Monday, December 31, 2007

Fuji Natura Classica: The "black and white" trials

While I'm not a big 35mm shooter, for a couple years I've been wanting some kind of simple, yet nice (and cool) 35mm point and shoot. I'd considered the Ricoh GR-1, but the price is a little bit high, and I'm just not that keen on buying something for that much that is used and is all digital (aside from the film), meaning I have no way of fixing it myself. I don't expect anything to last forever (except maybe my Snappy, even if it is built entirely out of tape with a shutter and a lens), but I at least wanted something new out of the box, without any previous, possibly emotionally damaged history (oh, wait, that might be my dating preference). So, finally, I decided on the Fuji Natura Classica. There is also a Fuji Natura NS available, but the Classica is nicer looking, and has a couple extra features. These are only available in Japan, so you have to export it if you want one. It's actually fairly difficult to find new, decent 35mm cameras in the US nowadays. I was looking for a middle of the road 35mm PAS for my mom. You can't really find them. There are typically refurbished. I found a 'new' Samsung that got good reviews, but even that has a warranty card from 2001. Commoners just don't care about film anymore...it's digital all the way. In Japan, film almost seems to be making a comeback. There are tons of film cameras available. Even 110 has regained popularity. So these nice cameras, like the Classica, will probably never be produced outside of Japan.
The Classica isn't the first in the Natura line. There is the original Natura Black, which featured a 24mm lens with a base f-stop of 1.9. Then came the Natura S, which I think is pretty much the same thing, except in pretty colors, probably to cater to women. There is also another version with ugly patterns on the front, available in black (not shown on the Fuji site) and lavender, again probably for women. These are no longer produced, and are actually quite collectible. That was another reason I chose the Classica. It's always nice to buy something that actually increases in value, or at least maintains its value, as opposed to many 35mm cameras that sell for $20 five years after their initial $400 price tag. I figured if I didn't like it, I could probably make my money back. But I do like it, so it's a keeper.
So, anyway, the camera. What's so special about it? A 35mm point and shoot? Who cares, right? Well, before I get into all of that, here's a little camera porn...





(Foxy whistle sound) A very attractive camera, I think. Also small and very light. Plastic body, nice grippy leatherette skin. So, besides looking nice, what makes this stand out from other point and shoots? Well, the secret lies in the Natura name, and the little NP logo. It was pretty much specifically designed to use Fuji Natura film, which is a 1600 speed color film. What's the big deal? Well, it's built to take shots indoors and at night...without a flash. Whaaat? Yep. 1600 is just very light sensitive, and while I'm sure this can be done with an expensive SLR (I've never actually used 1600 before), there aren't any PAS cameras that do this, except for the Natura. And it not only works with Natura film, it works with any 1600 speed film. And it also works with 800 speed film. Below that, NP mode doesn't work, and it meters for normal speeds, so you'd have to use the flash. The purpose of the NP mode with fast film is that you get more natural colors and light without the harsh flash. Does it really work? You bet it does. More on that in a bit. First, let's look at the camera and some of the settings.
The Classica features a wide 28mm lens with a base f-stop of 2.8. Not as low as the 1.9 of the original, and not at wide as the 24mm of the original. Not sure what difference the small f-stop change makes for these PAS cameras. The manual is in Japanese. I've translated a few pages. Some of the stuff is a bit 'duh', like the viewfinder, but the counter window on top deserves some explanation. It's easy to load and if that's difficult for you, or this is your first camera, you probably won't be buying this camera outside of Japan. So I'll skip the really basic stuff.



Because this is a Japan-only camera, it is a Japanese camera. Meaning...no English. Even the buttons on top are Nihongo.


This is probably the only confusing part when using this camera. It is a point and shoot, after all. There are a few adjustable settings, but, for the most part, the camera does all the work. Here is a translated explanation of how to change the menu settings.


