ISO 50 speed Fujichrome Velvia is back… and it’s the original formula too, so all the classic Velvia characteristics have been preserved.
See, we told you this would happen. The one area of film photography which has defied the assaults of digital capture is panoramic landscapes. In terms of building a dedicated digital panorama camera, the technical challenges are considerable as evidenced by the highly impractical Seitz 6x17. The other option – namely to use an ultra-high resolution capture back and then crop the image – is, well, just a bit on the pricey side… especially as you’re paying dearly for all those pixels that you don’t use.
So 6x17cm and 6x12cm format cameras are selling like hot cakes (and second-hand Hasselblad XPans are commanding a premium) and they’re generating an ongoing demand for particular film emulsions. As landscape photography is mostly slow and deliberate, often with the camera mounted on a tripod, there isn’t the usual need for speed. Instead, the requirements for a ‘landscape film’ are that it be as fine grained as possible – to accurately render the tiniest of details such as textures – and be capable of matching Mother Nature when it comes to colours. The latter is particularly important in Australia where Mother Nature likes to punch up the saturation to levels which stun visiting photographers. With its vivid colour reproduction, the original ISO 50 speed Fujichrome Velvia was made for the Australian landscape (although it did work in other places too), but this made it something of a one-trick pony. You can’t tweak the spectral response so that the curves for red, green and blue sensitivity each look something like Mount Blanc and expect an all-purpose colour film. Those yawning chasms between each of the RGB peaks represent a certain inability to get to grips with any of the tones that exist between each of the primary colours. Thus, for example, ‘old’ Velvia was notoriously bad at handling Caucasian skin tones, making pale subjects look as though they were suffering from a bad case of sun burn. Of course, Velvia wasn’t designed as a ‘people film’ (there’s Astia for that), but then there was also the little matter of the film’s speed… or, more precisely, the lack of it. Most regular users agreed that the quoted ISO 50 was a shade optimistic and that ISO 40 or even 32 was closer to the mark… besides, slightly underexposing transparency film is advisable if you’re to hang onto the highlights (and, with emulsions other than Velvia, also bump up the saturation).
As film technology advanced, ISO 50 speed Velvia became something of anachronism and, once it was possible to obtain the same granularity with a more flexible ISO 100 emulsion, Fujifilm quietly withdrew the original product.
No doubt it hoped everybody would be happy with Velvia 100 and 100F, but excellent though both these emulsions undoubtedly are, they just aren’t the same. In making the ISO 100 speed films a little more user-friendly as
well as, in overall terms, more capable, some of the character and individuality of the original was lost. As with classic British sports cars, it was as much the flaws in the ISO 50 Velvia that endeared it to photographers as the remarkable performance that could be extracted under the right conditions. And, if you’ve driven a Japanese sports car, you’ll understand that the Japanese don’t quite understand the concept of flaws or deficiencies being characterful.
However, somebody at Fujifilm obviously does because ISO 50 speed Velvia is back, warts and all. The new film is officially called Velvia 50 as opposed to the original which was simply called “Velvia”. When Fujifilm first mooted it was bringing back its iconic slow speed reversal film, the plan was to call it “Velvia II”, but obviously in the interim it’s been decided to conform with the rest of the Fujichrome line up. The code “RVP” – which stands for “Reversal Velvia Professional” – is retained, although the boxes are marked “RVP 50”