Not just muted – Vision3 250D colors

My interest in Vision3 films was initially sparked a few years ago because of the muted color palette it would give. So my exploration at that time focused on portraiture and other subject matter that I considered this film a good match for. But this is not to say that these films are necessarily limited to just muted, desaturated images with low contrast. Here’s an example.

Important to note is that I shoot color film mostly with the intent to print optically onto RA4 paper. Since the color rendition is more or less ‘baked into’ the film and the paper, for me, it matters a lot how these materials reproduce color. If you scan negatives and then digitally post process (and perhaps output), it’s easy to shift the color balance around, raise or reduce saturation, etc. So in a hybrid workflow, I wouldn’t worry about the color question too much; there’s sufficient flexibility in the digital domain to make Vision3 250D look like Ektar 100 and vice versa. Optical printing, however, is a different matter.

True to its reputation, Vision3 250D (and its Vision3 siblings) can render quite muted colors and give a desaturated, almost washed-out look. There are two main ways to achieve this, with an optical printing workflow in mind:

  • ‘Pull’ the film by overexposing it and developing it normally in ECN2 developer. I’d suggest rating it at ISO 100 and developing for the default 3m00s at 41C in ECN2. The overexposure is necessary to bring the tonal scale of the negative in line with the requirements of RA4 paper.
  • Print onto the most muted/desaturated paper you can get your hands on. In practice, this means entry-level, low-cost FUJIFILM Crystal Archive paper. While the color balance of all FUJIFILM papers is pretty much the same, contrast and saturation do vary due to differences in layer thickness of the paper. The low-end current production Crystal Archive (without suffix, or with “-II” suffix; it’s the same stuff) has the thinnest layers, which results in somewhat lower contrast and especially lower saturation than the higher-end papers.

Especially if you combine both factors, really muted and subtle print styles are possible. However, I admit that I normally compensate for the inherent mismatch between ECN2 film and RA4 paper by overdeveloping the film. This boosts the contrast and saturation of the negatives, and it results in a tonal scale of the negative that matches the contrast of the RA4 paper. My normal development time for Vision3 films is 3m45s to 4m00s at 41C in ECN2 developer.

Also, while Crystal Archive is a nice paper, its higher-end alternatives do have some advantages. Papers like DPII give significantly deeper and more even blacks, the paper base is sturdier and it boosts higher saturation as well. Maxima is a similar paper to DPII, but offers even better archival stability due to a thicker protective set of overcoats. Unfortunately, Maxima only comes in rolls starting at 16″ / 40.6cm width, which makes it a bit unwieldy to handle in the darkroom and my current paper cutting setup will handle rolls up to 12″/ 30.5cm only.

Anyway, if you process the film for a bit more punch, use a punchier paper to print on, and also select subject matter that is nice and colorful, the combination yields results that people may not easily associated with the supposedly muted nature of Vision3 films. Here’s a few examples to illustrate the point, all shot on Vision3 250D, developed for 3m45s and 4m00s (two different rolls) at 41C and printed optically onto FUJIFILM DPII paper using a newly made DIY RGB LED exposure unit (yes, I messed with electronics again – more to follow in a later blog, but no very fundamental changes compared to the previous version).

They’re all just unpretentious snapshots – the fast food equivalent of photography!

Eva and bougainvillea

This one was mostly about the super-saturated bougainvillea. Eva was complaining that on her digital, the vivid magenta color somehow would never render nicely. I couldn’t help but snapping a shot to see how it would come out on the film I brought to Sicily back in May this year. No, it’s not the kind of oozy, splashy vividness you get from Velvia or Ektar printed onto Endura. But I wouldn’t call it desaturated or washed out either!

Isola Bella, Taormina

Looking out over the Isola Bella from up the hill in Taormina. The natural look of this film shows mostly in how the rock and foliage render, although the high noon sunlight also helps to keep saturation low in that part of the scene. On the other hand, the sea renders in convincing blues and cyans. Again, not over-the-top saturated, but more of a realistically full-bodied palette.

Clivia and monstera

Lush greens, shot in the muted light of our living room. They render rich and true to life.

Tigre de salon

Another almost monochromatic scene – a tabby cat sleeping on a rust-brown couch against some pillows in the same corner of the color wheel. The late afternoon autumn sunlight filtering through the window emphasizes the richness of the colors.

