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Fuji Provia 400F Vs. Provia 100F
And a Comparison With
The Canon D30 at Both Speeds

This report contains two major comparisons. I wanted to see how the newly released Provia 400F film performs and decided that it would make sense to compare it both to Provia 100F and to the new Canon D30 digital SLR when set to both ISO 100 and ISO 400. In the past few months I've switched most of my 35mm work to the D30 so this was a relevant comparison for me.

Why not also do a comparison with the previous Provia 400? How about with an ISO 400 colour negative film? How about with Provia 100F pushed to ISO 400, or how about seeing how the new 400F pushes to ISO 800 or 1600?

Answer: Life is short, death is long and I'm busy enough as it is. If you would like to do such tests please let me know the results.

Provia 100F is my standard film. I hardly use anything else. But, from time to time I need something faster. I've never found a film though that gave me results at ISO 400 that I'm really happy with. About a year ago I tested a variety of ISO 400 films and pushed 100 films. Nothing really impressed me. When Provia 400F was announced in September, 2000 I was very keen to test it, but it was only in January, 2001 that it became available in Canada, where I live.

The Methodology

Whenever I do a comparative test I get countless emails, letters and smoke signals asking why I did things the way I did and why I didn't do it some other way. I've had to grow a thick skin on this. I do things the way I do because it seems like a good idea at the time, and more importantly, it seems like it will tell me what I want to know. Remember, I do these tests first for my own edification. Only afterward do I write them up for publication here or in a print magazine. If you find my methodology faulty, please feel free to run your own tests and let me know how you make out, and how they differ or agree with what I've done. There's nothing like doing ones own tests, and of course discovering how much work is entailed even in a simple one!

The Equipment and Venue

Three cameras were used. A Canon EOS-1V was loaded with Provia 100F and a Canon EOS 3 with Provia 400F. The digital Canon D30 was used at both ISO 100 and ISO 400 settings. The only lens used was a Canon 50mm f/1.4. All photographs were taken at f/5.6 (optimum aperture), in aperture priority mode. All photograph were taken hand-held and I physically moved back and forth to change framing so that the 35mm and the digital frames were approximately the same magnification. (Remember, the D30 has an imaging chip smaller than a 35mm frame and focal lengths need to be multiplied by 1.6X to compensate.) Therefore, the 50mm lens acts as an 80mm lens on the D30. This explains why framing and perspective aren't always exactly the same.

No colour correction has been applied to any of these images. No exposure adjustments have been done in post processing. Scans were done with the identical scan settings for each comparative frame and the only digital processing done was the application of USM in Photoshop. D30 images were shot in Raw mode and similarly only have had USM applied in Photoshop. All scans were done using a high-end Imacon Photo scanner at 3200 PPI. I repeat — no Levels, Curves or Color adjustments have been made to any of these images — film or digital. No adjustments or allowance has been made for the slight differences between metering in each of the three camera or possible shutter speed variances. 

Since the test was conducted in Toronto in February I chose the local botanical gardens as venue. It's warm and colourful — something that can't be said this time of year about the rest of the city. (What is that guy doing with three cameras around his neck, taking lots of identical shots of flowers using only one lens? Weird.)

The Test

Example #1

  

                    D30 — ISO 100                                                            D30 — ISO 400

 

                       Provia 100F                                                            Provia 400F

     

         D30 — ISO 100 — detail                           D30 — ISO 400 — detail

  

        Provia 100F — Detail                            Provia 400F — Detail

Subjective Evaluation of Example #1

There is an obvious difference between the way the D30 reproduces red and how Provia does it. Provia is more saturated. Colour rendition between 100F and 400F is similar with the 400F appearing a bit denser; (could have been the in-camera metering or shutter variation). 

