Fuji Velvia 100 vs. Kodak Ektar 100: Round 2

In my last post on this topic, I compared the performance of Fuji Velvia 50 to Kodak Ektar 100. Though wildly popular among landscape photographers, Velvia 50 is a notoriously unforgiving film. It is not well suited for long exposures. For that reason, I occasionally use Fuji Velvia 100.

Many years ago, Fuji thought it was a good idea to discontinue Velvia 50. They replaced it with Velvia 100, which created quite the stir. Why discontinue something that is so loved? Fuji touted Velvia 100’s significantly improved reciprocity failure characteristics. While very true that Velvia 100 does better with long exposures, it often suffers from a strong purple cast during sunrise/sunset conditions — and especially while using graduated neutral density filters.

Needless to say, Fuji made the right decision, and brought back Velvia 50.

During my annual pilgrimage to Zion National Park last November, my goal was to photograph Subway with my 8×10 camera. This scene is best photographed in the late afternoon when a dominant glow appears against the rear wall of this narrow canyon.

Otherworldly: Kodak Ektar 100 8x10 | Several Minutes @ f/45

The above photo was taken at f/45 using a polarizer in a very dark canyon. To capture a scene like this on large format, you will need a very long exposure.

Velvia 100 does quite well with the long exposures, but check out what happens to the color under these conditions.

Not only is the color very blue/purple, but the high contrast scene leads to issues with the highlights and shadows. In all fairness, this is a direct scan from my Epson V700 flatbed. Unlike a drumscan, my flatbed cannot pull complete tonality from the original film. When viewed on my light table, there is adequate tonality in the highlights, but the shadows are definitely lost.

I exposed this scene so the brightest highlights registered just over +2 on my spotmeter. The deepest shadows fell in the -3 to -4 zone — The zone of no return on slide film. There’s nothing wrong with having rich dark tone in a photo, but this simply wasn’t the look I was going for.

So why did I bother to bring Velvia 100 if I knew the color would be so bad? Simple, I knew exactly what to expect from it, and I could always tweak the color back to reality if possible. Velvia 50 would give better color, but my exposure would be well outside the range of acceptable exposure times.

Unlike most color print films that benefit from a bit of overexposure, Kodak Ektar 100 must be treated more like a slide film. In my round one comparison, I found that Ektar provided the best exposure when rated at the standard ISO while shooting a relatively low contrast scene. I bracketed my exposures, but decided the base ISO was best. As I exposed brighter, I began to lose my highlights.

Most manufactures provide a reciprocity failure correction table. Put simply, if your exposure time exceeds a certain limit, you need to increase the exposure. Film does not react to long exposures on a linear scale. Velvia 50 is among the worst for reciprocity failure. At 4 seconds, you need to start adding extra time. By the time you reach a minute, you must double your exposure. If you fail to do this, you will end up with an underexposed photo.

Here’s the problem. Kodak does not publish any reciprocity failure statistics for Ektar. They simply tell the end user to experiment and see what works best. That’s a bit difficult on 8×10. At $20 a shot, simply bracketing an exposure means $60. Yikes!

After shooting a sheet of Velvia 100, I removed the film holder, and replaced it with one loaded with Ektar 100. I was using an unproven (to me) film in a high contrast, long exposure situation. I didn’t even have published reciprocity failure numbers for this film, so I went with my instinct.

I took a total of two frames. My plan was to expose one at +1, and a second at +2. The first shot went just as planned; I simply doubled my exposure. During the second shot, I chickened out and cut the exposure short. I gave it +1.5 stops rather than +2. I’m not sure why I decided to cut it short — but it seemed to make sense at the time.

Laid side by side on a light table, there is only a subtle difference. Upon close examination, I prefer the exposure with +1.5 compensation. The highlights are similar for each, but I gain just a hair more shadow detail on the +1.5 version.  Here’s what it looks like when scanned as a positive. Check out the detail on the right side.  Though in deep shadow, there is a lot of information to work with.

If we think back to the original exposure, the brightest highlights were metered around +2.3. By adding +1.5 stops of exposure, they would now be metered at +3.8. Had reciprocity failure not been a factor, I would certainly have severe issues with the highlights. After all, Ektar 100 is a film that must be treated more like a slide film.

Though I am ultimately unsure of the exact reciprocity failure numbers for Kodak Ektar 100, I am now confident in giving at least an extra stop of time for long exposures. I don’t recall the exact exposure for this scene, but I know it was measured in minutes — perhaps 2 or 3.

This photo of Subway represents my first gallery grade image on Kodak Ektar.  With this shot, Ektar has earned a spot in my regular rotation of films. I look forward to using it on my next trip, along with Kodak’s Portra 160.

