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Portra 160, 400, 800 - differences


LocalHero1953
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I'd like to hear opinions on the differences between the three Portras - between 160 and 400 in particular.

I have now shot half a dozen rolls of Portra 400 since returning to film in the last year or so. I like very much how it handles highlights and subtle tonal variations in bright daylight scenes and with well-lit people - I get a different type of image from digital (CL, Q2, in my case). While it has performed competently (IMO) after dark in street scenes, it has not stood out - there appears to be no photographic benefit over digital. 

I use film mainly with people and street, but not exclusively. I am very happy shooting both film and digital (a M4 and Q2 fit neatly together in a small bag), though I don't usually carry both together - my mind works differently with each, and I don't find it easy quickly to make a mental switch.

I picked Portra 400 because it allows me to use it in bright light with a ND filter and after dark without. (Its reported wide latitude is helpful for when I'm shooting in a hurry and using just a hand exposure meter.) But if I shoot colour film mainly in good daylight in future, why not just use Portra 160?

What would I notice most if I used Portra 160 for daylight photography? 
And, to complete the picture, does Portra 800 offer something different to 400 in night-time photography other than just another stop?

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Posted (edited)

Hi Paul , attached here is a summary of the different qualities of Kodak Portra.

Portra has the color CCD Kodak sensor side M8 , it is for this reason that I had used the M8 for ten years to finally give up and now prefer the film.

Personally I love the Portra but what I prefer the most is the clear , transparent red of the Portra 800 for my poppies.

Please go and watch some recent poppies pictures on thread "I like Film" 😀

Best

Henry

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Edited by Doc Henry
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Posted (edited)

I will struggle to articulate this in technical terms but I use all 3 of these often (particularly 400, 800). 

160 find more pastel, desaturated colours, which I really like however the grain is a little fine for me, meaning the image looks a little too sharp and digital for my tastes.  It is the closest I've gotten to a classic Portra 'look', but a little clean looking for me.  I rate at 100 as 160 is too saturated (but I do prefer more pastel, lower contrast images as a personal taste). 

400 is very similar colours but is more saturated....at box speed too much so for my tastes. I avoid this by rating 250 and when used with plenty of light this seems a good sweet spot for me.  Here it veers toward the colour tones of 160 but with nicer (IMO) grain. Highlights are very well protected and lovely skies.   I guess much depends on the lab process but after some trial and error these ratings work with however my lab processes and I'm very happy with the colour and tonality .

Both 160 & 400 I knock the blue slider (Lightroom) down slightly -5 or -10 toward green. 

800 is fast becoming my favourite, the greens, browns and greys are more earthy but with really nice reds.  I find 800 colours to be more different to both 400 & 160 than 160 and 400 are from each other.  It is the most unique one of the bunch for colours.  I shoot at box speed and so find it extremely versatile with a 3 stop ND for daylight and a fast lens for night.   Sadly it is also the most expensive here. 

Regarding any advantages (over digital) of shooting any of these at night, I'm unaware of any technical benefits we would get from film in such situations but would be interested to hear from others.  My preference would be to shoot film to gain a feeling (depth?) in the image that I perceive as lacking with digital ...  although acknowledge that much of this may be in my head as a result of the extra toil I put in to take said image :P     

Attached pic is 800. 

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Edited by grahamc
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1 hour ago, grahamc said:

I will struggle to articulate this in technical terms but I use all 3 of these often (particularly 400, 800). 

160 find more pastel, desaturated colours, which I really like however the grain is a little fine for me, meaning the image looks a little too sharp and digital for my tastes.  It is the closest I've gotten to a classic Portra 'look', but a little clean looking for me.  I rate at 100 as 160 is too saturated (but I do prefer more pastel, lower contrast images as a personal taste). 

400 is very similar colours but is more saturated....at box speed too much so for my tastes. I avoid this by rating 250 and when used with plenty of light this seems a good sweet spot for me.  Here it veers toward the colour tones of 160 but with nicer (IMO) grain. Highlights are very well protected and lovely skies.   I guess much depends on the lab process but after some trial and error these ratings work with however my lab processes and I'm very happy with the colour and tonality .

Both 160 & 400 I knock the blue slider (Lightroom) down slightly -5 or -10 toward green. 

800 is fast becoming my favourite, the greens, browns and greys are more earthy but with really nice reds.  I find 800 colours to be more different to both 400 & 160 than 160 and 400 are from each other.  It is the most unique one of the bunch for colours.  I shoot at box speed and so find it extremely versatile with a 3 stop ND for daylight and a fast lens for night.   Sadly it is also the most expensive here. 

