KODAK PORTRA 400 135. Very fine grain ISO 400 film. Provides spectacular skin tones as well as exceptional colour saturation under a wide range of lighting conditions. Ideal choice for portrait and fashion photography, as well as nature and travel. Also available in 120.
It is not necessary to have a favourite film, and if you do it doesn’t have to be the Portra 400, although according to what we see in our daily work and according to what we can read on the internet, if you have a favourite film it is most likely to be the Kodak Portra 400, at least it is (and by far) the most searched film on Google and even if you surf a bit on forums you will find that most of the photos uploaded to them are with this film, this is also the case on social networks such as Instagram.
The question now is, how much does it deserve this idolatry, is it really much better than other films? Let’s see if this is true or not?
WHAT IS “KODAK PORTRA 400”?
Kodak Portra 400 is a fairly new film; especially considering how long Kodak has been a brand. It was born in 1998 and became what it is today in 2010. That said, its lineage goes back to the middle of the last century. Hold on tight if you want to know how because this can get a bit confusing. In 1949, Kodak produced a colour negative film called Ektacolor, which had Type A and Type B versions, for daylight and artificial light situations respectively. In the late 1950s, these were replaced by S-type for short exposures and L-type for long exposures, before a new version called Ektacolor Professional was introduced in the early 1960s. This was also available in S and L types.
In 1971, Kodak launched another colour negative film called Vericolor. This also had S- and L-type versions, which were given the codes VS and VL. These were sold alongside Ektacolor until 1974, when the improved Vericolor Professional II version appeared, whose codes were upgraded to VPS and VPL. At that time, Ektacolor and the original Vericolor films were no longer sold.
It is Vericolor II that brings us into the Portra era, with the VPL being the first to be replaced by a short-life Ektacolor Pro Gold 100T film in 1998. A year later, this was renamed Portra 100T, a film that was discontinued in 2006.
At the same time as Vericolor VPL was replaced by Ektacolor tungsten film, Vericolor VPS was also phased out to make way for the new Portra NC – or natural colour – films, which were available in speeds of 160 and 400. Alongside these was Portra VC, which stood for vivid colour and was also available in ISO 160 and 400 versions.
As most people still processed their work in a darkroom, the inherent differences in colour and contrast of these films were a great help.
However, when digital film editing became the norm, Kodak felt it was no longer worthwhile to keep producing the two slightly different films. Not when a simple Photoshop job could easily replicate the look of either. So in 2010, Kodak Portra 400 NC and Kodak Portra VC 400 ceased to exist and merged to become the simple and unique Kodak Portra 400 we have today.
The same rationalisation happened with the Portra ISO 160 a year later, while the Portra ISO 800 was only available in a single version anyway. If you want to know more about the whole history of Kodak films, have a look at this website.
KODAK PORTRA 400 IMAGE QUALITY
As the name suggests, Kodak Portra films were designed with portraits in mind. This means they keep skin tones looking pleasingly natural, unlike some of the more vivid Kodak films, and have very fine grain. In fact, the finest grain in the world at a speed of 400.
These image qualities made Portra a favourite of wedding photographers before most went digital, and of today’s new photographers in the current resurgence of analogue photography.
Kodak films tend to give their photographs great warmth, especially when compared to Fujicolor films. The Portra 400 is no different in this respect, and we believe that this warmth combined with the more muted colours is what brings it so many fans.
For better or worse, many film photographers want a certain vintage look. With its sunny feel and its colours and contrast that enhance a scene without making it unreal, Portra seems to offer exactly this.
Other films may emphasise a certain attribute, such as high-contrast monochrome or excellence in darkness, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, Portra shines by not exaggerating any one attribute over the top.
It works because nothing in the image is exaggerated, but nothing is bland either. In fact it’s as if they have taken the different attributes of the NC and VC versions and somehow made them work together.
There’s also good detail in the shadows and it’s hard for highlights to be blown out with the wide dynamic range. Add to this a very sophisticated emulsion technology that contributes to the sharpness of the world’s finest grain at 400 speed, and you can understand why Portra 400 is such a flagship product for Kodak.
STREET PHOTOGRAPHY WITH PORTRA 400
You might think that a film designed for shooting portraits and weddings and the like would be a bit bland for street photography. But in our opinion this assumption would be wrong.
