The Beauty of Fujifilm Natura 1600 Film

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All images by Simon Chetrit. Used with permission.

“You’ve got to try this stuff,” says photographer Simon Chetrit to me the other night in his Williamsburg apartment. Then he hands me a small, colorful paper box. It’s Fujifilm Natura 1600–a film I’ve heard about and seen incredible images with, but have never had the pleasure of trying. The film, which is only manufactured and sold in Japan, is legendary for its excellent colors and fairly fine grain when it comes to a high ISO film.

Simon is known for shooting film and usually sticks to a Pentax 67, but when he had the chance to pick this stuff up he was immediately enamored of it.

Considering the images that he produced with them and keeping in mind that he’s working with film, we can totally see why.

Phoblographer: You shoot lots and lots of film on the side. Why film and why not digital?

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Simon: I could spend hours/paragraphs answering this, but the main reason are easier & more beautiful tones, I hate sitting around in Lightroom & Photoshop ticking sliders up inch by inch trying to get accurate, flattering skin tones that film is formulated accurately for from the beginning.

The latitude is also nice to have, to shoot someone in the shadow and have a lot of interesting subtle detail there, or in front of a very bright light source and have all the highlight and shadow detail be recoverable. Not to mention that grain is beautiful and noise is ugly. Another significant reason is that I actually really enjoy having an economy of images to keep me grounded.

My primary format is medium format, where I only have 10 shots to the roll. Suddenly having 36 shots is like, “Whoa, I can shoot like CRAZY! SO MANY PICTURES!!” Let alone with a built-in flash and super high ISO. I find myself actually shooting more when the amount of pictures I have are limited. Like, all this film in my fridge is going to go bad if I don’t shoot the hell out of it soon. Kind of like how you’re less likely to swipe right on Tinder now that the swipes are finite.

Knowing that every time I press that shutter is something I cannot take back, that I’ve created a physical object that exists in reality, is a living thing made from chemistry, is incredibly exciting to me and just makes me want to shoot more.

Phoblographer: What made you want to try Fujifilm Natura and the Natura camera?

Simon: I do a lot of googling of random camera gear, and I am an unapologetic gear nerd. More than just owning lots of different equipment, I LOVE to see the crazy stuff that exists out there. Sites like Tokyo Camera Style and the like leave me drooling for hours. I remember some guy on there once had a hand-carved medium format camera with some crazy fisheye lens. Throughout this last year and much of the year before that, I’ve been on a journey to find the perfect 35mm point and shoot. I experimented with the Konica Big Mini, Leica Minilux, Contax T3, Yashica T4, disposables…I almost settled on the Minolta TC1. Just about every summer or 6 months or so I would trade mine in for a different one, a different style of shooting, a kind of refresh.

“Knowing that every time I press that shutter is something I cannot take back, that I’ve created a physical object that exists in reality, is a living thing made from chemistry, is incredibly exciting to me and just makes me want to shoot more.”

My process is very guided by the gear that I use, even to the point of how it looks and feels, so it was a good way to reinvigorate my eye, to get my excited about shooting again, just the little moments, the street shots, the interesting little gestures people have on the subway… Quite recently, just before a recent photographic excursion, I realized that the Minolta TC1 simply wasn’t “quick” enough for me (took some time to focus and be ready to shoot after being turned on), so I was googling forum discussions on different point and shoots, unusual setups…I heard about this bizarre, only-in-Japan camera with an f1.9 (!!!) lens, designed for shooting 1600, with extremely weird color schemes (the standard offering of colors was Aqua, Lavender and Hot Pink), some of which had weird engravings and extravagant designs.

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I was incredibly intrigued. I went on eBay after some price research, and saw an especially weird Lavender one with all kinds of crazy engravings I hadn’t seen before selling for a comparatively cheap $400 or so. I leapt, and the rest was history.

The film itself was a nice side find. 1600 color is pretty fucking rare these days, and let’s face it, even if noise isn’t that much of an issue these days, your colors and skin tones are beginning to look a little bit washed out and funky even on a MK3 indoors at 1600. Fujifilm actually makes two 1600 color films: Superia, and Natura. Natura, to the best of my knowledge, is only available in Japan. But it’s basically the same thing with softer, nicer, more pastel colors, less harsh grain, and…. The film is magic.

I have a “second body” for my MK3 that’s just an Elan 7 that fits all my MK3 lenses, and after running a roll or two of 1600 Natura through it… It’s delicious. The latitude of this stuff is practically HDR status, the colors are so delicate and soft… I hope they never stop making it. Please release this film in America, Fuji. Seriously. Buy this film, people.

Phoblographer: Not only do you shoot portraits with it, but you also shoot landscapes and daily life. So how do you feel the experience differs from other films besides the 1600 ISO capabilities?

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Simon: My whole ethos with a 35mm point and shoot is different. They’re quick to turn on and ready to shoot, and the Natura is relatively recent (2001) so it’s absolutely lightning-quick to turn on and be ready to shoot. Whenever I have the impulse to take a picture of anything, I do it. I don’t let myself say no. I just carry it around with me in my pocket, and any person that I might see, any moment, any landscape, any person, any weird little visual pattern that looks beautiful, I will shoot it. Whereas I certainly wouldn’t do that with my Pentax 6×7, not even with my 5D MK3 (which is hefty and takes time to set up and shoot and frame), I can literally just whip my tiny little Fuji Natura S out of my pocket, point it, and shoot it.

Because it’s always loaded with 1600 and an f/1.9, I don’t have to worry about exposure at all. Because the custom settings are so limited, I don’t have to think as much. All the buttons are in Japanese and the back of my camera is broken, I literally only have two working settings: “flash on” or “flash off.” And you know what? That’s really all I need. It’s stripped down simplicity with all the peculiarities and beauty of film, I just have to recognize the moment or the symmetry or beauty of someone or something, take out my camera, and shoot. No fiddling about.

It’s a total stream of consciousness thing, whatever I see, if it interests me in that moment, I shoot it. Even though I have to import the film from Japan, I shoot it like it’s digital. I can’t even see how many pictures I have left because of how mine has been broken. But it shoots, and that’s all that matters.

Phoblographer: How do you feel that the film has made you better as a photographer if at all?

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Simon: It has helped me not to worry about the numbers of photography so much, and focus more on the composition and the emotion of the moment. If I walk around town doing street portraits with my Pentax 6×7, everyone who sees it, even if they don’t know what it is, is impressed and thinks I must be a professional, just because it’s big and fancy looking. When I walk around with my Natura, when I ask people for their picture,

I don’t even pull out the camera until people have already said “yes.” And because it’s some small bizarre Japanese camera nobody has ever heard of, they think “this guy must be some kind of loser/terrible photographer.” And that’s been an interesting dynamic to explore. And it’s empowered me to not care. To just focus on perfecting what’s in the frame, to watch my edges, to wait for the perfect emotional moment, to not have to worry about missing tiny moments… It’s my every day camera, I just about sleep with it. I just stopped caring about anything other than the perfect picture, it has let me let go and just shoot so much more. It makes me incredibly happy to shoot. The only sad thing is that my journey of 35mm point and shoots is over, but at least now I might have a stash of weirdly colored pink and purple Fuji Natura S’s somewhere.

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