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What is best film for portraits?


lincoln_m

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Hi,

I generally prefer slide film for colour and was wondering what is the best film for portraits, grain, colour balance etc? Normally I shoot landscape but have the need to shoot more portraits so Provia 100F is my current choice as Astia is not available. Am I forgetting others?

 

Before digital Pros would use Medium Format Slide film. What do we do now for very fine grain and natural colours?

 

The S2 produces some nice results for portrait/fashion at 37Mpixels very similar to my scans of 35mm slide but I'd need perfect technique and maybe even print film to handle the wider dynamic range and smooth highlights? Do you use print film instead?

 

Also what is best B&W film for fine grain and natural skin tones?

Regards, Lincoln

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Sorry, should have read your question properly, Portra is C41 reversal film.

 

For B/W - when your priority is fine grain, Delta 100 or Tmax 100 should be worth a try.

Regarding tonal range, my recommendation for portraits would be a yellow or yellow-green filter, regardless of the film.

 

Stefan

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Stefan,

I think I used Porta 400 for a family wedding but find it too grainy and noisy when compared to say Provia slide film, perhaps I should try the 160 speed? I do use TMAX 100 for fine grain B&W portraits or landscapes but I've not tried Delta 100. TMAX 100 has 100lp/mm so has plenty resolution if my technique is carefully controlled.

 

Kodak spec the grain of print film and slide film in different ways so it's not easy to compare. Fuji Astia was the least grainy but when all the pros went digital I guess the need for 120 rolls of Astia died over night.

 

Can a print film really compare and be good enough for 24x16 inch enlargements as slide film can?

 

There must be an answer that is not these €20K medium format digitals Leica S2, HassyH5D-40 etc? The M lenses seem to have better spec than the S lenses so I'd hope we can still get excellent (fine art) results with M film cameras given the best films.

 

High resolution, fine grain, low noise, natural colours, colour print or slide film that's better than Provia 100F? That is my question I guess.

 

Thanks, Lincoln

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Lincoln, I read your various concerns about film quality and performance and would have this to offer as my experience.

 

Except maybe under strictly controlled conditions, eg. studio, negative film is probably going to serve you better than slide film. As you will know, slide film has a narrow dynamic range that is not well suited to high contrast environments. eg. strong sunny days with heavy shade as well. Of course I am speaking about conditions in Australia which are more in that direction than you would normally find in the UK. That being the case, C41 colour neg will serve you better than reversal film.

 

For B&W film I have a preference for Ilford Delta 100 and 400. They deliver very good contrast and definition along with good grain, especially the 100.

 

Now all this subjective to start with and then there is the variable of processing which I think is a larger variable than the film itself. Trusting a lab these days is Russian Roulette IMO so I recommend 'self processing'. Definitely superior whatever.

 

As for enlarging capability, for most of my working life I used film and never hesitated to supply prints up to two metres on the long edge (and some much larger at times). As example, an aerial pic I made from 2500ft on a Hasselblad using a 110mm lens (slightly longer than standard) showing an entire school precinct and it's proximity to the Bayside region as well as the nearby city, it was clearly possible to read the numbers on the backs of players jumpers on the schools football field! That was shot on Kodak Portra400. The biggest variable or risk in that and many situations is the photographer and camera shake.

 

So yes negative film is excellent, if properly handled and processed, and gives more latitude to the photographer.

 

Negative film will obviously render differently from Provia F. It will however deliver qualities of its own. Not better, not worse, just different. You will need to acclimatise to each film and its characteristics.

Edited by erl
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For a slide film, Provia 400x has good skin tones and is a bit less contrasty than Provia 100, IIRC. The grain is very fine for a reversal film, probably close to if not better than the best what color negative can offer. That being said, nothing beats Portra for skin tones. The 160 variant has relatively muted colors, the 400 variant is a bit more lively.

Portra 800 has the most vivd colors (while retaining good skin tones) but is quite a bit grainier than the other two.

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There must be an answer that is not these €20K medium format digitals Leica S2, HassyH5D-40 etc? The M lenses seem to have better spec than the S lenses so I'd hope we can still get excellent (fine art) results with M film cameras given the best films.

...

High resolution, fine grain, low noise, natural colours, colour print or slide film that's better than Provia 100F? That is my question I guess.

 

Lincoln, plenty of fine portraits have been taken before the advent of "€20K medium format digitals" though your apparent requirement for grain that is finer than Provia and a 24x16 print might be pushing it a bit for 35mm neg (Leica lens or not). I think you are going to have to experiment a bit – try various films, developers and print sizes – because only you can decide whether the result you obtain is what you are looking for. There have been a number of good suggestions, you might also consider Pan F for B&W and Ektar for colour neg. You may find that you'll benefit from the larger neg size of medium format and it may be worth borrowing or renting something (you can even consider buying something – a s/h Mamiya RZ kit is only £500 nowadays and you'll be printing from luscious 6x7 sized negs not tiddly 35mm).

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My preference is Kodak Portra 160 or 400. As the name suggest, it is optimized for skin tones. However, I like the look for landscapes as well.

 

Stefan

 

+1

 

In 35 mm I use both, for my MF I often use the Portra 400 due to the slower lens.

 

Best

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