Ask around the internet for everyone's favorite film rolls, and it wouldn't take long before you hear the mention of the Kodak Portra 400. In fact, it is perhaps one of the most often mentioned film rolls I've seen so far. Curious to see what all the fuss is about, I went and tried it out myself.
Kodak Portra 400: Cold Hard Facts
According to Kodak Alaris, the Portra 400 is the world’s finest grain high-speed color negative film. The company also prides the film on delivering "spectacular" skin tones, making it great for portrait photography. Although, the Portra 400 is also stated to be ideal for fashion, nature, travel, and outdoor photography.
The Portra 400 is available in 36 exposures for 35mm-format cameras, as well as other formats such as 120 (pro pack), 4x5, 4x10, 5x7, 8x10, 11x14, and 20x24. As a part of Kodak's line of Professional color film rolls, the Portra 400 retails for higher than its counterparts in Kodak's line of Everyday Film, like the Gold 200 and Ultramax 400. Depending on where you live, a roll of the Portra 400 can cost around €15 - €30 in the 35mm format, while the pack of 5 in the 120 pro starts from around €70.
Kodak Portra 400 in Action
I'm really glad for the way I've tested the Portra 400, as it really covers many different shooting conditions. I shot a few exposures at a friend's wedding, and then some during a trip to Bali, and they were all taken with the point-and-shoot Olympus AF-1. Here are some of the ones I shot at my friend's wedding:
As you can see, the wedding took place indoors, and my camera's flash went off several times automatically. The only photo above that was taken without flash was the one on the bottom right corner. The resulting photos might not be the best to judge the skin tone that the film produces as the flash went off, but what I can say is that even with the flash off I still like the skin tone it produces. Even with the flash off, I still like the general tone and color balance of the film. And that one photo that was taken without the flash, I like that too!
But what about the photos I took in Bali? Isn't it always warm and sunny there? How will the Portra 400 perform then?
As you can see from the photos above, I shot these under completely different conditions from the shots I took at the wedding. Most, if not all, of my shots in Bali were taken outdoor, with high exposure. My reaction to these is the same though, I like them!
I think the Portra 400 has an incredible exposure latitude - it does well indoor under low exposure, and superbly outdoor under high exposure. The film handles underexposure and overexposure well considering the amount of details it manages to preserve. Sure, this is not incredibly surprising to see with a 400-ISO film, but I think the consistency of tone that the Portra 400 manages to deliver under different exposures is one worth appraising.
As a matter of fact, the tone that the Portra 400 delivers is probably one of my favorite features of the film. The Portra 400 has a way of serving up warm tones with a natural color palette. Combined with its medium contrast, all these features result in beautiful shots. As myfavouritelens.com has so accurately written, there is nothing in the resulting images that is overdone, yet nothing is bland either.
As we have established earlier, Kodak also claims that the film is the world’s finest grain high-speed color negative film. While I cannot help but get a bit cynical every time someone claims to be the world's best in anything, I must say that I am, in fact, impressed at how fine the grain is on the Portra 400. If it helps paint a better picture, the Portra 400 surely produces finer grain than its counterpart, the Ultramax 400, which is a part of the company's line of Everyday Film.
Having shot a lot with 400-ISO films in the past, I thought I liked a bit of grain to give the resulting images that grainy characteristic so distinct to film photography. But after seeing the images that the Portra 400 produces, I think I might have switched to 'Team Fine Grain'. Yes, the images have fine grain, but with the tone, color balance and contrast that the Portra 400 produce, it is nearly impossible for the images to come out lacking characteristics.
No surprise here, but I love the Portra 400! It is easily one of my favorite color films, if not my most favorite. There is no doubt that I will shoot with this film again in the near future and years to come, and I will continue to shoot it under different lighting conditions to keep testing its capabilities.
Almost everything and anything with this film is a pro - tone, color balance, contrast, fine grain. Not to mention its superb exposure latitude, making it a good choice not just for "professionals" as seems to be implied from the name of the line that this film is a part of (ie. Kodak Professional), but also for newbies and casual film photographers.
The only drawback from this film is probably its price. If you're in a budget or if you take little to no time finishing a roll, spending €15 on a roll is quite a tough decision to make. It is easily one of the most expensive film rolls out there, aside from maybe "special" film rolls that are more rare to find. So it could be a film that you would buy every now and then for a special trip or occasion, but might not be one that you load in your film camera time after consecutive time.
Would you agree with my Kodak Portra 400 review? Let me know on the comments below.