Velvia or Velvia?

Landscape with X Pro2

I stopped shooting film about 15 years ago because of the ease and convenience of digital. Back then, digital wasn’t anywhere near the quality of film, but a number of manufactures were releasing cameras with some good glass so you could get some decent results. The first digital camera that I bought was a Canon EOS D30 back in 2002. This was a whopping 3 megapixel APS-C camera, but I was able to get a Sigma f2.8 lens for it which gave me some depth of field and images that had some of the characteristics of film. The colors were great, the images were sharp and the auto-focus was on par with SLRs of the day. The areas that it lacked were in the dynamic range, ISO performance and image size.

Digital X Pro2 on Left / Slide Film Contax ST on Right

Since then, digital cameras have gotten exponentially better. With every generation, the digital cameras have gotten better. Here in 2017, I think we are at a point where we are crossing the boundary where digital cameras are getting as good, if not better than an equivalent film camera. I recently got into the Fujifilm X system and really started to enjoy taking pictures again. It has actually inspired me to dust of my film gear and start shooting analog again. Now I hear all kinds of arguments as to which one is better and why people should only shoot digital or how film is making a comeback and people are ditching their digital systems for film again. I don’t know if I’d really feel comfortable claiming one is better than the other. I think each one has its place and people can shoot whatever inspires them to go out and get better at photography. The reason I shoot Fuji digital cameras and Contax film cameras is because they are able to produce the quality of image that I am looking for, I am able to set the cameras to capture the picture as I am envisioning it and they are fun to shoot and inspire me to go out and shoot.

Digital X Pro2 on Left / Slide Film Contax ST on Right

There are differences in the way the different mediums capture the image. There are subtle nuances in the way that detail is captured in the highlights and shadows, the dynamic range, the sharpness of the image and the way images render in high light vs low light. The two mediums are also difficult to do a one to one comparison because there are so many factors that influence the image, from the cameras that are used, to the lenses, to the camera settings and metering and the final output of the image. If you take a picture on a digital camera you will have to either print it out to compare it to a film picture or you will have to scan the film to compare it to the digital. In either case, you are either subjected to the quality of the printing or the quality of the scanning and how that might affect the image.

Digital X Pro2 on Left / Slide Film Contax ST on Right

Fujifilm has created a number of film simulations in their current lineup of digital cameras that are supposed to mimic some of their classic film. I wanted to see how well they were able to capture the essence of these so I bought a bunch of film to do comparisons. I will run a series of shots comparing similar shots taken in similar circumstances.

Digital X Pro2 on Left / Slide Film Contax ST on Right

The Comparison

Here are the details of the setup:
I shot a Fujifilm X Pro 2 in different film simulations with different lenses to match the focal lengths of my film camera.

Digital X Pro2 on Left / Slide Film Contax ST on Right

The Gear

The Cameras

  1. Fujifilm X Pro 2
  2. Contax ST

The Lenses

  1. Fujifilm
    1. XF 18mm f2
    2. XF 35mm f2
    3. XF 56mm f1.2
  2. Contax
    1. Zeiss 28mm f2.8 Distagon
    2. Zeiss 50mm f1.7 Planar
    3. Zeiss 85mm F2.8 Sonnar

I loaded the film in the Contax and then set the X Pro2 to the corresponding film simulation and matched the film speed as closely as I could with the X Pro2’s ISO setting. I took both cameras to a location and alternated taking pictures within a few seconds of each other to try and have similar lighting and environmental conditions. I shot a series of pictures using corresponding focal lengths and aperture settings. I matched the XF 18mm with the Zeiss 28mm, the XF 35mm to the Zeiss 50mm, and the XF 56mm to the Zeiss 85mm because they are somewhat similar focal lengths when you consider the APS-C sensor in the X Pro2. I also tried to match the aperture settings taking into account the crop sensor so when I was at f5.6 on the Zeiss I would set the XF lens to around f3.6.

Digital X Pro2 on Left / Slide Film Contax ST on Right

For the film, I had it processed and scanned by Pro Photo Connection in Irvine, California. They have been running a top-notch lab for many years and their team really knows what they are doing.

Why did I pick these cameras and lenses? Well, frankly, because I had access to them. I realize this isn’t a scientific experiment and if you don’t like that fact, you can run your own comparison.

Digital X Pro2 on Left / Slide Film Contax ST on Right

These are the unedited jpegs in Velvia simulation, straight of the X Pro2 side-by-side with the scanned Velvia slides. I have not color corrected, or edited contrast, brightness or sharpness on any of these.


This experience was extremely fun and interesting to see the outcome. As far as which one I think looks better…I don’t really think one is better than the other. The digital shots were extremely sharp and contrasty, but there is something great and natural about the film.

I liken it to a couple of artists that I am found of. Look at the work of Caravaggio. He was a 16th century artist that painted very dark and moody, high contrast biblical scenes. His work is amazing and sharp and crisp that elicit strong emotions.

Now look at the work of Rembrandt. Born a few years before Caravaggio died, he was an artist, inspired by Caravaggio, among others, who also painted very dark and moody, high contrast biblical scenes. Rembrandt’s work has a murky thickness to them. One isn’t better than the other, they are different.

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