My favorite Fujifilm film simulation settings

Like so many other Fujifilm users out there, one of the main things that drew me into the X series system was the quality of their jpg files and the film simulations. The colors and details are just stunning, and as someone who grew up with film photography in the 80s, the idea of having film simulations directly in the camera was just perfect!

That being said, as much as I appreciated the quality of the jpgs, I almost always ended up working on the raw files for the added post-processing flexibility and to get a more stylized look. It’s nothing short of amazing the range you get when editing Fujifilm’s raf files, especially when it comes to recovering shadows and highlights. But the greatest thing about working in raw quickly became my biggest problem: the endless possibilities provided by editing in Lightroom means it’s a never-ending task. You can get as many different looks as you want, none necessarily “better” than the others, just different. Choosing between them became an extremely time consuming task and it got to the point where I would sometimes spend over half-an-hour with a single photo going back and forth between different presets.

Earlier in 2018 I realized that I should really spend less time editing and more time shooting, so I decided to use the jpgs instead of the raw files as much as possible. I began exploring different possibilities using the in-camera film simulation settings and came across Ritchie Roesch‘s “Fuji X Weekly” blog, which features some really excellent film simulation recipes inspired by classic films. This site was a real game changer, as it allowed me to emulate directly in the camera many of the looks that I was trying to recreate using Lightroom presets. My favorites so far have been the Kodachrome simulations (both the Vintage Kodachrome and Kodachrome II) and Fuji Superia 800, but they’re really all quite excellent and cover an enormous range of looks.

 

Some jpg examples shot using Ritchie’s Vintage Kodachrome and Fuji Superia 800 recipes

 

One of the things that I was also hoping to achieve by shooting jpg was to get a more consistent look in my photos, but looking back that never really happened because I kept changing back and forth between all of those recipes! So in order to simplify my shooting process and get more consistent results, I decided to stick with just one color simulation and one black & white simulation from now on.

 

Color (X-trans III and above)

For my color simulation, I took several ideas from Ritchie’s different recipes and mashed them all into one. Something that I realized from using his simulations is that the biggest defining factor in the final look of the jpg is the White Balance shift applied. I’m a big fan of Kodak’s tones – especially in its slide films – so my color simulation is geared towards that warmer look, but you can easily change that just by changing the WB shift. For example, if you prefer Fuji’s classic film tones, you can change the WB shift to -2 Red to enhance the greens. Be careful not to go overboard with these shifts though, unless you’re intentionally going for a cross-processed look like this!

My current color settings are:

  • Film simulation: Classic Chrome
  • Dynamic Range: DR200
  • WB Shift: +4 Red, -5 Blue (updated on 2019/10/1, previous version was +3 R, -4 B)
  • Highlights: +1
  • Shadows: +1
  • Color: +3 (updated on 2019/10/1, previous version was +4)
  • Noise reduction: -4
  • Sharpening: 0
  • Grain effect: Off (updated on 2019/10/1, previous version was “Weak”)

Depending on the lighting conditions I’ll adjust the exposure compensation dial as needed, but typically I keep it between +1/3 and +2/3.

Samples:

 

Color (X-trans I)

Lately I’ve been finding myself using the X-Pro1 a lot more often than my X-T20. Reason being is that while initially I was very skeptical about it, I found myself joining the club of those who feel like there’s something “special” about that 1st generation X-trans sensor. Other people more technical savvy than me have written lengthy articles on this topic, but to my amateur eyes there seems to be a softness in the tones that is closer to film than on more recent sensors. Whatever it is, I just know I love the output of my X-pro1’s jpgs.

Unfortunately, these first-generation X cameras don’t have my favorite color film simulation, Classic Chrome, so I had to try out different alternatives to get close to the look of my color recipe for the X-trans III cameras. After much trial and error, I’ve settled on the settings below that I’ve used almost exclusively on my X-Pro1 for the last months:

  • Film simulation: Astia
  • Dynamic Range: DR200
  • WB Shift: +4 Red, -5 Blue
  • Highlights: +1
  • Shadows: +1
  • Color: -2
  • Noise reduction: -2
  • Sharpening: 0
  • Exposure compensation: typically between +1/3 and +2/3

Samples:

Black and white

When it comes to monochrome images, I still use the same recipe that I came up with once I upgraded to an X-trans III camera a few years ago. I’m a fan of contrasty, grainy images when it comes to B&W, so I experimented a bit and discovered that the Acros film sim when shot at high ISOs produces some very film-like grain, which looks much more natural than the grain effect in the film sim settings. This works particularly well with older legacy lenses, because of their natural imperfections compared to current lenses.

  • Film simulation: Acros Red
  • Dynamic Range: DR200
  • Highlights: +3
  • Shadows: +4
  • Noise reduction: -4
  • Sharpening: -1
  • Grain effect: off
  • Exposure compensation: between +1/3 and +2/3
  • ISO: usually 12800 but sometimes I’ll switch to Auto-ISO with a minimum of 2000 if there’s too much light or if I want less grain

Samples:

As a side note, I rarely use the camera’s B&W simulations on my X-Pro1 due to lack of Acros and the more limited high-ISO range. I prefer to always shoot in color and then process the raws in B&W if I want to.

 

Post-processing

Even though most of the times I use the camera jpgs instead of the raw files, I still run them through Capture One (or through a mobile app, depending on where I’m working at)  to do some quick adjustments. I rarely post straight-out-of-the-camera images on the blog(*), so for the sake of transparency I figured I should mention that here.

The edits I do are very subtle, though. I have a couple of user styles already saved in Capture One that I apply upon importing the jpgs that basically do the following:

  • add a slight vignette
  • add a slight fade on the shadows using the tone curve
  • add grain
  • apply some split toning on the highlights and shadows – this is why I have two different user styles, one of them is geared towards warmer tones and the other towards cooler greenish tones.

And that’s it. This workflow has dramatically reduced my editing time on the computer and also helped me to focus on getting things right in the camera, instead of shooting mindlessly and hopping to fix it in post.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not a “jpg fundamentalist” – I still use the raf files sometimes, either when the lightning conditions are more challenging or when I want a crazier look just for fun. And of course there are plenty of situations (especially for those doing professional paid work) where the flexibility of Raw is a must. But for amateurs like me who use photography to document their everyday life and the world around them, I strongly recommend giving it a try, I think you’ll be surprised how liberating it is.

 

(*) all the photos on this page ARE straight-out-of-camera jpgs for the purpose of demonstrating the real output of my film simulations without any edits.