9.13.2016

Fun with Film: Portra 160 Slowed Down

Sometimes a limit of choices is a good thing. 

I've never been terribly good with making quick purchasing decisions when confronted with something unpredictable, particularly that I hate going out to spend money for something only to not find it and having to settle for an alternative. 

Such was the case a few weeks ago, when, as I made my way up to the counter of my favorite Brick and Mortar photo store to buy a couple of rolls of Ektar 100 in 120, one of which I'd hoped to cut down to 127 to shoot through my Bell and Howell Electric Eye camera.  Turns out, they were out of Ektar.  

"I've got Portra 160" stated the shop owner.  Hmm, I figured this trip was a total bust since I try to shoot brighly colored landscapes instead of portraits with restrained saturation, but since time was ticking for me to do my photo run, and since I always like to support my local stores, I elected to pick up a couple of rolls to give it a try anyway.

However, the Bell and Howell is not geared for the speed of 160 and tips the scales at about ISO 80. I knew this going in, but hoped that the one stop speed increase wouldn't present too much of an issue. Upon reading a bit of reviews of Portra, I surprised to see that more than a few people said they had their best results with color saturation with the stuff at speeds between 50 and 100. As it turned out, my gamble might actually pay off.

I cut down the roll of 127 film, loaded up the Bell and Howell and went out shooting during lunch on a photo perfect day of lightly cloudy blue skies.  I didn't spend a great deal of time composing, but rather sought out colorful scenes to put this "saturated Portra" idea to the test.  Upon developing and scanning, I was delighted to see that Portra is indeed a great and colorful film when given a stop of extra exposure.

Under blue skies but shadows, Portra delivered a nice palette of colors, but its real saturated strengths emerged...

...when the sun peeked out from under the clouds.  Illuminated greens began to sparkle, and flowers portrayed more of their natural beauty.

Buildings and monuments only carried a natural amount of saturation, but blue skies were rendered with their full amount of color intensity.

As seen in the truck, red rendered with a significant amount of pop...

...as do fuchsia tones.

Brick colored tones rendered fairly, with some hints of mauve undertone that contrast nicely with the sparkling illuminated green.


And when combined in a lit situation with blue skies, the color rendition was quite nice.  Regrettably, it seems a smudge was marring the center of many of my shots on the Bell and Howell.  

Scenes in shade don't carry quite the pop that sunlit scenes do, but when there are sunlit parts of the same scene, the contrast is not too severe. 

The Bell and Howell does a decent job with scenes like this, both in color rendition and sharpness.

Though I simply had the camera in an urban environment, the results really do beg to be attempted again in a more rustic and colorful environment. 

The greenish verdigris of this monument is rendered well in this scene, and does spotlight this very underrated camera and film.

My interest was certainly piqued, and certainly didn't stop there.  I squeezed another roll into my color film queue and shot some more shots on the Kodak Bantam f/4.5 Special on a pleasant pair of days in late August.  If Portra had already given me a nice surprise on the first roll, this roll, which I effectively rated at ISO 50 was even better!  Colors were realistic yet quite vibrant, while grain was dramatically reduced at this speed.  

A scene at Hagerstown City Park is rendered with a bit more contrast than those shot at higher speed, but the grain and color tones are quite pleasing. 

Yet again, illuminated green foliage sparkles, while red brick tones have a slightly chalky cast to them - nothing unpleasant, but slightly noticeable.

Attempting to focus a but short, this scene doesn't render the best, but the color does well. 

Red, under both shadow and light renders quite vibrantly, much like another long revered Kodak film product. 

Evenly lit scenes under sunlight tend to render the best.  The green appears vibrant but natural, and not restrained as I had expected of Portra.

A classic band stand shows impressive color through the scene, albeit with some accompanying contrast.

A farm scene portrays quite well, and the added contrast really makes the cloud patterns stand out in the backdrop. 

A bit of a cyan cast to the sky in this shot, but nothing bothersome.  Great color otherwise.

As afternoon shadows grow long, the detail in the farm begins to get lost in this scene, yet the overall effect is still both vibrant and nostalgic. 


Two shots taken at the Baker Farm at Monocacy National Battlefield show the capabilities of slow rating this film to maximum effect.  The blue and green renditions of the sky and foliage are exceptional, while the gold of the cannon gleams just as it did in the scene. 


Yes, lack of a desired choice of Ektar 100 was a very good thing in this instance.  I've found a new favorite film as a result.  Overall, I was quite pleased with the rendering of Portra in sunlit conditions rated at ISO 50 in particular.  The results render somewhat similar to the better renderings of Fuji Velvia 100F to me, but without the excessively cyan cast of that film.  

All told, I've picked up several more rolls of this film for similar downrating.  It looks like Fall foliage shooting may be quite fun!