Film vs. Digital: Fuji X-E1 vs. Fujifilm Pro 400H

Film vs. Digital: Fuji X-E1 vs. Fujifilm Pro 400H

After trading in my Nikon DSLR for a Fuji X-E1, I thought it would be interesting to compare Fuji’s film and digital color palettes side by side. One of the most important reasons I made the decision for the X-E1 was for Fuji’s colors. I find their palette the most appealing and easy to work with. Many shots look wonderful without processing, and when I do post process for a certain look (such as pastels – more on that in an upcoming post) Fuji colors simply give me the best base to work with.

I wanted to see how Fuji’s color palette for digital compares to one of my favorite Fuji films: Pro 400H. To test this, I went to the harbor in Baltimore, Ireland (near where I live) on a sunny afternoon and took the following equipment:

Fuji X-E1 & Fujinon 35mm f/1.4
Nikon F100 & Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

I shot the Pro 400H film at about 2 stops overexposed and the X-E1 about 1 stop overexposed. The film scans were not color corrected and I did no color work on the digital images. Below are the results (you can click the images to see them in a larger size).

I came to a couple of conclusions after this little comparison shoot. First, the base color palettes of the X-E1 and Pro 400H film are remarkably similar. The X-E1 did a great job retaining shadow and highlight detail – on a level comparable with the film. However, there are differences that are visible. The film has more contrast and “texture” and handles light differently. The light looks a bit softer in the film shots. You can also clearly see a split tone that develops in the 400H film when you overexpose it, the highlights have a peachy-pink tone and the shadows are blue.

Now, just for fun… here is one more example where I applied a preset from my upcoming Pro Set II to the digital image in Lightroom 4. Can you tell which is which?

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57 Comments

  1. Johnny
    April 2, 2013

    Wow, this is amazing! Thank you so much for taking the effort.

    It confirms two things for me personally: It was a great decision to sell my Nikon gear and purchase the X-Pro1. And it’s also a good reason to shoot more film – because the result is closer to what my eye sees.

    You did a great job with the preset in the last picture, really awesome.

    Reply
  2. Peter Fauland
    April 2, 2013

    Dear Rebecca,

    Impressive work ! Apart from the beauty of your images this comparison is very interesting. While I never even thought about touching the “image style settings” in all my DSLRs, the “film settings” in Fuji’s X-series cameras is one important feature that makes this cameras so nice to use.

    I did similar with my beloved AGFA SCALA b&w slide film :-)

    Best Regards,

    Peter

    Reply
  3. Film vs. Digital: Fuji X-E1 vs. Fujifilm Pro 400H | Rebecca Lily | Fuji X-Pro1 | Scoop.it
    April 2, 2013

    [...] After trading in my Nikon DSLR for a Fuji X-E1, I thought it would be interesting to compare Fuji’s film and digital color palettes side by side.  [...]

    Reply
  4. klehmann
    April 2, 2013

    hi rebecca,

    nice comparison for us fuji-’lovers’ (film and digital;o)

    in you final ‘test’ i’d say that the shot on the left aka 1′st shot of two is the film-based one… any ‘luck’? or you’re preset is really really good;o)

    best
    klehmann

    Reply
  5. Ray
    April 2, 2013

    Love this compare, Rebecca. The results of both cameras is just impressive – especially reading there’s no correction.

    I think the film is a bit more pleasing to my eyes as it kicks to a slightly warmer pallet. It also appears a little more contrasty and sharp – also what I really like in my images.

    I think I may need to do a similar compare with my toys in the future!

    Reply
  6. Jan Fervers
    April 2, 2013

    Hi Rebecca,

    great Job, many thanks!

    BR
    Jan

    Reply
  7. Kirsten Mavric
    April 2, 2013

    Wow, I thought there would be more difference, to be honest. In the last two, I’d hazard a guess that the left one is the film one?

