Fujifilm Superia 1600 / Natura 1600 – Everything You Need to Know About This Super Fast Color Film

Over the past few years, color film has never managed to grab me the way shooting black-and-white film does. I enjoy the depth of black and white images, the low cost and the process of developing my own negatives in the comfort of my kitchen. But very recently, all this has changed. During the past six months I’ve found myself loading my cameras with color film more and more often, for reasons I won’t get into here, and this newfound love affair with vibrant images has me diving into the world of color photography with new enthusiasm.

And the world of color photography is a wide world indeed. Choice is plentiful. We’ve got tried and true stocks like Kodak’s Portra and Ektar, a bevy of interesting old film like expired Ektachrome, and even some relatively new offerings from the likes of Cinestill and Maco. But if you’re hunting for pure speed, there’s nothing in the world of color film to match FujiFilm’s Superia 1600.

Branded as Natura 1600 in the Japanese market and as Superia 1600 stateside, Fuji’s 1600 speed color emulsion promises “high suitability for low-light environments, vibrant and dynamic reds, blues, and yellows – violets and a variety of greens, enhanced fidelity, and highly uniform grain.” This sounds amazing, and more amazing still, these promises are far from empty. Fuji’s 1600 speed film (by any name) is a remarkable film. It produces incredibly vibrant images in any lighting condition, allows us to make shots we couldn’t even dream of making with slower speed films, and in some cases enables the use of cameras that would otherwise stay home when the lights go down (I’m looking at you, compact point-and-shoots, and your tiny maximum apertures).

The film produces great natural skin tones and moderate saturation when exposed properly, which is critical with this stock, since it’s a very unforgiving film when underexposed. Not only do shadows tend to develop a lot of noise when it collects too few photons, but contrast (and perceived sharpness) is reduced drastically across the frame. When properly exposed (I shoot it at box speed and compensate in camera) tonal range is outstanding, but be warned that performance gains won’t be experienced by overexposing it, like with some other color film. Though Fuji claims it can be shot anywhere from 800 to 3200 with excellent results, pushing or pulling this film results in images that just look flat.

Like most of Fuji’s Superia film, there’s an unmistakable green cast to images which shows prominently in shadow detail. The resultant images aren’t unpleasant, but those with the means and inclination may want to bump the tint slider in your favorite photo editing app to help push things a bit more toward proper white balance. In certain situations, the slight green cast can serve to accentuate our scene, such as when shooting in a forest or making shots of wildlife. Think of this as part of the film’s profile, just as we’d think of Portra’s inherent warmth or Delta 3200’s pronounced grain, and we’ll begin to discern a real use for what some describe as an unpleasant characteristic.

Beyond color rendition, Superia/Natura 1600 further impresses with its exceptional grain structure. Higher ISO films have a general tendency to produce gobs of lumpy grain, and can end up making somewhat muddy images. Natura 1600, on the other hand, is a remarkably sharp film. The sharpness we’re seeing from this film looks more like the grain we’re used to seeing in a 400 speed film. Side by side with Fuji’s own Superia 400 shows just how smooth this stuff is. Just be sure to send this film to a good lab, because scanner quality is crucial to realizing good results from this high speed film.

This profile’s words by Dustin and James, photos by the CP staff. Shots in the galleries were made with an Olympus OM2 (50mm F/1.4 Zuiko), Minolta a7 (100mm Macro), and a Contax G2 (45mm F/2 Planar). Processing handled by The Darkroom in San Clemente, CA. 

What’s most notable about Fuji’s 1600 speed film is just how adaptable it is to a massive range of shooting styles. Street photography at night? No problem. A walk in the woods? Easy. Macro photos (where light is always diminished greatly by bellows or extension tubes)? We did that. And shooters whose preferred glass are zoom lenses, which traditionally have slower maximum apertures compared to prime lenses, Superia 1600 is a must-shoot film. The only instance where this film’s high sensitivity might hamper our creative efforts is when we’re shooting fast primes on a bright day, and even then it’ll only cause issues with cameras that have a relatively slow maximum shutter speed. For the most part, Superia 1600 is a great film no matter what we’re shooting. It allows us to get the shot with a nice fast shutter speed, effectively eliminating worries over camera shake and mirror slap, and allowing us to travel without lugging around a bulky tripod.

