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Introduction

Agfa Vista has been a very cheap allround customer color negative film, sold in supermarkets and drugstores for very low prices.

Sadly, Agfa went out of buisiness several years ago and completely stopped production of all films. As some other Agfa films, Vista is still being sold under the old or very similar names, today in 2013 as "Vista Plus", but this is completely different material, repacked and rebranded from other manufacturers. The actual, April 2013, "Agfaphoto Vista Plus" in fact is Fuji material, most likely C200. Some other Agfa films still sold, like APX, contain original, old material that has been frozen nearly ten years ago and is now sold by the new owner of the Agfa brand name, the "Lupus Imaging & Media GmbH & Co. KG". As far as I know, there have been three different films branded as Vista. Gladly, you can differentiate these by their full name alone, so read possible offerings careful:

 - "Agfa Vista": This is the original one, reviewed here. The "Agfa" logo is the old red rombus. The last rolls have expired around 2008, any newer material is other film.

- "AgfaPHOTO Vista": This has been - at least I didn't get any other at that time - from Ferrania in Italy. I'm not completely sure, if this was their "Solaris", but it was quite similar to it. Ferrania made some very ... well, you could best call it "special", films: Extremely saturated, what the original Vista has been, too, but with a very obvious, very orange or "faded", vintage look, a lot stronger than original Vista and very grainy.

- "AgfaPHOTO Vista Plus": The actual one, most likely Fuji C200.


So why do I now, in 2013, review a film, not in production any more for about 10 years or so? Because a) Vista is very forgiving with being used after expiry, b) you can sometimes get old stock of original Vista cheaply - I have bought a mixed bunch of 52 rolls with 12, 27 and 36 exposures for about 65,- cents per roll lately at ebay - and c) I really like it.

As a classic consumer film, Vista is intended for use in cheap point-and-shoot cameras by people not really knowing what they are doing. To be as forgiving as possible, it, like all consumer films, has a broad exposure latitude and dynamic range, but quite a bit lower than Fuji C200 or Kodak Gold in my experience.

It should be used as what it is: A cheap allround film for many occasions. But among those, it clearly and by far is the most saturated, keeping people OK by being as neutral in color rendition as possible. It looks good in many situations, but you have to like its very colorful, contrasty results.

So it clearly has it's weaknesses and should be used to avoid these, if possible.

Agfa Vista is by far my favourite allround film: Not the very sharpest with a bit higher grain than others, but with very high saturation and neutral to warm, brillant, shining colors it produces amazing, beautiful, wild results. And it is cheap enough to not worry about every single shot. Especially if you shoot landscapes and people are only a subsidiary target or a vague possibility, you'll probably LOVE Vista.

Base / Medium

Vista is a color negative film. As far as I know, it has only been available in 35mm with 12, 24, 27 or 36 exposures.

It has a base of very light, nearly gray color with only a very light orange-brown, just a little bit darker than Portrait XPS. It has a very high light transmission and so it is very easy to scan and produces consistant results.

Price

Vista was one of the cheapest films and still is today, but now it is a different film and has indeed been the cheapest one from Agfa. It has been sold mainly in supermarkets and drugstores.

I bought a mixed bunch of 52 rolls with 12, 27 and 36 exposures of these at ebay, all with expiry - dates in 2006 and stored cool - NOT frozen - for something around 65 cents per roll.

If you need a colorful, "poppy" landscape film for always having at home but cheaper than Velvia, you should buy some, if you can.

Storage behaviour

I already mentioned it: Vista is very forgiving with longer than usual storage. The 2006-expired films I bought where advertised by the seller as "stored cool". Whatever this means, it as OK, since all of these I tried were completely fine and no change in any way was visible. Adding to that, I bought a much smaller lot of Vista, e a bit surprisingly, since it was one of these auctions I don't take seriously, because I don't really want the item. I'm often not in the mood to watch and just bid a price of "OK, if I get it for that, I cannot let it go, but otherwise: Take it and have fun, whoever!". Here, I got 12 rolls of the very last Vista - production, expired 2008, but it had been stored in a cupboard in the livingroom... Probably the worst possible location in the most-heated room in every house. These rolls have definitely changed, but are still fully usable. In what they differ from the original:

- Higher grain, especially more obstrusive as it is more colorful

- A bit higher contrast: This isn't bad at all, if you know and deal with it

- Much lower speed: The Vista 200 is now definitly closer to 100, probably even below that.

- There is NO color change of any kind visible or the weird violet and green stripes you get with other expired film.

While the higher contrast is more positiv than negative to me, the higher grain doesn't matter with film and the lower speed you can deal with. As there is no color change, it is still usable exactly as the original, with having the results of one test-roll in mind. This makes Vista one of the very best films in regards to stability over time and a very good and safe buy expired.

