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Saturday, October 29, 2016

••◊ Getting to know film: Kodak Portra 400

The next film stock I tried in my rounds of experimentation was Kodak Portra 400. It's supposed to be a peer of Fujifilm Pro 400H.  Every photographer knows that different photography companies address color and contrast in different ways.  That's certainly true here.  Kodak built their brand on not only the "Kodak moment", but also "Kodak color."  What I found within the first few scans of negatives is that the color just appealed to me.  Whereas using Fujifilm left me a bit apprehensive about the "film look", I was anxious to see what the next negative scan of Portra 400 showed.

Keep in mind that Portra 400 is a general purpose film stock.  It has limitations in terms of grain, but you gain versatility by being able to shoot in the Pacific Northwest or on cloudy days in California.  I'll show an example of grain later, but first let's talk about the pictures.

I went down to San Diego's Little Italy to do my test shots.  During this particular weekend there was the annual stick ball tournament during the Saturday morning farmers' market.  I also stopped in at Queenstown Pub for lunch with friends; after which I went down to San Diego bay - featuring a pirate gun battle.

In case you haven't picked up on it already, I liked the Kodak Portra color rendition much more than Fujifilm for my type of photography.  Whereas Fujifilm Pro 400H lacks reds, Kodak tends to favor red - giving more pleasing skin tones.  Sometimes this can be a bit overbearing, and sometimes it can be just the thing to add a bit of pop to the picture.  For instance, the first picture of flowers below has orange screaming off the page, but the second picture of tea brewing feels nice to me.  Yellow doesn't seem to be as affected as orange or brown.

One down side to this red bias occurred when I need to increase the scanning printer lights about a half stop to bring up this picture.  You can definitely see a red bias toward the whole image.  As a first order fix, I would definitely recommend over exposing this film by at least one stop.  I also found that it's better to fix exposure problems in image editing software than during the scan to avoid this red bias in underexposed parts of the image.

One aspect that's definitely different than Fujifilm is the rendition of blue.  On Portra 400 blue feels much more dull and subdued.  This is both good and bad.  The sailing pictures below don't do much for me, color wise.  However, if blue was increased on the picture of the sandwich, which was mainly lit in the shadows with sky light, it wouldn't look as good.  So there's trade offs.  Maybe Kodak decided that sky light should be subdued for portraits to keep blue off skin and make it look healthier...don't know.

In general, I liked the color rendition of well exposed photos in daylight - which was my discovery objective for later travel photos.

Just like the other films I tried, you can't underexpose Portra 400 and expect good results.  There's no detail under the porch railing in the picture below.  It's just gone.  The film doesn't mind a one to two stop over exposure, which you can bring back down with the scanner lights.  It also increases your saturation slightly when you use the film this way. 

Then there's the topic of grain.  Just like Pro 400H, Portra has significant grain.  It's *maybe* slightly better than Fujifilm, but I wouldn't call either insignificant in a general sense.  Still, the Portra 400 grain appears more neutral in color than the Fujifilm stock.  Certainly, it looks much better than most cell phone or high ISO pictures from digital cameras.

So there you have it.  I like Kodak.  I still have one more film stock to review in my series.  Unfortunately I didn't get to borrow a film scanner in time for my vacation so I gambled on the Kodak stock and got lucky.

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