How Fuji C200 Convinced Me that Cheap Consumer Grade Film Still Matters – Opinion

How Fuji C200 Convinced Me that Cheap Consumer Grade Film Still Matters – Opinion

2200 1459 Josh Solomon

Author’s note : For a more technical look at the properties of Fuji C200, please refer to our film profile on AgfaPhoto Vista 200, AgfaPhoto’s discontinued rebrand of this film stock.

Cheap consumer-grade film might bring new shooters into the fold, but the CP crew and I have spoken to industry insiders, and some of these people say that cheap film may actually be harmful to the health of the film photo industry due to a market that’s still quite small (despite a recent uptick in popularity) and the harsh realities of economies of scale. So, is cheap consumer-grade film anything special, or should it die?

A tough question, and one that I recently wrestled with as I packed to visit my home country of the Philippines for the first time in seventeen years. I was trying to decide which film to pack. Normally, to ensure I got stellar photos of this rare opportunity, I’d have gone to the photo store and dropped a whole bunch of cash on some professional-grade stock, Fuji Provia or Kodak Portra. But a recent Christmas gift suggested otherwise. It was a five pack of consumer-grade Fuji C200 sent from fellow CP staffer Dustin. Problem solved?

I wasn’t so sure. Conventional wisdom would dictate that I leave the C200 at home for casual shooting and trust the bigger names for the truly important moments.

But that begs the question – why bother shooting second-rate consumer grade film at any time? Why waste my money on cheap film? I could get lots of shots, but those shots wouldn’t be nearly as clean, or characterful, or interesting as if I’d made them on higher-cost film, right?

After waffling for a few minutes, I made up my mind. I’d bring C200, and only C200, as my film of choice for the trip. The decision made, I was still uneasy.

There’s nothing special about C200 that makes it especially suited for a trip like the one I’d planned. It’s an entirely nondescript, unglamorous film that simply does the job it’s required to do – render images on film. I could extend that description to most other consumer-grade films; Kodak Gold 200 and Ultramax 400, Superia in all of its forms, and whatever rebranded film masquerades as Lomo films. All of these films are just as unglamorous as Fuji C200, possibly even more so. When compared to other popular, better looking, and widely available professional-grade color negative films like Kodak Portra and Ektar, these films seem like an unnecessary step down. So why trust them with anything important? The answer’s just a little more complicated than one might guess.

The quick answer is that these films give shooters lots of exposures for not a lot of cash. They often come in four-packs of twenty four (or if we’re lucky, thirty six) exposures for ten or fifteen United States dollars, making these films perfect for casual and novice shooters, as well as, say, traveling casual photophiles.

I could leave the article there, but stopping now wouldn’t explain exactly why it felt so important to shoot Fuji C200. I’d be ignoring the alarming situation at hand.

We’ve published stories on the site all too frequently lately concerning the fact that these consumer films are disappearing at an alarming rate. This trend has me feeling that it’s important right now for us to shoot them and recognize their contribution to the community.

The discontinuation of consumer films like Fuji Superia 200, 800, and more, as well as AgfaPhoto Vista 200 (a rebranded Fuji C200) shows that the industry (or at least Fujifilm) is moving away from consumer film. On one hand, the moves make some sense. The public just doesn’t consume as much film as they did twenty years ago. The days of monthly drug store film runs and Sunday afternoon print pickups are over, replaced by phone cameras and Instagram. With the evaporation of a mass market in film and the economies of scale that made this segment of the industry sustainable (and at one time highly lucrative), it makes sense that film producers would begin (or continue) abandoning mass market films.

Sample shots in the gallery below were made with a Nikon F3 and a Nikkor-S 50mm F/1.4.

But in the twilight between the heyday of consumer film and its transition into the abyss, enthusiasts stepped in to try and keep these films alive. Novice shooters in particular flocked towards these consumer films because of their low price and ubiquity. Many a new film shooter cut their teeth on those film stocks, myself included, and through them found a beautiful, rewarding, and relatively inexpensive way to make stunning images comparable to the best provided by expensive digital cameras.

Off the backs of those enthusiasts and new converts, film has experienced a resurgence that kept some of these manufacturers alive, and reintroduced film photography as a more meaningful alternative to digital photography. But now that the transition from a mass-market industry to enthusiast industry is all but complete, manufacturers like Fujifilm are deciding to abandon the consumer base that helped revive them in the first place.

While it makes sense now, the move will most certainly have a negative long-term effect on the entire film community. As Jeb so eloquently put it in his piece on AgfaPhoto Vista 200’s discontinuation, “When a film that helps bring people into film photography goes away, the teetering tent threatens to fold.” And the tent is not only beginning to fold, but is completely collapsing, especially for the average everyday film shooter. The absence of these films would make it that much harder for new and less moneyed shooters to experience film photography for themselves.

But what does all this have to do with me shooting Fuji C200 on vacation? To make a long story short, I was once one of those new and less moneyed shooters. Consumer film was all I shot for years. Even though by many standards those films weren’t technically impressive, they gave me the opportunity to practice and appreciate the craft. And more often than not, those films would give me images that would inspire me to keep film alive in my own way. By choosing C200, I wanted to see if consumer films could still do that for me, even as an experienced shooter. What I ended up finding was a lot more valuable.

