How film image quality compares to my Fujifilm X100S

Rollei 35 and Fujifilm X100S

Rollei 35 and Fujifilm X100S

I’m having fun playing with the Rollei 35, a 45-year-old film camera that I bought recently for $75. To my delight, the darn thing actually works and works quite well too. It’s a total throwback, technology wise, and very different from shooting digital. But how does its image quality compare to modern digital cameras? Well, I just happened to have my Fujifilm X100S with me as I shot the Rollei.

There’s a lot of things I can compare but I’m concentrating on image quality, particularly the colors. Under almost every metric, the X100S is going to be easier and more versatile. Its computer controlled metering, focusing and feedback allows me to shoot most any scene with ease. And as you may know, the X100S is my most used camera since March. But recently, I’ve realized that film has some very nice color properties. So how does film and the X100S compare?

Rollei 35 with Kodak Ektar 100 - Original

Rollei 35 with Kodak Ektar 100 – Original

Fujifilm X100S with PRO Neg.Hi Setting - Original

Fujifilm X100S with PRO Neg.Hi Setting – Original

I shot both cameras from the same place back to back. Framing is slightly different since the Fuji is a 35mm equivalent and the Rollei is 40mm. I shot the Fuji with the PRO Neg.Hi film simulation in JPEG and I shot the Rollei with Kodak Ektar 100 film. What you see above are un-tweaked images, either directly from the camera or directly from the film scan.

Rollei 35 with Kodak Ektar 100 - Processed

Rollei 35 with Kodak Ektar 100 – Processed

Fujifilm X100S with PRO Neg.Hi Setting - Original

Fujifilm X100S with PRO Neg.Hi Setting – Processed

Now let’s look at the same images after I post process them in Aperture 3. I’m generally increasing saturation and doing simple tweaks such as changing exposure and other settings to get similar colors. What I notice most is the rich wood tones on the bridge. As I increase the saturation on digital, the wood still doesn’t quite match the richness of film, however, the saturation boost has adverse affects on the rest of the image. Notice that the buildings in the background take on a pinkish-yellowish color. I particularly dislike the yellowish-green color that I get on the distant building on the very right.

The Ektar film image does not “ugly out” like the Fuji. The buildings maintain their white color and still has the rich wood tones. Now I freely admit that I might not have the post-processing chops to properly do the sophisticated adjustments. Maybe, if I used another program or a film simulation plug-in, I’ll get better results. But with that said, it goes to show even with simple processing, how easy it is to get good colors with film.

For sharpness and low noise digital wins, hands down. Ektar 100 is a low grain film but still does not match modern digital cameras. But the digital image looks flat to me. In terms of the very subjective feel of the image, I prefer the film version. It seems to have a non-linear quality with more depth and richness. I’m not sure how much of the look is due to the old Carl Zeiss lens on the Rollei. As I experiment more with film on different cameras, I hope to find out.

Ultimately though, I’m not saying film is better. Just different. It’s giving me an effect that I find intriguing. In some ways, It’s like HDR. Even with my comparably light HDR touch, it produces a particular kind of look through increased dynamic range, details and color. I use it as a way to create a different kind of photograph and it works well for certain subjects. Perhaps that will be the case with film. Time will tell.


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16 thoughts on “How film image quality compares to my Fujifilm X100S

  1. You are discovering for yourself all the reasons that many people who started shooting on film miss the results. Not necessarily the work and expense of it, but film has some amazing qualities. There ARE films even finer grain (ASA 50 to 80) from Ilford, Agfa … maybe even Kodak, assuming they still manufacture them. But slower film means longer exposures. And there ARE much better film cameras. My old rollei with the planar lens was kind of unbelievably wonderful, matched only by my Leica. Nothing has ever come up to those two. I miss the results, but I don’t miss the expense and extra work. Glad you are having fun rediscovering America 😉

    1. It is fun and ironic that I’m discovering it as I’ve grown older. As I mentioned in a previous post, I never shot film seriously when I was young. Could it be a passing fancy or the start of something more serious? Hard to tell at this point.

  2. It’s interesting to see you applying your digital workflow to your scanned film images. I like the look of Ektar here, although I think I favor the “natural” film look over the increase saturation. The Pro-Neg Hi film simulation on the X100S is an interesting, if not curious choice. I’d think that Provia or maybe Astia would be more comparable in color saturation to Ektar but I don’t know. Pro-Neg Hi has a more desaturated look mean to favor skin tones and a contrast curve that dips fairly deep into shadows (it’s my favorite film simulation BTW). I’m not too surprised that it gets a little funky when saturation is pushed. The X100S exposure looks a little under the film exposure and I’m wondering about the WB. Ektar is a daylight film so maybe setting the X100S to a manual daylight WB might get more comparable results?

    1. Shooting film for me is not to reduce the digital workflow per say, it’s a way to get a different effect and different colors. As you know, I like saturated colors so even Ekatr 100 is not saturated enough.

      There is certainly a different look with the film simulations but they all seem to get funky when the saturation is pushed but I fully admit that I might be trying to push them too hard.

  3. I think you used the wrong setting on the x100. I find the Pro Neg Hi has muted color, with smooth transitions and higher contrast that help make shooting in trouble lighting a touch easier while giving good skin tones. It would be much more fair to shoot raw, or even the standard (provia) setting if you wanted to compare unprocessed. I would say that the Astia would compare favorably to the Ektar you are shooting. Either way, a very interesting comparison. Sounds like great fun.

  4. Michael and David, thanks for the feedback. Perhaps more experimentation with different Fuji film simulations would be interesting and comparing it to different films. I’ve used a few different film simulations on the Fuji but not in any empirical way.

  5. I don’t think you can compare or contrast the final images in a meaningful way. The Rollei original looks like the best of the bunch to me, but even that is subject to some potential for change as part of the scanning process and the opinion expressed represents only my taste. Using film simulation filters tosses the Fuji images up in the air, letting them land where they may. It looks like an interesting exercise in photographic technique, though. More discipline needed to get it right in-camera, less latitude for salvaging the shot when film is the recording medium. Might this curiosity lead to experiments with larger film formats? There’s a whole world of gear out there, languishing at fire sale prices.

    1. Michael, possibly only meaningful in a personal way, creating an image that I like, but surely it is not a well controlled experiment and not a big enough sample size.

      Yes, there are a lot of inexpensive film gear out there so there are interesting possibilities. All this experimentation in the pursuit of curiosity and creating something different (for me). I hope it is moderately interesting for the audience.

  6. Ektar 100 was one of my favourite films back in the day. I also shot Ektar 25 though with that film a tripod was just about mandatory. Anyway, very fine film with fine grain and your shots did a good job reminding me why I liked it so much. However, like some of the others pointed out, I am not sure that the comparison was totally fair on the Fuji. Anyway, nice post Andy. I’ve been thinking about shooting film again and after seeing this I might just have to start looking for a film camera.

  7. Interesting post! You might want to have a look at another wonderful film vs Fuji comparison over at johnnypatience.com and rebeccalily.com. Both photographers shoot film and have put the Fuji Xpro1 and XE1 through it’s paces. Its amazing to note how the digital Fujis colour palette look very similar to the Fuji branded film colour palette. I think that it might be easier to emulate the look of Fuji film stock rather than Kodak film with a Fuji camera 🙂

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