Help: Problems with expired Portra 400VC/NC

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by allen_a_george, Aug 18, 2008.

  1. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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    I recently bought packs of expired Portra 400 VC and 400 NC off eBay. I knew I was taking a chance, but when I shot with the film this Saturday the results I got back were truly atrocious :sad:

    I've included sample images in the two posts below. I metered as if the film were ISO 320, and had the rolls were developed at a local supermarket minilab. I've used them before for consumer film (Superia X-Tra 400, supermarket-brand 400, etc.) and I've never seen results like this. The scans were done on an Epson V500 with Digital ICE on the Quality setting and Low USM. No color corrections were done.

    My questions are:
    1. Is it operator error? Did I simply misjudge exposure really badly? I know I'm no human light meter, but I don't think that my exposures were so far off to cause these issues . . .
    2. Is it the film? Frankly, this is what I suspect. It was sold as "cold stored", and the eBay placing did say that the film "shoots perfect", but maybe I simply got greedy and got hosed. Is what you see below characteristic of the effects of aging on film?
    3. Is the lab? I doubt this because I've never seen anything like this with the other rolls I've had processed there.

    I'd really appreciate any opinions on this. It's frustrating - I thought I'd taken some decent photos on Saturday, but looking at the scans many are writeoffs. I can live with a fair amount of grain and color speckles, but what I'm seeing below seems over the top.
     
  2. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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    400NC Images

    400NC, Roll #1, Image #1, 100% Crop
    [​IMG]

    400NC, Roll #1, Image #1, 1024px
    [​IMG]
    The shadow detail looks really, really muddy here.

    400NC, Roll #1, Image #2, 100% Crop
    [​IMG]

    400NC, Roll #1, Image #2, 1024px
    [​IMG]
    Apologies for the threads and other crap on the scan. Don't think it matters anyway, since this photo looks destroyed.

    400NC, Roll #2, Image #1, 100% Crop
    [​IMG]

    400NC, Roll #2, Image #1, 1024px
    [​IMG]
     
  3. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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    400VC Images

    400VC, Roll #1, Image #1, 100% (Overexposed 2 stops)
    [​IMG]
    Yes, it has camera shake and subject motion.

    400VC, Roll #1, Image #1, 1024px (Overexposed 2 stops)
    [​IMG]
    Yes, it has camera shake and subject motion.

    400VC, Roll #1, Image #2, 100% ('Correct' exposure)
    [​IMG]

    400VC, Roll #1, Image #2, 1024px ('Correct' exposure)
    [​IMG]

    400VC, Roll #1, Image #3, 100%
    [​IMG]

    400VC, Roll #1, Image #3, 1024px
    [​IMG]

    400VC, Roll #1, Image #4, 100%
    [​IMG]

    400VC, Roll #1, Image #4, 1024px
    [​IMG]
    This one is the worst on this roll for color grain.
     
  4. Neal

    Neal Subscriber

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    Dear allen_a_gorge,

    It looks like old, poorly stored film. I purchased some cheap 400UC and got similar results (I was leery about the storage but I just couldn't resist the price). Other purchases of outdated color film have been better. Save it for the right project.

    Neal Wydra
     
  5. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    When you purchase out-of-date film, you just take your chances. The processing does not look very good, though.
     
  6. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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    [sighs]

    As I suspected. I'll try another roll out and if that too doesn't work out then I'll contact the seller. He does have a high rating, and this does not meet my definition of "shoots perfect".

    That said, I probably have to swallow my losses.
     
  7. Aurum

    Aurum Member

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    It does look like very underexposed film. So it seems to have lost a lot of speed. Prehaps it needs to be metered at 200 ISO or lower to get decent results
     
  8. frotog

    frotog Member

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    It looks like there's more going on here than poorly stored, expired film. I just shot some 400nc that expired 4 years ago. It's been sitting in 5x7 holders in a warm apt. all summer long. Compared to fresh 400nc it's about 1/3 of a stop less fast and 10pts. more magenta. Your examples look like they suffer from both fogging and crappy processing. Unfortunately shipping film these days is a little like playing russian roulette. USPS is a very bad idea as I've been told they xray all parcels. It used to be that fedx could say they did not subject packages to xrays. Now they can not say for certain that a package won't be subjected to xrays. The graininess of the images points to problems in processing. Have you tried making a conventional cprint?
     
