Fujifilm Natura (Superia) 1600 – The need for colour speed
Fujifilm Natura 1600, a film that has the need for speed, in colour. While these days, in 2020, there a few options for faster black and white negatives, options of colour negative are quite limited. For this reason Futura 1600, also known as Superia 1600 in some markets, was a breath of fresh air.
That is until in 2017 Fujifilm made the decision to discontinue Futura 1600 which pretty much killed off any fast colour negative options. It had already stopped sales of the Superia branded version in 2016, which was the brand used outside of Japan.
Rather than be upset about the past, let’s celebrate that is was even there. But that does not mean we can use it now, I hear you say. Especially as prices of the expired rolls are skyrocketing. Yes, but it does mean that as a proven concept, it may be manufactured again. Especially if film photography continues to gain popularity.
So where should you use this film? With a box speed of ISO 1600, the easy answer is to use it wherever there is low light, or you have a really slow lens, or both. The more complex answer is to use it where you require the most flexibility. You do have to acknowledge though, that you are going to get the colour equivalent of grain.
I was lucky in that I bought a couple of rolls of Natura 1600 just before it was discontinued in Japan. This was from an online retailer here in Australia that imports some Japanese only films.
Where I think I was quite lucky is that I used it before the prices for what is left hit the roof. I have seen single rolls being sold for upwards of $50 now. I would think twice about when to use it these days.
There is one other article on this site which has some low light photography which may be of interest in Canon 50mm 1.8 LTM – Mainly at night.
Let’s find a little bit about the film and then how I found the experience of shooting a set of fast colour negatives.
Fujifilm is and was one of the big film manufacturers especially through the latter part of the 20thcentury. Realistically they were Kodak’s main competitor across the world, with AGFA a distant third and Ilford only focused on black and white. The rivalry was so intense that the two companies could be referred to by colours, Fujifilm green, Kodak Red.
Fujifilm was started in 1932, based in Tokyo, Japan. The key to Fujifilm’s successful survival and still being a powerhouse of modern times was diversification. After World War II they began branching out into other mainly adjacent industries. This can be seen by the partnership with Xerox in 1962 which in itself was a major company for many decades.
At times they even made some very revered cameras. Using the Fujica and Fuji names and as Fujifilm they made cameras that tended to fill in specialty markets. For instance the magnificent GSW690 and the GS645 medium format camera series.
In more recent times, for photography, they embraced digital and almost created their own niche of small compact cameras. They even leveraged their history in film and created some very respected film simulations from these cameras. In terms of the film manufacturing, they also adapted this to making products like cosmetics.
As much as Fujifilm is not liked by a number of film shooters, they are respected for their sound business modelling and ability to make decisions that benefit their shareholders.
The Superia brand of film was introduced in 1998 and is still available now mainly as X-tra 400. Over the years it had covered speeds from ISO 100 through to ISO 1600, the film we are discussing today. While the Superia range was mainly aimed at consumers, there were a few exceptions.
Reala was a Superia variant that was formulated specifically for portraits and skin tones. Then there was the Press range, which has speeds of 400, 800 and 1600 (the 800 is one of my all-time favourite films). These were professional films that basically used the same formula as the Superia films but were refrigerated at all stages of production and distribution.
So, in reality Natura 1600, is the same as Superia 1600 and Press 1600 with the later only differentiated by the refrigerated storage. It was introduced in 2000. The Press variant was discontinued in 2008. In 2016 Fujifilm announced the discontinuation of Superia 1600, which meant it was no longer sold outside of Japan.
The Natura 1600 branded version was kept going in Japan specifically as it was very closely associated with the Natura camera, a camera designed specifically to take advantage of this film. It has also been discontinued, but there was enough demand to keep it going for a little longer.
In 2017 came the final nail in the coffin, Fujifilm discontinued Natura 1600. To show its popularity, there was even a change.org petition to try and save the film.
Natura 1600 was a high speed colour negative film. It was produced as Fujifilm’s fastest film within the Superia range. The box speed, as the name indicates, ISO 1600. It was only ever made in 35mm format, especially as it was targeted at the consumer market.
The flexibility claimed by Fujifilm is that it can be shot from exposure index (EI) 800 through to 3200.
It is manufactured with Fujifilm’s 4 layer process. While most colour films have 3 layers to cover the colour spectrum, the 4thlayer Natura has incorporated is cyan. The reasoning behind this is that Fujifilm does not believe colour films capture green and blues correctly. This layer gives the results a more natural result, especially on skin tones.
Natura also incorporated the Nano-structured Σ(Sigma) Grain Technology that Fujifilm patented. With this technology the grain is finer and more consistent. This also enables the film to be stored for longer without losing grain structure. It also has the benefit that it is designed to work in small zoom compacts as these can have lower spec glass.
