Kodak Ektar 100 vs Kodak Portra 160/400: Film Portraits
Matthew Osborne Photography
Black and white film
My love for film photography is growing day by day after recently buying a 35mm Leica M3 and Fuji GF670 Pro to add to my collection. To date I have shot perhaps 85% black and white film vs. only 15% colour film. I like black and white as depending on how you develop the film you can make some nice high contrast images with a broad dynamic range. High contrast can give increased apparent image sharpenss so B&W photos tend to look sharper than those in colour. B&W tones tend to be more flattering for portrait photos and I also develop the negatives at home myself so it’s both economical and easy. I tend to shoot mostly Kodak T-Max 100 B&W film and push it to ISO 200/400/800 if needed without issue.
For 35mm film I use Kodak Portra 160 and for medium format film normally Kodak Portra 400 and more recently Fuji Pro 400H again. Kodak Portra is said to produce the best skin tones and I did agree but now I am starting to prefer the pinky-green tones of Fuji Pro 400H vs yellow-orange tones of Portra. 35mm Kodak Portra 160 is much cheaper than 135 Fuji Pro 400 and sadly Fuji Pro 160NS is only available in 120 format (not 35mm).
Film Portraits – Wedding Portraits
Medium format 120 ISO 400 film such as Portra is plenty sharp enough for wedding portraits when shot with a lens wide open. This is especially apparent when using sharp camera lenses such as the Contax 645 + Zeiss 80mm f2 or Fuji GF670 Pro. 135 Portra 160 however to me is almost too soft at wide apertures even when using sharp lenses such as a Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 on my Leica M2 or Carl Zeiss Pancolar 80mm f1.8 on my Nikon FM.
Film Portraits – Fashion Photography
120 Kodak Ektar 100 film is very sharp when used with good cameras/ lenses. It is almost unflatterringly sharp for female portraits for anything other than perfect model skin. However if you look deeper you can pull positives from this situation. To date I have only shot Kodak Ektar 120 film with sharp lenses stopped down. I try to use sharp lenses for film photography as images tend to be softer than when shooting digital. If 120 Ektar is almost too sharp for medium format portraits then it will also give me sharper 35mm portraits. If I find 35mm Ektar is great for sharp fashion portraits using modern ASPH and APO lenses but not very flattering for wedding portraits then I can just use older Leica lenses such as the Noctilux 50mm f1, Summarit 50mm f1.5 or Summaron 35mm f3.5 for a softer photo.
Kodak Ektar vs Kodak Portra Skin Tones and Saturation
Kodak Portra is often the benchmark to aspire to for both film and digital cameras when it comes to natural skin tones. I have raved about it in the past and wrote a post on it. The less saturated Portra colours can really suit wedding photography hence it’s popularity (along with Fuji Pro 400H). When I shoot digital I only shoot in colour if I think colour adds to an image (or it is requested by a paying client such as a wedding). Portra colours are subtle so perhaps don’t do a colourful scene justice. Kodak Ektar however is a more saturated colourful film that can be too much for some portrait images taken in a coloured light such as next to a tungsten lamp. That said if the colours are considered and used as a creative element in the photo you then have a set of fine grain vibrant images to give a splash of colour against the B&W photos. If the Ektar skin tones are too much in some photos I can simply reduce the saturation a little when scanning the negatives. I much rather capture more detail with a finer grain film and desaturate (if needed) than try to sharpen softer negatives scans and increase saturation (if desired).
As a result of my thinking I have ordered a pack of 135 Kodak Ektar 100 film to try in my Leica M3 for model photography / fashion portraits initially. If I like the results then I might load some Kodak Ektar for my next wedding. I will share the results and my thoughts once I have some sample images. For now below are some samples using some of the film types I have talked about.
It is worth noting that ISO 100 speed Ektar requires more ambient light hence Portra 400 and Fuji Pro 400H films are more popular for weddings photography. Portra and 400H also have greater lattitude so cope better for under/ over exposure vs Ektar. For my model photography and also some wedding photography this is not a problem if I am using off camera speedlights to boost light levels. It can actually be a benefit on a bright day if I want to shoot at wide apertures like f1.0, f1.2 or f1.2 as film cameras tend to have a slower maximum shutter speed of 1/1000 (Leica M2/ M3), 1/400 (Mamiya RZ 67), 1/500 (Fuji GF670) vs digital 1/4000 (M9), 1/8000 (Nikon D800)
Example Images – Colour Film Photography
135 Kodak Portra 160
120 Kodak Portra 400
120 Fuji Pro 400H
120 Kodak Ektar 100