  9. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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    Just to be clear - fogging is a general loss of contrast right?

    Oh - this could be a real problem then. I had the film shipped by USPS to Canada (since UPS absolutely hoses us with brokerage fees). But I thought that x-rays weren't necessarily a huge problem with 400-speed film. . .

    No, I haven't. I'm curious why you ask though.
     
  10. frotog

    frotog Member

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    There's both chemical fogging and light fogging. Wikipedia has a fine entry under fogging (photography). Interestingly there is mention of the problem of silver staining - chemical fogging most commonly due to exhausted fixer. It is the bane of poorly maintained roller transport processors - the sort of thing I'd expect from grocery store processing in the year 2008.

    When I have developing anomalies I like to inspect both the film and a print. There's so much image transformation going on in a scan that I feel you're oftentimes getting more than the whole story, especially when using software that cleans up the image like digital ice. But I suppose that this is just prejudice as I'm hardly ever scanning directly from negatives and when I do it's usually a lab that does it.
     
  11. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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    Hmm.

    I have not noticed color changes or exposure issues, when using Digital ICE. Also, when I did the scans I turned the color adjustment to the 2nd lowest setting - so Epson Scan is doing almost no levels adjustment, saturation or color changes. One can only imagine what these pictures look like at the lowest setting . . .

    I've decided to sacrifice a roll each of the VC and NC (something I should have done right at the beginning) for testing. I'm photographing in a variety of lighting, bracketing each shot as if it were 320, 200 and 400. I suspect the film was simply stored poorly and that it has lost a full stop of speed. But there's a lot of inconsistency - some photos are smooth while others - even those taken in bright sunshine - are extremely grainy. And it really looks like dark areas are a real problem.

    While I'm sure the lab isn't the greatest, here are samples from 'fresh' 400-speed consumer film that I gave in for processing at the same time as the 400VC and 400NC:

    Life 400, #1, 100% crop
    [​IMG]

    Life 400, #1, 1024px
    [​IMG]

    Not great, but certainly nowhere near the grain of the photos above. That said, I'll try develop my sacrificial rolls at another minilab that my local photoclub recommends. I'll get prints and scans done at the same time.
     
  12. frotog

    frotog Member

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    You mentioned that the problem is not consistent throughout the roll. Have you noticed any pattern to the offending frames? i.e. are they more towards the beginning of the roll or does it just seem random? What's the expiry date?
     
  13. Frank Szabo

    Frank Szabo Member

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    Most of your ills appear to come from underexposure.

    It's been my personal experience that Portra (and the former Vericolor) did not work well at box speed. I've always rated the stuff at half the advertised speed (160 @ 80 & 400 @ 200) and never had thin negatives - Kodak calls for a .65 average density for proper exposure and doing this (halving the speed) acheived a .68 - .70 for me and my equipment. It's the only film I've ever had to do this with.

    Add to that, as has been said, that film loses speed with age, and one gets rather thin negatives.

    I suspect you're shooting 35mm (reference to a minilab) - the smaller negative exaggerates grain.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 19, 2008
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  15. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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    @Frank:
    Yes, I'm shooting 35mm, and I'd no idea I had to shoot Portra at half box speed. I'm used to overexposing by a 1/3 of a stop. That 's what I've had success with, with Superia X-Tra 400, 400H and 400UC . . .

    @frotog:
    It's random. On the first roll of NC most of the frames look washed out (in various degrees) and the grain in the shadows is really speckled and ruins the detail. Then once in a while I'll get a frame (same exposure, same lighting, same brightness range in the scene) that looks worlds better. The second roll of NC is weird; once in a while I'll get a frame or two in which the grain isn't prominent, but there's extremely low contrast.

