FUJIFILM continues to lead the digital photography world with its unique and beautiful film simulations that give FUJIFILM X series APS-C interchangeable lens, X series fixed lens, and GFX series medium format shooters an amazing creative tool. While many of today’s digital cameras contain in-camera “picture profiles” that allow you to change the look and feel of your images, FUJIFILM’s film simulations represent the pinnacle of this technology because they are based on nearly a century of analog film color science.
Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp 2021
A Brief History of FUJIFILM Digital Film Simulations
FUJIFILM, born as Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd., in 1934, has a storied reputation as a producer of photographic films—many that are still available for 35mm, medium format, sheet film, and instant cameras.
With the FinePix F700 camera in 2003, FUJIFILM started introducing film simulations into its digital cameras. Six years later, the company started aligning the digital film simulations with its popular film stocks. Unlike the tech behind the “picture profiles/film style/picture modes/photo style modes/etc.” of other digital cameras, FUJIFILM employs a team of photographers and engineers who create the in-camera film simulations using the color science and chemistry of their film stocks—taking the digital process to a level that you cannot practically achieve with other in-camera processing or even advanced post-processing skills. Just like when you try (and fail) to emulate your favorite dish from your favorite restaurant, the cooks in the FUJIFILM kitchen are applying their magic ingredients to the images with the camera’s processor and not sharing the recipe(s)!
Speaking of recipes, the executive chef at FUJIFILM for film simulations was Mr. Susumu Minami, who was part of the team that developed the legendary Velvia film, as well as other color film emulations. Minami-san is known as the father of the first FUJIFILM film simulations, and he later became the research and development manager of the Optical Device and Electronic Imaging Division. The division, now headed by Tetsuro Ashida, creates FUJIFILM digital cameras and Fujinon lenses for all of the company’s optical products. To learn more about Minami-san and his FUJIFILM film simulations, check out the video, Create Forever with Susumu Minami and Tetsuro Ashida.
How to Use Your FUJIFILM Film Simulations
There are several methods to apply the FUJIFILM Film Simulations to your images both in-camera and in post-processing. But it is important to know that the actual film stock/color science-based FUJIFILM simulations are only available using in-camera processing—they cannot be replicated without the camera.
Default for JPEGs: FUJIFILM applies the PROVIA film simulations to its JPEG files by default. If you are shooting JPEG frames with your FUJIFILM camera, you are automatically getting the PROVIA film simulation.
You Choose: FUJIFILM currently has 19 different film simulations (some of its cameras feature more than others) that you can apply to your JPEG images during capture. We will take a closer look at some of the more popular ones later in this article.
The simulation you choose is applied to a JPEG image at capture and stays with the JPEG file when the image is exported from the camera or memory card. The chosen film simulation ingredients are “baked” into the JPEG files. Basic adjustments to these JPEG images can be applied in post-processing, but the film simulations cannot be changed or undone. For instance, if you use an ACROS B&W film simulation in your camera at capture, you cannot revert the B&W ACROS JPEG image to a color photo in post-processing.
Raw + JPEG: If you are capturing raw + JPEG files simultaneously in your FUJIFILM camera, the film simulation is applied only to the JPEG file. The raw FUJIFILM .RAF image will remain unchanged and fully editable in post-processing. If you want to experiment with film simulations, but not commit to one, this is the best way to shoot.
FUJIFILM cameras have a deserved reputation for having some of the best straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) JPEG images in the business, regardless of film simulation, so you may very well end up chucking the raw files and embracing the SOOC JPEG images.
In-Camera Raw Processing: You may add the true FUJIFILM film simulations to your raw images, in the camera, by using the camera’s built-in raw processor. Once you finish processing and adding the simulation, the camera will save a separate JPEG file on your memory card and keep the raw image.
FUJIFILM X RAW Studio: FUJIFILM has its own post-processing software—X RAW Studio—that uniquely lets you plug your camera into your computer and apply the in-camera raw processing and film simulations to raw FUJIFILM .RAF files on your computer’s hard drive. Basically, you are doing the in-camera raw processing I just mentioned but you are doing it on your desktop computer using the tethered camera’s processor. Pretty cool!
