Kodak Ektar 100 vs Kodak Portra 160/400/800: Film Portraits
Film Comparison: Film Portraits taken on Kodak Ektar 100 vs Kodak Portra 160, 400 & 800..and a few with Fuji Pro 400H!
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Black and white film
Kodak Ektar vs Kodak Portra ? My love for film photography is growing day by day. 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 sharpens 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.
Buying Kodak Film – What I Buy (Amazon)
I try to always buy multi packs of the film I use as it helps to reduce the unit cost (each single roll of film is cheaper). I often find Amazon as cheaper as anywhere when buying film and I do my best to find a bargain (especially as the cost of film seems to creep up year on year!)
Kodak Portra 160
I find Portra Kodak 160 is the best value of the 3 Kodak Portra films available but I rarely have enough light to shoot Kodak Portra 160 at box speed in the UK. I love the finer grain of Portra 160 and for 35mm I normally prefer it to Portra 400. If I am doing a hot and sunny destination photo shoot (like my trips to Tenerife) I tend to use Kodak Portra 160 as it is the most economical option. With the big cameras like the Hasselblad and Mamiya RZ67 (with their amazing big waist level view of the world) if you get a very attractive model to photograph it’s easy to get trigger happy and shoot off a whole roll of film within minutes! Beware! (Take plenty of film so you don’t run out like I did!) 🙂
- 120 Kodak Portra 160 – 5pk (Amazon UK) / (Amazon US)
- 35mm Kodak Portra 160 – 5pk (Amazon UK) / (Amazon US)
What to learn how to find models like these to photography for free?
Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400 is my go to film for all of my various medium format cameras (especially). Portra 400 is said to be sharper than Porta 160 and more saturated also. The colours are amazing for portraits without being over the top. For colour film photography I use Portra 400 film the most as I often shoot cameras at ISo 400 if working with available light for portraits. This is especially true for my analogue wedding photography but for model shoots also. I use 35mm Portra 400 for weddings with the Leica cameras as I need that extra amount of light to help minimise motion blur for moving subjects.
- 120 Kodak Portra 400 – 5pk (Amazon UK) / (Amazon US)
- 35mm Kodak Portra 400 – 5pk (Amazon UK) / (Amazon US)
Kodak Portra 800
Kodak Portra 800 can be a life saver for analogue wedding photography (especially with medium format cameras that need more light as the lenses tend to be f2.8-f4 fastest vs f1.4 for my Leica lenses). Portra 800 is more saturated than Portra 400 and Portra 160. I use it the least though as it is expensive but luckily they sell 35mm as single rolls for those special occasions!
- 120 Kodak Portra 800 – 5pk (Amazon UK) / (Amazon US)
- 35mm Kodak Portra 800 – x1 (Amazon UK) / (Amazon US)
Kodak Ektar 100
Unlike perhaps popular believe, Kodak Ektar film can be great for portraits and skin tones. I find it works best for faces with a less red complexion and also out of direct sun. Ektar 100 saturated colours adds a nice pop to an image especially on a grey day. The super fine grain is also amazing and perhaps my favourite feature of Ektar, both 35mm and 120 versions. The price is also good which helps me like Ektar 100!
- 120 Kodak Ektar 100 – 5pk (Amazon UK) / (Amazon US)
- 35mm Kodak Ektar 100 – 5pk (Amazon UK) / (Amazon US)
Available Light Film Photography
As noted above then it’s worth remembering that ISO 100 speed Ektar (and Portra 160) requires more ambient light than Portra 400/800 and Fuji Pro 400H films. That’s why me and others tend to use ISo 400/800 films more and why Portra 400 and Pro 400H are probably the 2 most popular films for weddings photography. Both these films also have greater latitude so cope better for under/ over exposure (vs Ektar especially if under exposed).
A wide latitude can be a real benefit on a bright day if I want to shoot at apertures like f1.0, f1.2 or f1.4. All these films can be over exposed a crazy amount (Portra especially for me) yet still retain the highlight detail where digital would clip the highlights way before. Film cameras also tend to have a slower maximum shutter speed vs digital so it is more difficult to shoot a lens wide open and be able to darken down the available light sufficiently. Exmples: Film – 1/1000 (Leica M2/ M3), 1/400 (Mamiya RZ 67), 1/500 (Fuji GF670) vs Digital – 1/4000 (M9), 1/8000 (Nikon D800).
Finally I reveal how I make my Portrait Images!
If you want to know the exact photography equipment I use to make my film portraits, other than the film and a camera see the links below. I used to avoid writing about my non-camera gear but I thought it was time to reveal all! I detail the speicific speedlights and wireless triggers I use together with the other photography gear needed for my portrait photography.
- Portrait Photography Lighting Kit (Beginner or Pro)(What I Use)
- Essential Portrait Photography Equipment List (x5)(What I Use)
Flickr – Colour Film Photography (Some of my earlier work)
135 Kodak Portra 160 Portraits
120 Kodak Portra 400 Portraits
120 Fuji Pro 400H Portraits (extra just as a comparison)
120 Kodak Ektar 100 Portraits
35mm Film Camera vs Medium Format Film Camera
Have you tried Kodak Vision3 film?
If you roll your own colour film it can be much better value. This video shows you how you bulk roll and develop Kodak Vision3 film (with sample photos at the end!)