The difference in "noise" between the D30 frame at ISO 100 (essentially none at all) and the D30 at ISO 400 (modest) is interesting to compare with the difference between Provia 100F and 400F. In the film comparison 400F is significantly grainier. Comparing the D30 at ISO 400 Vs. Provia 400F there is no way to avoid the conclusion that the D30 at this speed produces a much less noisy (grainy) image.

When comparing shadow detail, in both cases the 400 speed shows reduced shadow detail but again the D30 is superior in comparison with Provia at both speeds.

Example #2

    

           D30 — ISO 100                                     D30 — ISO 400

 

               Provia 100F                                          Provia 400F

   

                D30 — ISO 100 — Detail                             D30 — ISO 400 — Detail

  

              Provia 100F — Detail                            Provia 400F — Detail

Please Note: The exact point of focus on these images is somewhat different. This shouldn't affect ones ability to evaluate grain, shadow or highlight detail, as well a colour rendition.

Subjective Evaluation of Example #1

This time the D30 did a much better job of colour reproduction. The yellows are quite accurate while the Provia yellow is more orange. D30 greens are also richer — less cyan. Dynamic range appears to be better on the D30 with less blown-out whites combined with a bit more shadow detail at both speeds. The move from ISO 100 to 400 on the D30 shows, as usual, a very slight increase in noise/grain. Provia 400F, on the other hand shows a marked increase in grain over Provia 100F. Compared to the D30 at ISO 400 Provia 400F is much grainier.

Conclusion

In addition to the two examples reproduced here I also did three other sets. I haven't bothered publishing them because they all show essentially the same thing. The only real variance is the difference in colour rendition, and this can easily be compensated for or adjusted to taste in Photoshop.

As for Provia 400F, I must say that it's the best 400 ISO transparency film that I've yet seen. I know this isn't a comparison against other ISO 400 solutions, but subjectively that's my evaluation. (My test of ISO 400 solutions from last year can be found here). 

It could be that there are ISO 400 negative films that give it a run for the money, but I'll leave that test to others because I don't care to shoot or scan negative films for reasons discussed elsewhere on this site. So, when I need an ISO 400 film in 120 format I'll definitely be using Provia 400F. But not not in 35mm. Why? Because the D30 at ISO 400 is head and shoulders above it.

Even when viewed on this web page at relatively low screen resolution (72 ppi Vs. prints at 240 ppi) the difference in grain between the D30/ISO400 and Provia 400F is obvious. Dynamic range is slightly better and prints look closer to ISO 100 film or digital. No one would ever mistake a Provia 400F print for one shot at a slower speed.

Please note that I've made prints of all of these comparisons and my conclusions are based on print evaluations not on-screen. On-screen results simply mirror those made from print evaluations.

While not intended as a comparison of the D30 at ISO 100 and Provia 100F scanned with the Imacon, it's hard not to see the results. As discovered when I first tested the D30, I find that in 8X10" prints the D30 shows superior image quality. Of course 35 Megabyte scans inevitably will show greater detail in large prints, but when ressed-up to 12X17" it's very hard to choose between them on the basis of resolution and detail. Quite remarkable. What's the 6 Megapixel pro Canon digital going to be like?!

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Concepts: Film speed, Exposure, Provia, Velvia, Photographic film, Photography, Comparison, Canon EF 50mm lens

Entities: Toronto, Canon, Provia, Canada, ISO, Michael Reichmann, Photoshop, SLR

Tags: Provia, 100F, iso 400 film, ISO 400 solutions, colour rendition, digital, negative films, ISO 400 colour, image, show, best 400 iso, Canon D30, scans, Dynamic range, 35mm, Provia 400F film, print evaluations, prints, Provia 400F print, aperture priority mode, local botanical gardens, megapixel pro canon, identical scan settings, high-end imacon photo, previous provia, results, low screen resolution, superior image quality, cameras, relevant comparison, Provia yellow, Canon EOS, colour correction, new canon, obvious difference, digital canon, Photoshop, Canon EOS-1V, digital slr, major comparisons