Adding Film Simulations in Post-Processing: Post-processing software like Capture 1 and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom allow you to apply FUJIFILM film simulations to your FUJIFILM raw .RAF images during post-processing. However, these are, in reality, simulations of the in-camera film simulations (yes, simulations of simulations) and do not apply the same depth of simulation that gets applied by the camera’s processor, be it in-camera or using the camera with the X RAW Studio software.
Another Film Simulation Tool in the Toolbox
Even if you are shooting only raw images with your FUJIFILM camera, you can overlay a film simulation mode to your previewed image in the electronic viewfinder and/or LCD. You also see the film simulation applied to the previewed JPEG capture. For example, you can shoot full-color raw images, but simulate ACROS B&W film and see a B&W image as you compose your shot in the electronic viewfinder and review the image on the LCD. Some photographers find that viewing and composing their color images in B&W is advantageous for focusing on composition and evaluating the tonality of a scene. Using this tool when shooting raw images, since you aren’t saving the preview JPEG images in the camera, nor exporting them, the simulations exist only in the viewfinder and/or LCD. The raw files are unaffected.
Tinkering with FUJIFILM’s Film Simulations
Customizability is endless. The FUJIFILM cameras allow you to take the baseline FUJIFILM film simulation offerings and then add in your own ingredients by modifying the simulations. This can be done through the camera’s menus or by using the X RAW Studio software with the camera tethered. You can save your new concoction as a custom film simulation and give it a custom name. Here is your chance to name a film (simulation) after yourself, a loved one, your favorite pet, or whatever you wish!
This flexibility and customizability have allowed artists to create and publish the “recipes” that simulate more than 100 different film stocks from all different film brands—including other FUJIFILM stocks. You can find many of these recipes on the Fuji X Weekly website. Fuji X Weekly also has an app that allows you to carry the recipes into the field on your mobile device.
If you get really into the simulations, a Facebook group—FUJIFILM Film Simulations Facebook Group—created by the Fuji Rumors founders, has more than 17,000 users who share new recipes, ideas, images, inspiration, and support for your new film simulation addiction. When the group was announced, the editors shared their thoughts, saying, “Personally, I am at a point where film simulation is one of the reasons I would not leave the Fuji system. I mean, it’s nice to know I come home from a two-week holiday with many images, and that those lovely film simulations will save me lots of editing time because they give me great results out of the box.”
Why Use FUJIFILM Film Simulations?
I spoke to FUJIFILM’s Justin Stailey about how he applies the film simulations to his work. “In the past, photographers often selected a particular film for how it reproduced colors (or a color palette) for a particular client or job. I think the key is to experiment. Because the cameras have the ability to produce JPEGS internally, you can try out different film simulations and see if there is something that you like. If you shoot landscapes, try Velvia; if you photograph people, try ProNeg Standard or High. For a cinematic look, Eterna gives you another option. If you find something you like, it may just inspire the look and feel of your images,” says Stailey.
For me, adding film simulations to JPEG files was never part of my regular digital raw image capture/post-processing workflow, and I struggle with when and where to apply these beautiful simulations. I asked Stailey about this, as well, to see if he had a perspective on how to add the simulations to a workflow. He replied, “In the days of silver photography, a photographer on assignment for a publication like National Geographic was responsible for exposing the film. The film was sent off to the lab, and then would be edited for the story. Today, the photographer is the lab, and controls every part of the process.
“I would recommend going out and shooting raw + JPEG and see what you get. The 85 years of color science that are behind FUJIFILM’s film simulations can offer time savings to today’s photographers, such as a wedding photographer tasked with delivering hundreds of images to his client, or a nature photographer looking to spend more time out in nature, rather than with their nose in a computer, processing raw files.”
Do you have questions about the FUJIFILM film simulations? Let us know below!