Looking back at my Lightroom folders I can see that I started taking photography more seriously in 2013 when I acquired an entry-level DSLR. One of the things I really wasn’t taking to was all those menus and buttons. So, shortly after that – as I was realising I liked the feel of a traditional-style camera – I acquired a Fujifilm X100 and following that trend, I eventually upgraded to a Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and an assortment of Fujifilm lenses.
In 2015 I decided I was enjoying the film-like experience of the Fujifilm cameras so much and that I should give the real thing a try. So, I added an Olympus OM-1 to my armoury. After some annoying faults I eventually switched over to Minolta XD7 and I’ve been a happy bunny ever since, with the digital side gradually taking up fewer and fewer percentage points of my shooting.
The point of all that introduction is this: I’m no expert! Therefore, if this article shouldn’t be considered 100% correct as a technical piece. Please, please don’t shoot me, the point of it all was just to answer a question I had in my head.
The Burning question
As somebody who owns a Fujifilm camera with Acros simulations and also enjoys shooting film, I wondered if those simulations actually look anything like the real thing.
So that’s it, I would make a comparison of Fujifilm Acros simulation on digital vs Fujfilm Acros in a real film camera.
Before we dive in, I want to make clear that this is in no way a film vs digital debate in any way more than to satisfy my own curiosity.
In my opinion, the two mediums are poles apart, certainly in the shooting and processing experience, as well as in a sense of having something to hold in the same way as vinyl records compare to MP3’s.
Choices and methodology
If I was going to do this, I would need to decide the methods I was going to use to get the best comparison I could, all while using hardware I already owned. It was quite fortunate that the Neopantastic Party was launched when it was, as I had a reason to stock up with some Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100. Step one complete.
Film camera and lens choice
The film camera set-up more or less picked itself: my trusty Minolta XD 7, which would be set to aperture priority mode and mated with a Rokkor 50mm f/1.4 lens and Hoya XO (YG) yellow/green filter – I’ll go on to explain filter choices a bit further on below.
Digital camera and lens choice
For the digital camera I chose my Fuji X-Pro2 (firmware 2.01), but which lens? I could have gone with the Fujifilm 35mm f/2 as a straight alternative accounting for the digital camera’s crop factor*. Too easy a choice I thought, what about if I used a Minolta lens to give a better comparison, Minolta vs Minolta right ?
The only 35mm Minolta lens in my arsenal was an f/2.8, so I decided to use that but to take care not to go below f2.8 when shooting the film camera (with it’s f/1.4 lens). The lens was adapted to the X-Pro2 using a K&F Concept MD-FX adapter. These I know are budget adapters, but I have to say they are great value for money and do a great job.
* The X-Pro2’s sensor is smaller than “full-frame” 35mm film, which results in a crop factor of x1.53. This means that the 35mm Minolta lens I decided to use provides the equivalent angle of view of a ~53mm lens on my MD 7.
Metering and ISO
My MD 7 has a centre-weighted mater, so it made sense to use the same on the X-Pro2 in order to provide the most similar metering experience. Combined with a manual focus lens, I was quite nicely mirroring what was happening on the film camera and would hopefully be able to use both cameras in a similar fashion.
ISO selection on the X-Pro2 presented a challenge, as its lowest native ISO is 200. I had to use the electronically fudged ‘low’ ISO setting to get as close to the real ISO 100 of Acros as I could.
As with the XD 7, the X-Pro2 was used in aperture priority mode and all other settings were left on auto/default.
Filters and compensation
Now about that filter choice…a lot of the Fujifilm digital aficionados seem to favour the Acros simulation with the green filter – to be fair, primarily for skin tones – but it does seem to have a wider use as a general filter of choice for the Fujifilm digital cameras, so I decided that was the one I was going to compare.
Unfortunately I didn’t own a Hoya X1 (G) or any other green filter, but I did have an XO (YG) yellow green filter. It was a bit of a compromise I know, but I didn’t really want to incur any extra cost to do this comparison, which originally was to feed my own curiosity, after all.
I also had to decide what kind of exposure compensation to apply on the XD 7. Hoya’s recommendation for the filter is +1 1/3 stops, however given I was using TTL metering in aperture priority mode, I thought I had better at least do some crude tests with filter on and off and see what in-camera meter differences there were.
