It’s no secret I LOVE consumer films. I even use them for client work because I have so much love for their punchy colors, high contrast, chunky grain, and overall nostalgic feel.
Nostalgia is a major goal of the aesthetic of my personal and client work. I think it boils down to the fact that I love photography precisely because it’s capturing the memories that would all-too-quickly fade without them. But I digress.
All this being said, the two films I shoot with the absolute most are Fuji Superia X-TRA 400 (find on Amazon) and Kodak Ultramax 400 (find on Amazon).
I have noticed differences between them because I shoot with them so often, but I was curious to use Fuji Superia and Kodak Ultramax side-by-side to note the direct comparisons.
Setting Up the Comparison Between Fuji Superia X-TRA 400 and Kodak Ultramax 400
I took the films and put them in my double harness with Nikon N80 on one hip and Nikon F100 on the other. I used the same focal lengths for both cameras and used the same settings for both. (The Nikon N80 has some funny values, but, for all intents and purposes, they were the same settings.)
I rated them both at 400 (even though I usually rate Superia at 200), so I really just had to meter with one camera and set both cameras and shoot away.
I developed the Fuji Superia and the Kodak Ultramax at the same time in my C-41 powder kit from the Film Photography Store. I admit that the chemicals weren’t at their freshest (they had been used to develop 16 rolls beforehand), but these results were extremely consistent with results I get when using fresh chemicals.
I frequently use my chemicals until I’ve developed around 18 rolls. Then, I use them for film I have souped or sometimes to cross-process.
I then used my Noritsu LS-600 to scan both rolls. I pulled both rolls into Lightroom to make adjustments to temp and tint, and a little exposure adjustments as I normally would.
A Disclaimer about Film Comparisons
For me, this was about comparing apples to apples. This is why I edited/adjusted the photos as I normally would. I wanted to compare Fuji Superia and Kodak Ultramax after following my typical steps with my own developing, scanning, and light editing processes.
Your lab’s or your own chemicals, scanner, color process, etc, might be wildly different, so take these with a grain of salt.
There are so many variables to consider when comparing these two films. Below you will find MY experience with these films, and I would love to hear about yours in the comments.
Fuji Superia VS Kodak Ultramax: The Results
Which Film Likes More Light?
I normally give more exposure to my Fuji Superia X-TRA 400 than I did during this experiment, because I find it’s a rather light-hungry film.
I found this wasn’t as noticeable in most of the shots, except when it came to back-lighting.
The shot of my son on our back stoop showed his skin to be a little muddy, and I think it could have benefited from a little more exposure to light. (As a reminder, I metered once at 400 ISO and set both of my cameras to the same settings.)
You can also see Superia X-TRA is a more light-hungry film in the shot of my youngest son at our window.
I metered for shadows, and the highlights are less blown out on Fuji Superia X-TRA than they are on Kodak Ultramax 400 indicating that Superia XTRA liked having that extra light, while Ultramax did not.
Color Tone Comparison
The most noticeable difference between Fuji Superia and Kodak Ultramax is the in the orange channel. Superia renders those colors (especially seen in the shadows) as greener, while Ultramax renders them as more magenta.
Notice the trees, with the trunks of trees on Superia looking greener and Ultramax being redder, meaning Ultramax has greater distinction between the leaves and the trunk/branches than Superia has.
You can also see these qualities in the images with the wooden fence and even in the images in the concrete where my son is on our stoop.
The green tint of Superia and red tint in Ultramax also play out in their renderings of the blue channel. Notice the wading pool my son is playing in; the blues (especially darker blues) read greener with Superia and more red with Ultramax, creating a more purple effect.
My family apparently wears A LOT of blue, so you can see this color difference in my husband’s blue outfit, my eldest son’s, my middle son’s shirt, AND youngest one’s shorts ?
Skin Tone Comparison
My children are pale, and their skin tones are rendered very different between these two films.
Fuji Superia is known as a punchier stock and you can see the pinkiness in their skin being exacerbated, while Kodak Ultramax gives them more even skin coloring.
The preference for one vs the other is often a personal one, but sometimes situational. I oftentimes like the pink tones added especially to their cheeks with Superia, but, in the image where my son is inside, you can see the pink skin looks more unnatural than the even tones in Ultramax.
(Yet again, this is partially due to the fact that Superia likes more light, and that shadowy side of his face could have used some greater exposure.)
I admit I grab for Superia more often because of its punchy colors and “off” tones, but Ultramax’s even tones and truer-to-life coloring (this might be debatable, but I’m going to go ahead and say it) have its own appeal, time, and place in my film repertoire.
I realize I haven’t touched on grain yet. Mostly, because there’s not much to say about it. Yes, these films are grainier than other 400 films (read: pro films) like Kodak Portra 400 or Fuji Pro 400h.
From this set of scans, Ultramax appears to have a little less grain (especially in the highlights), but then again I often expose Superia more than I did here, which results in less noticeable grain.
You don’t shoot these films if you hate grain. (I LOVE grain). But, then again, you don’t shoot 35mm if you hate grain.
I say we learn to embrace the grain and the character that comes with it, but I admit pixel-peeping never was my thing. I’m not a big “smooth and sharp” person as I feel the grittiness of film gives a unique character, story, and nostalgia.