    Reply
  8. Tenisd
    April 2, 2013

    Beautiful comparison.
    Enjoy’d the light and colours in these images. The X-E1 is so close to the real deal on the screen, how does it look in the prints? :)

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      April 2, 2013

      Hi Tenisd, I think both look really great in print (and comparable, as film is usually scanned and printed digitally these days).

      Reply
  9. Chad
    April 2, 2013

    Rebecca, you and Johnny are masters of Fuji color.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      April 2, 2013

      Hi Chad, wow thank you! We both really appreciate your feedback!

      Reply
  10. Michael
    April 2, 2013

    Hi Rebecca,

    I really like your pictures.
    Never thought that 400H develops that nice colors.

    I would say that the picture on the right is the digital version and left is film.
    But it`s really hard to figure out.

    Looking forward to your film presets.
    Are you willing to tell us something about your preset creation process?

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      April 2, 2013

      Hi Michael, I prepare myself a lot by shooting various films and learning how these different films behave in terms of light, contrast, color, etc. I work mostly in Lightroom 4 and utilize RGB curves (there is usually an RGB curve that defines the base palette), camera calibration, split toning and with individual colors (hue, saturation and luminance). Creating a preset that works consistently and looks authentic takes a lot of patience with getting the combination of these settings right.

      Reply
  11. Rebecca Lily
    April 2, 2013

    Many thanks to everyone for the kind feedback! I’m happy that others found this interesting as well – it was a great confirmation for me for why I enjoy Fuji film and digital both.

    Reply
  12. Katharine Peachey
    April 2, 2013

    The problem with comparing film scans and digital files in this way is viewing them on a screen is not a balanced platform. It’s virtually impossible to tell the difference once it’s been through the jpeg heuristic compression algorithm. The only way to truly compare is in printing – comparing a print side by side – I think that’s when you see the difference and film wins out every time, especially with medium format. Lovely shots though and a great post.

    Reply
    • Johnny
      April 2, 2013

      I always found the difference between film and digital pretty striking on every platform. If you work with a lab that scans and prints digital you won’t be able to tell the difference by the quality of your prints.

      Also film has a completely different tonal response curve. While shadows are no problem with digital, the highlights usually just clip and are a big issue in certain lighting conditions, making it an obvious giveaway for a digital image. This is very different with Fuji.

      But I don’t read this as a “film vs. digital” post. It beautifully demonstrates the difference without taking sides.

      Reply
  13. Peter N
    April 2, 2013

    Great comparison! Loving my XE1 also. Which XE1 film simulation jpeg did you use? Or did you shoot raw?

    The XE1 looks very similar to the Pro 400H. And as of yesterday, Fuji increased the price of their films. All this may be the death nail for film unfortunately.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      April 2, 2013

      Hi Peter, these were all shot in RAW. And I agree that the X-E1 colors look very similar to the film.

      In my opinion a price increase for Fuji’s films won’t deter the people who truly love and appreciate film from continuing to shoot it.

      Reply
  14. Aleste
    April 2, 2013

    Hi Lily, wonderful shots! the 400H is my favorite film! Do you think you can make a comparison between the 400H and the new Fuji X100s? I want to if the X100s have kept the same Fuji colors as the X-E1 and X-Pro1.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      April 2, 2013

      Hi Aleste, I would love to review it, if only I owned an X100s! I hear great things about that camera. From all I’ve read, the color palette of the X100s is identical with the X-E1 and X-Pro1.

      Reply
      • ThomasT
        July 30, 2013

        ..X100s is identical with the X-E1 and X-Pro1…
        Reply Not according to Ken Rockwell. (He invented the color chip for digital). See his ‘film versus digital’. He loves the 100S

        Reply
  15. pinkopunko
    April 2, 2013

    great work. Really interesting +1

    Reply
  16. Patrick
    April 2, 2013

    Thanks for doing this comparison Rebecca. Very nice images (be it film or digital).