Slightly convoluted, but I assume that is to make it difficult to accidentally change the settings. So, you press the red button to turn the power on. The lower left button enters 'menu change mode'. The item will be flashing rapidly. You press the arrow button to cycle through the different settings on the window (as seen in the above window guide). Then when you are at the setting you want (say, nighttime slow shutter, or the little guy with the moon), you press the upper right corner and cycle through the options for that setting. It will blink slowly when the option is selected. Then you push the lower left button to set it. If the item is rapidly blinking, it will turn that setting off when you press the lower left button. Sounds complicated? Not really, once you know the pattern. It's a head scratcher at first, though.
The first thing you probably want to do is turn off the date stamp, as it is on by default. Just cycle through the window with the arrow button until the date is selected. Then use the right upper button to cycle through the date options until it says "off". Then set it by pressing the lower left button.


The other thing you might want to do is turn off the beeping sounds the camera makes. It's a very quiet camera without the beeping...you can't even hear the shutter fire. You just hear the film advance to the next shot. This was a bit tougher to figure out. While holding down the lower left button, press the upper right button until the sound menu appears. "boff" means no sound.
I'm not going to go over every feature of the camera, as most of it is obvious. We all know what red-eye reduction and landscape means. Most point and shoot and even digital cameras have the same settings. You can adjust the exposure up and down a few stops. I haven't messed with this yet, as I wanted to see what the camera would do by itself. My digital camera has this option, too, but I rarely use it. One thing you may have noticed from the above illustrations is the "remote control". This must be something you buy separately. But it has a timer, so I think the remote is just more fun gadgetry. I suppose if you want more time to set up your reunion shot, or you want to set up the camera outside and wait for that squirrel to get right up close to the camera, it might be useful. I don't have it, though. What comes with the camera is a case, battery and strap. The battery is, fortunately, a fairly common 3V CR2 camera battery. I say fairly common because I went to Fry's to find one for my mom's camera, and they said "Oh, we don't usually carry batteries for old technology." This is the same place that had a pile of beat up, overpriced, refurbished Konica point and shoots as their only film camera stock (Konica Minolta is no longer in the camera business). Best Buy had the batteries.
On to the other, more important setting...NP mode. I'll let the manual explain the basics.


I have no idea how 1600 speed film acts in a regular point and shoot. This is, quite honestly, my first PAS since my Kodak Disc camera I had when I was 12. I should say my first automatic PAS, as most of my toy cameras are 'point' and 'shoot'. But, I have to say, not really knowing what to expect, I was amazed. I'm used to just giving up shooting when the sun goes behind a building or the clouds are too thick. And inside? Only if I can do a 10 second exposure. I have a flash on my Holga, but it almost burns a white hole in the center of the film, it's so harsh. And it only reaches about 3 feet in front of the camera. So, this is seriously a very new experience for me.
As I'm not much into color film, I loaded a roll of Fuji 1600 Super Presto black and white into the camera (and developed with D-76 1:1), and took a short road trip with sol exposure to the mountain towns northwest of Phoenix. Let's start with some daylight shots. What I gathered from the manual is that the camera is smart enough to know when to use NP and when not to (as evidenced by the all caps SHUTS OFF in the instructions...and sorry I missed an extra comma in my translation). Makes sense, as your pictures would be blown out if the exposures where the same as a night shot. These were taken in full sun.




Nice. I love the contrast, It almost borders on overexposure. Detail is tremendous. This is literally just framing the picture and pressing the shutter button. I love easy. So, we are out in the desert. This was around 3:30, in December, so the sun is creepy down the sky. By the time we got to Yarnell, the sun was low and behind the mountains. Not dark, but dusky. I could have used my Stellar, but I know from experience that the photos would have just come out too dark. How about the Natura? No problems.




Again, no flash. This is natural light. And I'm not changing anything on the camera. Just aim and shoot. The last shot of the windows was behind a building, sun setting, full shade. I actually darkened it a bit in Photoshop as it looked like full daylight. The camera almost overcompensates a bit when exposing. For comparison, this is the same area shot with my Stellar (Diana clone).


