Welcome 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. The 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. I 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. Normally, 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 "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