I got a couple of free Konica VX400 35mm rolls when I bought a used camera. It didn’t seem like much at first. Just 24 frames in an old canister that probably expired decades ago, not even sure if it can produce images.
Little did I know that this unexpected bonus would send me on a history chase after the lost major film manufacturer, a spec sheet discovery on an “ancient” Russian website, and loads of colour correction in Photoshop.
✪ Note: There’s another Konica VX400 out there that’s a monochrome emulsion; however, this article is about the colour C-41 film.
Konica (Sakura) — the lost major film manufacturer of the 20th century.
Konica was a major producer of 35mm film and related products, including film development processors and printing technology. While never equal to giants like Kodak or Fujifilm, the recognized quality of Konica film ensured general presence on market. Originally Konica film and paper was sold under the brand name of "Sakura" meaning Cherry Blossom in English.
Konica has been selling photographic equipment since 1873 (previously, a Japanese drugstore). At the time, the business was called Konishi-ya Rokubei Ten (小西屋六兵衞店) and subsequently renamed by the son who inherited it into Konishi Honten (小西本店). The brand went through four more name changes until it became Konishiroku Shashin Kōgyō K.K. (小西六写真工業㈱) in 1943, which was the last of the long-form names, becoming Konica thereafter.
The name Konica is a portmanteau, a combination of the first four letters of the Japanese brand name and the two first letters of the word camera. Same as Leica, made up of Leitz and camera.
Of course, the name could not stay put for longer than a few decades, having been sold to Minolta, becoming Konica Minolta Electronics Co., Ltd. But I’ll refer to the company by Konica from now on, for simplicity.
One last name to remember when thinking about Konica photographic materials is Sakura (さくら).
Sakura was a brand developed around 1903 by Konica’s early founders to specialize in photographic equipment — since, at the time, Konica operated as a chain of general retailers and not the camera makers we are familiar with today. In 1903, Sakura built Japan’s first branded film camera, “Cherry,” along with Japan’s first photographic paper, Sakura Hakkin Type Paper.
Sakura continued building up Konica’s photographic product portfolio, producing at least a dozen cameras and a large variety of film products until finally being renamed as Konica in 1987. Since then, Konica pumped out sixty-seven film varieties, eight developers, and two fixers. One of which was Konica 400VX — the subject of this review.
My film came without any packaging, which makes dating it rather difficult. There were no expiration or manufacturing dates, though the research I did suggests that it’s been made sometime in the 1990s.
Konica Color 400VX datasheet.
VX400 utilizes Konica's latest emulsion technologies, developed for use with the JX series APS films, such as JX-Crystal, JX-Coupler, and SISS (Simulated Ideal Spectral Sensitivity). These advanced technologies achieve vivid and accurate color reproduction with very fine grain, smooth gradations, a wide exposure latitude, and superior performance under various lighting conditions.
A few hours into my research, I came across the Konica 400VX datasheet, hosted on a Russian website which’s the latest post dates back to 2015. And so, as part of this review, I decided to host it on Analog.Cafe as well, to make sure it doesn’t suddenly disappear into the digital ether once the .ru blog finally goes offline:
The sheet prints 400VX’ characteristic curves that demonstrate the film’s ~11 stops of dynamic range (from the graph’s 3.5 lux-seconds).
However, in practice, as you’ll see in my notes below, 400VX’s dynamic range appears to have shrunk to nearly half of what it used to be over the years.
The datasheet also claims an incredible granularity of RMS 4. For context, this is twice as fine as the brand-new Ektachrome E100 slide film and four times finer than Tri-X. Incredible stats, although not entirely trustworthy in 2022. Konica 400VX shows very strong grain and lots of noise after twenty years in ambiguous storage. Still, zooming in to parts of the image indeed reveal lots of detail.
In use, this film appears both sharp and very noisy:
Exposing the expired Konica VX400.
Fifteen-year-old forum posts describe this film as cheap stock that often fails to reproduce the colours perfectly.
My experiments have shown that it has now lost a bunch of sensitivity in the shadows, which are now crowded with colour noise. I’ve exposed it at EI400 and EI200, which still does not seem to be enough light to hide the deterioration in the dark areas.
I recommend shooting Konica VX400 at ISO 100 — in case you’ve got a roll and would like to give it a try. The rule of thumb that suggests overexposing by one stop per decade since expiration holds true in this case.
Overexposing this film by two stops will clean up most of the noise in the shadows. However, this also cuts this film’s dynamic range considerably; hence I suggest you watch your light measurements closely and avoid underexposure above else.
Scanning and colour correcting expired film.
Having received my negatives from the lab, I noticed that they appeared thin and green. My scanner pulled everything that was out of the film, which I then inverted (negated) in Photoshop and equalized to remove the orange mask. Unfortunately, some frames still showed distracting colour casts, which I corrected using the Color Balance tool in Photoshop.
Finally, I’ve adjusted the curve to control the exposure across the negative and did another pass at Color Balance (without adding any new layers).
I like making granular, controlled film inversion for frames that need extra work — this almost always generates better results than the automatic presets and tools.
Not every frame needed work — other than inversion and equalization. Some photographs looked fine or great without any adjustments — you’ll notice them by their purple cast and my remarks below:
Of course, you may choose to use other tools and exposure methods to get what you need out of this film. After all, expired film does not always need to look precise or realistic.
Where to buy Konica Color VX400 film.
A few retailers out there might stock some varieties of Konica films, but most of them are still sold on eBay. Currently, they average around $10/roll, but they don’t come with any guarantee that they’ll work. On the other hand, there isn’t much reason the film should fail to expose unless it was submerged in water or the canisters were damaged.
❤ Please consider making your Konica Color VX400 film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!