17 Responses to “Fuji Velvia 100 vs. Kodak Ektar 100: Round 2”

  1. Myxine Says:

    Hey Ben,
    Thanks for this article. I love your technical posts, i always learn so much…
    This is of special interest to me cause i just sent my first rolls of Ektar for processing and i’m waiting for the confirnation that i messed em up 🙂 (technical issues with the Fuji pano)
    Warning: newbie question:
    I understand that you guesstimated a 1 stop 1.5 stop overexposure in your 2 shots for reciprocity failure. Correct? But i don’t get the “ektar should be treated as slide”. Do you mean that you used the same base exposition on the velvia and ektar shot? Exposed for +2 for the highlights? My understanding was that negative color film was best used exposed for the shadows… Sure, my film is definitely messed up ah ah!

    Btw: the Subway shot is indeed otherwordly. This and some of your badwater shots are the reason why i got to try film too.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      In the darkroom, the mantra was just as you suggest, expose for the shadows, and print for the highlights. This guarantees that the negative will have nice density, and won’t be too thin. Ektar seems to be a bit more finicky because it has higher contrast than most color negative film. If we are to overexpose Ektar, the negative will get too thick, and you will blow your highlights in the final print.

      By exposing Ektar like a slide film, this means that we are giving it a proper exposure, not intentionally overexposing to ensure a thick negative. We end up with far more tonality than slide film can offer, but care must be taken to ensure an accurate exposure.

      The mere fact that I exposed Ektar (which prefers a proper exposure) at +1.5 and the tones are still good, means that much of that +1.5 exposure was swallowed by reciprocity failure. I don’t know the true numbers, but I now know that a long exposure (measured in minutes) will easily require an extra stop of exposure to avoid underexposure.

  2. Myxine Says:

    Thanks. Gotta say that film exposure is something that makes me scratch my head… I’m actually wondering were to put the median exposure, the average grey were i set up the exposure on a tricky situation (and believe me, i’m easy to trick).
    Let’s say you put the highlights at +2. Slide film has something like 5 stops tonal range (i may be wrong here), does this mean that everything under -3 stops will be too dark to retain detail, but until then it’s fine? And on the same exposure, a negative film, more tolerant, would catch something til -4?
    It sounds dumb but i’m wondering here if film’s tonal range has an “optimal” exposure and a specific range (say for instance median, -2 dark +3 bright, or -3 dark +2 bright, or…)

    On a side note, your thinking on Ektar reciprocity failure matches my findings on the subject. In a 1 – 2 minutes area, add 1 / 1,5 stops.

    Arnaud

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I don’t often start by finding a medium gray. I simply find the brightest part I would like to maintain detail in, and the darkest part I would like to maintain detail in, then spot meter both areas and average the reading.

      You are right on with your understanding of slide vs. print film, and the fact that slide film shadows cut out as the number drops below -2. Likewise, the highlights become questionable as you rise above +2.

      With print film, the scale is larger. Therefore, if you take a photo with print film, you will have a greater range of highlights and shadows. I don’t know exactly where the high and low marks are with Ektar, but I believe the marketing material states that it has 9 stops of latitude.

      On the other end of the spectrum is black and white film. There, the useful range of tones extends well beyond even what color negative film can achieve.

      • Myxine Says:

        Well, to be honest, i learned how to meter with your video on spot metering, so i guess i use the same kind of “simplified” zone system. Thanks for your reply, i was already balding and i’d much better like spending money on film than on a wig.
        I guess that, in a way, this kind of question must be answered by trial and error.
        Your Ektar negative seems to demonstrate this “expanding tonal range” , showing as it does more details in the dark areas with the same exposure-to-the-right as the Velvia one.

        Arnaud

  3. Rick Says:

    Ben,

    so is that first picture taken with Ektar, or with Velvia 50, or with Velvia 100 and adjusted along the lines you suggest can be done?

    Thanks,

    Rick

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Thanks for bringing that up Rick. I changed the description of the first image to show that it is the Ektar shot. In reality, I have a lot more shadow tone than what’s shown (check out the negative), but negative film is difficult to scan on my flatbed with great accuracy. That’s where a drum scan will come into play.

  4. Chris Says:

    Hi Ben,

    Interesting post as I also have made a point online about Velvia100. Every one of my past transparencies hav had a magenta colour cast. However they were shot well after sunrise. Ive never used the film since, I think its rubbish.

    Velvia50 has some wonderful colour, but the contrast is always an issue. As most of my images are made an sunrise, dynamic range is always an issue, and most of the time I just have to let it go, even with ND grads. The only other alternative for me is Provia100. Much better dynamic range, less contrast, BUT, it lacks the punch of Velvia, even with an 81B or C.

    So its compromises all round really. However, I will give Ektar a go as Ive often thought about it. But its difficult to get hold of in the UK for 4×5 sheet. Take a look at the new Portra400 as well. This is an amazing negative film with great DR and low grain. It would certainly help with the reciprocity issue, and its very good for scanning, even on the Epson (with a good profile target).

