When Kodak replaced its Portra 400NC and Portra 400VC (Neutral Colour and Vivid Colour) lines with the new Portra 400, many people were devastated. The subtlety of the NC film and popping colors of VC will surely be missed, but since its launch, this film has gathered a huge following. Having finally got around to using it, I can really see why. This film is amazing!
When I searched the Lomography site, I was surprised to see that there hadn’t already been a review of this film, but then I thought about it and realized that on face value, it may not appeal to many Lomographers. A professional film, with a fairly neutral color balance and ultra-fine grain, doesn’t exactly shout Lomo, but this film is so versatile that I would recommend it to anyone.
At 400 ISO, the film is fast enough to use in any lighting conditions, but whereas many 400 ISO films would have larger and more obtrusive grain, Portra 400 shows almost no detectable grain. This film is silky smooth and as the name suggests, is great for portraits. The neutral color reproduces skin tones beautifully and is very flattering.
Saying that, apart from a recent family wedding, I don’t take many portraits, and most of the rolls I’ve shot have been landscape. Here you may think that a more saturated film like Kodak Ektar or slide films like Fuji Velvia would be better, but again Portra 400 shines. When Kodak made this film, they did so with the knowledge that most film is now scanned rather than printed optically. They optimized it for scanning and this means that you can get the best out of it, whether you want subtle, soft portraits or stronger landscape shots.
Portra 400 also has huge latitude. This means that if you get your exposure spot on, then you will get detail from the darkest shadows to the lightest highlights. It also means that if you over or underexpose your shots will still come out with good exposure. This makes it perfect for cameras with limited settings like many Lomography cameras. I really wish I had had this film when I was learning to use my Diana F+. Forgetting to change the aperture settings wouldn’t have been so bad.
I’ve not tried it myself, but Portra 400 can also be push processed extremely well. As you can see from this “article”: http://canlasphotography.blogspot.com/2010/12/kodak-portra-400-miami-south-beach-fl.html, Portra 400 can be pushed to 3200 ISO and still show almost no grain. At 3200 ISO, you get higher contrast and a slightly XPRO look, which I think is amazing. This will definitely be my next project.
I really didn’t mean for this article to sound like an ‘I love Kodak’ review and since starting film photography almost two years ago, I’ve shot only Fuji and Lomography films, but I’m now a complete convert. Portra 400 has reminded me that there really is a lot to be said for normal color negative film.
Come on Lomography, get some of this in your store soon, so that I can spend my piggies!