Review: Fujifilm Venus 800

Hello, everybody! I was listening to an Eagles tribute band (one of hundreds!) and they’re so good that I thought I was listening to the real band. I was searching in YouTube for the song “Best of My Love” but the only thing I could find was from this tribute band. I was a bit upset when I found out that it’s just a tribute band but I gave them another minute. It was worth it because it satisfied the damn earworm that’s ringing for the past few days! I stopped the video and thanked the opportunity to listen to them and also for the lesson I that learned on giving something or somebody another try. Today, I am going to tell you a story about how I used to hate a certain film stock but grew to love it as I gave it another chance and learned more about its nuance and quirks.

Introduction:

Fujifilm Venus 800 is one of those films that make some people scratch their head because of its odd speed. It was made to be sold together with the disposable plastic cameras and with the lower-end of the Japanese film market in mind (mainly aunties) who don’t want or own a fancy setup or film and all they cared about are nice vacation photos. This was probably the reason for its feminine name because it was mainly aimed for this market. Fujifilm probably wanted to give the impression that it takes good photos of people and it does according to the official Japanese catalog. Many people mistake this to be the same film as the Fujifilm Superia 800 but there are small differences according to the catalog. It probably is so insignificant that you can treat them both as the same film in most cases. I am sure that the subtle differences will only show in controlled conditions or when these 2 stocks were shot side-by-side to compare the resulting prints or scans. Its official name is called the Fujicolor Superia Venus 800 just to make it clear to all that it’s a Superia with different formulation. If you want to be technical about it and if you read Japanese then I will just lead you to this official PDF and let you decide if the differences matter to you or not, you can’t get more official than that since it’s Fujifilm who wrote that film guide. You may also want to see this detailed datasheet for the Fujifilm Venus 800 (Japanese only).

IMG_1176Many people outside the Far-East haven’t heard of this film because it wasn’t sold outside of the region through official channels but it’s available through importers and these can be bought easily online these days. Some people treat this as a novelty film because of its “rarity” but more and more people are getting to know and love this film lately. It used to be hard to find information about this film just a few years back on the English-speaking web but you can now find plenty of sample photos online these days thanks to those who like to share their photos like yours truly.

IMG_8795Fujifilm Venus 800 is just one of the few remaining stocks that Fujifilm sells. It’s not their best-seller but since Fujifilm Natura 1600 is now gone many people have no choice but to buy it. The weird ASA 800 speed (at least for me) felt odd because it’s not fast-enough and it’s just a stop faster than ASA 400. I really don’t know where to place this film speed, for what I usually shoot I always use a slow film or a really fast one and nothing in-between. I rarely shoot with ASA 400 and almost-exclusively use that with long lenses on a sunny day just so I can use faster shutter speed but ASA 800? I find that too slow for most night photography in the style that you usually see on my page and it’s too fast when shooting even on a cloudy day. It may be good for indoor available light photography but I really don’t shoot things like that, at least not at this point in my life. For that, I usually take my photos with a DSLR which is undeniably more practical for this application.

IMG_4648The price of Fujifilm Venus 800 (just a Superia variant, really) is not cheap as you can see here. It sits at an awkward segment of the market and this is the reason for its poor sales according to the pretty lady at the film counter that I flirt with. It’s probably why Fujifilm is still selling these instead of their more popular stocks like the Fujifilm Industrial 400 or even the amazing Fujifilm Acros 100 which are their best-sellers since those get sold-out faster. It’s obvious that they’re just finishing their frozen inventory and this is the bottom of the barrel for all of us. I have confirmed this little “conspiracy theory” with some shop owners here in Japan.

This article mainly focuses on how I shoot with films in this class – night photography in a neon-street setting using apertures that’s faster than f/2.8 and shutter speeds that won’t go above 1/125s at the most. I know that not many people take pictures with these kinds of variables but this is what’s available to me and this is what I am going to capitalize. On the good-side of things, we get to see how this film perform under difficult lighting. This is also a good setting to study it because you have really bright elements and near-black shadows in the same frame most of the time. This will allow you to see how a stock show both ends of the luminance spectrum in one frame and this will also help determine the true speed of a film because accurate metering is a must as you’ll soon see why. Read my article with an open mind and don’t take what I write as facts because I am just sharing what my impressions of this film are and impressions are very subjective. It will be done in a commentary fashion detailing my observations of each photo. Let’s begin.