Grain

Vista still has quite fine and unobstrusive grain, but Agfa has never been leading in this regard and Vista is worse than newer emulsions from Fuji or Kodak here. Having said that, it is still a whole class below older films like Agfa Portrait XPS 160, even having lower ISO spec formally.

Here's an example, cropped at 100% from a 3.600dpi scan:

Vista_grain_520.jpg

What makes Vista quite unobstrusive, is, that the grain doesn't consist of the weird neon-yellow dots like Portrait XPS or others - it's more like luminance noise of digital (Bayer-) sensors. BTW: The blue tint on the right window isn't a characteristic of Vista but the deep blue sky reflecting in a dirty (salty) window.

Grain is not a strength, nor a weakness of this film - it's ok.

If you really see the need to, you can reduce this grain in a digital post processing workflow quite easy, but because of the "flat" and unobstrusive grain-structure, you tend to get flat, comic-like, "blotchy" areas without texture and structure, like with digital point-and-shoots at high ISOs. I wouldn't do it or at least be very careful with unagressive settings.

Grain is one thing getting worse (stronger), when Vista is stored too long under wrong conditions, see the sharpness - example below, which is on 5 year-expired film, that has been stored in a cupboard in the living room.

Sharpness

The Agfa is a sharp film, but not among the sharpest of it's class. Here are two 100% crops from 3.600 dpi scans without any further sharpening in software - resulting in pictures of aprox. 5.000 x 3.400 pixels or 17megapixels, first Agfa Vista, second Fuji Superia, both 200 ISO:

Vista_sharpness_520.jpg

Superia_Sharpness_520.jpg

Same camera, same lens, same day, same hour, same location.

Contrast

As a typical consumer negative film, Vista is intended as an alround film - the (only) film my parents take with them on their holidays. These all have higher contrast than portrait - films or Reala, to give it a bit of "punch" at the beach, but most have much lower contrast than landscape - films like Velvia, to make it more flexible. Vista is a bit of an exception to that rule, as it is very contrasty indeed, especially when it comes to the shadows, even if not as extreme as Velvia. This seems to be a bit of a characteristic of most (original) Agfa films. Maybe this is a price they paid for their neutral but punchy colors. You can clearly see what I mean in the example below:

Vista_Contrast_520.jpg

Saturation

Most consumer negative films are a bit on the more saturated side to give my parents' holiday-pictures a certain punch to look impressive when showing it to their friends - with blue sky, yellow sand and green trees. In comparison, Vista really is one of, if not THE most "extreme" example regarding saturation. While most of such films, with all the tendencies to look "punchy" on the one hand, are still a lot less saturated than e.g. Velvia 100, simply because, due to their alround - character, they have to make people in the yellow sun look good, too, and not letting them "glow" like orange or pink piggies, Vista is not very far behind, indeed.

The reason, why people look OK, if not really great, on Vista is the very neutral, but with a tendency to warmer than reality colors:

Vista_Skin_520.jpg

This isn't great like on Portrait XPS, but at least is pleasing, always looking a bit like sun-brown skin in the holidays. I can't imagine any better skin-tones with a saturation this high and it is much better than the tendency to green-gray of Fuji C200 in the shadows (see also next chapter).

It's great for my style of shooting, but not for everyone.

Color - reproduction

General: This - for me - is by far the most important point and the main differentiation - criteria between different films. In fact, this is the most important point judging any photographic equipment, because color is everything. There's no need for sharpness if the picture is the wrong color. A beautiful picture looks awful with the wrong color. Velvia 50 is very sharp and contrasty and has the most beautiful, most saturated colors to produce the overwhelming, fanatastic landscape - shots you see in world - famous photo exhibitions or national geographic. But it is completely useless for people, because people have red-pink piggy-faces on Velvia 50.

 

Having said that, Vista has a typical Agfa color rendition, meaning very neutral with a tendency to warmer than real colors and ... I don't really know how to describe it ... the "Agfa" look. Agfa films have always had a special way of seeing and interpreting the world, different from all other brands at the very first glance. Even the most neutral-colored film ever made, Agfa CT Precisa, had this particular look. I think, you either love or hate it. Many people selling film when Agfa was still alive, hated Agfa, saying things like, "these always have a real bad color-tint" or "you have to take Kodak, it is so much better". I know, what they mean(t), but I really like this look, which is very special.

But I'll try to describe it objectively first:

Vista is generally on the warm side, while still rendering most colors very neutral, but not all with the same saturation or intensity.