Regarding any advantages (over digital) of shooting any of these at night, I'm unaware of any technical benefits we would get from film in such situations but would be interested to hear from others.  My preference would be to shoot film to gain a feeling (depth?) in the image that I perceive as lacking with digital ...  although acknowledge that much of this may be in my head as a result of the extra toil I put in to take said image :P     

Attached pic is 800. 

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Thank you - I like subjective, qualitative opinions!

I also like the pastel colours, and it sounds like I could happily switch to 160.
I may get some 800 to try it; I'm not a prolific film shooter, so if I have a roll in the camera I'm normally unable to use it all at night, or all in daytime. Nevertheless I should put a bit of work in to see how I get on with it.

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12 minutes ago, LocalHero1953 said:

Thank you - I like subjective, qualitative opinions!

I also like the pastel colours, and it sounds like I could happily switch to 160.
I may get some 800 to try it; I'm not a prolific film shooter, so if I have a roll in the camera I'm normally unable to use it all at night, or all in daytime. Nevertheless I should put a bit of work in to see how I get on with it.

Pleasure Paul.  Yes 160 is very nice and definitely the one that delivers those pastel colours most consistently 
 

Let us know what you think when you’ve tried it :) 
 

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Just to express my thanks for this discussion! Since I shoot mainly B&W (and obsess over developers for it), I don't study the results of color film as much as I should. I have a few (sometimes contradictory) aesthetic aspirations for color, and this helps point me to them. So a huge thanks!

The other variable, at least for us home developers, is what C-41 to use. Effectively, I suppose, it's whether to use one with blix or have separate bleach and fixer stages, with some folks at least claiming that separates produce "superior" (whatever that means!) results. Among the seperates, Flexicolor just seems too complicated and expensive to buy for home use, at least for me. Fuji is also very expensive and apparently makes the Rollei kit, which, for separate bleach/fixer seems far the best buy, and many seem to like it. I have way too many Cinistell and Unicolor kits (when I couldn't find Tetenal) that I hoarded at the beginning of the supply chain crisis. But when I work through them, I'm going to try the Rollei. 

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2 hours ago, Doc Henry said:

IMHO the best way to get an idea is to buy the three Portra and try Paul  😀

I will....a bit of a shortage online at the moment, though I haven't yet checked everywhere. There's a real shop in town that I have bought Portra 400 from - I'll check them tomorrow.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, bags27 said:

Just to express my thanks for this discussion! Since I shoot mainly B&W (and obsess over developers for it), I don't study the results of color film as much as I should. I have a few (sometimes contradictory) aesthetic aspirations for color, and this helps point me to them. So a huge thanks!

The other variable, at least for us home developers, is what C-41 to use. Effectively, I suppose, it's whether to use one with blix or have separate bleach and fixer stages, with some folks at least claiming that separates produce "superior" (whatever that means!) results. Among the seperates, Flexicolor just seems too complicated and expensive to buy for home use, at least for me. Fuji is also very expensive and apparently makes the Rollei kit, which, for separate bleach/fixer seems far the best buy, and many seem to like it. I have way too many Cinistell and Unicolor kits (when I couldn't find Tetenal) that I hoarded at the beginning of the supply chain crisis. But when I work through them, I'm going to try the Rollei. 

Ken , according to my experience the C41 development is faster and easier than black white development you can also develop at 30 degrees C instead of 38 for 3 minutes 15 seconds.

All the developers mentioned are good I tested them all (Unicolor Rollei ) but I keep the Tetenal because my Leica Store in my city  sells it.

Best Henry

Edited by Doc Henry
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4 hours ago, Doc Henry said:

Ken , according to my experience the C41 development is faster and easier than black white development you can also develop at 30 degrees C instead of 38 for 3 minutes 15 seconds.

All the developers mentioned are good I tested them all (Unicolor Rollei ) but I keep the Tetenal because my Leica Store in my city  sells it.

Best Henry

Thanks so much, Henry! I understood that Rollei gives 3 temperature/time options. I hadn't realized it was something I could do with others. That's excellent!

best,

Ken

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10 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:

Thank you - I like subjective, qualitative opinions!

I also like the pastel colours, and it sounds like I could happily switch to 160.
I may get some 800 to try it; I'm not a prolific film shooter, so if I have a roll in the camera I'm normally unable to use it all at night, or all in daytime. Nevertheless I should put a bit of work in to see how I get on with it.

@grahamc and @Doc Henry observations regarding 160 and 400 are 100% consistent with my experience, too, so not particularly subjective. I find 160 vastly less saturated and more pastel than 400. In my case, I prefer the more saturated colours of 400 (and Ektar 100), so stopped using 160. I can overexpose 400 to soften saturation, but prefer it at box speed. 
 

As a bonus, 160 tends to be slightly cheaper than 400 or 800 Portra. I would recommend trying 160, and exposing at 160 and 100 (or 80) to find your sweet spot. 