Simply put, trusting in a consumer film like C200 is to go back to those early days and to remind ourselves of why we enjoy film photography in the first place. It’s to go back to a time when the particulars of acutance, reciprocity failure, and exposure latitude didn’t matter as much as simply capturing that decisive moment on the timeless and beautiful medium of film. In other words, it’s like coming back to our roots.

So when I actually did go back to my roots in the Philippines, Fuji C200 was the perfect fit. Technically, it provided a huge amount of exposures to play with and exhibited that classic, slightly off color, family photo album look of cheap film. On a more intangible level, it helped relieve the pressure of making a technically sound photo, imbued my shooting with a more carefree sensibility, and let me enjoy my trip that much more. And when that trip turned into a surprise trip to Japan, the low-pressure, high-volume nature of cheap consumer film meant that I could loosen up and shoot away at nearly everything.

And when I returned to the States and received the scans, I was floored. That willingness to explore encouraged by consumer film combined with the unexpected quality of the film itself resulted in some of my best and most personally fulfilling work to date.

Could professional-grade film have made even better results? It’s hard to say. On a technical level, probably. Some of the skin tones in my C200 photos are just a tiny bit off and the less-than sharpness leaves something to be desired. But then again, color accuracy and biting sharpness isn’t the point of consumer film. The point was to have fun shooting, to capture moments on film, and hopefully get inspired to create even more great images. Technically imperfect though it was, Fuji C200 did a perfect job, and I’d recommend it to any shooter, especially those on a budget.

That being said, I dread the day that I can’t recommend C200 or any other consumer film because they’ve all been discontinued, and it looks that’ll happen sooner rather than later. It would be a slap in the face to those who kept film alive through its toughest days, and it would shoot the entire industry in the foot by turning off thousands of prospective new shooters. It would be a tragedy, plain and simple.

But until that happens, I won’t hesitate to shoot more consumer film to keep myself grounded and remember where I came from. I just hope the film photography industry has the presence of mind to do that too.

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Josh Solomon

Student, photo geek, contributing writer. When not jamming with my band in L.A., I'm shooting uniquely mechanical cameras.

All stories by:Josh Solomon
15 comments
  • Jeremy H. Greenberg (@jhghongkong) April 9, 2018 at 1:39 am

    Nice piece! Thanks for sharing this.

  • I loved your article, Josh, and especially the last two paragraphs. It is so important, as a fellow shooter, to remember our roots, and I think of that each time I pick up a film camera or two and go out shooting (even if a D-SLR is along as well). I suppose that’s just a romantic old view, but it works for me, and certainly enhances my experiences in shooting film. As does the deliberate nature of shooting that film demands (even if it is film with a low price tag).

    I agree about the “slap in the face” to those of us who’ve kept film alive and vibrant (and not just in the few years since its “re-discovery”). Manufacturers are not in business to lose money through inefficient economies of manufacture. Perhaps Fuji is only recognizing that reality in sweeping away its many fine films. And yes, perhaps they have all the expertise necessary to “emulate” such films in their digital cameras for those of us who still hold a fondness for a certain aesthetic.

    On the other hand, Kodak Alaris IS returning certain admired films to their offerings – hopefully this will include the long-promised return of Ektachrome slide film. Perhaps it’s because Kodak doesn’t manufacture a serious line of digital cameras in which to emulate certain film looks…Or maybe they DO see a market that Fuji doesn’t. Or maybe they’re just real decent folks with a concept of loyalty to loyal customers…
    For whatever reason, it is good to see them advancing into the adventure at the same time Fuji is retreating.

    Good on ya for deciding to undertake a major and expensive trip and restricting yourself to the economical Fujicolor C200. Without having visited the Philippines or knowing anything about the light there, I don’t think your photos revealed any glaring deficiencies. In using C200 myself, I’ve found it entirely pleasing with a nice palette and quite acceptable grain for the extra stop it provides over 100 ISO films. And, if one is careful in the process, I think it scans nicely into the workflow.

    After reading your article (even though I have a supply in the freezer) I ordered a ten-pack of 36-exp rolls, and when spring finally reveals itself color-wise, some C200 will definitely be in a camera or two.

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences in an engaging article.

    • Thanks so much Steve! Glad you enjoyed the article. While Kodak is doing some pretty good work, I really hope they keep up production of Kodak Gold and Ultramax as well for the sake of all of us average joes. I would like to get my hands on the new Ektachrome when it comes in though…. Enjoy that C200! It’s a really fantastic film, and it scans very well.

  • Good stuff Josh!

    I love the colour I get out of C200:

    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/1LwA40
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/1Mx412

    A while ago Adorama, perhaps by mistake, priced short dated C200 36exp at $1.49/roll. I bought a hundred rolls, and now wish I cleared them out!
    I use it all the time if I know I will be shooting in well lit conditions.

    Best regards
    Huss

  • So in fact cheap film like C200 is simply perfect! Perfect as it takes away the expectancy of perfect photos and gives back the joy of making photos.

