Film Review: Fujifilm Sensia 200

Where to start?

Fujifilm’s description of their Sensia E6 film goes like this:

FUJICHROME Sensia 200 [RM] is a high-image-quality, daylight ISO 200 color reversal film which features extremely fine grain and sharpness, as well as faithful and brilliant color reproduction and rich tones ranging from the brightest highlights to the deepest shadows. These qualities make this film an excellent choice not only for normal outdoor photography but also for a wide variety of indoor scenes and situations requiring high shutter speeds.

Which leads you to believe that every shot you take is going to look like it’s straight from the pages of National Geographic circa 1990, regardless of the subject matter or lighting conditions (I’m looking at you, street photographers who only take pictures of gas stations, parked cars, and abandoned buildings).

So when I found a few rolls of (expired) Sensia slide film, I was hyped to take some shots around the wildlife refuge where I worked at the time. Dreaming of infinitely scalable photos of golden beach tones and stunning, charismatic portraits of noble wildlife, I worked my way through a few rolls, stocked up on the requisite chemicals, and went to work.

And here’s what I found:

Okay, so they aren’t all that disastrous. These ones turned out pretty well.

It’s worth noting that these are some of the best images I recovered from these rolls of Sensia, and only after some careful post-development massaging in Lightroom. Here’s what a less-processed (but still discernible) shot looks like:

And then we get all the way to the worst of the worst. I’m used to film strips coming out poorly, but this was an adventure in futility, low contrast, and noise. While I’ll give it the fine grain, these shots hardly match the “sharpness, as well as faithful and brilliant color reproduction and rich tones ranging from the brightest highlights to the deepest shadows” Fujifilm boasts in its technical data sheet.

Still, let’s look at the why this might have happened.

One of the better shots on this emulsion.

Poor Exposure

Slide film is a little tougher to meter correctly than comparable negative films. For example, most color negative film can be underexposed by one full stop and overexposed by as much as three full stops without major issues. (If you’ve ever wondered, the DX codes on the film canister actually tell you the film’s exposure latitude; check this out to learn how to read those codes for yourself.) Slide film’s latitude is much lower, with a latitude of +/- 1/2 stop, so exposure calculation errors can prove fatal to good shots. Expired slide film probably amplifies those challenges, and although it’s billed as providing rich tones, highlights to shadows, the dynamic range required for photos of birds against the sky might have been more than this film could take.

Poor Development

Some photos on this strip have pretty clear indicators of arreste… challenged development. The low contrast, rainbow wash, mysterious flecks, and vertical bars most likely appear to be artifacts of bad development techniques. Although it only has one additional chemical bath step, E6 processing requires stricter temperature controls than the relatively lax C41 development process, and poor quality tap water and incomplete washes might have amplified any development troubles. Furthermore, although I’ve been developing negatives for years, this was my first time working with the E6 process and this unfamiliarity likely contributed to the errors seen here.

Originally shot in color color, this landscape was so red-shifted that it was better to go black and white.

Poor Scanning

Digitization could be bad! These were scanned with the scanner’s built-in software rather than interfacing with it using Vuescan; so maybe it’s worth another shot and seeing if a software change can bring some more detail back. I don’t think it’ll be enough to matter, though.

Poor Film

I’m just saying: when you buy film from someone on eBay, you never know where it’s been. Without knowing the history of the film, I can’t confirm or deny this, and I don’t want to blame the equipment. But it’s possible – future slide film experiments might hold clues.

The takeaway? Maybe this film isn’t that bad. Maybe it isn’t that good. I think something went wrong, because I can’t believe that all shots with this film are so unpredictable and finicky. The only way to know for sure is to do more testing – so 4 years after shooting this batch, I’m going to give slide film another shot and see how it goes in round 2.

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