Fujicolor Natura 1600 Film Review
Discontinued, Pricey, Yet High in Demand — Why?11 min read by
Fujifilm’s Fujicolor Natura 1600 (Superia 1600 in North America) is the highest box-ISO colour film ever sold. It was discontinued around the time this website was established — in 2017. Today, you can still find packs and singles of this emulsion sold on eBay — for a premium.
In this review, I’ll go over the technical aspects of this film, discuss the results I’ve got shooting Natura in various cameras/settings, and help you decide if it’s worth the price.
☝︎ Further reading: “What Is Exposure and How to Measure It” — understand film sensitivity, speed, and ISO concepts to get the most out of this review.
What’s so special about Fujicolor Natura 1600?
Natura 1600 is the fastest box-speed colour film ever sold. But despite its supreme sensitivity, it was made only in 35mm, which limited its professional applications.
Natura 1600 boasts an incredible RMS value of 4, suggesting that its grain is finer than many ISO 100 fine-grained emulsions (explained below).
Natura stays true to its name by rendering a natural contrast/saturation consistently across the entire dynamic range with minimal casting. All this at the insane ISO 1600! Push any other colour film this far, and you’ll have much more trouble recreating realistic results. Meanwhile, you can push Natura 1600 to ISO 3200.
This film has always been a rarity in the Western markets — although relatively available in Asia until 2017. But as film photography began its renaissance phase in the late-2010s, so did the interest in this film. So much that 💰 Fujichrome Natura 1600 is now priced at nearly $100 per roll, making it one of the most expensive 35mm films you can buy today — although still behind the lavish Kodak Aerochrome colour infrared film that now goes for about $200/roll, whenever available.
Natura 1600 grain and resolution.
I could not believe my eyes when I read Natura 1600’s diffuse RMS granularity value off its Japanese datasheet. I had to compare it to the US market version Superia 1600, which listed the same value. This number should indicate how fine/chunky this film’s grain is. For example, Fujichrome Provia 100F and Ektachrome E100 ultra-fine-grained slide emulsions have an RMS value of 8. Neopan Acros, “finest grain quality ISO 100 black-and-white film,” has an RMS of 7, whereas the classic Kodak’s Tri-X chunky grain registers 17.
But Natura 1600, the fastest box-speed colour film, lists the RMS value of 4. This number alone made me question whether what Fujifilm has cooked up was even technically possible (slower emulsions can achieve finer grain due to the physical size of the crystals that could remain small as long as there was plenty of light).
Is Fujichrome Natura 1600 a more fine-grained film than Provia and Ektachrome?
The sample images above may suggest that Natura 1600 is indeed extremely fine-grained for its high-ISO speed. The close-up of the mountain snow and a rocky puddle appears exceptionally smooth and detailed, as you would expect from a slow slide film. However, other samples show significantly larger grain, all concentrating in the images’ darkest regions.
And so, it appears that Natura 1600 will render remarkably-fine grain in the lighter shades while leaving chunkier clumps in the shadows.
Thus, if you want to take advantage of this film’s unprecedentedly-fine grain at ISO 600, select your scenes carefully. I suggest picking light backgrounds with as few details as possible in deep shadows. If you’re familiar with Ansel Adam’s Zone System, pick visuals that have a minimal showing of Zones 0-III. You may also consider over-exposing your film slightly, but more on that below.
The new SUPERIA 1600 has incorporated the newly developed Nano-structured Σ (Sigma) grain, a further advance over the current emulsion technology, to achieve sharp, smooth image quality, regardless of the film’s ultrahigh speed.
— Fujichrome Superia 1600/Natura 1600 datasheet (archived). Σ-grain is Fujifilm’s incredible technology that produces fine detail in fast films under certain conditions (as it appears, brighter exposures).
Natura 1600 dynamic range and colours.
Converted from 𝚫lux 2.5 (a number implied from the characteristic curves), Natura 1600’s dynamic range is about 8+ stops.
However, to get the best image results and take advantage of the Σ-grain technology, you need to plan your exposures to minimize dark regions. This may cut your best dynamic range to something around 6+ stops.
Like most colour-negative films, Natura 1600 has some tolerance for over-exposure, although it isn’t as robust as you may expect. Thus, you’ll need to pay attention to that as well.