    One question: you mentioned that you didn’t do any color correction to the digital and film files. Did you do exposure, contrast, black/white level, etc adjustments? I would imagine that an X-E1 file that was overexposed by a stop would yield severely blown highlights in these conditions (which are not present in your images)…was the exposure pulled back in post process?

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      April 2, 2013

      Hi Patrick, For these images, I did make a couple of slight corrections to the RAW file in LR4 when needed, but only in highlights, shadows, whites and blacks – not color or white balance.

      That’s another big reason that I sold my Nikon and bought the Fuji: for the dynamic range. Even with overexposing a stop I don’t get blown-out highlights or white skies. It’s pretty remarkable, and it’s the only digital camera I’ve ever used where this reliably works.

      Reply
      • Patrick
        April 3, 2013

        Thanks for the reply. That’s what I figured. Either way, they look great!

        I just got the X100S, so I’m expecting some equally fantastic images and color ;)

        Reply
      • RW Boyer
        June 15, 2013

        Rebecca,

        Just a couple of notes here re: Fuji X-Trans sensor and various cameras… specifically X-E1/pro1/100s, Nikon D700/800/600, Fuji 400H/portra old/new/vision III based films etc etc etc…

        I am sort of out of the commercial business for a while now but consult with a bunch of photogs on digital media. I have owned or own all of the cameras I just listed and have shot a ton of images on them as well as various digital backs from 2004 thru current models.

        First off I like your work and tend to gravitate towards subtle looks as I would imagine most of the people reading your site would. I hate that base image look (read contact sheet) have now been pushed out to just about everyone taking pictures – honestly I was/am more than glad to pay someone to “post-process” images and think that pro-lab color correct/density correction/scanning at $20/roll is a bargain.

        All that background is so that you take the following notes knowing that I am a curmudgeon – I hate post processing – love shooting and ultimately probably have a large overlap with you on the things I love about photography…

        1. X-Trans Dynamic Range compared to D700 – D700 wins by a considerable margin. D600/800 are in another universe and X-trans is not even in the same league. Part of the reason that you think you see a bigger dynamic range than Nikon is that across the entire ISO range the D700/600/800 are 2/3 stop up to 1 1/3 stop (I am being kind here) faster in real ISO speed than every X-trans camera I have owned or currently own. In other words you NEED almost a stop at lower ISO’s and more than a stop more exposre at higher ISO’s on the Fuji than you do on the Nikon. I am not talkng about differnces in metering I am talking about image density at any giving ISO/shutter/aperture between the cameras. The Fuji’s are pretty decent as far as APS-C cameras go but not stellar relative to that class of camera and they do not compare to the latest greatest sony based Nikon FX sensors.

        2. Color – specifically X-trans v. anything else via RAW in LR4/ACR7. Assuming you are using the default Adobe profiles the biggest difference in color is probably the Auto WB between cameras. There are extremely small hue differences between any based on measuring color targets. JPEG=completely different story and with a few tweaks I prefer the Fuji OOC jpegs to just about anything else out there in terms of color rendition.

        Just my 2¢…

        RB

        Ps. I rather shoot film any day of the week but the new Nikon DSLR’s are actually pretty decent cameras – too bad all of them are the size of a truck. Heck even my X100S is a hair bigger than my OM1/2′s and about the same as my FM/FE…

        Reply
        • Johnny
          June 15, 2013

          The Fuji X-Pro1 outperforms the Nikon D800 (which is rated with 14,4 EV) in highlight detail. DR200 on the X-Pro1 offers 4.7 stops of highlight range, and DR400 goes another stop beyond this. That is better than any other digital camera at the moment.

          Reply
          • RW Boyer
            June 19, 2013

            Johnny,

            You are kidding right – DR “mode” = underexpose and boost in software while “retaining highlights” – Nikon has this as well if you want to turn it on. It’s find for quick and dirty but if you take a look at the RAW file produced when shooting the same scene in JPEG+RAW you will find the exact same thing as if you just underexposed in the first place.