That was with 200 speed film. Has its own charm, for sure, but there is a slight exposure difference, eh? The same building had a truck inside. So it's getting dark, this is an abandoned building with no lights inside. I stuck the camera to the window and fired the shutter.


Wow. The camera saw more than I could see with my eyes. The contrast is a bit lower, as the shades inside were more even. I also shot through another window, and it picked up what was inside, as well as the reflections outside.


As we began heading back, I took some shots from the top of the mountain as the sun was setting and behind some clouds. As I really had no idea how my shots were going to turn out, I took the same shot with and without the flash to see how they differed. This is with the flash.


And without the flash.


Looks better without the flash, for sure. The sky is a bit brighter without the flash as it compensates for the foreground. But the flash washes out most of the detail in the grass, as flashes tend to do.
We moved on to Wickenburg to grab something to eat. It was dark when we arrived. We ate at the Cowboy Cafe.


This was an opportunity to test its indoor capabilities without a flash. This is sol's arm.


Not sure what the focus range is for the camera. I don't know if the arm would have been in focus if the AF had been aimed there instead of the chair. I'll have to test that sometime. Another from the inside of the restaurant.


Crazy. It just does no wrong. Or does it? I took this shot outside as we were leaving.


This was the only time I got a red light for the exposure meter. It was red when the center was not on the sign. When I aimed the center of the viewfinder at the sign, I got a green light. The sign is a bit overexposed. I guess darkness only goes so far before there just isn't enough data for the camera to read. Still, pretty amazing what it does do.
So, my final initial review? I think it's a fantastic camera for what it does. Sure, it's a little low on the feature list. The only manual control you have over your photos is to turn the NP mode on and off and some minor exposure adjustment. You can do the same things you can do with most PAS and digital cameras. like meter a different area (by pressing partway down on the shutter button), reading a different focal point and then shooting something else, etc. But that's about it. The camera does such a wonderful job by itself, though...none of that really bothers me. It really is the ultimate indoor/low light camera. I can see this as a great all-around camera. I can use for my artsy shots, and I can also use it for travel/family shots. I can't wait to go on vacation and shoot indoors without a flash. Imagine going inside castles, churches, temples, etc., and getting perfectly exposed shots all the time? And it's so stealthy and quiet, you can shoot without disturbing others, or shoot where you aren't supposed to shoot (not that I ever would...Ghibli Museum, here I come).
And just to prove that I take silly, everyday shots like everyone else, and not just artsy farty photos, here are a couple of kitty snaps. First, without the flash, the "Ooh what's that? Pay attention to me! Me, me, me!" kitty.


And, with the flash, the "What the hell is that? Geez, don't do that to me!" kitty.


Those were the last two shots on the roll (36 and...37! Yay, a free shot!). Next I'll take it out with a roll of Natura color film. Again, not that into color film, but I want to see how it works and report it back to you. Check out the Flickr Natura Classica group for shots by others, mostly color.
I leave you tonight with almost 60 years of Fuji history in one shot. The smart-ass "I can do it all" nephew and the "Shut up, kid, I'm too hip for you" grand-uncle.


On a side note, if anyone wants to let go of a Great Wall 120 SLR camera for somewhat cheap, let me know. Have a happy New Year! Last post until next year. Jeez, I hope 2008 is as worthwhile as I'm working on making it.

37 comments:

  1. ahhh, you've sold this camera so well that it's going back to the top of my 'wants' list. the shots look awesome!