The four prints were made from two different rolls of film but with the same color filtration and exposure settings, so the differences in color are really due to subject matter and lighting conditions. The filtration I determined at the start of the session by printing a scene dominated by grey concrete shot on an overcast day to get a neutral color balance. The prints were scanned on an old Epson 4990 and color corrected by applying an ICC profile I made using a Wolf Faust IT8 target. No additional color balancing was done in digital post processing. A mild contrast adjustment was performed to bring the digital files in congruence with the appearance of the physical prints, accounting for the inherent difference between a reflective printed medium and a monitor screen.

6 thoughts on “Not just muted – Vision3 250D colors”

  1. Good examples. If printed look the same, fantastic. Well, I could give them another opportunity and try ECN2 chemistry and your developing times. The paper is the same that i use, DPII.

  2. Koraks, I´ve been thinks about Vision3 film and this post. I´m thinking about to do the same as you did, replicate your developing method. I like your results.

    I have one doubt. This post is about 250D, have you tried 50D too or just 250D?

    Thank you very much.

    1. Hi Arturo, my initial tests a few years ago were with 50D. It seems to respond identically as 250D, with the main difference being that 50D is even finer grained. I’d give it a shot. I also tried 500T (in the Cinestill version), but only under tungsten illumination, and only a roll or two. My testing with the 50D was quite extensive and on that basis I arrived at the 3m45s to 4m00s nominal development time.

      Keep in mind that for the shots shown here, of course the subject matter and the light do a lot. The Mediterranean on a clear and sunny day is really, really blue. Those bougainvilleas in bright sunlight are about the most saturated magenta that nature can produce. Autumn afternoon sunlight is remarkably warm and red. And monsteras and cliveas are pretty lush and deep greens. So you’re not just looking at the materials – you’re also looking at reality, which plays a big part in these particular photos.

  3. Woah, I’ve just been trawling your stuff after finding you from Photrio, but the colors you got out of the Vision3 stock are outstanding! Even as a non-ideal case with a low contrast film! Say, is that the main difference that sets the motion picture stocks apart from normal photographic films? The ECN2 process and perhaps how they’re formulated just producing a lower contrast out of the tank?

    The first example of the bougainvillea have a wonderful color, I feel like flowers often come out with rather strange colors on digital cameras, as if one primary color is heavily favored all the time.

    “snapshots”, “fast food” I DISAGREE! Your prints here are each stellar examples of showing “complex” color situations! Both the subjects and prints are wonderful!

    I don’t know what Velvia or Ektar would give in that situation with the flowers, but I get a “sense” of Velvia here with how the skin tones might be hit too hard by the saturation yet every other color in the frame is bold and awesome.

    Same goes for the photo of Isola Bella. This photo looks WAY too idyllic and pretty to be like “fast food” to me!! The colors of the water are particularly nice, all the shades of blue with tints of turquoise. The greens of the trees and how the rocks contrast with them looks so good!

    Even the leaves have a rich tonality to them, I don’t know how much the results from this film and printing are “colorful but accurate” or “accurate but COLORFUL”, the only thing I could guess is there being a hint of blue but that might be accurate. I think I’m getting hungry over pretty colors lol

    A SLEEPY KITTY, conveniently adding to a bunch of other red and yellow tones!! I feel like the cat and the couch are the colors in this blog post ngl

    These examples were really stellar! I don’t know how much “worse” it would have been if you didn’t push the negatives. Is there no way to get punchier results while starting with a denser and/or non-pushed negative? I only have a high-level understanding of RA4, can you push the paper too?

    Even if these were highlights of the rolls you chose, the look you got out of these is so unique color-wise! Very unlike anything I’ve seen from either digital or negatives. It actually reminds me most of slides. Even among that they seem unique. Perhaps I’ve seen far too many flat-colored scans of negatives, meanwhile your prints look so good!

    And I’m still surprised you got this from a film that perhaps wasn’t intended on printing to paper. I wonder how these results compare to printing on film as it’s meant for, and what kind of results you can get that way.

    Your blog is awesome! I didn’t know how cool color printing was until recently and your posts have just shot it up even higher!

    1. Greg, you’re just too kind! Many thanks for your comments!
      > I don’t know how much “worse” it would have been if you didn’t push the negatives. Is there no way to get punchier results while starting with a denser and/or non-pushed negative?
      That’s actually how I started out with Vision3 50D some years ago, but I’d have to hunt down those negatives in a storage box somewhere. This approach works and in my memory, it gave more muted results. It was a look that I was exploring back then for portraits, specifically. I ran into crossover problems and didn’t push through, but I think I should revisit this approach. Since it involved overexposing the film by around 1.5 stops, the 50D film became quite unbearably slow, but since I’m now using 250D, it’s actually feasible. Thanks for reminding me; I should give this another go. I might even try a side by side comparison…

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