Fujifilm FujiChrome Provia 400F 35mm Slide Film

Expired Emulsion Review

8 min read by Dmitri.

Provia 400F is the second generation of the Provia 400 fast slide film series with a finer grain — an RMS granularity of 13, compared to 15 for the original. It is the second-to-last Fujifilm innovation in this line.

The final iteration in the series is FujiChrome Provia 400X, which has been discontinued in 2013, along with dozens of other stocks the company axed semi-recently. The 400F was discontinued in 2006.

Provia 400F is an emulsion with its ups and downs. It should be used as a specialty film, as it will not perform well on all occasions. Though when it does, it does it well.

Provia 400F with Voigtländer Vitessa L3 on a semi-overcast day.

I got my first taste of Provia 400F on the cheap, having bought a couple of rolls from the discount bin at Beau. I fell in love with the emulsion after getting the first few slides back from the lab.

Slide film is lovely to hold in hand and easy to scan as there’s a master copy that can tell you directly how thing slshoudl look like. This is in contrast to C-41 emulsions, which often leave a lot up to imagination and technique, whether it’s an analogue process or a digital scanner.

The way this Provia renders colours is simply incredible. True to life, with a barely-noticeable hint of blue contrast that some may say, is a Fujifilm trademark. Its textures appear creamy and are very pleasant to look at. The skin tones are very accurate, quite flattering, if I may say so.

Note: I only tested photos of light skin with this film.

Being a slide film, this emulsion has its limitations. 400F requires a relatively specialized lab — ask for the E-6 process if that’s how you develop your film. And it comes with a few downsides, particularly in acutance; 400F is no longer produced, and thus its miraculous eBay appearances should not be taken for granted. For that reason, it pays not to waste frames on scenes that would look sub-par.

In this article, I will do my best to suggest the best use cases for this film, starting with my advice on what not to do with it.

Provia 400F can look stunning in full sun. Shot on Minolta TC-1.

Avoid low-contrast scenes.

This film does not do well in low-contrast scenes. I find it somewhat misleading considering it is a relatively-fast speed emulsion — you might do so as well.

400F is quite grainy, though unlike certain C-41 and monochrome films, those grains aren’t well-defined and lack the “crispness,” typically expected of 35mm scans and prints. Even the modern lenses with tons of contrast and resolution struggle bringing out the micro-contrast with this emulsion in those conditions.

When this emulsion became first available twenty years ago, it was revolutionary in its ability to resolve details at this level and speed. Of course, the grains it produces do not yield a “pop” that C-41 does as they have little to no silver content and are practically just dye clouds due to E-6 chemistry’s nature.

In some images, this lack of micro-contrast was so pronounced it made me wonder if there’s something wrong with my camera.

This photo was taken at the time of the massive forest fires in the western US. Much of that soot covered my bordering Canadian city in a foggy veil. The start of winter rain season has brought lots of low-creeping fog, making the lighting particularly difficult for Provia 400F. When enlarged, this entire image looks slightly out of focus, even though there is no motion blur and the infinity setting on my TC-1 lens is typically tack-sharp.
I like how gracefully the film has handled the over-exposure in this scene, hard to believe this is a slide film. I love this image for its mood and the personal memories, but I can’t help wishing it was a little sharper in the spots that matter. Shot on Voigtländer Vitessa A.

Be mindful of high-contrast scenes.

Your goldilocks with this film is somewhere between 7-10 stops of light variance. 400F is slightly more forgiving than the 100F, though not by much. It will not clip or crash like the digital sensors, though its graceful degradation may not be much of solace.

Though sunsets are typically a safe bet when it comes to slide film, your shadows may still get crushed on Provia 400F. Never as ugly as digital artifacts, but still missing information. Note that when this image was uploaded, the JPEG compression added some distortions in its lower section, which are not part of the film scan.

Provia 400F is quite pesky when it comes to lighting conditions. Though if I were made to choose between overly high- and low-contrast scenes, I’d pick the former. While there is a decent chance of losing some of the visual information in contrast-y situations, this Provia will not smudge or drop gradients. Thus I would rather forfeit details in the fringes than suffer from lack of acutance in the entire scene — high-contrast over low-contrast with Provia 400F.

“Norah” — notice how well this film plays with shallow depth of field. Shot on Voigtländer Vitessa L3.

C.R.E.A.M.

FujiChrome Provia 400F is like a skilled painter. It could make an incredible rendering of the reality with depth and character if you step back, yet it has distinct brush strokes should you look closely. Getting the best photos with this film isn’t about your light meter or lens resolution accuracy. It has more to do with your ability to see the scene as a whole, as well as accepting and understanding this film’s limitations.

The colour design on the box the film comes in is surprisingly telling. This film will accent the blues and greens, a bit.

This emulsion could look better in larger formats, though its 35mm version may still enchant you and your audience with its ability to transition between hues in a soft, gentle fashion. If plaid right, 400F’s lack of sharpness can be interpreted as an advantage — not necessarily something other low-acutance emulsions can do.

Yes, confusingly, this film both performs best in higher contrast scenes and tends to clip in harsh light. But if you can find that sweet spot, it will do wonders. Fujifilm FujiChrome Provia 400F is not an easy film to shoot.

Bird cherry flowers in the dusk. Shot on Voigtländer Vitessa A.
Interestingly, Provia 400F is really good at picking up repeating patterns, like the one of the canvas covering of this couch. Though it tends to “smudge” the organic textures, like the fur on Norah’s belly. Shot on Voigtländer Vitessa A.

Scanning Provia 400F.

I love scanning slide film. It makes for the easiest colour grading: should there be any doubts about how things are ought to look, I refer to the original — the slide. Provia 400F is no different; it could essentially be used to calibrate your scanning workflow. Though it’s somewhat thicker than monochrome and some C-41 stocks, 400F dries flat and is quite a treat to handle.

Everything you see in this article was scanned on PrimeFilm XA with either ViewScan or SilverFast 8 software. All developed at London Drugs.

I am very impressed with how Provia 400F renders colours. This is precisely how I remember this scene, plus more, from the emulsion’s and the lens’s “personality." Shot on Minolta TC-1.
“Not my garbage.” Note the graceful overexposure on the carton’s top-left. Shot on Minolta TC-1.
400F’s exposure latitude is tricky, though it’s still possible to capture both light and shadow during the Sunny-16 weather. Shot on Minolta TC-1.
I was high when I took this photo. Amazingly, 400F was able to preserve and render the brilliance of the sparkling light reflecting off the young spring leaves just the way it felt after that joint. Of course, you may not see this photo the way I do. Still, I feel it captured the moment well. Shot on Voigtländer Vitessa A.