Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's Our Favorite Time of Light - New Kodak Portra400 vs Fuji Pro400H

New Kodak Portra400 vs Fuji Pro 400HWelcome to the golden hour of film! The age old tradition of film photography has always possessed an inherent warmth and beauty, that transcends technical explanation. As photographers, we relish something called "The Golden Hour" (sometimes known as magic hour) which is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day, because the quality of light is such that everything becomes magically photogenic. Due to the diffusion of the sun's abundance of light, and the hues created by the atmosphere, everything is illuminated within photographic reach. Well, Kodak's new Portra400 has this magical quality packed right into the emulsion! No matter the lighting situation, Kodak's Vision Technology brings it within reach. Pretty much anything your eye can see now is visible within one frame. We have always loved film for this quality, but the limits have been stretched further than formerly possible.

Our curiosity was peaked when we heard word of this new film, just after Fuji began to faze out 400h (our preferred emulsion) in med format. We have been tapping into Kodak's Vision technology in 35mm motion picture film for over the past year, but couldn't figure out a good way to translate it into our medium format world. We immediately wondered if this new Portra4oo would be comparable to the 500T and 250D that we had fallen in love with. By the time Kodak sent us some "sample" rolls for us to test out, we had already gotten ahold of some 120 from a friend (Thanks Ryan!). Our first thought was to pit it against the tried and true 400h that we've stocked up on. Our main concerns were; latitude, color, and grain structure. So we began with a sunny day test.
New Kodak Portra400 vs Fuji Pro 400HThe results don't blow me away with this first shot. It's a suitable replacement for 400h for sure, and that's the main concern really. But when I went in and scanned it way too large, I found amazing resolution, and the beautiful grain that was rumored. It's much smoother and sharper than the old emulsions, once you begin to print above 16x20 at least. ;-)
My next thought was on overexposure latitude. I decided to shoot the most backlit situation that I could find, and overexpose based on my shadow reading. Normal exposure, +2 over, and +4 over.
New Kodak Portra400 vs Fuji Pro 400HI knew that the Fuji could take it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Portra actually held up much better. These are all straight scans (untouched) from our Frontier by the way. The Portra doesn't get as muddy in the highlights and has much cleaner color. But again, comforting but not mind blowing.
Negative film has always looked good overexposed, the main struggle in the film world has been in those shadows. Especially with Med format cameras, that rarely have faster lenses than 2.8. That's what we shoot 500T with f/1.2 lenses for. Normally, I would never underexpose Fujifilm. But I just had to see what it did in comparison to the Portra. I brought my TLRs to my friend's (Francisco The Man) show at a local dive bar, and got the light meter reading from the main stage lights and shot away. It was nearly black in there so I didn't expect much.
New Kodak Portra400 vs Fuji Pro 400HNormally, I wouldn't shoot color film in this ugly of light. Maybe 3200 Delta if I can get away with it. I did not push process this film, even though I underexposed the highlights up to 5 stops. Fuji begins to look horrible at 1 stop under, but the Portra looks exponentially better in comparison each stop under! At 12,000 ISO the fuji begins to even loose the detail in the light bulbs, but the new Portra 400 keeps some shadow detail up to 6400 ISO! To give you an idea, a guy with a 5D was having trouble getting their faces without loosing the sign at 6400. I will probably never underexpose film again, but I will most definitely push this Golden film to 3200.

And speaking of gold, take a look at the Portra backlit at twilight. No still film has known this kind of shadow detail. I mean,I'm not giving up my 500T motion picture film, But I also cant wait to shoot some new Portra400 in 4x5! :-D
New Kodak Portra400 vs Fuji Pro 400H"It's our favorite time of light, just before the day kisses the night. You see the red winged blackbirds fly. The sun's a big ol' lazy eye. When the day is bending low, and rolling fields begin to glow, feels like we traveled all this way, just so I could hear you say, It's our favorite time of light... It's our favorite time of light, just before the day kisses the night. You see the red winged blackbirds fly. The sun's a big ol' lazy eye. The moon is waiting in the wings, dreaming up some midnight song to sing, and I know we'll be okay evry time I hear you say, it's our favorite time of light." - Over The Rhine


Matt Haines said...

Darn it! I'm downloading my scans of the new Portra 400 right now from Richard Photo Labs, one of which had a quick -1 stop exposure test (I was shooting for a client, was already at f/16 and could only drop down to f/22…not much of a test but I didn't want to waste a roll of this precious stuff on testing). Anyway, I haven't even gotten to that particular set of images and I see your blog post. Beat me to the punch!

But seriously, I appreciate your extensive description and testing. Looks like Portra 400 can be uprated pretty nicely. So you're thinking doing the 'push' would have some advantages over simply uprating and then developing normally?

Riccis said...

You guys are such freaks, love it :)
Thank you for doing this for the rest of us bums :)


Stephen Schaub said...

Just posted a link to your article on my web site www.figitalrevolution.com as a follow up to a series I did on this film... your results mirror mine... I love the new Portra as well... happy shooting!

Stephen Schaub

Link to article:

Inward Studio said...

Really nice. Thank you for sharing.

Joey + Jessica said...

Fantastic post guys!! As always so informative! Many thanks for doing this dirty work for us. Cheers, Joey + Jessica

David Chang-Sang said...

Guys, this is awesome - thanks so much for the review - I'm more a Kodak guy anyway but it's good to see the difference b/w the Fuji and new Portra. I'll be putting this film to use in upcoming weddings.

Dave Chang-Sang

Anonymous said...

Great post - I don't think I've ever seen a pushed color film at 12000ISO! It still looks decent at 3200 - with better quality light, it has the potential to produce some quality shots.

Neal Thorley said...

Awesome stuff.. must get my hands on some of this!

Brian said...

Thanks guy!
@Matt: I would like to push this stuff. It holds up underrated but I would mind seeing a little more zing in my neg. ;-)
@anonymous: it wasn't pushed to 12000. I'm not sure that's even doable... We just underexposed it to test shadow detail. I'd never do that without push processing normally.

Blake said...

I am just coming into film... The underexposure shots of the band... are you saying that this film is being underexposed by 2, 3, 4 stops, yet still is coming out basically fine in normal processing?

It's just hard to wrap my head around coming from digital. If I underexpose a shot by 3 or 4 stops then the shot is going to be gone/black.

Abram said...

Thank you so much for doing this test. I just found it through GetDPI. I've been interested in trying out Portra 400 and boy am I impressed with the flexibility of this film! Looks to be as flexible as Ilford XP2 :)

Stephanie Callaghan Smith said...

Great post - really interesting results. Inspired me to do some experimentation for myself.

steve said...

Wow thanks guys your blog is awesome my brother just pointed me to this post. he is a traditional photographer as well, ive been shooting a lot of b&W lately but your blog has inspired me to break out the c41 kit and shoot some colour.

great blog keep up the good work

Jana Morgan said...

Thank you so much for sharing this post. I really appreciate the details that have gone into your post here. I was curious when you post your settings below the images like "Portra400 @100", are you setting your camera ISO to 100 and then exposing for the highlights/shadows accordingly in camera? Or are you using a hand held meter? Thanks!