This emulsion fills a tiny niche in an admittedly small market. Most film shooters don’t seem to have a need for ultra high-speed speed color film; which is also why you won’t find it in medium format, and also why Fuji seems to be cycling down its production (they’ve reportedly ceased making it). That sad caveat noted, Fuji 1600 is an excellent and unparalleled film for colorful shots of action, astro photography, and any other low light or indoor photography situations where the color films of slower speeds just won’t make the shot, and if you’re interested in trying it my suggestion is to grab some now before retailers sell through their stock.

But don’t expect to get it cheaply – the price of Superia 1600 from B&H is hovering around $10 per roll, and the price of the Natura branded film is (nonsensically) closer to $15 per 36 frames. Pricey stuff, undeniably.

But availability and cost issues aside, the big takeaway is that James and I are both big fans of this film. We’ve each made some of our favorite portraits of our families and pups with the stuff, and in the low-light conditions we seem to often find ourselves in, this high-speed color film is often the best of all available options. After a brief chat in which we both decided we’d happily plop down $90 – $100 for nine or ten rolls of the stuff, that’s exactly what we did. If this film looks like your kind of stock, I suggest you do the same before it’s all gone.

Want to shoot Fuji’s Superia / Natura 1600?

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Huss Hardan
    August 21, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Really nice shots and a complete surprise to me that a colour 1600 ISO film can look this good. Any chance of posting a link to just one large image so I can pore over it?
    And you’re right, it is really important to get a good lab to process films like this. I have been really disappointed w/ results that I got from Ilford Delta 3200. I’ve seen samples on line with nice smooth grain and tones, while mine (properly exposed etc) have been super super grainy/contrasty. It seems the labs I’ve used use the same developer/times/temps for any B&W film they get. Instead of realizing that this really is film specific to get the correct results.

    Best
    Huss

  • Reply
    the6millionpman
    August 21, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Interesting article, been a while since you did a film profile and this one is great. Keep it up.

  • Reply
    mmarquar
    August 21, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    Sounds good. Looks pretty good too. Especially like the high resolution image of the dog. Wonder what happens if one pushes Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400 to 1600?

    • Reply
      Cory
      August 21, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      In my experience fuji films are much more light hungry than kodak films and have a lower true film speed. I can’t imagine pushing superia 400 to 1600 turning out very well. If I need to push a color film to 1600 it’s portra 400 every time. Ektar at 400 also looks nice too in the right light

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    August 21, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Certainly a fine film but what use is it if Fuji are one by one killing their film products….

    Too bad

  • Reply
    Joey
    August 21, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    I have a four pack of Natura 1600 in the fridge just waiting to get put through my TX-1, I just haven’t found the right time to use it yet. Dusk/Night street photography panoramas with it will be awesome, I just gotta do it!

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      August 21, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      How can you resist that combination? Get out there.

  • Reply
    Cory
    August 21, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    The “green cast” in the shadows you speak of just looks like underexposure to me. When you say that you rate at 1600 and adjust in camera are you using exposure compensation on every shot? I admittedly have not shot many rolls of superia 1600, but I rated the ones I did shoot at 800 and metered for the shadows and developed normally with good results.

  • Reply
    Dexter Robinson
    August 22, 2017 at 7:50 am

    I did not realise Superia 1600 was the same as Natura 1600 – big thanks for pointing that out as I’ve had a roll of Superia 1600 sat in the fridge for 2 years not knowing how to shoot it!

  • Reply
    yashicachris
    August 22, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    Good stuff as always!

  • Reply
    Matt Williams
    September 10, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Nice review. I love this film and shoot it quite a bit. If I’m not mistaken, the film was originally created with the intent to be used with Fuji’s Natura S and Natura Classica (phenomenal and underrated) point and shoots. The Natura S has a 24mm lens with a super fast f/1.9 aperture. The Classica is pretty ugly and sports a rather unimpressive variable aperture zoom. My favorite of these (very) recent Fuji P&S cameras is the Klasse, which is aesthetically much more pleasing than the Naturas.

    I could be wrong though and it’s the other way around – it might be that the Natura cameras were made to namely be used with this film. But I thought the two were released concurrently.

    At any rate, I think those Fuji point and shoots, especially the Klasse, are highly underrated. Never hear them mentioned much, but they’re outstanding.

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