Last year, after reading Tobias Mann's review of Kodak Portra 800, I bought a roll to expose it as soon as possible. But I set aside the roll in a cool box and forgot about it until December. I had promised Bhavna a trip into Frenchtown to see how the shopkeepers and restauranteurs had decorated the downtown area. The sky was overcast, creating an excellent opportunity to expose a few frames of Kodak Professional Portra 800.
Kodak Professional Portra 800 is a high-speed daylight-balanced colour-negative film optimised for challenging lighting conditions. It has a nominal sensitivity of ISO 800 and a notable underexposure latitude for effectively pushing to ISO 1600 with maintained quality and extended highlight and shadow detail. As we walked around Frenchtown, I exposed the roll at boxpseed in a wide variety of natural lighting conditions, including broad daylight, open shade, and of course, window light. Although I have several Minolta flash units, I did not expose any frames under artificial light.
The film was developed at Boutique Film Lab and scanned using my Silver Fast 9 and Epson Perfection V600. I used Negative Lab Pro to convert the scans. No corrections to exposure, colour temperature and composition were made.
Kodak Professional Portra 800 35mm film delivers all the advantages of a high-speed film, finer grain, higher sharpness, and more natural skin tones and colour reproduction. Portra 800 film - for perfectly stunning results with less-than-perfect light. The negatives have some warm tones, and while the grain is noticeable, I think it’s still very pleasant looking.
With 35mm film, you develop, scan and post your images weeks after the photographs were made.
NOTE: I'll begin this experience report with a brief disclaimer. It's been less than three years since I returned to shooting 35mm film after switching to digital photography over 20 years ago. I've inundated myself with as much film education as possible between web articles and advice from experienced film shooters. But, since my prior experience with film is decades old, this review is from a rather novice point of view.
Kiran, Bhavna and I walked in the Gulick Farm Preserve a few weeks ago. I brought my Fuji X-T2 and XF27mmF2.8 lens, my Minolta X-700, MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 lens, and a fresh 35 exposure catridge of Kodak Portra 400. Kodak Portra 400 is a fine-grain high-speed colour-negative film. I had never used Kodak Portra 400 before, but based on my experience with a roll of Kodak Portra 160 at Avalon Beach, I expected good results.
The Gulick Farm Preserve walk was shorter than expected, so we dropped in at Barbara Smoyer Park. The light here was much brighter as we didn't have the forest to provide shade. The Kodak Portra 400 and the Minolta X-700 performed well.
Later that week, Bhavna and I were at Brick Fram Tavern for our regular weekly "dinner and chat". At this time of the year, the sun sets sooner. I was interested to see how the Kodak Portra 400 would perform in changing lighting conditions as the sun went down.
Earlier in the week, I had stopped at the Princeton Fire Department on Witherspoon Street to make some images for the Lens Artist challenge.
It's interesting how when posting scans of film I am always writing about events that happened weeks in the past.
NOTE: I’ll begin this experience report with a brief disclaimer. It’s been less than three years since I returned to shooting 35mm film after switching to digital photography over 20 years ago. I’ve inundated myself with as much film education as possible between web articles and advice from experienced film shooters. But, since my prior experience with film is decades old, this review is from a rather novice point of view.
These images are from a 36-exposure 35mm roll of Kodak Professional Portra 160 Color Negative Film that I shot on a recent beach trip. The first roll captured on my Minolta X-700 and MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 was Kodak Professional Ektachrome E100 35mm Color Transparency Film. I prefer the look of the image shot on Kodak Portra 160.
While shooting this roll, one of my concerns was whether I had set the ISO correctly on the camera. The Minolta X-700 film-speed ring has marks between numbered ISO graduations, but no numbers are printed at the markings for ISO 125 and ISO 160. I didn't bring my reading glasses with me, and while Bhavna tried to help, her eyes were not much better. I hoped I set the ISO correctly. I was also very nervous about loading the film, which I kept in my bag and under my seat until needed, in the bright sun.
I might have used the programmed auto-exposure (AE) mode - the "P" setting - for a few shots. With the camera set at " P " and the MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 lens at its minimum aperture of f/16, the X-700's program selected the aperture and fastest practicable shutter speed giving audible beeps to warn against motion blur. If the lens is not set at the minimum aperture, the "P" will blink as a warning. This bit of information is essential. According to the manual, "although exposure will still be correct unless an over or under-range LED blinks, the program's range will be limited so that it cannot accommodate brighter subjects." I was at the beach on a bright sunny day. I didn't have room for error.
While the X-700's P mode is ideal for general picture-taking when all you want to do is compose, focus, and shoot, I felt comfortable using the aperture-priority auto-exposure (AE) mode. Many images were captured in aperture-priority AE mode with the lens set at f/8 most of the time. The Minolta X-700 automatically sets the step-less shutter speed.
Interestingly, when blogging about my film scans, I always write about events that happened weeks ago. The turnaround time for 35mm film developing and scanning from the Darkroom is about two weeks, which is considered quick. I know that the quality and ease of use of 35mm film1 can't match that of my Fuji X-T2. I admit to enjoying the overall process.
Kodak Portra 160 Color Film
For a film to match or exceed the quality of modern 35mm format digital cameras, you need to shoot medium to large format film. ↩