            You can achieve the exact same and most likely far “better” results just using the RAW file and post work that is fine-tuned for the scene – the same old same old that every digital shooter has been doing for a decade.

            “DR mode” is not magic and the current crop of full frame sensors wipe the floor with the X-TRANS in terms of native dynamic range in the RAW file. I am not against the fuji’s I own 3 of them – I also own a D600, shoot with a D800 regularly as well as multiple current medium format backs.

            DR mode – funny.

            RB

            Reply
            • Johnny
              June 20, 2013

              I’m glad you had so much fun with my reply. :)

              I think it’s great that you’re so happy with your Nikon gear. I wasn’t, that’s why I sold all of mine.

              It’s pointless to debate technical facts that have already been compared and discussed many times before or argue over personal preference.

              I was talking about highlight detail (not only dynamic range) under “normal” shooting conditions: Turn the camera on, take a picture, be done. Without having to tweak around in post work.

              If you underexpose in camera and bump the exposure later, you will mess up your colors. Skin tones for example would fall in the wrong zone. This introduces color-shifts and a lot of other annoying problems. It’s a common misconception that exposure doesn’t matter since the invention of RAW files.

              Anyway, I think photography isn’t about comparing horsepower in cars like we did as little boys in school. It’s about what gives you the best results and what doesn’t get in your way creatively. For me, that’s medium format film followed by my X-Pro1 when I shoot digital.

              Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  17. Tim Parkin
    April 2, 2013

    The main difference in my eyes was the way it handles the highlights – the film smoothly flows from shadow to bright highlight whereas digital has ‘halo’s and completely blown out areas (the road markings and plain sea with horizon show these best). But also there is something about the colours that I like, especially in skies where digital goes ‘rabid’ blue. Still – good showing by the X-Pro

    Reply
  18. Robin Breyl
    April 2, 2013

    Hi Rebecca,

    Great comparison! Thank you!

    I couldn’t find info about the XE-1 files. You shot jpegs in Astia simulation?

    Cheers,
    Robin

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      April 2, 2013

      Hi Robin, thanks! I shot all of these images in RAW.

      Reply
  19. Stephen McCullough
    April 2, 2013

    Well that’s a fascinating comparison. I really appreciate you taking the time.

    I might, and emphasize might, prefer the film, but it would not take much work in LR to change a few things in the digital. More importantly though, I am really impressed with what the Fuji digital cameras (and lenses) can deliver even in jpeg.

    I look forward to the presets.

    Thanks agin.

    P.S. Some nice shots too…

    Reply
  20. Tom
    April 3, 2013

    Very interesting comparison and wonderful shots! The color rendition of the Fuji X-E1 looks fantastic and similar to the film. Glad to read (in a comment above) that the color palette of the X100s should be identical with the X-E1 and X-Pro1. From what I see I am liking the X-Trans sensor more and more.

    Reply
  21. Andrew Houghton
    April 3, 2013

    The difference I would say is common with all none full frame sensors. Depth of field or the lack of, the lack of it! One thing you can do with a full frame camera and a Medium or large format camera that you just can’t do without a sub f1.0 lens on a piddling sensor is blur the background. Look on the net and Professionals pictures stand out a mile. The subject is sharp, everything else blurred! Nuff said! Such a shame the marketing hype and ultra-sharp images are enough to wow innocent enthusiasts.

    Reply
  22. DrTebi
    April 3, 2013

    Very interesting comparison.

    There is one thing I wonder about though. How was the film scanned? From my experience, different scanners produce vastly different results, and so does different scanner software.

    I have recently discovered ColorPerfect, which is somewhat a raw-processor for digitally scanned images. It requires a “raw scan” and then, as a filter in Photoshop, allows to apply a film profile to the raw conversion. These profiles are carefully calculated from film data.

    Nevertheless, the scans you posted look very nice and I am positively surprised that Fuji managed to get their digital files to produce such nice color renditions.