The results were a little inconsistent but looked on average that the filter required around +2/3 of a stop compensation, so I set the exposure compensation dial on the XD 7 as close to that as I could for the whole of the shoot. Note: the compensation dial has only 1 stop ‘clicks’, but was set as close to +2/3 as possible.
With the cameras, lenses, film and sensor set, I just had to go and take some photos! Fortunately, May saw some nice weather in the UK, and I had two rolls of Acros to shoot for the Neopantastic Party. One went in my Leica R5, as I wanted to see what it looked like with the Summicron, while the other went in the XD 7 for this comparison.
For the comparison I would shoot as near as dammit the same shot twice, once on each camera, I made the decision that while I would choose an appropriate aperture for each shot it would be the same for each camera allowing the aperture priority to choose the shutter speed, while never going below f/2.8.
I first headed down to our local shoreline in Heswall not far from where I live. I say “shoreline”, it’s actually a massive marsh with rivulets of the River Dee running through it. There is a local sailing club and many old boats get left to rot in the marshes and make a great subject for photography. I managed to get very muddy taking these shots despite having my best wellies on, but well worth the effort I think!
The following day I heard about a car show being put on in the Lake District, about 80 miles from where I live, so my son Andrew and I had a little road trip to see the cars and take some pictures – not to mention the opportunity to stuff hot dogs and burgers in our faces. That’s how I finished off the roll of Acros.
Processing, scanning and post-processing
The film was sent to Ag Photolab for processing – highly recommended if you’re looking for somewhere in the UK for film processing – I really struggled with local labs until I found Ag Photolab has a postal service.
So now I had both the digital files and film scans on my computer – Ag Photolab offers a range of quality scans, I chose the medium quality 18MB Noritsu scanner files – what next ?
Do I go for SOOC files (Straight Out Of Camera), with no post processing at all, or do I go the whole hog and adjust everything to taste? Well, given that we are talking about JPEG’s that already have had some degree of jiggery-pokery applied, I didn’t think the SOOC approach was valid.
However I also didn’t want to skew the whole comparison to the point of not being able to draw any sort of conclusion from the study at all. I decided the best way – given the age of the Minolta and the relative crudity of its meter – was to allow for exposure adjustments ONLY within Lightroom, with all other sliders left at zero.
At first, I thought this would only be necessary for the Minolta, but found that in order to get comparable shots I also needed to apply some adjustment to the X-Pro2, probably due to the fact that I was using a 3rd party lens, not perfectly allowed for within the camera’s algorithms etc.
It was an interesting process doing the exposure adjustments, because, guess what, remember that +2/3 of a stop adjustment made to compensate for the Yellow Green filter ? Well I didn’t need it, the exposure adjustment for the XD 7 scans were almost all around -0.6 to -0.7, lesson learned!
For the X-Pro 2 to give files with about the same exposure as the adjusted XD 7 files, I needed to apply in the region of +0.3 – +0.4 of a stop. It was quite difficult trying to balance the exposures between each pair of images perfectly, but I did the best I could.
Well what about the difference in the filters, yellow-green vs green, I think you could see some differences in the red and the greens, particularly the grassy areas, but not too much, I remember a quote but can’t place where it was from, something to the effect of ‘any filter is better than no filter’, and I think this is the case here.
Final images and conclusions
So that’s it. I think the images speak for themselves and have purposely left them to the very end of this article so that you can first understand the process I went through before drawing your own conclusions.
I’m a great believer in beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and that everyone has their own likes and dislikes. So, I’m not going to try and bias this one way or the other. However, my aim was to see how good a job Fujifilm had done in simulating the look of film Acros in a digital file, and I have to say I think they did a pretty good job.
All photos below are shown in pairs, with the Acros film displayed first and the digital simulation second.
Pair 01: Cabin n clouds
Pair 02: Crank Case
Pair 03: Jag Black
Pair 04: Nose of boat
Pair 05: Plain of boats
Pair 06: Porsche
Pair 07: Road boats
If you’ve got this far, many thanks for reading, and I just hope you enjoy comparing the photos!
~ Stig / Steven Starr
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