Oddly, while being more warm overall, Vista clearly exaggerates blues and yellows, which doesn't quite fit together on first sight. Blue sky and the yellow sun or yellow flowers do really shine and pop out. Here are examples: First a quite extreme one of blue sky, NOT polarized, and then a comparison of Vista (left) and Fuji Superia (right):

Vista_Color_520.jpg

Vista_Saturation1_260.jpg Superia200_Saturation1_260.jpg

You can see in the example above, that greens are very saturated, too, but not as obvious as blue and yellow.

And maybe you even get the clou, why Vista is still a bit warmer than others and salesmen formerly talked about the "severe color-tint": They meant a tint to red, which really is there, but not always. Look at the white blossoms: You see that slight tendency to red? This is there, but is completely absent in the blues, yellows and greens. It kicks in, when you look from right to left in the sky, where it gets a bit whiter from clouds. If you look really careful, you can spot it in the first example, too, mainly in the rendition of the grey stones in front.

While the Fuji is a lot nearer to reality here with the slight yellow-tint in the clouds, that has really been there from the sun on late afternoon, Superia (like C200) tends to blue in the greens and looks more grey overall.

In fact, this is the point, where Vista, as most Agfa films (even CT Precisa slightly looks this way), isn't neutral any more: In all colors, that aren't really colors, as white and grey, it tends a bit to red.

This may be a side-effect of Agfa engineer's efforts to make brown and skin-tones as pleasing as possible while still producing these amazing colors: Where Kodak renders skin-tones yellow and browns much too dominant and "70's style" for my taste, Agfa gives you smooth shades of brown and a brown "holiday-skin" look:

Vista_braun_520.jpg

Vista_Skin_520.jpg

In the first example, you can spot the red tint in some of the browns and in the grey concrete on the right. But here it helps the browns to look even deeper and give it more nuances. What surely helps keeping peoples skin like skin-colored and not tending to piggy-pink like Velvia, is, that reds tend a little bit to warm, render very deep, maybe even a tiny bit towards brown, and aren't as shiny as with some Fuji films for example:

Vista_Rot_520.jpg

While the hut really is a bit red-brown, do also look at the flags.

Only in dark shadows, skin can look a bit to brown due to this behaviour, so that it looks a bit like a faded photograph from the 70's, as you can see in this example:

Vista_Skin_Shadow_520.jpg

Finally, this is, what a tendency to red with strong yellow and high contrast does with a flamingo in the evening sun - I love it:

Vista_Flamingo_520.jpg

All this makes the aforementioned "Agfa look": Neutral colors, emphasising blues and yellows and a slight red tint in shades of white and grey with very fine graduations of brown with warm, deep and not too bright reds. It's not a real vintage - look (except from people in deep shadows), even if it sometimes seems a bit like it. It's simply unique with Agfa films. And Vista combines this with the very very high saturation you see above.

You love or hate all this - I love it.

Recommendations

Suitable for:

- Holidays

- Everythin in the sun

- Landscapes in the sun

- Snapshots of people in surroundings OK for a brown-holiday look

- Amazing allround film for landscape-shooters.

 

Not suitable for:

- Real portraits or shootings mainly targeting for people

- Photos with dominant shadows.

 

Compared to

There aren't much cheap consumer films left on the market.

The only real alternatives still produced and sold today seem to be Fuji C200 (or simply "Fujicolor" in other countries) and Kodak Gold (or "Farbwelt" in Germany). The Fuji is much better for overcast or snowy landscapes and in the shadows, where the Kodak produces a strong color cast, while the Kodak is a lot better for people in these conditions, the Fuji being cooler overall. I think the Kodak, in fact, is as close to a real allround-film, as it ever gets, because it never looks really ugly like the Fuji with people and flash, where it gets all grey. When I take an allround - film with me - for example I always have a few rolls in my bag with my old EOS 100 in my trunk - I always carry 2 rolls of both and and 2 rolls of Vista, because I mainly shoot landscapes, and use them depending on the conditions I find. Vista is the most saturated of all and has this special look.

Vista is my favourite allround-film of all time, my favourite negative film and my third choice landscape - film after Velvia and Velvia 100 for one 15th of the price.

A lot more expensive is the "Portra" line from Kodak and I don't really compare these simply because of the pricing (Portra costs about five times as much). Adding to that, Portra is mainly intended as a real Portrait - film. I have to add, that apart from that, there are a lot of people using Portra for landscapes or allround - scenarios, too, because of its broad exposure - latitude and not too muted color rendering - there has even been a "VC" (Vivid Color) version of Portra. When you do, the general color rendition described above is very similar to GOLD, but with less grain, muted colors and lower contrast. Fuji Reala is the very neutral alternative from Fuji, even more neutral and a bit cooler than Portra, but also a lot more expensive.

Modern slide- or other pro-films are specialized films you buy for a specific reason, so I don't compare them here.

 

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