    Reply
    • Johnny
      April 4, 2013

      The film was developed and scanned by Conns Photo Lab in Dublin (with no corrections). The scanner used is a Fuji Frontier SP3000.

      Reply
  23. Rebecca Lily | Lightroom Presets, ACR Presets and Photoshop ... | Lightroom Tools | Scoop.it
    April 4, 2013

    [...] After trading in my Nikon DSLR for a Fuji X-E1, I thought it would be interesting to compare Fuji's film and digital color palettes side by side. One of the most important reasons I made the decision for the X-E1 was for [...]

    Reply
  24. Gert Huygaerts
    April 5, 2013

    This is a pretty amazing comparison! Never thought the XE-1 would match my beloved PRO400H this close!

    Now I’m tempted even more for this small baby! :-)

    Reply
  25. carlos rubin
    April 9, 2013

    Great photography and excellent comparison…thanks :)

    Reply
  26. Johnny Patience » Hasselblad 503CW
    April 17, 2013

    [...] everything in one little and very portable system that I was looking for: Beautiful, aesthetic and authentic film colors and, even more importantly, more dynamic range than I had ever seen in any other [...]

    Reply
  27. Richard Kazn
    July 28, 2013

    Hi Rebbeca a piece of advise I like my GH2 as it shoots amazing video ans stills but like you mention in you article its so true the Fuji XE1 color’s are something v different.
    I am caught up between going for a Fuji XE1 or GH3 as I have many lenses in Micro4/3 like 45mm 1.8, 9-18 mm Olympus, 12-60mm Olympus, Nikon 35, 85mm 1.8 with Novoflex adaptor for my Micro4/3 and of course the Kit lens 14-140mm.
    So pls advise

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      July 31, 2013

      Hi Richard,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I think you will have to weigh what is most important to you – lenses, or colors.

      I also shot a variety of lenses with my Nikon, and when I switched to the Fuji I pared down to shooting only one lens, the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4. But as I prefer to shoot primes anyway and tended to stick to one “favorite” lens, this was an easy decision. The colors and dynamic range of the X-E1 were the most important thing to me. In retrospect, I’m so happy that I went for the Fuji.

      I am not sure if there are adaptors available for the X-E1 for the lenses you own, but it might be worth looking into.

      Best of luck with your decision!

      Reply
      • Richard Kazn
        July 31, 2013

        Thanks Rebecca for your advise, I agree with you about the color’s!
        Your Tutorial has been very insightful and brought a very different take on the direction I was going, thanks once again please keep on giving beautiful insights like this.

        Reply
  28. Sandra M.
    August 3, 2013

    Wow Rebecca,

    I was so thrilled to have found your post. I am slowly replacing my Nikon gear with Fuji X-E1. Have completely fallen in love with Fuji. I am also starting to practice film and that is how I found your post as I want to try out the Fuji 400h. Your pictures are just beautiful! Love the comparisons. Do you shoot film and digital, or more one than the other?

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      August 11, 2013

      Hi Sandra,

      Thank you very much for your comment and your kind feedback! It’s wonderful to come across so many people like myself who have switched over to Fuji and love the results!

      I do shoot film and digital both equally, and I love both! My favorite film is Fuji Pro 400H. I shoot medium format on a Contax 645 and also 35mm on a Contax Aria, Olympus 35-SP rangefinder, and Leica C1. All of my digital work is on the Fuji X-E1.

      Reply
  29. Lucie Zeka
    August 7, 2013

    another great post Rebecca

    Reply
  30. Jörg
    August 9, 2013

    Rebecca,
    this is the best post I read about this topic. I’m free to choose my favorite way to get such beautiful and aestethic colors as you showed in your pictures. On the one hand is the digital way with postprocessing, on the other hand the “film” way. For me personally is analog photography the more straight and convenient way: just make your pictures, let the film and the lab do the rest and get wonderful tonality without spending time with postprocessing. Thats it…
    Unfortunately this is the more expensive way; thats the reason why I use my digital gear sometimes.
    I’m interested looking forward to read further posts.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      August 11, 2013

      Hi Jörg,

      Thank you very much for your comment. I think both film and digital are wonderful mediums, each with their own strengths, and I love using both simultaneously. For me, using the Fuji digital camera helps me come closest to these beautiful color tones and the overall “feel” that I love about film.

