Sorry about the confusion, the overexposure and look of 400 at 160 were independent statements.
The problem is, I shoot medium format and mostly in not so great light. So I HAVE to stop down a bit to get high enough shutter speeds to hand hold. Also, not a huge fan of 800 speed films due to the grain (for colour). Therefore was trying to find out what my options are.
Portra 800 is a great option. If you have detachable film backs you could always load a couple with different film speeds and change as needed.
I shoot Portra 800 as well, and it is a very nice film (all of the Kodak Portra films are very nice.) But in my opinion Portra 400 has more lattitude. When I push 800 to 1600 it gets grainy really fast, much faster than Portra 400 does.
It is certainly better technique to use support and lower shutter speeds when shooting in low light...except for when you can't! Try shooting kids on Christmas Eve at ISO 400. I really hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but slow shutter speeds just don't cut it. Halloween is another one. Sometimes your only answer is to push the ISO. Especially if you are shooting medium format with the slower lenses and much reduced DOF.
I wish that Fuji still made their 1600 color film, but they don't. Fortunately Portra 400 seems to work well enough to fill in the gap.
Of course, I guess we could all go digital and shoot at ISO 12800, or higher.
If your'e happy with the film at I.S.O. 400, why try to be clever ? Kodak know what the optimum speed of their products are to get the best results, I would only consider adjusting the film speed rating if I was unhappy with the results.
The thing is, they don't slap on the box the speed that they know gives optimal results and call it ISO. ISO is a rigidly defined lab determined standard and isn't necessarily the pictorially optimum rating. It seldom is on black and white for example. Color is closer because if the standardized processing but you still may find another rating works best.
This is really splitting hairs though. Anything 100-800 will give good easily printed results. C41 just has huge range (latitude.)
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Portra has more than enough latitude so use box speed. EI is for people whose equipment is out of calibration and those who do not know how to use light meters correctly. Stick to box speed or at most 1/3 stop overexpose such as ISO 320 for slightly more saturation instead of ISO 400.
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I leave the digital work for the urologists and proctologists.
Bah. I know how to use a meter fine. I use a spot meter quite successfully with my view camera. But I do think C41 looks slightly better with generous exposure - less apparent grain, gobs of shadow detail. You're right that it looks fine at 400, and not too bad up to 800. But I think anything from 200-400 is reasonable and 250 or 320 is a slight improvement, especially for someone who isn't really comfortable using a meter and just let's the camera decide. C41 does have a lot of latitude. When in doubt, give a bit more.