We are not going to say that any of these films are better than others, because it all depends on personal taste and how you like the representation of the specific scenes you have photographed with each of them. But we can say that the image qualities designed into the Kodak Portra 400 with portraiture in mind translate very well to the street.
There’s not much to say about the image qualities a Portra brings to street photography that hasn’t been covered in the last section, simply the cleanliness, sharpness, contrast and muted colours work.
The ISO 400 rating gives you all the versatility you need in different lighting conditions; especially with exposure latitude, which means it’s difficult to under or over expose and dynamic range, which means both shadows and highlights should be kept in the same photograph.
The only element that is not positive is that it is not cheap, in fact, depending on where you buy, Portra 400 may be the most expensive colour negative film from Kodak, yet here at Visualkorner if you buy a developing pack together with a portra you will get a 25% discount, making the two together bring the cost per photograph taken down considerably.
SPECIFICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE PORTRA 400
Kodak Portra 400 is a daylight-balanced, ISO 400 colour negative film, which is available in 35 mm, 120 and also in large formats. The 35 mm cartridges are coded DX with the number 115334.
Before shooting the rolls, Kodak recommends storing them at 21°C (70°F) or below, or at 13°C (55°F) if you are storing them for an extended period of time.
When shooting your Portra 400, keep in mind that it is one of the most permissive films available in terms of exposure latitude. It offers usable results at two steps up or two steps down, which means shooting anywhere between ISO 100 and 1600 without pushing it.
After shooting Portra, it is developed using the standard C-41 process. It is also designed to be an ideal film for scanning, which makes a lot of sense considering its history.
As the old NC and VC versions were consolidated in 2010 due to the increase in digital processing that was taking place, improving the scanning performance for the new version that kodak would bring us was an obvious step.
Finally, here is the Portra 400 datasheet which offers more information than we think is worth repeating here, but nevertheless we leave you with some highlights that are quite impressive.
The first thing is that Portra incorporates some technology from the Kodak Vision motion picture film, which is still used to shoot some movies (in fact big productions).
It also has (Let’s get some air 😛 ) antenna dye sensitisation in the cyan and magenta emulsion layers, advanced Kodak-specific development accelerators, optimised emulsion spectral sensitivity and image modifier chemistry, Kodak’s own DIR couplers, unified film emulsion technology and microstructure-optimised Kodak T-grain emulsions.
And the advantages of all these words are, in no particular order: 400-speed colour negative film with the world’s finest grain, beautiful natural skin tones and superb colour reproduction, optimised sharpness, sharp edges, fine detail and outstanding enlargement capability from a 35 mm negative.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE KODAK PORTRA 400
The bottom line is that Portra 400 is a fantastic film, ideal for both experienced photographers and newcomers to analogue photography.
It is the same attributes that make it good for both groups: the flexibility, reliability and consistency it brings with its image quality and qualities.
If we were to photograph a special occasion, a trip or a holiday, the Portra 400 would be high on our list of candidates. We think it would give impeccable results.
If we wanted to give a point and shoot camera to a friend who doesn’t shoot film to try and see if they like it, Portra would also be a likely choice. We think it would give results that would make him want to shoot more film.
And also… We can develop your negatives (And at a discount!*)
At Visualkorner we specialise in developing analogue film for all types of formats. For every film you buy in our shop (physical and online) you will receive a 25% discount voucher so that you can bring the film to be developed and make copies or scan the negatives and receive your photographs by WeTransfer.
The discount voucher will be sent to you by email once you have made your purchase or will be given to you in the shop when you come to collect the film and you will be able to have your photographs as soon as possible.
Consult our prices in more detail in our catalogue
In Visualkorner we offer our customers the widest range of products for analogue photography, we strive to always maintain a constant stock of film and a price as tight as possible taking into account the monopoly present in the film industry, this is part of our commitment to art.
We also offer a wide range of chemicals for black and white development and as always we offer you the highest quality in the development of your negatives and photofinishing. We are a Hahnemühle-certified laboratory (Certification No.: 169197), which proves our excellence in the printing of your photographs.
We also make shippings all around Europe, Contact us if you want to know more about our International shipping methods.
International shipping (All around Europe) +€5 more, free shipping from €250