35mm and 120 film reviews - Ikigai Camera Blog
The Portra Family
Kodak’s Portra film line has been around for just over 20 years at this point, and although there have been some changes along the way (in particular the replacement of VC and NC), Portra 800 has remained largely unchanged since its release.
Chances are that if you’ve shot Portra before you’ve either tried either 160 or 400. Grain is fine, skin tones are great, they both push well and they are, by all accounts, excellent modern films that can handle most of the lighting conditions you’ll run into.
So why would you shoot Portra 800?
Despite Portra 800 being the oldest emulsion of the bunch, it really is quite underrated in a lot of respects. You may just need to use it in a different way than you'd expect.
Light and Over Exposure
As a rule of thumb, colour-negative film is quite resilient to over exposure. How resilient depends on the film you're using. If you over expose Kodak Ektar by more than two stops for instance, you may start to see some colour-shifts. If you over expose Fujifilm Pro 400H by as much as 5 stops you'll likely still get a beautiful photograph.
Portra 400 handles a stop or two over without much issue. Anything further than this and you may start to have some trouble with skin tones going a bit yellow. It also handles a stop of under exposure quite well too, which makes it an incredibly versatile film for most uses.
When we shoot Portra 160, we generally try and shoot it at 100-160. It seems a little more sensitive to under and over exposure than Portra 400 but the skin tones are spot on when you nail the exposure.
Portra 800 is different to the rest of the Portra family in that it just sucks up light and loves over exposure. At box speed, it does its job but in our opinion it doesn't truly shine until you start giving it more light.
With Portra 800, we rate our camera to ISO 100 or 200 (effectively giving the film between 2-3 stops of over exposure) and develop as normal.
If you're struggling for light, it will do the job at 800, but in most respects Portra 400 will do it much better, especially pushed to 800.
With 2+ stops of over exposure, grain is fine, saturation is nice and punchy, and best of all, those great skin tones remain in tact.
To Push or Not to Push
We're planning a more in-depth article on pushing and pulling, but for the purposes of this article we thought we'd just touch on it in relation to Portra 800.
When we say we're "rating" our film at 100, 200 or 400 ISO what we mean is we're telling our camera that the film inside is "slower" than it really is. When we do this, what we're effectively doing is allowing more light onto the film than its sensitivity rating requires.
The final photograph doesn't become brighter or blown out because of the nature of colour-negative film and its dynamic range. By allowing more light than the film "needs", you're really just adding more information onto the negative.
There is no pushing or pulling involved as these are "chemical" processes (either increasing the time the film is in the developer or decreasing it)
All we are doing here is giving the film more light and developing the film as normal.
The Best 200 Speed Film Ever Made
This is slightly tongue in cheek, but you won't know until you give it a shot. If you're looking for tight grain, great skin tones but still want to retain some Ektar-ish saturation and contrast, Portra 800 is definitely worth your consideration.
All of the shots contained within this article were shot at 200 ISO, developed in Kodak chemistry and scanned on either our Fuji Frontier or Noritsu HS-1800.
Have a question? Let us know! We're always happy to help you get the best out of your film.
Most of us know of the Cinestill brand from the infamous 800 speed tungsten film with the crazy highlights you either love or hate (we love it for the record).
Cinestill have now added a black and white stock to their mix with a limited release re-spooling of Kodak Double X motion picture stock.
This definitely isn't a new film, and people have been re-spooling bulk rolls for 35mm still camera use for years, but it's nice to have a readily available source from a company with a decent track record.
Originally released in 1959, Kodak Double-X has been used in many Hollywood movies such as Casino Royale, Kill Bill and Cinderella Man to name a few.
One of the interesting things about this stock (and something that can't be said for many others) is that is has been almost entirely unchanged since its originally release.
Cinestill recommend this film be developed in D-96, but it can be a little hard to get so we just used tried and true Kodak XTOL at a 1:1 ratio.
Despite it looking grainier than one would expect from a 250 ISO film, it isn't entirely unpleasant and it is definitely quite sharp while still maintaining a classic look.
There are so many black and white films on the market these days, you might think a film that is slightly slower and grainier than the rest would be a hard sell, but Double-X has quite a cult following.
I guess the old adage is true; if it ain't broke!
BwXX is sharp, has nice tonality and has great dynamic range. If you can get past the grain and want to try a piece of cinematic history, it's hard to go wrong.
Want to try some?
One of the reasons colour negative film is so great is because it generally has a pretty wide exposure latitude.