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Posted (edited)
20 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:

I will....a bit of a shortage online at the moment, though I haven't yet checked everywhere. There's a real shop in town that I have bought Portra 400 from - I'll check them tomorrow.

I bought three rolls of 800 in Campkins this morning.
No 160 in stock. I have only been able to find one seller of 160 in 5-roll packs, an internet business appearing to operate from a private house in Bristol. They are on Amazon and ebay; I bought from the latter, as their refunds are quicker IME in the case of non-arrival or not as described (e.g. out of date).

Let's hope stocks reappear after the holiday season.

Edited by LocalHero1953
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On 8/14/2022 at 9:04 AM, Mute-on said:

@grahamc and @Doc Henry observations regarding 160 and 400 are 100% consistent with my experience, too, so not particularly subjective. I find 160 vastly less saturated and more pastel than 400. In my case, I prefer the more saturated colours of 400 (and Ektar 100), so stopped using 160. I can overexpose 400 to soften saturation, but prefer it at box speed. 
 

As a bonus, 160 tends to be slightly cheaper than 400 or 800 Portra. I would recommend trying 160, and exposing at 160 and 100 (or 80) to find your sweet spot. 

Good advice. Yes 160 gives the colours that I was had in mind when I sought out Portra . I started on 400 shot at box speed so was a little disillusioned until I tried 160.   But as mentioned I think shooting 400 at 250 or even 200 closes the gap on the colours and is the sweet spot for me. Both absolutely lovely films and hard to go wrong :)

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12 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:

I bought three rolls of 800 in Campkins this morning.
No 160 in stock. I have only been able to find one seller of 160 in 5-roll packs, an internet business appearing to operate from a private house in Bristol. They are on Amazon and ebay; I bought from the latter, as their refunds are quicker IME in the case of non-arrival or not as described (e.g. out of date).

Let's hope stocks reappear after the holiday season.

Great. I think you will thoroughly enjoy both, particularly maybe the 160 from what you have mentioned. But looking forward to hearing your thoughts on both stocks.  
 

I was spending quite a lot on Portra so during one of the film stock droughts here I stocked up on ultramax 400.   Really not quite as special unfortunately. But still nice with some post work.   
 

I do however really love Kodak Gold, probably because childhood holidays were always shot on it through the 80s and 90s.  And as a consumer film is nice to mix up the pricing to offset premium Portra. 
 

(Saying all of this then spend several thousand dollars on a Leica lens on a whim.  Oh well) 

Edited by grahamc
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On 8/13/2022 at 4:51 AM, Doc Henry said:

Hi Paul , attached here is a summary of the different qualities of Kodak Portra.

Portra has the color CCD Kodak sensor side M8 , it is for this reason that I had used the M8 for ten years to finally give up and now prefer the film.

Personally I love the Portra but what I prefer the most is the clear , transparent red of the Portra 800 for my poppies.

Please go and watch some recent poppies pictures on thread "I like Film" 😀

Best

Henry

Thanks for posting this chart - wish I had seen this earlier when I first tested Porta and Ektar films! I second the experience listed there. I was disappointed from Porta 160 due to its fairly weak color saturation and low contrast - it looked pretty dull after scanning and white balance correction. Porta 400 was the better choice regarding saturation (I never tested the ASA 800 version). My favorite by far is Ektar 100 - which obviously is not good for portraits, but for my photo style it is the much better fit than Porta films. I now use more standard color films like Kodak Gold or Fujifilm Superia 400 instead of Porta. 

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Martin B said:

Thanks for posting this chart - wish I had seen this earlier when I first tested Porta and Ektar films! I second the experience listed there. I was disappointed from Porta 160 due to its fairly weak color saturation and low contrast - it looked pretty dull after scanning and white balance correction. Porta 400 was the better choice regarding saturation (I never tested the ASA 800 version). My favorite by far is Ektar 100 - which obviously is not good for portraits, but for my photo style it is the much better fit than Porta films. I now use more standard color films like Kodak Gold or Fujifilm Superia 400 instead of Porta. 

Martin you are welcome 😀

I had tried the three films 160, 400 and 800 ... and also Ektar for several months. The 160 gives nice colors but less saturated than the finer grained Ektar, the 400 gives a more saturated color perhaps more neutral more natural which suits me better and matches what I'm photographing better (poppy or landscape) i.e. what i see !

The 800 has my favor for the types of photos i take (poppies or flowers)  ... that's why you have to try all three .  Another advantage , as i take a lot of photos a constant setting on 400 Isos *  (which for me is a good compromise from the Isos point of view inside and outside) avoids forgetting to adjust the Isos when I change film rollers.

Best Henry

* and in B&W TX400 or TMax 400

Edited by Doc Henry
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