With a speed of 1600, it is not recommended that it passes through the X-Ray machine at airports. The speed this film gives will enable versatility for someone that carries a camera across the from day to night though.
When I bought a couple of rolls of Natura 1600 it was still available in Japan. It was discontinued soon after, but I did not shoot it for quite a while. Mainly because it I just didn’t have the right opportunity.
I soon realised that it will expire if I did not use it, so I took the opportunity on a family night out and loaded the Nikon F70 and paired it up with the nifty fifty 50mm 1.8 AF. The theory being that a semi-fast lens with a fast film will work well.
We went out to an inner Sydney location, Darlinghurst, which I knew has character where I could take some photos of the area and the family. It was really refreshing to have a fast film and know it was colour for a change rather than black and white.
A few nights later I met with a photographer friend and we went for a night photo walk in Darling Harbour. Again, I enjoyed being able to shoot a little more freely. I finished off the roll and handed it into my lab the next day.
First impressions when I scanned the results were quite impressive. There was grain, and it was quite significant, especially in the dark areas. I was expecting it to be that way, so it was not an issue. What I really enjoyed was the colour rendition. For a fast film, it is really good and vibrant. A slight green cast was there, in the darker parts, but not enough to be an issue.
The saturation is consistent with a slower speed film. It was subtle enough to allow medium contrast which resulted in well defined detail across the frame. What I did notice is that it is not very forgiving. Some of my photos were a little underexposed and it can lose the shadow detail very quickly.
Quite a few months later, and after it had expired for 6 months, I put the other roll into the Leica M3 and headed out to a Ramadan Street Food Festival in a part of Sydney called Lakemba. I was able to photograph the local food stalls, as well as indulge in their products (for research of-course). The lighting was very mixed and inconsistent, so my expectations were not great, I was hoping Fujifilm’s claims that it handled mixed light well was true.
I followed that up with using it in daylight, albeit cloudy, with a visit to a local Sunday market a few days later. It was a bit of challenge in the brighter light, but it gave me a chance to try it out.
After that, it is where I did not do the film any favours and left it in the camera for almost another 3 months.
I then took the camera with me on a work function in Manly, which is on the other side of Sydney Harbour from the city centre. I knew that I would be returning late, on the ferry, so I packed the Leica for a trip. Not my best plan, considering a few beverages were also consumed at this function.
The results when I scanned the film on return from the lab were quite interesting. Firstly, the film being expired and having been left in the camera for an extended period didn’t seem to have impacted the quality.
The festival photos were still in line with the first roll taken at night, and even the mixed light was handled quite well. Interestingly some did have a very slight red cast when initially scanned but I suspect that could just be the conversion. I was really impressed on the photos that were correctly exposed on how it handled the different light sources.
Contrast is very good and it well defined. The grain also is ok, while colour grain is an acquired taste.
The photos from the daylight venture to the market were not as successful. While a couple were ok, the white in the sky is quite awful. This film does not handle overexposure very well. Where it was a bit darker though, it had a nice neutral look to it.
The final photos from the ferry ride and subsequent search for late night snack (what else after a few drinks?) were much better again. Highlights are captured really well. The blacks are true black, but they do have some colour grain in them.
I really enjoyed using Fujifilm Natura 1600. I usually don’t get to shoot at night with film other than black and white or digital. The results exceeded my expectation and are photos I have quite enjoyed. I obviously cannot recommend this film as it is discontinued and the high prices of expired and dubiously stored rolls online. Fingers crossed though, that Fujifilm reads this review and it is re-introduced into the market one day!
James Tocchio of Casual Photophile has written a great article Fujifilm Superia 1600 / Natura 1600 – Everything You Need to Know About This Super Fast Color Film.
These shots are all lovely. I so wish I had gotten ahold of some of this before it went away. I love shooting at night handheld without a care in the world. I get that with T-Max P3200 but a color option would be nice. I’m choosing to shoot only still-produced films going forward so I don’t fall in love (again) with a stock that can only be bought expired.
Thank you Jim! I must admit, except for a couple of stocks, Press 800 being one and Neopan 400 being another, I have avoided getting expired stock too, for the same reason. I made these exceptions as I knew the films very well and loved using them back in the day. Shooting colour at night is quite a nice mind shift sometimes, one we don’t get to do as much any more on film.
For some reason, I never liked Fujifilm. Hence, in general I don’t care much about their product range, except when Fuji also decided to discontinue polaroid film.
But yeah, fewer and fewer options remain.
It looks like the possibility of more is in the rise now, but I am not sure we’ll ever get the great selection we had even 10 years ago. I used to use Fuji films a lot, so I had to adapt.