For some nature photographers, the death of film has been greatly exaggerated. For as long as it has been around, Fujichrome Velvia has been among the most popular films, if not the most popular film, for nature photography. The emulsion’s rich, saturated colors and vibrant contrast have made it a favorite emulsion among top nature photographers who prize its unique characteristics. Several years ago, it looked as if Velvia would disappear forever, but the RVP faithful let out such an uproar that the film was quickly resurrected. Then in 2007, while the annual PMA trade show in Las Vegas was buzzing with talk about the imminent death of film, Fujifilm bucked the trend and announced a new Fujichrome Velvia 50 with improvements over the existing emulsion, clearly demonstrating a continued commitment to this long-running favorite.
Among the characteristics of Fujichrome Velvia 50 are extremely high color saturation, neutral gray uniformity and extremely fine grain. But those attributes do come with a price. Velvia has little tolerance for missed exposure. Unlike digital cameras, which have a fair amount of latitude, you have to be at the top of your game when you’re shooting Velvia or you risk getting unacceptable images. But when you do get it right, it’s like hitting a golf ball in the exact sweet spot of the club—you’re rewarded with a perfect shot.
The original Fujichrome Velvia was typically rated at an ISO of 40. Many photographers felt that a slight overexposure compared to Fuji’s ISO rating was called for. The new emulsion also seems to want a touch of overexposure, and many pros set their meters for ISO 40 or even 32. If you haven’t used it, a quick test is a good way to get your own rating locked in. While most hard-core professionals would buy in bulk and retest every batch, that’s probably overkill for the majority of us. Plus, manufacturing and lab chemistry have improved over time so that consistency from batch to batch is much tighter than in the days when all photography was film photography. There’s also a level of personal preference here.
Seeing the word “professional” in the name may make you think that this film is mostly for pros, but that’s a misconception. The main benefit one gets from using any professional film is in the consistency of the emulsion because of the manner in which it’s stored. “Professional” films are refrigerated and have a set shelf life, while “consumer” films can be stored in the back of a hot warehouse for weeks or even longer before they’re sold. Keeping tight storage parameters on the pro films keeps each roll in top shape by the time you buy it.
When it comes time to go digital with your shots, Velvia makes for excellent scanning. The film’s fine grain is a key reason why it does so well. In the nascent days of digital, some photographers had trouble making good scans because of the film’s contrast, but modern scanners have largely eliminated this issue. If you’re going for a high-end scan, the results are even better. In fact, many of the very best Outdoor Photographer cover images were scanned from Velvia transparencies. If you do your own scans and you have an older scanner, you can try a double-scan process to even out the contrast, to a degree. Make one scan at a normal exposure and make a second scan at a brighter setting, then combine the two in Photoshop.
The death of film isn’t here yet. Long live Fujichrome Velvia 50!