Any advantage using Portra for urban photography, or will cheap film do the trick?

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by Roundabout, Sep 20, 2013.

  1. Roundabout

    Roundabout Member

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    Any advantage using Pro film for urban photography, or will cheap film do the trick?

    A subjective question of course.

    But, I tend to do... let's call it urban photography, for the sake of discussion. If anyone is familiar with Wim Wender's still photography (as opposed to his movies), then you'd be in the ballpark (other than him being better than me, probably).

    I've generally stuck with black and white film for my work and used digital for colour. But I have been thinking about trying a bit with colour film. I wonder if anyone has any thoughts on using Kodak Portra (or other pro film) for this kind of photography? Or, is Portra only really advantageious for skintones and suchlike, and will I be just as well off using something like Kodak Gold and saving my money?

    I always shoot 35mm, handheld.

    Also, I'm not a pro photographer, but I'm a digital graphics pro. So, I don't need the punchiest, brightest colours 'out of the box'. Nor do I want high contrast particularly (I can bring all of that out in post-production, if I want). Ideally, I want to capture, as much as possible, the widest dynamic range, image detail and colour subtleties. Then it's up to me to make a mess of it scanning, and in digital post-production. :wink:

    Thoughts welcome.
     
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  2. thegman

    thegman Member

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    I think a roll of Portra 400 is worth a try. To my eye it looks like a 100 ISO film in terms of grain, and it's very forgiving of mis-exposure. I personally think it's worth the extra over Kodak Gold, particularly for 35mm where you have to worry about grain more than with medium or large format.

    Worth the expense of a roll to try it out I think.
     
  3. TheToadMen

    TheToadMen Subscriber

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    You might find some groups on Tumblr or Flickr that show the kind of images you like and check what type of film is mostly used.
    This is what I do when I want starting tips for a new film in a new setting.

    I have seen some nice street photography lately on Tumblr, mostly shot with Kodak Portra 400, when I liked the colors too.

    I think that - next to film - your choice of lenses is important too.

    Good luck hunting and show us some images when you're done.
     
  4. Roundabout

    Roundabout Member

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    Thanks. Yep, the lack of grain is tempting.

    I like grain in my black and white. Not so much in colour. Coming from a graphics backround, I'm quite a devotee of the 'garbage in, garbage out' school of thought. If Portra is really going to capture more of range and subtlety of colours, then I have more to work with later.

    As for lenses. I'm currently using an OM1n with a couple of 50mm, a 35mm and looking at getting a 28mm. Can't really afford some of the f2 primes, which I'd really like. But my view is that I don't use analogue for sharpness. My digital setup is generally going to win that one (for the most part). I like film cameras and lenses because they have an aesthetic of their own.
     
  5. Truzi

    Truzi Subscriber

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    Unless you are after a very specific look or are on a tight budget, I can't see anything that would contra-indicate using pro film.
     
  6. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

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    Both will do a good job. It depends, of course, on the kind of subjects and the look you want. Gold has somewhat higher saturation than Portra, and a somewhat rougher look. It may be excellent for street scenes, rough urban architecture, and the like. Portra may be better for more pictorial shots and people where skin tone is of great importance. The obvious answer is to go out one day and shoot a roll of each, then see which one you like better.
     
  7. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Take a look in my gallery if you want to see some examples of what Portra can do - a lot of my color work is shot on Portra. I've been mostly shooting the Portra 160 and been very happy with it, even (or especially, depending on your take on it) for night-time stuff. In my book it is well worth the extra cost. I suspect your disdain of film for sharpness comes from scanning color film - try optical printing sometime, or using a good scanner. You'll be amazed at how good film can be.
     
  8. Hatchetman

    Hatchetman Subscriber

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    If you want minimal grain and you are scanning, Ektar is your best bet IMO. If you are reasonably capable with your exposures, the dynamic range will be OK.

    That is my 2 cents.
     
  9. Nuff

    Nuff Member

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    I find the dynamic range with ektar is never an issue. The following photo was exposed for shadows and the highlights in the distance are fine. Of course, if you need the extra speed, use Portra. I usually shoot it at iso 200.
    [​IMG]
    ektar_005.jpg by Jarek Miszkinis, on Flickr
     
  10. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    He said he didn't want "punchy bright colours". Portra is much more neutral in colour balance, and has a wider dynamic range.
     
  11. heterolysis

    heterolysis Member

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    If cost isn't an issue Portra will be fine. I use it for more "urban" shooting sometimes, and on a tripod just after sunset, I love it.

