To see reviews of the other films in the Portra family, go here for Portra 400 and here for Portra 800. To see a more formal comparison of Portra 160 with the other two members of the Portra family (Experiment 2), go here.
In all honesty, I have a love-hate relationship with Portra 160. Every roll I’ve shot through is almost entirely full of shots I don’t much care for if not some of my least favorite I’ve ever taken. That said… The shots on a roll that I like are some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. So where do you go from here? I would really like to shoot through some rolls in a studio environment where I have much more control of the lighting. Perhaps there I will have more consistently desirable results…
Compared with the other two films in the Portra family, it is by and large the least saturated when properly exposed. Even slightly overexposed and it gets a sort of a nasty looking warm tint to the shots – sometimes it’s seems a bit yellow and sometimes it has pink/red undertones. Properly exposed and the color rendering is unlike any other film I’ve used. The colors are delicate while still being intense. By that I mean, it picks up colors better than most films stocks up doesn’t render them with as much saturation.
I’ve not used Portra 160 in a studio but I feel like it could shine in this context. As for portraits in natural light, I’ve not been too pleased. In the middle of the day, they come out looking so yellow, I could be convinced they were jaundiced. In the evening, at dusk, there’s a distinct pink/red tint to skin tones that make people look sunburned. With this said, my experience has been somewhat limited to a couple friends, my girlfriend, and my father – all of whom share a lack of pigmentation in their skin so it may well be that this stock may be more flattering for others.
The dynamic range is not particularly good in my experience. As mentioned before, this stock does not quite the flexibility of its 400 and 800 cousins. Even just a little under or over exposing and do not turn out to my liking.
Given the already slow nature of this stock, I doubt there will be a day where I’m pulling it. As far as pushing the film is concerned, I have no experience nor do I see myself doing it.
I suspect that I will one day find that I haven’t been using this film properly and that there’s a trick to getting it exposed just so that it the results are consistently great. But with all of the errors in the trail/error process, I’m not inclined to give it a regular place in my film stock rotation. I will, on the other hand, plan to give it a go in a studio and additional attempts here and there.