    The VC is really bad in terms of grain. The second frame in the roll has a red streak running through it - I have no idea what that is. It looks like a light leak, except I've never seen anything like that on any of the rolls I've put through this camera. Then after that I'll get some frames with over-the-top speckling (especially in black areas) and others with much less (including the black areas - which appear to be just as dark).
     
  16. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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    Streak

    [​IMG]

    This is the 3rd frame in. Light leak? Would be odd - ran two rolls after this one and haven't seen it again.
     
  17. frotog

    frotog Member

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    anomalous red line in film = classic xray fogging. This is why I never use anyone but fedex to ship film.
     
  18. brucemuir

    brucemuir Member

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    Interesting, I just found a Kodak TechPubhttp://www.kodak.com/cluster/global/en/service/tib/tib5201.shtml#SEC47
    and if you scroll down about 3/4 you'll see a reference to increased grain from a FULL bag X ray. The full bag type would be the more powerful scan.

    I too need to get a bunch of film shipped that I just bought from an ebay auction and now I am paranoid.

    Anyone have any definitive info on who X rays and who wont???

    The stuff I need to ship is 160 speed.
     
  19. frotog

    frotog Member

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    Good question Bruce....last I checked with Fedex they were unwilling to say whether or not I could safely ship film using their service. I haven't shipped film nor have I had film shipped to me in quite some time so I haven't researched it recently. There must be some carrier that could say for certain that they will not subject your package to xrays. Perhaps you should start a new thread with this question.
     
  20. brucemuir

    brucemuir Member

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    Thanks Frotog, yes maybe I will do this because I won??? over 50 rolls of 220 and I will be having it shipped within a few days or so.

    Hopefully, but doubtfully I will get a definitive answer but just the nature of the question is kinda sketchy. I don't know if any of the carriers would answer anyway considering the "sensitive" nature of the query???

    I need to find out though so I will more than likely be on the phone come monday morning for awhile.
     
  21. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    I own and operate a commercial photography studio in Arkansas. For almost 30 years now I have mail-ordered my color and b/w film stock from east and west coast vendors. In ALL this time, and shipment via US Mail, FedEx ground, and Air and UPS, I have never run across a shipping related defect. The chance of film being damaged in transit from xray, or anything else is very very slim. The film is shipped via common carriers to the vendors from the manufacturers. It is then shipped from the vendor to you. If you purchase new film, it has a guarantee. If the manufacturers were at any time having problems with xray damage on new film, they would specify methods of shipping to reduce their warranty claims. To date, no film and paper manufacturer restricts shipping to any approved list of shippers.

    If I were you, I would "rule out" the shipping as a significant factor in the performance of the film in question. It is more likely poor storage conditions before the film got to you. Or, a poorly maintained processing line at the lab you used. Do they run test strips at the start of each day, and plot them?
     
  22. bob100684

    bob100684 Member

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    greyish sine-wave pattern=x-ray fogging.
     
  23. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    You are trying to diagnose problems with Expired film purchased from Ebay. That is the problem. It is not shipping. You take a gamble with expired film that may or may not have been stored correctly, and it doesn't matter what the seller says.
     
  24. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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    Sorry guys, I've been really busy for the past few days and haven't had a chance to check back. Also, I wanted to do test photos first and process it at a different lab before making comments.

    First, I agree with Phototone - I don't think it's a shipping problem. And I did take a chance buying expired film off eBay. I may have gotten irrevocably burned :smile:

    That said, I'm working up scan scans of my test rolls right now. I took Frotog's advice and had the rolls printed as well, just to see how they'd turn out.
     
  25. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    If it makes you feel any better, my latest out-of-date film purchase makes yours look wonderful by comparison. To be sure, I knew mine was a huge risk. I'd hoped to get something interesting and usable for odd effects, but I think it may have deteriorated past that point.
     
  26. allen_a_george

    allen_a_george Member

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