    On one last point, its funny how the different variations of highlight control varies across photographers. I find I cannot give my scenes anymore than +1 or +1 1/3 for highlights as they burn out. Most of the time Ill give it just +1. Most people think Velvia has a 4 stop range, but I tend to disagree. Ive found the range to be about 3 1/3 stops only. As you say its very unforgiving and sometimes not helpful, but thats Velvia for you! I think its good to experiment with different films. The world looks great even out of Velva vision!

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Just below this post, Charles commented about how he had a difficult time with sunrise/sunset shots on Ektar — which makes sense because the scanner had a hard time with warm tones of sunrise/sunset on the negative film — it was essentially neutralized.

      I really haven’t tried it for these situations, but I feel there is a lot of possibility if there is a good way to scan it without losing all the wonderful color.

      Portra 400 certainly looks appealing. It would be nice to make some exposures that aren’t measured in minutes… especially in contrasty light. This is where I’m helping the Portra 160 I already own will do well on my upcoming trip to Zion — but I certainly might try the 400 on future trips once I’ve run out of the 160.

      I tend to expose as far to the right as I can. Even if your highlights are a bit bright on slide film, all you need to do is scan the film, then use the highlight recovery tool in photoshop, and the richness of color will return. I figure that if I pin the highlights all the way to the right, I can then darken it back down in post to get all the tones I need.

  5. Charles Ma Says:

    Thanks for another great article here talking about the differences between slide and negative films. Over the last two years, I have also used more Kodak Ektar film for the situations that i feel is not suitable for slides (at least the Fuji ones). I have been pleasantly surprised many times when using Ektar in the right situations.

    I am wondering if you can talk a bit more about how you would choose appropriate film for different lighting conditions (different contrast level, overall cool light vs warm light, mid day vs. magic hour vs overcast/rainy). I know this decision is more to each person’s taste. However, I would still appreciate your thoughts on this from your own perspective.

    My main films are Velvia 50, Provia 100 and Ektar 100 (35mm and 120) and but i am trying out more films right now (incl new Portra 160). I have been thinking about when to use what for quite a while. I tried Velvia 100 and agree with your comments that it tends to produce such a strong magenta color cast around sunrise/sunset time that render the output unuseable (It seems to have the worst color cast after the sun sets down). That is too bad as it does have a better reciprocity characteristics than Velvia 50.

    I feel that Ektar 100 could be used for high contrast scenes without desirable color cast that I want to keep. I haven’t had much success with Ektar for sunset/sunrise shots. When converting the scanned negative to positive in PS, many times the favorable orange color cast during the magic hour is automatically removed by the software, making it look like shot in a dull grey day. However, I found that it is quite useful for scenes with strong blue light or shadow, which could cause a strong blue cast on Velvia/Provia that could over-power all other colors and is hard to remove.

    Also, any thoughts on Kodak E100vs or E100G, I just bought a few rolls of fresh E100vs and will try it out in the next couple of weeks. My very limited previous experience with some expired E100vs is that it does not seem to have as much blue cast as Velvia/Provia under cool light. It may be because Kodak film is a little warmer than Fuji in general. If that is indeed the case, I may add Kodak slide film to my film stock as well.

    Thanks!

    • Ben Horne Says:

      It sounds like your arsenal of film is very similar to mine. I haven’t tried Ektar/Portra during sunrise/sunset, but I know they do very well with reflected light within slot canyons in Utah/Arizona. That has been the extent of my use with them. I have some very long exposure work I’ll be doing with Ektar/Portra in Zion, and I hope it will do well with some of the extreme contrast.

      I’ve been very happy with Velvia 50 for sunrise/sunset so long as grad filters can be used. The mid-tones are rendered very neutral, without a strong color cast.

      I have a fresh box of 4×5 provia that I am planning to use for some seascape work here along the coast at sunset. Though the color certainly isn’t as vivid as Velvia, I do like how it handles long exposures, and I can always give it the velvia look in post. Provia is also my go-to film for doing long exposure star trail shots. With extreme exposures, it doesn’t pick up a funky color cast like some films can.

      When it comes to slide film, I’ve been so happy with Fuji that I really haven’t given Kodak much of a look. I certainly do enjoy their print film though!

