Sibling Rivalry: A Comparison of Kodak's Portra 160, 400, and 800

Sibling Rivalry: A Comparison of Kodak's Portra 160, 400, and 800

Kodak’s Portra 400 is arguably the most popular color negative film stock in the world right now and for good reason. For those that don’t already know, Kodak offers two other variants in the Portra family: Portra 160 and Portra 800. 

Of the three, Portra 400 is the most popular stock for film photographers and the most popular color profile for those shoot digital that are looking to emulate the film look. Portra 400 made its debut just over 2 decades ago and originally came in two variants: ”VC” for vivid color and “NC” for natural color. Since 1998, Portra 400 has evolved from "VC" and "NC" into what we know it as now. The two other film stocks in the Portra lineup, 160 and 800, offer similar color palettes that generally produce pleasing skin tones but their saturation and dynamic range is vastly different. 

In the original article, I used the exact same camera and lens for each series, changing only the back to rotate between the 3 film stocks. The camera used was a Mamiya 645 Pro TL and three lenses were used: 80mm f/2.8 N, 150mm f/3.5 N, 300mm f/5.6 N-ULD. All of the shots were scanned using an Epson V600 and no further adjusts following the scanner software’s inversion were made. 

Having shot through a fair amount of each stock, I honestly thought I would have gone with the Portra 800 across each example but I tended to only prefer it half the time. Of the three, it is the most saturated and felt over the top in some of the comparisons. Unsurprisingly to me, I didn’t really care for most of the examples of Portra 160. While I know a lot of people love the film, I can count on one hand how many shots I liked from an entire pro pack shot in Banff (albeit, the three I got that were winners were my absolute favorites from the entire trip). Having shot through nearly 100 rolls of Portra 400, I’m rarely surprised how those shots turn out and as I expected – its middle of the road saturation, low grain and its dynamic range still make it the film to beat. 

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