FH000027I love the dynamic range of the film, the dark parts seem to retain some details despite it being a poorly-lit scene with many directional lights that cast shadows from above. It has a nice-looking grain structure if you pay attention closely. I think that this film has shows less grain than Fujifilm Natura 1600 and the individual grains seem finer.

FH000032Metering properly is probably your main concern with this film, your pictures will look “muddy” if you’ve over or under-exposed by even 1 stop when shooting at night. You will not notice it much for brighter scenes but scenes like this where there are both very dark and bright areas in the frame will require that you meter scene properly. One trick that I do is to use a spot-meter and then meter-off the skin of anybody in the frame as my zone 6. It is one of the best techniques that I use when shooting scenes at night when there are going to be people walking in the scene for me to meter.

FH000006Here’s an example where I got my exposure values by metering from somebody who just walked-into the center of the frame. It’s a bit blurry since I was shooting at 1/30s so small movements will affect the resulting picture in terms of sharpness (motion blur). This film has a slight magenta cast and that can cause problems in scenes like this. You will want a tungsten-balanced film for shooting scenes like this.

FH000018As mentioned earlier, Fujifilm Venus 800 is very forgiving when it comes to scenes where there’s enough light for the emulsion to work with. My metering was off by a bit here so it’s over-exposed by about 1/3 of a stop so the white parts in the scene are washed-out but the film allowed me to retain some details as evident on the small white labels. The color and saturation characteristics of this film looks OK and is similar with the Superia line.

FH000019This example is kind of pushing the film’s latitude a bit since you have luminance ranges that go beyond the usual 5-stops allowance that most common films will allow. We have a washed-out sign near the awning and the blacks look a bit “muddy” in the darker parts of the frame. This film is unlike Cinestill 800T when it comes to dynamic range but it has decent-enough latitude for shooting with it at night. It’s rated with a box speed of 800 and I think that’s accurate unlike Fujifilm Natura 1600 where I think the real speed is around ISO 1200 or so. Some people rate that film at ISO 800 but shooting with it at that speed at night using a spot-meter mostly gave me over-exposed frames. I know that film very well when used for night photography in Asian cities where you get plenty of neon lights and ugly mercury lamps in the scene.

FH000031This film can produce some weird halation effects like Cinestill 800T to some extent but it is not as pronounced. I initially thought that this was the result of the lens that I used but it seems that this is normal for this film. Metering this scene was hard as you can see that some parts of my scene are already looking ugly like the halo on the white signage.

FH000037I love the colors that I get with this film when I use it at night. It wasn’t designed for this but it looks great if you ask me because bright neon signs will give you a nice psychedelic effect like what you see in the original Blade Runner movie.

FH000034Here’s another example where metering accurately is required. If I was off by a bit then I won’t get the blacks too look nice or my scene will look too dark. Scenes like this require that you learn to prioritize which parts of the scene you want to expose for properly, this is why a true spot-meter is essential for night photography as you can pick which parts of the scene to meter-off with accurately and use the zone system to help you visualize your output. A digital camera negates all this but you don’t have any excuse when using film!

FH000029The film has good resolution if you ask me as it can resolve small details in your scene as evident on the dirty panels of the ceiling. I was looking through the negatives with a lens loupe and I was satisfied with the details.

FH000028This picture demonstrates just how nice the grain structure is with this film. It’s there but you won’t be turned-off by it because it looks so natural. This isn’t a fine-grained film and you can easily see it with a loupe but it’s fine-enough considering that this is a relatively fast film.

FH000005This film was supposed to be formulated for day light but it has a “4th colot layer” that it uses to offset the ugly glow of mercury lamps. This film has a slight magenta tint to it so keep that in your mind every time you shoot pictures with strong red elements in it.