When it comes to colour reproduction, Natura does remarkably well, considering the challenges it faces at such sensitivity levels. While not as expressive as Portra or rich as Ektar, Natura achieves impressive colour realism across its entire dynamic range with minimal colour casting in the unedited scans.
Fujichrome’s special fourth cyan layer appears to be very useful in bringing additional colour fidelity and reducing post-production efforts. This layer may also be contributing to the characteristically “present” green and light blue shades across the scans I’ve examined.
✪ Note: I use this method to scan all film for my reviews. It creates consistent results that make understanding and comparing the emulsion’s colour/contrast attributes possible.
Exposing Natura 1600 for best results.
Natura 1600 is an expensive, disappearing film. It has incredible potential as a fast colour emulsion that can not be duplicated in colour and grain quality by pushing other colour emulsions. And so, to get your money’s worth, I suggest you follow the following exposure tips:
1. Assume 6 stops of dynamic range or less. For best results, use a light meter you are familiar with and a camera you trust.
2. Pick scenes with relatively low contrast. For example, fog is an excellent contrast-reducing natural phenomenon; well-lit indoors and studio settings can work well. In daylight, choose evenly-lit scenes where deep shadows are minimal.
3. Consider over-exposing your Natura by ½ or 1 stop. This may help you minimize the shaded regions that tend to produce large grains while taking advantage of the C-41 exposure tolerance. However, you should keep your over-exposures in check as this film isn’t as flexible as some other colour emulsions.
Point #3 is notably addressed in Fujifilm’s namesake Fujifilm Natura S cameras, which would compensate your exposures by +2 stops in dark settings.
Scanning and colour-correcting Natura 1600.
As various scanners and scanning software modify the output without reporting on what has changed, I test my films by inverting them manually in Adobe Photoshop. This way, I can replicate my steps each time; in turn, I can compare different film stocks without having to wonder whether it’s the software or the film that’s rendering the colours.
Using the above method, Natura’s inverted negatives appear with a slight blue cast that could be easily removed using the Colour Balance tool. A subtle shift towards the yellows and purples in the Shadows/Midtones channels did the trick every time.
I’ve also attempted to cut some of the grain by making adjustments in the Curves layer. Essentially, I’ve crushed the deepest shadows (where most of the grain resides), turning them black. However, while the graininess became reduced, the overall contrast of the image increased, giving it a “pushed” look — which is not something you may want for natural-looking photographs.
Pushing Natura 1600 to ISO 3200.
Back in 2017, I loaded a roll of Natura 1600 into my dad’s FED 5B to take a few walking photos of the Loi Krathong festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My camera sported a relatively slow Industar-61 lens with a maximum aperture of 𝒇2.8; it also shook considerably with each curtain slap; thus, I could not set its shutter any slower than 1/60s.
Given the camera limitations, my only option to get decent images of the event was to ask my favourite lab techs in the city to push my colour film a +1 stop to ISO 3200. These are the results that I got:
As expected, the film had considerable trouble reigning in the grain and saturation.
To be fair, I don’t think that there’s any other colour film that can be shot at this sensitivity without becoming extremely grainy and repugnantly saturated.
The scans also appear to display either light leaks or issues with agitation, as the top and bottom ends of the frame show more blue-coloured grain than the middle.
Please also note that these scans were made a few years ago on a flatbed scanner. I may be able to pull more useful information and colours out of them on my excellent PrimeFilm XAs. And if I do, I will update this post.
In retrospect, it may have been more prudent of me to get a better camera to shoot such a rare and expensive film. Still, even if I had access to faster optics mounted on a body with a vibration-free leaf shutter, shooting colour nighttime action with minimal motion and lens blur is only possible with ultra-fast films. Which are, unfortunately, no longer produced today.
Is Natura 1600 worth the price?
If you are good at selecting your scenes, metering your exposures, and are looking to photograph fast colour action in subdued light, this may be the only film that can satisfy your need. Its incredible Σ-grain can deliver printable results no other film can provide at this speed, and the colour reproduction will look better than anything pushed.
Some cameras, like Fujifilm Natura S, may automate some of the above to make the photography on Natura film easier. But for the most part, I recommend a tool that gives you a lot or all control over your exposures and a couple of years of experience with a film camera.
Where to buy Natura 1600.
If you live in Japan, you may still find it in some photography stores. Otherwise, pretty much 100% of your Nature 1600 supplies will come from eBay. As always, consider storage conditions (cold or freezer preferred).
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Fujifilm Natura 1600 film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!