  6. Nicolas Belokurov Says:

    Thanks Ben for the test, as usual great food for thought. Must confess that while I love the colors and the overall tonality I can get with the 4×5 slide film, I’m getting a bit tired of the relatively narrow latitude. The grads do solve a lot of problems but I find myself using my 210mm lens far more often than the wide angle and in compact compositions, the latitude issues can’t sometimes be solved with grads.
    On the other hand I’m having great results with BW film lately. I’ll be posting some tests on our blog but the long exposures really surprised me. For example, a 25 minutes wide angle exposure with no blocked shadows in the foreground and no clipped highlights in the sky (I’m using a +1 compensation past the 10 seconds)… and no grads! Amazing. As a matter of fact, all these factors are slowly turning me into a BW only landscaper 🙂
    I wonder how these new C41 emulsions compare to Tmax in terms of latitude. It’s be great to have a comparable color film.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I definitely know what you mean about blocked up shadows, and very high contrast subjects with slide film. I think I have really adapted my choice of subjects based on the limitations of the film. In some ways, the color neg film is like a breath of fresh air — it allows so much more tonality, and the resulting scans look very 3D.

      I also have had thoughts about shooting some B&W. I’ve had some extensive conversations with other photographers on this topic, and it seems like the conventional wisdom of exposure for the darkroom does not apply to digital. I do like the idea of using color filters to change the tones of certain subjects, and the ability to produce very surreal work that is believable because color casts are not an issue.

      Perhaps shooting color neg film is the best of both worlds — capture the image in color, then covert to B&W via Photoshop. The tonality won’t be quite the same, but it will be very good. It’s certainly food for thought.

  7. Nicolas Belokurov Says:

    Well, now that you mention it Ben, I did quite a few experiments with BW during the last months and now I tend to expose my film just as I expose digital- always to the right. I don’t do conventional optical copies and having really open shadows helps a lot with scanning. And the BW film has an amazing capability of not blowing the highlights away or doing it in a natural, creamy way. I almost always tend to place my zone V in the zone VI, it gives a very flat, easy to scan neg.
    By the way, I’ve seen several conversion from color to BW with the Silver Efex plugin and the results look really nice.
    For my workflow I find it cheaper to shoot BW using BW film, I process the stuff at home, no labs here. Heck, had to learn to process slides too using the Tetenal kit…. Actually, after the first, “amIgoingtodoitrightshock”, it’s almost as fun as shooting 🙂

  8. Greg Campbell Says:

    Nice discussion, folks. I recently bought a 5x 120 pack of Ektar to feed the Bronicasaurus. Coincidentally, ‘first light’ for the film will occur at Zion in a few days.

    Ben’s remarks about blocking highlights have me a little spooked. I use a Canon T-90 in multi-spot mode to meter my medium and large format attempts, and have enjoyed surprising success shooting a variety of E6 recipes as well as a few rolls of NPS 160 I scrounged off Fleabay. I use a place / fall method, metering 2 or occasionally 3 subject areas to get a feel of the scene’s range, and what areas will or won’t hold tonality. The camera averages any spot readings, but you can march them all up or down the exposure scale with the h/s buttons to specifically place a scene item.

    Anyhoo…
    Looking at the data sheet, it seems Ektar reaches higher negative densities than any other color neg film I’ve bothered to look at. At the same time, the dynamic range of linear response seems about the same. I suspect this places demands on the scanner that are similar to mining deep E6 shadows. Ben, please post a ‘Part 3’ of the Ektar saga when/if you have any sheets drum scanned. I bet there’s plenty of highlight detail lurking, just waiting for the right hardware to set it free. (Having never even seen an Ektar neg, maybe I’m completely out to lunch?) In the meantime, I’ll not count on Ektar duplicating the seemingly unlimited highlight shoulder that NPS offers. Too bad I didn’t think to shoot a few rolls of 35mm beforehand, eh? (Doh!)

    Thanks again.

  9. Tim Parkin Says:

    Hi Ben – just a quicky on exposing neg. My experience says that you should expose for the shadows (opposite to neg film) and place the darkest shadow at a certain exposure and let the highlights go where they will. For Ektar, I place my darkest shadows at -2 or even -1 if I want neutral shadows and then try to limit my highlights to about +5 or 6 (but let them go where they will). For most other neg film I place the shadows at -2 or -3 maybe… I only use the new Portra 160 and 400 now and I know I can place the shadows for Portra 400 at -3 to -4 and still get reasonable colour (they will go a little darker but with colour shifts). Portra 160 place from -3 to +6 and Portra 400 from -4 to +8 although I’ve measued non clipping highlights all the way up to +15 🙂 albeit they end up quite noisy and with little tonal separation.

    When I was using my new GX617 for the first time, I used a locking cable release in order to focus on the ground glass and then loaded the film – but I forgot to close the shutter! I had left it wide open for over a minute. I presumed the film would be blown out completely but I could still scan in a discernable image!! The image worked out as over exposed by 14 stops!! 😀

  10. Pere Casals Says:

    First, thanks for this article. I’d mention that to investigate reprocity failures and to “learn a film” there is a cheap way, just experiment with 135mm SLR with spot metering and that film, later it’s necessary to correlate a bit the little metering shift between the SLR and the wooden artifact, this can be done by using a grey card.

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