Testing the Limits of Kodak’s Portra 400

For those that don’t already know, film — particularly Kodak’s Portra 400 — has a fair amount of exposure latitude. And by fair amount, I mean loads and loads.

In this particular video, Kyle McDougall exposure tests Kodak’s Portra 400 (currently available in pro packs only at B&H) in broad daylight using a Pentax 67 II. Exposure testing is not new or unique to Kyle. In fact, I previously exposure tested 11 color and B&W film stocks. In each of these examples, Kodak’s Portra 400 and Fuji Pro 400H was exposure tested. 

Portra 400 is arguably the most famous film in the world and for good reason. The way it renders colors is excellent, and it’s almost too difficult to fail. Part of the reason for this is the exposure latitude. As Kyle and others have found, Portra 400 looks great overexposed a bit and can handle underexposure as well. I would argue that it handles underexposure by 2 to 3 stops just fine. Even better, it’s easily useable at 6 stops overexposed. While you may not think it's necessary to have such a wide exposure latitude, it comes in handy when shooting high-contrast scenes or when you're rolling with an all-manual camera and you aren't particularly confident with your camera's meter. Either way, Portra 400 is a great film stock, and you should pick up some and give it a shot if you haven't already!

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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To get the most out of those negs you'd have to do a lot of selective masking in the photo-optical domain (dodging and burning is only going to get you so far), or some multiscans to HDR in the digital domain.

I just move s slider on my digital raw files and I'm done.

Film was great, had an awesome run, but film is dead...

"Film was great, had an awesome run, but film is dead..."

Not really no. Glad you love digital but film is still alive and well.

I certainly hope it can survive. It's essentially only a fine art medium now. It's manufacture and various storage stages make for a difficult to maintain technology without the kind of volume it once had.

Sure, those are good points but it's certainly far from dead. There are still companies coming out with new film stocks. B&H still sells a few film cameras you can buy new.

The crazy room for error in overexposure is something I love about film. You have to overexpose by a lot before the image becomes unusable.

Keep the film content coming!

I'm halfway into a roll of Portra 400, shooting it on a Nikon F80. I think I'm going to take my light meter along with me for the ride and toy around more. Can't wait to see how this turns out. I was comped this film by an industry pro who steered me to shoot film, and suggested the F80 as a decent option. Glad to have seen this video.

I suppose the F80 is a cheap enough way to get into shooting with film, but if you're gonna shoot regularly in film, you might want to pick up a decent body like a Nikon F2 or Canon F1 for relative peanuts.

I'll look into the F2...I just read up on it, and it seems impressive.