Appreciating the Flexibility of Fujifilm Film Simulations

I’ve written several times about how much I like the Fujifilm film simulations. Designed carefully to reproduce the look of analog film stock, these simulations provide a great range of options to photographers.

You can apply them in camera – and check out this episode of the PhotoActive podcast to learn more about making great photos in camera – but you can also use the Fujifilm X Raw Studio app to apply them to raw files after you’ve transferred them to your computer.

The problem with doing this in camera is the size of the display, and the difficulty of correctly viewing images on the LCD, especially if there’s a lot of light. So I generally shoot with the default Provia, but in some cases use the Fujifilm app on my Mac to try out different simulations later.

Film simulations are not that different from filters or presets, the kind you can use in Lightroom, VSCO, or other apps. They have the advantage of being limited; sometimes too much choice makes it hard to choose. And they only affect things like color, contrast, shadows, and highlights, and don’t add gradients, vignetting, or other effects that some apps apply to photos.

Learning to use these simulations gives you a great toolkit for making photos.

Let’s look at a photo I shot today. Here’s the default Provia JPEG from the camera, with no cropping or other adjustments. I shot this with my X100F, and all the settings are default (in other words, things like shadows, highlights, noise reduction, etc., haven’t been altered).

Tired provia

Provia does have a bit more contrast than a “neutral” JPEG would have, but with this photo, I wanted something a bit paler to emphasize the tiredness of the flowers and the grass. Classic Chrome is generally the go-to simulation for that sort of desaturated color, but I didn’t like how it came out. Here is a conversion to Classic Chrome with no other adjustments.

Tired chrome

At the other end of the spectrum, Velvia, with its rich, saturated colors, certainly doesn’t work for a photo like this (at least not for my vision of what this photo should look like).

Tired velvia

So I tried Astia, which is a very “filmic” simulation. I find that it has more of an analog look than the others, in many cases.

Tired astia default

There are also Pro-Neg Hi and Pro-Neg Std, two simulations I don’t use often, and don’t have much of a feel for. Here’s Pro-Neg Hi.

Tired pro neg hi

And this is Pro-Neg Std. Note the slight veiled look it provides.

Tired pro neg std

There are lots of options; these six color film simulations let you interpret images in many ways. But these are just starting points: you can also adjust the shadows, highlights, color, sharpness, and noise reduction when making these conversions, and you can add grain if you want. In the end, I settled on the Astia simulation, upping shadows and highlights (+1 for each) and upping the color (-2), because, even though I wanted faded colors, I found the stock Astia look a bit too weak. Here’s my final render, with some other adjustments made in Apple Photos (contrast, brilliance, etc.). I wanted there to be a bit more contrast, and I wanted the petals of the sunflowers to look a bit more brittle than the Astia conversion.

In the end, these choices are personal, and, for me, I don’t use the same settings for multiple photos very often; I think each photo should have its own look. Getting to know these simulations can go a long way toward making photos look like more than just captures and help you learn about what these cameras can do.

(In a future article I’ll look at the black and white film simulations.)

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