film advanced

thoughts & research into film shooting and processing.

Kodak or Fuji? Does it Matter?

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Film is expensive, especially when you buy premium stock. The cost of processing alone is enough to make you think twice before you press your shutter and ‘waste’ a frame, let alone the cost of another roll of Portra or Cinestill. Back at my lab we had a deal to increase the frequency of development: every roll you dropped off for dev and scan was ‘replaced’ with a free roll of the cheapest consumer film available - either Fuji Colour 200 or Kodak Gold 400.

Fuji C200

Fuji C200

It worked. People deved with us religiously because we offered the replacement. And from scanning them, pictures from the free film tended to be more interesting and spontaneous. My co-worker had a theory - because it costs nothing - replacement film was the best film. You were more likely to take pictures with it, rather than save it for special occasion that never came.

Kodak 400 (scanned at much higher res, hence the better quality)

Kodak 400 (scanned at much higher res, hence the better quality)

Many customers had a preference for either the Fuji or the Kodak and I would often ask them why? More often than not, people said that either Kodak/Fuji had better colour than the other, and I was always curious as to how they reached such a conclusion. The conventional wisdom was that Kodak was warmer and Fuji more balanced temperature, and my own experience confirmed this - Kodak tended to look a lot worse under tungsten light than the Fuji, and C200 seemed more versatile to me, and better when overexposed - which was why I preferred it.

Fuji C200

Fuji C200

I have shot a lot of both, but never had the time to properly do a side by side comparison. But temporary unemployment has its many benefits - one being time :) So here you go - Fuji 200 Versus Kodak Gold 400, the cheapest consumer film available, compared side to side.

For the test, we shot these in conditions, more or less ideal for 200-400 speed film (semi overcast daylight) in Daan Park, Taipei. We used a Zeiss Ikon ZM with a 35mm Summicron and Contax T3 on Aperture Priority mode, all at f/2.8, with no adjustment of compensation. Both cameras have very similar meters - and checked out the same settings, (-1 stop faster shutter speed on the Kodak because of the extra sensitivity). While these lenses are not identical, they are very similar in quality and coating, and the closest comparison I could arrange with the limited equipment that I own. But anyway, we are not comparing optical quality in this test; the comparison to be made is in color and the tonal qualities of the film. For our purposes here, close enough is good enough.

All images are raw scans, without any adjustment done to affect color or exposure. Images were scanned on a Noritsu 600 and with only density corrections.

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The Contax (Fuji example) tends to have a much higher depth of field at f2.8 than the Zeiss has (Kodak)

The Contax (Fuji example) tends to have a much higher depth of field at f2.8 than the Zeiss has (Kodak)

Yes, I realise I cut her head off in the Fuji comparison. I’m not yet aquainted to the frame lines on the Contax T3.

Yes, I realise I cut her head off in the Fuji comparison. I’m not yet aquainted to the frame lines on the Contax T3.

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I expected a more vibrant red tonality in the Kodak, but they seem very similar.

I expected a more vibrant red tonality in the Kodak, but they seem very similar.

Slightly warmer tones in the Kodak are more evident in this shot.

Slightly warmer tones in the Kodak are more evident in this shot.

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So… Well , the funny thing is, the difference in colour here is much smaller than I anticipated it to be. I could barely tell them apart when I was mocking up the Photoshop comparisons. Obviously, Kodak has more grain, and is much more contrast in the Fuji shots, which does give them a slightly higher saturation than the Kodak, and less detail in the Fuji’s highlights. But that could simply be a consequence of the Contax lens being more contrast-y than the Leica’s.  There is a slight warmer tone in the Kodak, but only if you look real close.

I personally prefer lower contrast in films, as they offer greater flexibility so in future, having seen this comparison, I would opt for the Kodak. But really, the diffirence is so marginal you can barely tell. Both films have an equally nice look, provided they are shot with good light. 

 Which is kind of ironic because being a lab tech, most people expect you to have a really strong opinion one way or another. So many customers have asked me for my recommendation and I just cited the conventional wisdom or recommended whatever we had more of. 

This test for me kind of confirmed my ambivilance - in the end, film is film. Especially the consumer grade stuff. Just make sure it's been stored right, isn't expired and your pictures will look good, Fuji or Kodak. Just like gear, so much of it is just branding that really doesn't have that much effect on your final image.