Film Review
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Review: Kodak Portra 800

To see Portra 800 exposure tested, follow this link. As a reference for Portra 400 shot at 800, follow this link. To see a more formal comparison of Portra 800 with the other two members of the Portra family (Experiment 2), go here.

I waited far too long to really give Portra 800 a fair shake. The main reason was the price – coming in at $15 more expensive for a pro pack of 120 and half again the price of a roll of 35mm, I considered more of a luxury than something I would regularly shoot. A couple months ago I caved and picked up a pro pack of both 120 and 35mm in order to write a review on it. I can honestly say that I won’t be defaulting to Portra 400 any longer. The colors of 800 are fantastic. The colors are quite punchy and given the additional speed from 400, the grain structure is minimal and pleasing.

Color

Much like Portra 400, this film stock is great for shooting portraits. The tones are nice and warm with a lot of depth. At the time of writing the Portra 400 review, I had only shot one roll of 800 at box speed and a couple others at 500 or slower to intentionally overexpose as that’s what had been suggested to me. Some of the shots at box speed really turned out well but I don’t know that I cared much for a single shot from the rolls of it overexposed. So, naturally, when I decided to give it another go I wanted to shoot most all of it at box speed. I couldn’t have been happier with the results. The colors are more saturated than Portra 400 while not being quite as strong as Ektar. That said, compared with Portra 160 it’s got saturation for days.

Properly exposed it actually doesn’t have a terribly different rendering that Portra 400 underexposed. The warm tones are spot on with this film and even the cool tones may by favorite of any other color negative film. The greens are just unreal…

Portraits

Similar to Portra 400, it’s literally in the name. It’s crushes portraits in daylight, low light, and while I haven’t experimented with it in the studio, I expect it too would be great.

Dynamic Range

To see a head to head comparison with other color negative film stocks, please refer to the exposure testing article. I was truly blown away by Portra 800s ability to retain detail while being underexposed. While being the highest speed color negative film we tested, it keep good detail even at 3 stops underexposed – that’s metering at 6400ISO!!! While I wouldn’t personally shoot it at this speed on the regular, it gave me a lot of confidence in really low light situations to open up the lens and shoot as slow as I could go while trusting the outcome to be solid. Well.. relative to any other color film shot at 6400ISO, I had confidence.

As for overexposing, I don’t much care for it. I think this is where I had the problems before… It gets too yellow and all around too saturated for my taste. for now, I’ve learned my lesson in intentionally underexposing this film. In fact, if I find myself in tricky conditions (which isn’t uncommon hiking in OH) I may in the future meter for half or even a whole step underexposed. Maybe… I only say that because I’ve still had too many shots come out undesirable because some parts of the frame were still too bright and the whole shot was lost to unattractive colors.

Pushing/Pulling

I haven’t done either as of yet. I fully expect that at some point I’ll try both as 800 speed gives enough to move in either direction and still be fine.

Conclusion

I love this film. Plain and simple. If it was less expensive, it would be my go to film probably. But it isn’t… It’s almost half again as expensive as Portra 400 on all fronts and that’s a real concern – it adds up fast if you’re shooting a lot. So for now, I’ll continue to shoot with it as much as I can and play around with it in different situations to really get to know it. But I don’t really see the day where it takes 400’s place in my heart or freezer.

One caveat to all of this: I’ve not yet brought up but is a consideration of mine is ease to travel with. As an 800 speed film, this film must be hand checked if you’re flying. As it happens, Portra 400 doesn’t need it at all – I’ve gone through security 4 times with the same rolls and not had a single issue with it. With everything I’ve ever read (in addition to the TSA website and signs in the airport) about traveling with 800 speed or faster film, you have to hand check it and that’s just a pain. More of a pain than I typically feel like dealing with. Perhaps if I was going on a huge trip and needed a lot of fast film for whatever reason and I knew I’d want to take Ilford Delta 3200, maybe then I’d go through the hassle. Otherwise, I’ll likely keep leaning on Portra 400 and Ektar when I’m flying.

2 Comments

  1. I was looking for this review a week ago!!!! In the end I decided to bite the bullet and shot a roll at a big event in the Cathedral at ISO 1600. My lab pushed one stop for me and I have to say I am quite pleased with the results. Pleasing colour, a little on the warm side which I expected as the available light was a mix of natural and artificial, a little grainy but not at all unpleasant. I will definitely use again…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s great to hear! Trying it at 1600 is definitely on my list of things to do at some point. Albeit, will likely wait for the right place/right time, where and whenever that is!

    Like

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