    It’s bad that those films seem to disappear, but there’s still the cheap offerings from Kodak. And of course Fuji still (for the moment) sell their stuff.

    If ever those cheap color film disappeared as you say, we will have a problem. Anyone starting film photography on a budget will definitely not splurge for Velvia, Portra or Ektar….

  • Great article! I agree that while the more technically impressive film is more ideal from an image quality standpoint, the cost of ~$10 a roll and sometimes higher is off putting for the few people willing to give film photography a try.

    I am far from a pro photographer. I wouldn’t really even call myself a photographer at all. I’m more of a camera enthusiast, and for that, I shoot Fuji C200 more than any other kind of film. A reason it is important to me (aside from cost) is that when shooting as many different cameras as I do, its important for me to use a film I am familiar with. I know C200’s imperfections and strengths because of the high volume I can afford to shoot with it. When trying out a new camera that Ive never shot before, I know that I don’t have to worry about the film being a variable in potential issues with the negatives. If I get a bad shot, its not the film’s fault. I like that I have a “baseline” film that allows me to review the camera and not worry about whether I’m getting 36 blank exposures or severely out of focus shots on a $10 roll of Ektar.

  • Joe shoots resurrected cameras April 9, 2018 at 10:50 am

    I love the look of consumer film, and still shoot it quite a lot; working on a roll of Gold 200 at the moment! I cut my teeth on Fujicolor 200 and Superia 400/800. It’s a look that I know well and cherish. But especially back in the day I didn’t have much to spend on film when I was starting out and would shoot anything that I could find on sale, at bargain marts, even thrift stores. I agree that if all the consumer film goes away it will be harder for new shooters to get into film photography, and I’m really pulling for Ferrania to bring back Solaris in the next few years. Also, evidently you used to be able to get Superia 400, Reala, etc in medium format as well and it’s a great disappointment to me that I never got to shoot it, hoping for 120 Solaris too!

    Honestly though, if Fuji gets out of film altogether, then I see that as more place in the market for everyone else. I’ll mourn them and their film but I don’t think that I or anyone else currently shooting film will suddenly switch to digital just because Fuji’s out of the market. It just means I’ll be spending more of my money on Kodak. As for potential new film shooters, it will be our job then to keep talking to everyone that will listen that film photography is on the rise and that everyone else is doing fine!

  • Merlin Marquardt April 9, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    Good story and beautiful images. Like it all.

  • I shoot miles of Fujicolor 200 because I’m a cheapskate and it’s good enough. And when I say good enough, what I mean is that it’s pretty damn good. Try shooting it at EI 100 sometime and see how the colors pop.

    That’s not to say there aren’t moments when Portra or Ektar are called for. But for everyday shooting, you just can’t beat Fujicolor 200.

  • I normally use a 50mm lens and neutral film such as Portra 400, but last year I decided to do a project using a 28mm lens and colourful film to get me out of my set ways. So I bought ten rolls of C200 and started walking around. It was fun to get such brightly coloured photos from the lab and I even made a few photos that were worth including in my portfolio. But when I put them in my portfolio I thought, “I wish I had used better film . . . .” Last week I finally used the tenth roll and I don’t think I’ll be buying more.
    I wish my walkabout photos were as good as yours, by the way. I enjoyed looking at them and I enjoyed your article.

  • Great article, but I just want to make a few points. Companies like Fujifilm aren’t getting out of consumer film, Fujifilm is getting out of ALL film. Kodak still makes a full range of consumer c41 film, and Fomapan make great affordable B&W film. I feel the “film is being discontinued” articles are a bit misleading. They are really “Fujifilm is discontinuing another fillm”, it’s not the industry, it’s one player in the industry, a player who’s relevance diminishes with every passing year.
    I look forward to Ektachromes return, but I look forward to the first rolls on E6 from Ferriana more so. That will be a really big pivotal moment in films long terms survival.

  • C200/Agfa Vista were the first films I shot and looking back they’re some of my favourites (even if they’re not the best technical photos!). In comparison to Superia (which I didn’t really like as it was too green) it gave a wonderful nostalgic film glow that I was seeking when first starting out. Think I need to stockpile!

  • Great pictures Josh. Some nice reminders of my time in Manila. I agree with you about the disappearance of these cheap consumer colour films. While there’s plenty of choice in B&W the choice for colour film is decreasing rapidly. I personally don’t want to have to spend $8-10 on a roll of professional colour film; I’m very happy to shoot the consumer grade stuff. It’s great that Kodak continue to produce it and long may that last, but the problem with Fuji’s abandoning of film is that we’ll never get affordable replacements. Between start up costs and R&D costs and low volumes there’s no way new producers could make film available at these prices even if they wanted to. In my dreams Sony do one of those random bold things Sony do from time to time and revive Konica film – they have the money and they probably have the rights since they took over Konica Minolta’s camera division. OF course, in my dreams I also want Sony to reintroduce analogue rangefinders -anyone for the Sony Auto S4 or the Sony Hi-Matic?

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Josh Solomon

Student, photo geek, contributing writer. When not jamming with my band in L.A., I'm shooting uniquely mechanical cameras.

All stories by:Josh Solomon