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  2. For those of you outside of Japan, Dirk at unicircuits is an invaluable resource for obtaining those hard to get Japanese items...

    http://www.unicircuits.com/shop/

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  3. Kudos on the purchase and thanks for the exhaustive review. The Classica looks like a good performer. The NP mode is interesting and reminds me of the Klasse W from Fuji that I was drooling over last year. (Insert second foxy whistle sound here) In the end, I went with a slightly used (or possibly emotionally damaged) Leica CM instead, but the Fuji was a close second. I'd still like to pick one up for that 28mm wide angle lens. (more drooling)

    Most modern, well, cameras are "disposable", but I agree, these FujiFilms film PAS will be collectible and should enjoy a pretty long life. There is no doubt, 35mm film still absolutely slays digital point and shoots.

    Incidentally, this review just inspired an impulse buy of 6 rolls of Natura 1600 on ebay, damn you.

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  4. Looks so cool! A really sexy camera. Trying to figure out how to get one in Europe... or maybe I'll wait until my trip to Japan in March...

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  5. I am also using natura. The contents of the report were helpful in it being various.

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  6. Great site and the primer on the Classica menu buttons should be useful even if I find myself with a Natura Black/S.

    One minor correction though. You said, "The Classica features a wide 28mm lens with a base f-stop of 2.4. Not as low as the 1.9 of the original, but wider than the 24mm of the original." The 24mm Black/S is wider than the 28mm Classica.

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  7. doh! thanks for the correction! i type these fairly rapidly and sometime i'm just plain wrong! i'll fix that.

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  8. Great review!!Mines on my way as i type!!
    cheers
    andy

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  9. Yay came todayyyy sweet!!

    One point wouldn't recommend it if you wear glasses the viewfinder is tiny!!

    But its a sweet little camera got it sent out with the soft case and rolls got here in two days from Hong Kong pretty cool!!

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  10. 6 rolls of film* (its early lol)

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  11. Hello there! I just bought a Fuji Natura S in girly Lavender and I was scouring the net for an english manual...and found your blog! Well, I am ready with my 1600 Natura color film and I see that I can pretty much just wing it and learn this new baby on my own...it doesn't really seem difficult to use. I am just one of those people who likes to read the entire manual before I partake. Anyhow, I am already charmed with it. 1:1.9 lens to a low light lover...I'm ready!

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  12. Monte8:45 AM

    I think you have a typo. The Classica's lens is 28-56mm. And its max aperture is f2.8, not f2.4!

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  13. yep, you are right! fixed it.
    thanks

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  14. Wonderful review, Moomin! I've had mine (ordered it from dirk at Megaperls) for over a year and absolutely adore it.

    And just as you said, the first two things I tackled as soon as I put the batteries in was turning off the date stamp and the annoying beep.

    It is a wonderful little camera that's light enough to keep (for the ladies) in a pocketbook at all times. I've taken it on all sorts of functions at night (performing arts, dining out) and it has allowed me to take lovely pictures in very low light. I took it to Japan last spring and it will be traveling with me to Tokyo and Kyoto in a few days.

    I keep mine in a Domke F6 alongside a Hasselblad500 C/M, an Olympus XA and a Polaroid SX-70. The Natura Classica feels as deserving as any of the other babies in there.

    Hopefully with this write up more peeps will join the Natura Classica fold. You rock! :)

    PS: Ahh, the Canon Snappy! Those were the days! And to think I tossed mine out as soon as the battery door went bad. Back then the thought of gaffer's tape never occurred to me.

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  15. Thanks for posting this review, it's really helpful and I've decided to get one. Do you know how close you can get to the subject?

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  16. 40 cm for closeup shots...I am lucky living in japan...But i prefer Nikon F10 with almost same price tag with lens kit...

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  17. Hi, I just wanted to say thank you for the awesome review. I read it a few weeks ago and it helped me make my decison to get one! I've just gotten back the first few rolls I shot with it and I was just wondering if you could help me figure something out? Some of the photos had very strange rings of light around the entire picture, and other light problems. Have you experience any of this? I used fuji superia 1600 and 800, brand new, so I don't think that could be the issue. Any ideas? It occured on about half of the photos I shot. Here are a couple of examples.
    (and unfortunately I forgot to take the date off...oops)
    Thanks again for the great review!

