CineStill 50D vs Kodak Portra 160

CineStill 50D vs Kodak Portra 160

Matthew Osborne Photography (“Mr Leica”)

Here is a non-scientific comparison of 35mm CineSill 50D film vs. 35mm Kodak Portra 160 film.  CineStill 50D is a relatively new film whereas Kodak Portra has been around for years (in various forms).  CineStill 50D is a daylight balanced ISO 50 colour film. Kodak Portra is a daylight balanced ISO 160 film famous for capturing natural skin tones.  Kodak Portra can be bought in the UK for £5 a roll for 36 exposures (£25 for a 5 pack of Kodak Portra 160).  CineStill 50D is bought as single rolls and costs from £8 a roll of 36 exposures here in England.  I have shot Portra for several years but this was my first experience to shoot with CineStill 50D.  I have shot with CineStill 800T tungsten balanced film and was impressed with the results so had high hopes for CineStill 50D.

During my Zurich Model Photography Workshop I decided to shoot CineStill 50D side by side with Kodak Portra 160.

The details of the shoot were as follows:

  • Model: Nadja (Option Model Agency)
  • Camera 1: Leica M3  + Leica Summicron 50 f2 DR + 35mm Kodak Portra 160
  • Camera 2: Leica M2 + Leica Summilux ASPH 50 f1.4 + 35mm CineStill 50D
  • Lighting: Daylight only + Reflector
  • Processing: C41 lab developed + Scan, Lightroom + Photoshop

Kodak Portra 160 Model Photography

Kodak Portra 160 vs CineStill 50D

Leica M3 + Kodak Portra 160

Leica M3 + Kodak Portra 160

CineStill 50D Model Photography

Leica M2 + CineStill Portrait

35mm CineStill 50D

CineStill 50D Model Portrait

CineStill 50D + Daylight

CineStill 50D Model Photography

35mm CineStill 50 D

Results and Conclusion

From my personal experience only I feel these two films produce reasonably similar photos with neither being bad.  For my taste and eye I prefer the look of the Kodak Portra 160 film as I feel the skin tones are more natural vs the CineStill 50D.  CineStill 50D has a slight orange cast maybe vs. Portra.  In different light the CineStill 50D may win hands down over the Portra but that is my conclusion to date.

Will I use CineStill 50D again? Yes I have another roll to use so I will try to use it in different light next time.  Would I buy CineStill 50D instead of Kodak Portra film to use for paying clients such as wedding film photography?  No.  I prefer the look of Portra for skin tones.  Portra film also requires less available light (especially Portra 400 which has a very similar look to Kodak Portra 160)(or Kodak Portra 800). ISO 50 vs ISO 400 = CineStll 50D requires 300% more light that Kodak Portra 400 to obtain the ‘correct’ film exposure.  Weddings venues often don’t have as much light as I would like so films like Kodak Portra 400 are a must have film.  Lastly Kodak Portra 160 is cheaper than CineStill 50D so that is another factor to consider when deciding a regular film to use.

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

Here are a few extra photos from the same photoshoot with Nadja using a medium format film Mamiya 645 Super + Mamiya Sekor 80mm f2.8N lens + 120 Kodak Portra 160

Mamiya 645 Super + Kodak Portra

Mamiya 645 + 120 Portra

Mamiya 645  Beauty

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About matthewosbornephotography

Coventry, UK studio based Model and Wedding Photographer offering both Medium Format Film and Digital Images. 1-2-1 Photography and Lighting Tuition also available.
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11 Responses to CineStill 50D vs Kodak Portra 160

  1. jeremy north says:

    Yet more good pictures Matt.

    The Portra 160 certainly looks as good as ever. I think though that the Cine Still 50 is meant to be shot under studio lighting rather than outdoors in natural light. In any case both films look good.

    What a pity that Kodak blew away its fortune on bad buisiness decisions. Their film is still the best especially in colour, though Tri-X is not too shabby!!