      You’re right, if you hand your film images to a good pro lab it is more convenient and efficient; however as you pointed out, you have the expense involved. Part of my quest since shooting with my X-E1 has been to craft presets for Lightroom that will achieve a comparable result for digital to a pro lab film scan. For me this has evened the playing field quite a bit in terms of editing time for a session, as the presets are a one-click application.

      Still, for me these products are not necessarily a film replacement, but more of a complement to my film work.

      Reply
  31. J. Kim Peppard
    August 11, 2013

    Hi Rebecca, I loved your article on Film vs. Digital. I also shoot film and digital but I respond more deeply to the organic feel and depth of film. I wanted you to know how much I have enjoyed you and your husband’s articles and photography. Also, I remembered a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson I thought you might like. “Do the thing and you will have the power.” Thank you for the inspiration. J. Kim Peppard

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      August 11, 2013

      Hi J.,

      Thank you so much for the kind words and the inspirational quote. I love film as well, especially medium format – for me there is something so special about the results from my Contax!

      I’m very happy that you enjoy our posts. I had a look at your website, you do wonderful work as well!

      Reply
  32. J. Kim Peppard
    August 11, 2013

    Hi Rebecca, I wanted to also mention that I recently purchased a Fuji X-E1 and I am very impressed with the results so far. The portrait and wedding shots have been very well received with beautiful skin tones. Also, my favorite film for portrait photography is Fuji Pro 400H. I look forward to your future posts. Take care, Kim

    Reply
  33. The Rebecca Lily Pro Set II Review for Fuji X-Trans Sensor | MirrorLessons - The Best Mirrorless Camera Reviews 2013
    September 14, 2013

    […] is also a very interesting comparison on Rebecca’s blog that directly pits samples from the Fujifilm X-E1 against similar samples […]

    Reply
  34. stefan0n
    January 13, 2014

    Hi Rebecca!
    I enjoyed very much reading all here, and comparing the nice photos too, but I think that your comparison ‘Fuji Film vs Digital’ is flawed at the base.
    As you describe it, you’ve done a comparison between Adobe Lightroom converted RAF files against service scanned Fuji film, so you’re comparing Adobe default raw converter interpretation of Fuji raw files, against what are the analog 400H, and this is a lot different from comparison of the digital Fuji photo rendering: as you sure know the jpg from the camera are something that is still apart from what you can get using Adobe Lightroom also in its last version. So it will be nice a comparison made between real Fuji rendering (from out of the camera jpg) and Fuji film.
    Cheers.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lily
      January 14, 2014

      Thank you very much for your comment.

      That’s a valid point, but that wasn’t the purpose of this blog post. In order to compare the color palette of Fuji’s digital files with their analog product, Fujifilm Pro 400H, I needed to make a few adjustments to the RAW file to be able to provide a base for comparing the colors. Highlights, blacks, shadows etc. look very different with film and have a huge influence on the perception of color. While I didn’t touch the color rendition, I did adjust the RAW file to make the digital result more comparable with the film result in terms of the contrast level and highlight/shadow details.

      The Fuji RAF files from Lightroom are very comparable with the actual color palette of Fuji film, with a few minor tweaks, much more than Fuji’s film emulation modes. What I wanted to show here was that using the Fuji RAW file in Lightroom or ACR you can achieve a result in terms of the colors that is very similar to the film. In my view, it’s impossible for film to be scientifically emulated, but you can reproduce a mood or a feel. This is the purpose of many of my products – to provide a color palette and a look that gives the more organic feel of film, not to provide a film replacement.

      Reply
  35. Daniel
    February 24, 2014

    Quite cool comparison, thanks!

    Reply

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