If you've under or over exposed your film (within reason), you will still more than likely get a useable image out of your negatives whether it be a print of a digital scan.
We've seen plenty of these comparisons with higher end films like Portra 400 and Fujifilm Pro 400H, but thought we'd do a quick writeup for those who are shooting film on a budget!
For our test, we set up a tripod and shot a roll of Kodak Gold 200 at 3 stops under, through to 5 stops over.
We were actually quite surprised with the results of our test because Kodak Gold is quite a cheap film. Despite being less than half the cost of Portra 400, colours held up very well even underexposed.
Anywhere between -2 stop through to +3 stops gave us useable results that scanned well.
-3 stops resulted in an image that is quite grainy and muddy in the shadows, but may still be salvageable if you were desperate.
After +4 stops we start to see a bleaching effect on the film, colours start to shift and detail is lost in the highlights. Again, this may still be useable if you were desperate.
It's always best to err on the side of over exposure and try to shoot in nice light when possible.
We always rate our Kodak Gold at +1 stop (i.e. set your camera ISO to 100 instead of 200), and meter for the shadows.
What do you think? Join the discussion on Instagram here
Want to try some?
It has to be the unpredictable nature of film, you never quite know how the shots are going to turn out until you've developed them. There’s nothing more exciting than pulling negs out of the tank and holding them up to the light to see what you’ve gotRead More
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your style and what draws you to the type of work you shoot
I'm a nature nut. I could go for a hike and be inspired by tree after tree after tree. I see the natural world as the purest form of beauty and honestly never tire of it. This resonated with me recently when I was out shooting and had this inner dialogue with myself about why and what I'm photographing. I came to the conclusion that I love nothing more than making portraits of nature. This probably all sounds like some crazy hippy talk but capturing these kinds of scenes is what draws me in time after time.
Why film? What do you prefer more, the process or the result?
This is a really interesting question because over the years, the answer has changed. When I first started to dabble in film, it was purely for the look. I began shooting some super cheap, lo-fi cameras just to get my feet wet and also knowing that the finished product would be as far from digital as possible. Over the past year or so, the process has completely taken over for me and is the main reason I shoot film. I'm a full-time wedding photographer and shoot digitally for that, so film has become my artistic outlet.
I absolutely love the limitations of a set number of frames per roll and how it really forces me to be even more intentional with what and how I shoot. Because of that, each frame is thought out and I become more emotionally invested in the process. The shooting experience has become an almost therapeutic thing for me, so the enjoyment of making the pictures themselves is quite important.
Each camera I own shoots and behaves differently as well, which is inspiring to me in itself. The last added benefit, at least for me, is with rolls being 12, 24 or 36 exposures, I sometimes find myself coming up with mini-series or projects on the fly when I'm out. I definitely never get that inspiration with digital and SD cards that hold thousands of images.
It’s interesting that you shoot a lot of your landscape work in square format. What do you like about this compared to the more “traditional” landscape photography formats.
The simplicity of it. There is no question of portrait orientation versus landscape orientation. Shooting square minimises and simplifies my compositions and truly makes my entire process a straightforward one. There's no doubt in my mind that I see scenes and compositions I never would if I were shooting 3x2 or 4x5 orientation. If you're looking to shake up your vision and simplify things, I highly recommend trying out a square format camera.
Is there one image you’ve taken that really stands out to you as “the one”?
Yes, Horses of Iceland. The funny thing about this image is that I was in my very early days of shooting medium format. I wasn't great at manually focusing and I didn't truly understand how to expose for film. I was still very much learning but accidentally underexposing a bit only added to the mood of the image. It was one of those moments where I pressed the shutter at the perfect time. The look on the one horses face and the wind-swept manes is perfection to me. I also vividly remember this moment so it's a meaningful image to me.
What are your favourite films to shoot with?
Easiest question ever. Portra 400. I shoot probably 90% of my work with this film. As much as I love black and white, colors in the world inspire me. It's just as much a part of the scene as the subject for me and Portra 400 delivers the tones I'm after. Also, shooting a lot of landscapes, the flexibility in this film allows me to capture high dynamic range scenes. I truly love it.
What are you most excited about shooting next?
The answer is not so much subject matter as it is experimentation. Back to why film is so inspiring to me, there are so many film stocks out there. Winter just hit here in the States, so I plan on shooting much more black and white films looking to hone in on that like I have with knowing P400 is my go-to for color. I'd like to shoot some super mimimal winter scenes and may make that my winter project.