This film seems to have been filling the shelves since the days analogue was the only way to take pictures. Placed next to memory cards, batteries, headphones, and other electronic goods, Superia X-Tra was the sole representative of the emulsive legacy for years.
But in the late-2010s/2020s, the interest in film photography exploded. Today, I see film packs sold at an unusual variety of shops, including the apparel sections at the mall. London Drugs now carries Polaroid film, and its lab is as busy as ever. The green, blue and yellow packs of Superia have finally got neighbours that share something in common.
Superia’s remarkable ability to survive the analogue winter is in the marketing (probably). X-Tra packs are often the largest, thanks to the huge cardboard banner attached to the box. Their ISO 400 film speed works well with most light sources and cameras. And their price is reasonable — although my research indicates that it’s been going up significantly during the past few years.
Last month, Fujifilm announced upcoming film shortages. Lucky for me, the dependable Superia is still available at my local shops — but that’s not necessarily the case worldwide. Which made me wonder: if it becomes harder to find, is Fujifilm’s Superia X-Tra 400 still worth seeking out?
In this review, I’ll examine Superia’s image qualities and overview the scanning experience along with plentiful samples to give you a definitive understanding of what this film is capable of and whether it’s worth the price.
A brief history of the Fujifilm Superia film line and the technology behind it.
You’ll be disappointed to know that Natura 1600 (sold as Superia 1600 outside of Japan) was discontinued in 2017, driving the film’s price up to $100 per roll on eBay. Unfortunately, discontinuation is the motif of the Superia line. In fact, X-Tra 400 is the only variant that’s still in production.
The Superia line was introduced in 1998, long before the Fujifilm axe began to swing for all but the most popular films the brand was making. It was a successor to the Fujicolor Super G “Plus” line that used Fuji’s branded Real-Tone and Emulsion Layer Stabilizing tech (source). All of that was aimed at improving colour reproduction, sharpness, and dynamic range. Superia does the same things but in a different way:
Super Fine-∑ (Sigma) Grain Technology — a mouthful of words meant to describe an advanced crystal structure that manages to capture light more efficiently. In practice, this means a much finer grain in the images. Since 2006, it was renamed to Super Uniform Fine Grain, though it’s not clear whether that meant actual changes to the film.
Fujifilm’s Super Uniform Fine Grain Technology [i]ncorporates flat hexagonal grains with a large surface area that retains a sufficient volume of photosensitive pigment. Photons generated when light is absorbed are accumulated in the periphery of the grain and then efficiently concentrated to form the latent image. The result is a dramatic reduction in grain size with no loss in sensitivity, ensuring stunning prints and enlargements with barely perceptible grain.
A fourth cyan layer was also added to Superia stocks to improve colour reproduction, particularly for indoor lighting. Fujifilm used the same approach to create their Fuji Pro 400H film, marketed as a direct competitor to Kodak’s Portra 400, which was recently discontinued.
Alas, the fourth layer was dropped in 2007. Superia X-Tra 400 was discontinued in Japan in 2019 in favour of a local flavour of the same film: Superia Premium 400. The Premium has no fourth layer, costs more, and is apparently “optimized for the reproduction of Japanese skin tones.”
To the credit of the engineers who had to figure out how to remove an entire colour layer from an already complex emulsion, Superia X-Tra appears to still work well in mixed light conditions:
Fujifilm made a lot of claims about the accuracy of colour reproduction with their Superia line of films. However, I found it challenging to extract palettes that are truly excellent from this stock, with some exceptions.
Some reviewers complained about the purple tint found in certain scans. I saw the same thing until I used a good scanner and inverted the files by hand (for maximum control). But that didn’t solve all the problems for me. Some shades of grey appeared to be mixing with the blue and teal colours found in the sky and elsewhere, which made colour corrections difficult:
Perhaps I’m being overly picky. Images taken on Superia can certainly look lovely. The film reacts well to colour correction attempts in Photoshop or any other kind of editing software — with the limits described above in mind.
Still, I would pay particular attention to the software that does your negative inversions, as the purple tint can get distracting.
Superia X-Tra 400 grain and resolution.
Fujifilm rates Superia X-Tra to have a resolution of RMS 4. This implies a finer grain than all the premium slide emulsions, which I don’t think is the case. Kodak has long abandoned this system in favour of human perception ratings (PGI), which are much more useful.
Like Natura 1600, which shares X-Tra’s ridiculous resolution stats, Superia can show chunky, coarse grain in the shadows that dissolves into imperceptible granules in well-exposed areas.
Superia is very sharp; you likely won’t ever have to apply any sharpening to your scans.
I suppose that the ultra-fine grain promise does materialize on Superia films in places that matter. But I would still watch out for the shady areas if this is something that concerns you.
Superia X-Tra’s dynamic range.
From the graph, I see over 2.75 lux-seconds, which convert into about 9 stops of dynamic range.
I think that this film can capture more than 9 stops, provided that the negatives are scanned with something like PrimeFilm XAs. The reason is the film density that extends beyond DMax of 3, which can be a struggle for cheaper scanners to pick up.
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the image quality in the under-exposed areas. Despite the colour shifts and the increased grain, the dark parts of my scans look relatively clean, virtually free of all colour noise.
Overall, it’s safe to say that Superia’s best feature is its dynamic range. This makes it a forgiving film, suitable for plastic toy cameras, old cameras with less-than-reliable shutters, and for metering using the Sunny 16 rule. It is also an excellent film to shoot in high-contrast scenes such as high noon and night photography.
✪ Note: If you are planning to expose this film for longer than 4 seconds, Fujifilm recommends adding an extra stop to compensate for the reciprocity failure. You may need to add additional stops for exposures longer than 64 seconds.
Over-exposing Superia X-Tra.
Given the impressive dynamic range of this film, over-exposing it by one stop may work to fix some colour casts. I’ve seen good results on others’ blogs, although without a good scanner, you may risk losing some detail in the highlights.
Over-exposed Superia colours may have a colour cast of their own, turning their palette warmer than it really should be. In the image below, you’ll see my sky appearing almost yellow, though, in reality, it was a thin layer of clouds that should’ve looked teal.
Where to buy Fujifilm Superia X-Tra and how much does it cost.
As of this writing, Superia X-Tra sells for $11-$12 per 36xp roll of film. Its price jumped sharply last year and appeared to have gone down slightly in mid-2022.
If you’re interested in film prices and would like to stay on top of them, the best way is to subscribe to the free semi-annual reports on film costs. I do all the hard work surveying a curated variety of film stores across the world on this and many other film stocks.
Despite the discontinuations and material shortages, Superia remains a fairly well-stocked item — at least in Canadian pharmacies. Of course, you can find one online as well.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 400 film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!