    Kelsey

    http://i349.photobucket.com/albums/q381/kelsey_ridge/00680021.jpg

    http://i349.photobucket.com/albums/q381/kelsey_ridge/00680007.jpg

    http://i349.photobucket.com/albums/q381/kelsey_ridge/00810006.jpg

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  18. that is very strange! the first looks kind of like a lens flare, while the second looks very much like a lightleak. the third is just strange. almost looks like light is leaking through the front somewhere? with that odd gear pattern. looks like it's shaped like some internal structure. i can't think of any reason for these except that the camera is defective. return and exchange?

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  19. ChaCha5:02 PM

    Thanks for the review.
    my friend suggests it to me.
    after googling, and read your review .
    i decided to get one from japan.
    tried it with natura1600, great result !
    i will bring it with my china trip this weekend .
    wonderful point and shoot camera

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  20. Great work! Check out my photoblog, you will find that the first post, the pics were taken with an expired film and a Fuji natura classica.

    www.chiahuim.blogspot.com

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  21. Looks awesome camera. This is a good camera for the price. It is simple to use and takes clear, crisp pictures. Also, the battery life is good. And the price makes it affordable to take good pictures.

    r4i

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  22. Problem. My Natura Classica clicks when i try to zoom. The lens physically zooms but when thru the view finder it stays at 28mm. and also after clicking it shuts off. Anyone knows what the problem is?

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  23. Thanks for a great review Moominsean, fascinating stuff! I don't think I could live with the buttons in Japanese though, nothing personal just me being quircky!

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  24. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I think I will leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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  25. Azem Koleci.3:53 AM

    Helpful!
    Loooking forward to my one too.

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  26. Anonymous4:31 AM

    Hey what does the blinking red light indicate? Is it theres not enough light and im at risk of blur from camera shake? Seems to show up even when there should be adequate light for this sensitive camera. I wish i could read japanese!!

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  27. Anonymous6:00 PM

    Thanks for this - super helpful. I'm going to road test it on NP mode with 1600 colour film this weekend. Very excited!

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  28. Photographers control the camera and lens to "expose" the light recording material (such as film) to the required amount of light to form a "latent image" (on film) or "raw file" (in digital cameras) which, after appropriate processing, is converted to a usable image. Digital cameras use an electronic image sensor based on light-sensitive electronics such as charge-coupled device (CCD) or complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology. The resulting digital image is stored electronically, but can be reproduced on paper or film.

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  29. Anonymous7:35 AM

    Hello.
    I'm considering to buy this little P&S, but can't find much info about it on the Internet...
    1) What is the max aperture at 35mm? But at 50mm?
    2) Does it say the focal lenght when zooming?
    3) When it focuses? When pressing the shutter halfway, or when the shutter is completely pressed?
    Thanks a lot!
    Alex.

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  30. Anonymous4:00 AM

    Thanks moominsean for the review :) !!!!

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  31. hi :)
    i just loaded my natura 1600 film for the first time and a big E keeps flashing, why is this?

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    1. It means empty, the film isn't catching on the spool and the camera is reading the compartment as empty. try and reload the film; where it says film tip, make sure just the edge of the film touches, and doesn't have slack looping around the spool. this took me a few tries the first time.

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  32. Anonymous10:33 PM

    Lucky me, someone sent me an English version from Japan! :) Thanks anyway for the translation effort.

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  33. tania4:23 AM

    THANK YOU for the translation ! Very useful

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  34. Thank you so much for translating :D I bought this camera off of Ebay and the seller recommended me here since they lost the manual. I had a quick question, so I put the film in and for some reason now the camera is locked. It's saying 'Off' and a '5' is flashing on the screen. I'm not sure what I did wrong and I'm worried I broke it...

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  35. Is it a flashing "E"? Because that means error. Not sure about 5. Haven't used mine for a couple years, though. Plan on taking it to Japan in Spring...

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