    Ektar is generally cheaper to come by, has a slightly smaller range, but grain is basically non-existant and it can give lovely results in more subdued light. It can give you punchy colours if you're shooting punchy-coloured things in punchy lighting, but it is no Velvia.

    I've had decent results with Kodak Ultramax 400 in the past. It's a cheaper consumer film but to experiment with a new style, might be worth a shot. Kodak also has Profoto 100, which I'm no fan of.

    There's a really cheap Fuji on B&H (Fujicolor 200) that I've never tried. I've shot Superia in 400 and 800 and they're just okay, but Reala 100 was my favourite of all print films recently, so if this falls in between it may be good.
     
  12. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Ektar does not give "punchy" color, unless punchy color is resident in the actual scene. It's fairly accurate for a color film. But neither does it
    artificially soften things like skintones, which is something Porta 160 does. Nor does it forgive errors in color balance as easily. If you are comfortable shooting chromes, Ektar should be easy to learn. If you want something more forgiving of exposure error, go Portra. These films are tightly engineered for specific categories of use. And consistency is one thing you tend to get in quality products like these. If you want high quality results, then the learning curve is going to be more consistent too. Any mistakes which come out in the end result are likely to be your own. But you might pay a dollar more a roll for that privilege. Amateur films are made and marketed under less stringent conditions, and often have a buffer zone for sloppy use, so that you get "something", yet at the expense of something else.
     
  13. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I suggest the O.P buys some Portra and Ektar and tries them for himself, you can't rely on other peoples experience because your impressions may be completely different.
     
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  15. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    RIGHT ON BEN!

    suggestions are cheap
    experience is priceless
     
  16. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

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    Even Ektar is restrained in terms of saturation compared to the default JPG settings on most digital cameras. If it's not Velvia, scanned into photoshop, with the saturation pushed up 50 points, it probably will still look subdued.

    My vote goes to portra 160 and 400 though. I used to use other color films. Now I don't.
     
  17. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    Using others experience of what films are like John I.M.O. is like asking someone to have sex for you.:smile:
     
  18. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Tips can sometimes alleviate the worst of the learning curve. For example, I wouldn't recommend Ektar for someone planning a portrait session
    with acne-ridden teenagers!
     
  19. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Isn't there an entire industry based on that?
     
  20. TheToadMen

    TheToadMen Subscriber

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  21. Lamar

    Lamar Member

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  22. TheToadMen

    TheToadMen Subscriber

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    Thanks for sharing. I found the Fuji PRO 400 and the pushed Portra 400 (football game) most appealing.
     
  23. Hatchetman

    Hatchetman Subscriber

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    Lamar - Very interesting. That Fuji Pro looked great. Of course those scans are top notch.
     
  24. Roundabout

    Roundabout Member

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    Well I ran through a roll of Portra 400.

    Very nice. The lack of grain when scanned is particularly impressive. Or, should I say, the lack of *intrusive* grain – I have no problem with grain in itself.

    From a colour point of view, it's hard to say. Subjectively, looking at some Kodak 200 shots I have, the Portra seems to have a bit more depth and smoothness to it. I've no intention of of doing any 'scientific' testing mind you.

    Interestingly, when I did a couple of black and white converstions, the Portra gave some fantastic tones.
     
  25. TheToadMen

    TheToadMen Subscriber

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    Would you mind sharing some images? Always nice to see what others are doing.

    Besides scanning, you could also actually print some negatives. Scanning negatives may give quite a different result - not always better or worse, just different. I'd rather evaluate a negative by prints than by scanned images.

    I use Silverfast scanning software. The "colour point of view" can greatly be influenced by the selected film type in the software. Sometimes a "wrong" film type setting may give nice results.
    BTW: monitor & printer callibration is also a factor.
     
  26. Roundabout

    Roundabout Member

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    Sure, when I get a minute, I'll upload some. This Portra roll was more of a test, so not sure there will be anything wonderful to look at, mind you.

    I don't have a flatbed scanner anymore, so can't really show you what the prints would look like. All I'll be able to show is how a Plustek 8100 scanner works with the negs. I scan with VueScan (Silverfast makes me swear) and all options turned off – I prefer to do my post-prodcution in Photoshop. I've worked in design graphics for nearly twenty years, so I know well enough that this is going to give limited information for comparative purposes. It's funny how, before digital, I never used to accept anything that wasn't scanned on a £100K drum scanner. Nowadays digital leapfrogs the whole process. But that's not the reason I shoot film, of course.