Fujifilm's super-saturated Velvia 50 (RVP) created a revolution when it debuted in 1990. Because its surprisingly rich color palette delivered vibrant hues even under dismal lighting conditions, many pros and advanced amateurs wouldn't think of going on a slide-shooting assignment without it. Bring on the rain, Velvia can save the day! But even Velvia 50 isn't perfect. Almost any pro will advise you to shoot at ISO 40 or risk an underexposure. And watch out for Caucasian skin tones; in open sun, Velvia 50 can redden a fair, peaches-and-cream complexion until it mimics a sunburn. Lastly, whether you rate it at ISO 40 or 50, you'd better bring a tripod, because this film is sloooooow.
The good news? Here comes Velvia 100F. This faster sibling is now hitting stores, and Fujifilm claims it fixes all of RVP's imperfections. Does it? And how does it stack up against Kodak's super-saturated competitor? We put Velvia 100F head-to-head against Velvia 50 (RVP) and Kodak Ektachrome E100VS.
Here's how they fared:
SPEED: Dead on. That's how we gauge the 100F's ISO 100 rating. Shooting with a 35mm SLR and a 50mm lens (no bellows factor) under studio strobes, and confirming exposure settings with identical readings from multiple meters, we recorded near-perfect exposures from Velvia 100F and Ektachrome E100VS. True to form, the Velvia 50 slides were underexposed by about 1⁄4-stop.
IMAGE CHARACTERISTICS: Like Velvia 50, 100F proved a moderate-to-high-contrast film, with a typically (for slides) narrow-to-moderate latitude-1 1⁄2 to two stops. But Velvia 100F pushes exceptionally well. After a one-stop push, contrast increases as does color saturation, especially in the reds and yellows. Overall image quality was deemed more than acceptable, and (amazingly) there's virtually no color shift from three stops under- to three stops overexposed!
Our tests show a one-stop processing push by custom lab gains you about 2⁄3-stop in exposure. So, for a one-stop push, we'd expose 100F at ISO 160. Velvia 50 and Ektachrome E100VS performed slightly better, each yielding almost a full stop of exposure for a one-stop push.
IMAGE STRUCTURE: With a claimed RMS granularity rating of 8, Velvia 100F undercuts both Velvia 50 (RMS 9) and E100VS (RMS 11) in the grain department. Velvia 50, however, trumped the competition in resolving power, with the ability to distinguish 81 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm) in our resolution tests, compared to 72 lp/mm for both Velvia 100F and E100VS. Is this significant? Probably not for general photography, but it could be a factor in mural-sized enlargements.
COLOR PALETTE: Velvia 100F retains the explosively rich and saturated color palette of Velvia 50 with eye-popping reds, yellows, greens, and blues. Thanks to new and highly advanced technology (see "Film Structure"), Velvia 100F's skin tones have shed their reddish cast, and are more neutral, due to a hint of blue. In some field test scenes, this produced a more natural Caucasian skin tone than Velvia 50. But under cooler color temperatures (i.e., in shade, for example), Velvia 100F skin tones may seem too cool.
Remarkably, color performance varied only slightly between our three test films. Velvia 100F held color in shadows noticeably better than Ektachrome E100VS, though it veers slightly to green there (as does Velvia 50). E100VS produces a noticeably warmer 18-percent gray card. When the films were pushed, however, color reproduction varied more widely. E100VS's grays take on a strong red cast, while Velvia 100F goes slightly blue/green.
So, is Velvia 100F the best slide film ever? It comes close! Should Velvia 50 shooters defect? They may have to-our sources indicate that 50's days are numbered. (It's virtually disappeared from Fuji's web site.) But 100F may not be your only Velvia option. Fujifilm has introduced an even more saturated Velvia 100 (no F) in Japan. It's aimed at photographers who crave screaming color-naturalism be damned!-and if it's a huge success in Asia, this over-the-top "specialty" film may reach our shores, too.
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