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.
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.