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  1. #1

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    New Portra 400 In the darkroom-- my experience so far

    A number of folks from the Vancouver Darkroom Co-op recently had a chance to get together and share our experiences printing the film in the wet darkroom.

    First of all it prints well-- I found the low contrast a good fit with the relatively high contrast Fuji Crystal Archive paper I use. My tentative sense is that I could straight print things like subtle gradations in sky which would have required burning in with the fuji 160s I'm used to shooting

    However, another photographer really missed the extra pop he had been used to from the old 400vc, especially when shooting with a diana plastic camera.

    Colour balancing is as straightforward as any negative film-- the standard 45m 60y seems to be a good starting filtration. I did notice the tendency to yellow skin tones, but since it's directly correctable with the yellow filter it's easy to fix, and my sense was this makes it easier to get good skin tones when the subject is in shadow or back lit meaning that there are more situations where you can get away with out using flash or reflectors which is good for casual/documentary shooting.

    The one big issue everyone had with the new film was the grain-- super fine grain makes for easier scanning, but in the enlarger it makes focusing the image on the paper a royal beeyotch. It's not just that the grain is fine-- it's about the same as fuji160s, but for whatever reason the edges of the grain (well dye cloud actually) are especially hard to focus on with a standard grain focuser. (This is also true in an even more dramatic way with ektar100) I would be interested in hearing if anyone has had better luck with a 25x microsight or other high zoot grain focuser-- the standard Patterson focusers don't really cut it with this stuff.

    Generally it works good, and those who say its the best colour neg film of all time are not out to lunch. That said I mourn the loss of fuji 800z which I've found to be the best film for optical prints I've encountered. It does not have the latitude of the portra but it has just the right amount of pop and a really wonderful slightly gritty grain which while from purely abstract technical sense is inferior, but I find it both aesthetically pleasing and easier to focus on the paper than the Portra.

    Any one else have any thoughts on New Portra in the darkroom?

  2. #2
    mikecnichols's Avatar
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    I haven't shot the new Portra, but I totally understand the grain issue from Ektar.....it sometimes takes me 5-10 minutes to be 98% sure I have it in focus. It is interesting to hear your thoughts about it being a good fit with Fuji CA paper. I was a little hesitant about printing Ektar on it but found that it translates beautifully on it!

  3. #3

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    Found the same thing with using a 20x grain focuser. Both Portra 400 and Ektar 100 are a pain to focus, but the prints sure make it worth using.
    Bob

  4. #4
    mikecnichols's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob-D659 View Post
    Found the same thing with using a 20x grain focuser. Both Portra 400 and Ektar 100 are a pain to focus, but the prints sure make it worth using.
    That's for sure!

  5. #5
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    I just got 2 propacks of new Portra 400 and 2 of new Portra 160 and haven't finished and developed a roll from it yet but I've been printing Ektar 100 lately (all 120) and have no problem focusing the Ektar. The grain is small so I usually focus on a sharp edge in the picture instead. At any rate, RA-4 paper is fast enough that I'm usually using f/16 to get the times to something reasonable and at that f-stop the focus isn't as critical anyways.

    I'll let you know once I print my first roll of Portra 400. Have some in the Yashicaflex right now but I'm shooting it at 1600 (indoors available light f/3.5 1/50th) so wonder if a two-stop push will give me grain in the dye clouds to focus on? Will see. I'll shoot some at 400 as well, it's a crappy week weather wise, rain, rain, rain, compared to the recent weather where I blew through 2 pro packs of Ektar 100 and managed to overexpose some (Ektar doesn't like overexposure unfortunately, it blocks up pretty bad compared to Portra).
    Harry Pulley - Visit the BLIND PRINT EXCHANGE FORUM

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  6. #6
    markbarendt's Avatar
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    Just a thought on the focusing, because I have the same issue with even the old Portra and my aging eyes, I'll actually get myself close with the neg I want to print, then fine focus with say an HP5 neg.
    Mark Barendt, Ignacio, CO

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

  7. #7
    Roger Cole's Avatar
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    Focusing on the image instead of the grain is spot on. I don't even need a grain focuser to get sharp prints (though it's quicker using one.) Just visually focus on the image and stop down about three stops: 2-3 stops down from wide open is usually the sharpest anyway, and RC papers are so fast you need to stop down.

  8. #8

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    Indeed the Ektar (and presumably Portra 400) is tough to optically focus. I use the Peak Model 1 (the big one) and it works pretty well, but having an edge or some contrast in the neg really helps a lot. Focusing on a featureless area of the neg is next to impossible without several tries. (The Beseler 45A head doesn't help either, with the pseudo-continuous light via high frequency flash tubes....)

    But yes the results (at least on the Ektar) are superb! Looking forward to trying the portra soon too.

  9. #9
    2F/2F's Avatar
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    Glad you guys are printing it. I have not done so yet. Still have to work through my Doomsday supply of 400NC and VC!

    You may find the image magnifier type of focuser better than the grain focusing type. If your enlarger is properly aligned, you can also focus on the edge of a sprocket hole or the frame edge.
    2F/2F

    "Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."

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  10. #10

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    It's a nice film to print, totally different filter pack to both NC & VC. I focus using one of these and I tend to place it over a stray hair or blade of grass. It is practically grain-less at 10x8, but then NC & VC were also practically grain-less at 10&8. I'm planning to shoot a roll 2 stops underexposed to see if the thin negs can be rescued as easily in the darkroom as they apparently can using scanning software.
    Steve.

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