with a slightly warmer toning.
6. Kodachrome II
Another Classic Chrome recipe. I can’t discern much difference to the Kodacolor VR recipe. There are so many Kodak simulations that the differences are sometimes just marginal. For me it looks “middle of the road” good. There is nothing compelling but also nothing alluring.
When I got my X-T3 I suddenly could use the then very much fawned upon Eterna profile. I used it quite extensively but never really much liked it. It has a weird golden, yellow hue to it and seems just too much. It also sets the dynamic range setting to the lowest value which does lower the minimum ISO but it tends to overexpose pretty quickly. Definitely not a keeper.
4. Fuji Industrial 100
I like this recipe very much. It looks natural, realistic and slightly warm. I think it is perfect for urban scenes and it has a fixed white balance. This is a keeper for sure. It is based on the Pro Neg profiles which are usually quite boring to me but in this case it works well.
3. Kodak Ektar 100
Another very colorful recipe but again too colorful. Strange that it ended up in third place. Maybe I was shooting a lot of nature and park scenes at the time. It uses the rather soft Astia film sim as a base with fully a pushed up color setting. It makes the colors quite punchy but without the vibrancy of Velvia. Maybe this might be an idea for something.
2. Kodak Portra 400
From all the Classic Chrome recipes this one mimicking Portra400 really speaks to me. It works very well at daylight either with sun or overcast. The colors are punched up a few notches but the de-saturated look is still recognizable. The white balance is fixed. This is a great daytime recipe and I might just continue using it. I shot almost as many images with the Portra 160 recipe but found the contrast and colors here always somewhat more pleasing.
1. Ilford HP5
That is exactly my style of black and white. Hard blacks, glaring whites (even though it is only a street light) and a punchy contrast. This recipe pushes up the highlights even more than the shadows which works very well for dark scenes to bring out a few more details.
I had this post sitting my in drafts folder for a weeks now. In the meantime I already designed seven distinct styles as a base for my experiments. In another post I will talk about these styles. I can say that Velvia is definitely not part of it :-).