I was always taught that if you want to get the maximum quality out of film you should use the slowest film practicable for the job in hand, and I find Portra 160 very suitable for most portrait photography I undertake and find it capable even in 35mm of beautiful 20"X16" prints, and for the odd occasion when it isn't fast enough I carry another body loaded with Portra 400.
I've been tinkering with all three of the portras. My thoughts? Insofar as MF and studio lighting are concerned, I prefer 160 over 400. And 800 is actually my favorite colour film.
For outdoor snapshots with my 35mm cams, I always keep portra 400 around.
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Portra 160 vs 400
Here is an example of 160 with tungsten lighting.
ETA: I like the 160 because I feel like it softens the artificial lighting.
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I've compared Portra 160 and Portra 400 on very high resolution scanners and the grain is very small. So effectively what most people are seeing is a difference between the performance of the scanners. My Epson 750 interacts badly with Portra 400 but is better with 160.
Also, Portra 400 has an extra stop in the shadows but with that extra extension comes a magenta/blue cast in the shadows (easily fixed).
So I expose Portra 160 by placing shadows at -2 and Portra 400 by placing shadows at -3
Portra 400 is quite usable, but if you have the light, go with 160. The grain and quality differences are noticeable even on 120 film, especially in more or less flat areas and shadows. That doesn't say that Portra 400 will give you a bad image, only that the Portra 160 image will be a tiny bit better. If you need the versatility of a 400 film, Portra 400 will work well.
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Here's the old 400VC, shot at ISO 250 through an F5...
The current 160, ISO set to 100 on an F2AS...
Current 400, ISO 250, shot with an F4s...
APUG: F2AS x2, F, FM2n, Nikomat FTn
Nikkors: 18-70/3.5-4.5G AF-S DX (f/D200), 20/3.5 UD, 24/2.8 AI, 50/2 AI, 50/1.4 AI, 50/1.4 S, 55/2.8 Micro AIS, 85/1.8 K, 135/3.5 QC
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Some good points guys. I get my scanning done for me by my local lab, they use a Noritsu scanner for 35mm and can given me 6MP or 30MP images. I always pay more now for the 30MP images because the grain and look at 100% looks more or less identical for C-41 whether it is a 6MP scan or a 30MP one, therefore I think its better to scan really big not sharpen the file at that size (which I think a lot of scanning systems do making the images look more gritty) or maybe soften it a touch to counter the scanners PP and then down sample to the output size. Loads of tricks which can be played.
100% crop from original image (17286x13776px 4800 resolution)
daylight only, light from back and side
This doesn't tell anything, it's blurry or out of focus or too much aberration or scanned at too high a resolution to gain any valuable insight IMO
Originally Posted by pdmk
~Stone | "...of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong." ~Dennis Miller
Originally Posted by StoneNYC
Umm, no, a high resolution scan isn't a problem. Just had some Kodachrome slides done a month or so ago at 30 and they were perfectly workable.
If you want to understand why, head over to someplace like http://members.photoshopuser.com/ and do some research on resizing, sizing for printing, and scanning. http://www.lynda.com has some great info on this too. If one works with a Pro-Lab one can generally get good info from them too about what matters and what doesn't.
Yes I know those sites charge real money, it's worth every penny If you want good info.
Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR
"We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin