Portra 400 was one of the first stocks I tried when I started getting back into photography and it’s been my go-to for color negatives since then. By and large, I’ve experimented with it more than any other film. I’ve overexposed it, underexposed it, pulled it, pushed it, and treated it as a black and white film in developing. It is such an incredibly versatile film, you would be hard pressed to find conditions it can’t work with that other films can. For this reason, it has become one of the most popular film stocks in the world and arguably the most recognizable branding and color palette of any color film.
For all these reasons, the hype around Portra 400 has been built up to a point any and all film blogs and reviews would not be complete without it. As such, this site would also be incomplete without a review of it.
This page is going to be set around Portra 400 shot and developed at box speed in 35mm and 120. I will proactively post some of the experimentations in another section – likely in the Journal.
If the weather is right, I’m most likely going to overexpose by 1 stop since Portra 400 can take about as much overexposure as you can reasonably throw at it. As conditions start to get more tight, I’ll shoot for a neutral exposures. Further yet, if conditions are so unfavorable for hand held shooting that you’re not going to get the meter to register anything reasonable, I’ll set the shutter speed as low as I can go and open the lens up and hope for the best. I have rarely been disappointed- even if the initial scan is so dark you can’t see much of anything, I can usually get out a lot more detail when I scan at home.
In all of the above cases, it was sunny enough to not have a care in the world about shooting handheld. The two NYC shots were on a slightly overcast day and you can see it from the slightly cool tones. While it’s not my favorite vibe all the time, I think it matched the concrete and steel esthetic of NYC.
Below are some shots when there was enough light to shoot but not so much I could afford to overexpose or stop down the lens by much if at all.
As you can see, the colors completely change as you stop feeding it as much light. When I’m shooting with my Mamiya RB67, I struggle to find times where there’s enough light to feed its slow lenses without have so much light it gets blown out. Walking that tight rope generally leaves me in this circumstance.
Then we have those times where it’s so dark with an isolated light source and you’re not sure if anything is going to work out. In most situations, I set the exposure to 1/60th and open the lens up and go for it as best I can. Portra 400 will almost always surprise me with what it can still capture even in these situations.
As you can see in the below shots, you’re not going to get much light across the entire frame but I would like to think that it does about as great job with what it’s given. That first shot still blows my mind. I really didn’t expect much of anything to come out of it but here we are. And that last shot? It was taken about an hour after sunset and my friend and I were starting up the grill. I snapped one shot as he was dumping in the hot charcoal and hoped they would provide enough light. The scan from the lab looked terrible – you couldn’t even make out that there was a person there. As I do with all of my shots, I scanned it myself and pushed it in post about as far as one can and there you have it.