    • Thanks Jeremy! I will have to try my next roll of Cinestill 50D in the studio to see how it performs. Yes colour film is a funny one for me. When it’s good it’s very good but when it scans an odd colour it takes too much time to colour correct for my busy lifestyle. Black and white is still my favourite. It never fails to deliver. I like 120 Tri-X a lot but find 35mm a little grainy for my female portraits. Cheers

  2. I definitely prefer Kodak Portra 160

  3. Pingback: MrLeica.com – BLOG | MrLeica.com – Matthew Osborne Photography

  4. I’d agree that the skin tones look just a bit “off” with the 50D, but considering it’s a cinema film designed for digital intermediate color correction, etc, it shouldn’t be that hard to adjust. For the record, I haven’t shot either of these films, I’m generally doing most of my color work on Fuji film at the moment.

  5. giannisg2004 says:

    The 50D looks off because you’re cross processing it.

    Wouldn’t, say, Provia look off if you cross processed it in C41 chemistry?

    You’re doing the same to 50D. Its native process is ECN-2, and you’re cross processing it in C-41. This gives it a cast and also increases its contrast quite a bit.
    [Also, you get increased halo effect in string highlights, because CineStill strip 50D (and any other cine film) of its anti-halation (remjet) backing. They do that, because they know most people will cross process it in C-41 mini labs which don’t have a step for the removal of the backing and if you drop a cine film in a mini lab, the gook from the backing messes up the machine and the other films being processed in it.]

    50D, in its designed chemistry, ECN-2, is lower contrast and grain, and higher latitude than Portra 160.
    I’m not saying you’ll like it, because, as all cine films, it’s designed to be very low contrast with massive latitude, to give leeway for post processing, as well as to neutralize the high contrast of the intermediary films (internegatives and interpositives) that a cinema film has to go through before it’s released for projection in theatres.

    There are not many labs left doing ECN-2, and not all are willining to bother with short strips (like the ones used in 36-exposure rolls), when they’re processing thousands of feet of film for cinematographers.

    But by all means it’s worth to try it at least once, developing the film in the chemistry it’s designed for, to do it justice and see what it’s capable of.

    • Thank you for taking the time to share you knowledge… this level of detail and skill is without doubt a dying art. I will try to see if I can find ECN-2 developer in UK. Thanks again and I will be sure to share if I do. Thanks Matt

      • If I understand correctly, Cinefilm has the anti-halation backing stripped off, so even with ECN-2 developing you’re still not getting its “real” look. In the old days there were places like Dale Labs that sold genuine Eastman stock in 35mm canisters, and processed it in ECN-2 chemistry … I doubt anyone is still doing that.

        Also, I thought the 50D skin tones were off, too – it jumped out as soon as I saw the first shot. I’d call it “greenish,” but YMMV. That said, the Cinestill people sent me some free rolls of 800T/120, and since my thing is night photography I have high hopes. I’d be interested in 50D, too, provided it has low contrast and – most important – finer grain than Ektar 100 or Portra 160. Does it?

      • Thanks Stephen, yes 50D tones are not natural but I kind of like it. It is almost like the fake filters digital shooters add to make a photo try to look like film 🙂 When I first used 50D like you I was dissapointed in the skin tones. Now I have come back a second time and love the ‘different’ look. Every has real skin tones with the millions of iPhone photos on instagram. It is nice that 50D has the filter already applied look straight off the scanner! 🙂

        Yes I am in effect cross processing the ECN-2 film by using C-41 chemicals.

        I have some Cinestill Alpha rolls of 800T to test too. The 35mm was very good for night photography I found – https://www.flickr.com/photos/32681588@N03/25155510681..just a random night shot I did in NYC.

        Yes 50D is my go to film now for 35mm due to the finest grain/colours/cost/bulk film (Ektar also good and Provia 100F probably beats them all but is expensive and also E6). I find 35mm Portra 160+400 too grainy as a rule.

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