I’m going to talk about Fujifilm’s Fujicolor Pro 400H, Fuji’s pro-level color negative film. I really am. But I’ve got to get something off my chest first. I really don’t like being the “get off my lawn” guy. I’m too young, and too pleasant. But certain annoying trends make me develop a Clint Eastwood-esque scowl. Take for example the word “aesthetic”. It’s a word historically reserved for hoity-toity philosophical writings, yet it’s somehow found its way into the general parlance.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for expanding vocabulary, but the current use of the word “aesthetic” is specious at best. I’ve seen the word used to describe everything from 1980s Miami Vice-esque graphic design, to “on brand” instagram accounts, with little consistency in its application. Through overuse, the word “aesthetic” has become the internet’s version of inane business park buzzwords like “synergy” and “ideate.”
I mention this because Fujifilm Fujicolor Pro 400H is in some ways a victim of its own surface-level “aesthetic.” Its aesthetic is, like the word itself, one that has been used so much that it has become a caricature of itself. Pro 400H is one of the most versatile color films on the market, but it only seems to be used to achieve one look.
Fujifilm Pro 400H is a 400 speed color negative film meant for professional use in 35mm and medium format cameras. It’s a step above Fuji’s consumer Superia line, as well as a direct competitor to Kodak’s Portra 400 emulsion. It boasts an incredibly wide exposure latitude, extraordinarily fine grain, and a true-to-life color palette. It’s nothing we haven’t already heard of, but still represents the cream of the crop when it comes to modern color negative emulsions.
[Sample shots in the galleries above and below were made by CP writer Jeb Inge on 35mm film]
In practice, the film performs incredibly well – the finer grain results in a kind of sharpness and resolution normally reserved for slower films. Making landscapes and shooting general travel photography is a particular pleasure owing to the film’s surprising resolution, and becomes a powerful tool when paired with ultra-sharp lenses like the Minolta 40mm f/2 Rokkor in M-mount or the Nikkor 105mm f/2.5.
In medium format this film becomes even more impressive – the film takes on a silky-smooth, ultra high resolution look that represents the best of modern film photography.
The wide exposure latitude afforded by Fuji Pro 400H makes this sharpness and resolution available in almost any lighting situation. 400 speed color negative film usually finds its sweet spot at golden hour, but Pro 400H’s latitude increases its effective range to include broad daylight scenes and indoor lighting situations. Under-exposure latitude bottoms out at a respectable two stops under, but its over-exposure latitude can reach beyond even four or five stops over. Shooters who prefer full manual, meter-less cameras can rest assured that any slight errors in exposure will be compensated for by Pro 400H’s exposure latitude. This also means that they can shoot freely, as they can make artistic exposure decisions without the immediate threat of crushed shadows or blown highlights.
But while Fujifilm Fujicolor Pro 400H is incredibly sharp and easy to use, its most distinctive trait by far is its color palette. Fuji made color accuracy a priority with Pro 400H, and they’ve dialed things in nicely. The color balance of Pro 400H is remarkably neutral across the board with an added depth to blue and green. Pro 400H’s neutral (but accurate) color palette is refreshing from an, ahem, aesthetic standpoint, as well as a functional one. Not only does its accuracy result in a subtler, more nuanced look compared to other professional color negative films, but it also offers a more flexible base for color editing.
Skin tones are particularly interesting on Fuji Pro 400H. Whilst films like Kodak Ektar, and to a lesser extent Kodak Portra 400, tend to bring out warm orange and red in skin, Pro 400H instead elects for a colder skin tone. Depending on the subject, this can either make their skin look smooth and natural or devoid of all blood. Experienced editors can make fine adjustments to bring out more warmth in the skin, although in some circles the pale “heroin chic” look is just fine.
Skin tone quirks aside, Fuji Pro 400H is a malleable, versatile, and reliable film fit for both professional and casual usage. It delivers a beautiful, yet accurate look that flirts with digital cleanliness while offering that signature tonal gradation that makes film the great medium it is. As far as color negative emulsions go, Fuji Pro400H is one of the best, if not certainly the most versatile.
[Shots in the samples gallery below were made by CP writer Dustin Vaughn-Luma on 120 film]
[Shots in the samples gallery below were made by CP writer Josh Solomon on 35mm film]
There’s a certain “Pro 400H look” that tends to occur when the film is over-exposed somewhere on the order of three to five stops. The color palette lightens up considerably and shifts more towards pastel. This specific usage of Pro400H is popular among wedding photographers looking to add a certain lightness to their photos, as well as enterprising Instagrammers looking for a specific visual signature. The look has become the “aesthetic” of Fuji Pro 400H, and dominates a majority of film-based wedding photography and a good amount of film-based, lifestyle Instagram accounts. It has become so popular that it has turned Fuji Pro 400H into somewhat of a film cliché beyond even the limited borders of social media.
This review might end up sounding like a personal crusade, but I think there’s an important lesson to be learned from a film as typecast as Fuji Pro 400H. Social media and the internet in general has a tendency to make us reduce things, people, and ideas into caricatures of themselves, caricatures which we unfortunately confuse for their entire being. Fuji Pro 400H, among other things in our hobby, is a victim of that phenomenon.
Yes, Fuji Pro400H can do the bright wedding look and the hip instagram film lifestyle shot, but it can also serve as a wonderful landscape film, can work as a great street photography tool owing to its stellar exposure latitude and detail rendition, and can single handedly improve the performance of even the dinkiest point-and-shoot camera. I suspect it could be capable of even more if only we’d look past our own clunky notions of art and aesthetics.