FH000039Here’s a scene with both warm and cool tones. The ugly green cast from the lamp makes the left part of the frame look creepy but the area with the warmer light looks kind of OK despite it looking more orange than what I originally wanted. It’s over-exposed by about 1/2 of a stop so the orange bricks look terrible. This scene is just asking for it and it’s not easy to meter something like this effectively. It’s a terrible scene to begin with but I just wanted to take a picture where you have both warm and cool lights in the same frame.

FH000015This scene is probably more reasonable because the flourescent glow isn’t too greenish. I took this scene because there are tiny tungsten bulbs together with flourescent lamps, it’s going to make an interesting mix as you can see in the wall to the right. You can also see the grain structure clearly on the blurry parts of the frame, it looks nice and I like it a lot.

Conclusion:

That’s it for my impression of this film after shooting some 4 rolls of it. It’s not easy to use this film for night photography as it doesn’t quite have the special properties or formula as Fujifilm Natura 1600 but I can tell you that this film is a worthy substitute for it so long as you’re OK with using slower shutter speeds because ASA 800 just isn’t fast-enough and you will struggle with using slower lenses with it on 35mm film. There are many pictures on the net showing pictures that were shot with this film on subjects and scenes that are brighter than most of my pictures here and they all look stunning when metered right. It was supposed to be made for shooting portraits and there are many examples online that demonstrate that. On the flip-side, there are more pictures online showing how terrible this film is when not exposed properly. While that statement is true with every stock the negative effects is much-more obvious with this film unless you’re one of those guys who prefer that kind of look.

Here’s a quick summary of what I learned when shooting with this film:

  1. The ASA 800 box speed is accurate but I think ASA 700 should yield better results.
  2. Acts very much like Fujifilm Natura 1600 but with less sensitivity and the film grain is more pleasing in most cases. Resolution seems better, too.
  3. Weird halation on bright points of lights that’s absent with Fujifilm Natura 1600.
  4. The price is reasonable for such a high-quality film.
  5. Reasonable latitude for scenes with very high contrast but not like Cinestill 800T. It’s not bad at all and will rely more on your metering skills. Can be less-forgiving when shot with night photography, you’ll want a spot-meter and use the zone system.
  6. Forgiving with most lighting situations but can be a bit too warm under tungsten. It has a slight tendency for a magenta or purplish cast (see #9).
  7. Ok with most flourescent lamps but I’ll avoid using this in that lighting situation. It has the “4th layer” which is supposed to give it a cyan offset to help with artificial lighting.
  8. Details and grain are quite fine, finer than Fujifilm Natura 1600 in most cases but it can have the tendency to show really terrible grain when exposed poorly.
  9. It really feels like a “daylight-balanced” film that’s a bit warmer for use under shade or during cloudy days like what my friend Tony Bullock gets daily in the UK.
  10. Seems like a really versatile film. Has high potential for sports or other fields where you want to shoot using faster shutter speeds to freeze motion even on bright days or for use indoors like stage photography or available-light budoir photography.

I hope that my short review of this film satisfied your curiosity. There’s plenty of photos on the net that were shot with this film but the sites that discuss shooting with this stock are mostly scattered so I hope that this article will be a welcome addition. I know that it’s more catered towards my style of photography and I can only speak from what I know or do with this film but I think that my guidelines are sufficient for those who want to use it for whatever type of photography they desire. I hated this film before because I hated its odd ASA 800 speed that I found really odd for my style but I have made my peace with it and it’s one of my favorite films now that I am forced to use it since my favorite film for night photography Fujifilm Natura 1600 is now discontinued. I was challenged to learn it and how to use it effectively for my style of photography and I was glad that I gave it the 2nd chance that it deserves. Go out and buy a roll of this film and don’t forget to shoot it with my guidelines in-mind. If you like this article then here’s part 2! Ric.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Repair: New-Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  2. Trackback: Review: Fujifilm Venus 800 (pt 2) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review
  3. Trackback: Repair: Nikkor-H•C 5cm f/2 LTM (collapsible) | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review

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