Saturday, August 27, 2011

RVP50 - the Velvia fascination

If I had to choose my favorite black&white film I would really have a hard time, because there are so many near-favorites I can think of...(*) For the choice of my favorite color slide film, on the other hand, the answer would be almost immediate and an easy single word: Velvia.

Velvia is the contraction of the words "Velvet Media", a reference to the image smoothness this film made by Fuji renders. The original Fujichrome Velvia was introduced in 1990 and was quickly adopted as a favorite color slide film by many photographers until production ceased in 2005. The outcry of the photographic community around the world was so loud that Fuji was forced to host a Velvia comeback in 2007, featuring a new film base but retaining the look of the classic film.

velvia construction fence
(Hapo 66-E, Fujichrome Velvia 50, ISO 50/18°)

One of the most celebrated features of this film is its almost unbelievable sharpness. The richness of detail on Velvia frames never ceases to strike and amaze me, especially when combined with a very sharp lens, like the one on my Hapo 66-E. Velvia is able to resolve 160 lines per mm, which allows for really huge prints without loss of detail. Projecting a medium format Velvia frame onto a wall must be something truly incredible...

puch motorscooter
(Flexaret VI, Fujichrome Velvia 50, ISO 50/18°)

But the feature that strikes the most when looking at a Velvia picture is the high color saturation: a blue sky is deep blue, meadows are extra green and flowers are so vivid in color that they even seem unreal. This is no coincidence, since the engineers at Fuji designed a film on which the pictures of the last holiday looked even better than it really looked. Velvia makes everything look more intense, more vibrant. (**)

recess of the sk8er (+1)
(Hapo 66-E, Fujichrome Velvia 50, ISO 50/18°)

The classic Velvia is an ISO 50 film, which might make it a little too slow for low light situations or overcast skies, but it is perfect for bright sunny days, when also the extra push in color saturation provides the most spectacular results. The code name for Velvia is RVP, which stands for Reversal/Velvia/Professional. The old Velvia was just RVP, the newly introduced is RVP50.

this is us [on velvia]
(Flexaret VI, Fujichrome Velvia 50, ISO 50/18°)

It was when I first starting using Velvia that I understood something important about image processing. At first, one might have the feeling that film is the purest form of photography, because there is no image processing going on, no change in colors, no double layers in Gimp, no color correction in Lightroom... But, in fact, almost all this clever tricks that we can apply digitally did not come to the world in bright and clean rooms in San José in the early 90s, but originated from a long darkroom tradition that started more than a century ago. A film, as a medium designed for holding an image, must transform it in some way, and presents it to the viewer not as it was in the reality, but as the designers of that medium decided it should be. This is what happens with Velvia, but also with each and every film that ever existed, and exactly the same thing that happens in Gimp, Photoshop or Lightroom. When doing it digitally, we just have more control over it. But the transformation happens so or so.

There is nothing new under the sun. But, thank goodness, we have RVP50 to photograph it.

Pictures taken on Velvia 50 in my flickr photostream

(*) for example, Kodak Tri-X 400, Rollei Retro 80S, Ilford Pan F Pus 50, Efke 25, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, just to mention a few...
(**) these highly saturated colors, though, are not suitable for portraits, since they tend to give a red cast to skin.

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