Kodak Portra 160 Underexposure Results

Posted: 08/25/2011
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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!

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