Kodak Portra 160 Underexposure Results


Kodak Portra160 (35mm)


Blog by Tomas Webb

Let’s be honest. How many of you purchase film based on the manufacturer’s data sheet and/or reviews on how good a film looks at x magnification? Personally I want to know how it performs in real situations. When FPP’s Michael Raso offered me a chance to test out the new Kodak Portra 160, I wasn’t about to fuss about with a controlled environment test - I wanted to see results from ordinary situations.

Over here, in Australia, we are just reaching the end of winter - the light is becoming richer, but on the average day it’s not particularly bright. At this time of the year I tend to use primarily 400 iso films, but rarely do I use colour.

Given that there has been much talk about the latitude of the new Portra range, I thought
I’d push my luck and use the Portra 160 in an environment where I’d normally be using a
400 speed film. To make things more interesting, I shot the roll using a Recesky DIY TLR (Gakkenflex clone). With a fixed aperture of f8, shutter speed of 1/125 and a simple plastic lens, conditions have to be favorable to get any results, let alone something worth printing.

Image 1

I started out photographing compositions where I normally would have used a film speed
of 200. You can see in the first shot that there seems to be sufficient detail in the highlights and shadows - do bear in mind that this is a camera that doesn’t provide perfect renditions of scenes, but rather a dreamlike interpretation.

Image 2

In the second shot, I tried first a backlight composition, and then a shot that would offer a reference of sorts to check the colours when scanning. Both were shot in similar lighting conditions to the first shots. I was rather surprised to find that the new Portra 160 required no adjustments during scanning to correct colours.

Image 3

For the third series of shots, I thought I should step it up a notch. I’ve photographed those two locations numerous times in one form or another, and have found that with the settings of f8@1/ 125 at this time of year, at the very least 400 ISO is required, and preferably even a little faster. Yet, as you can see, both shots came out and look similar in detail to the earlier shots. Again, no adjustments made during scanning.

With the Recesky/Gakkenflex, there is no indicator on how many shots are left, but I knew that I was coming towards the end of the film. I’d read of the new Portra 400’s ability to handle substantial underexposure. I wondered how the 160 version would fare?

The light at the bottom of my stairs is particularly nice in the morning, but not very strong – to capture detail in the stairs as well as the subject on the stairs, I knew that 400iso, f2.8@1/30 was required. So I placed a tea cup on the stairs and shot at 160ISO, f8@1/125. Even if you’re not so good at math, it’s obvious that this is severe underexposure - I thought I’d end up with a blank frame, yet there is some detail just visible in the shadows (on a colour corrected monitor).

The verdict? The new Kodak Portra 160 handles underexposure well beyond expectations – this is a good thing for toy cam photographers and serious photographers alike. The colours aren’t particularly unique, rendering tones very close to the actual scene. Could be a good film for new photographers given it’s tolerance for underexposure when developed with standard processing (as I did). An impressive film that is worth adding to your arsenal.

Tomas is a listener of The Film Photography Podcast. Find him on the web at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/the_wolf_brigade/ and www.feelingnegative.com

Kodak Portra films are now available in the FPP Store!



Nasir Hamid's picture
Thanks for this report. Lovely images. I've been rating my Portra 16 and 400 both at 100, it never occurred to me to rate it faster than the box speed. I'll give it a go. Cheers, Nasir
Brian Moore's picture

Nice blog, Tomas. (Love the dreamy effect on those images!) Did you process the roll yourself? Thanks.

Dan Grenier's picture
Nicely pulled together article... Thank you for sharing your experience with this film. In particular, I'm impressed with your last image of the lone tea cup. Beautiful photography...
Anonymous's picture
Thanks for this information I've been using portra 400 and ektar 100 and wondered about the 160 I guess I must try it next...
Anonymous's picture
Just a question: As TLR's doesent have a moving mirror inside, causing movement and difficulty holding the camera straight when "fired" (sorry English is not my native language), have you really really asked yourself why you shoot with shutterspeed 1/125? Its not really needed! In those dark conditions feel free to enter the world of 1/50 or less and open up that shutter to 4 and explore the texture in the darkness. I use a semi old 35 camera as a lightmeter where I can see the darkness in the exposure in the shutter (maybe everyone does?) and as I do that I must forget about having to stay in the field of 1/60 and 1/125 for handheld photography.

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