Experiment 2: Kodak Portra 160 vs. Portra 400 vs. Portra 800

This article is going to compare Kodak films Portra 160, Portra 400, and Portra 800. For exposure testing data on Portra 400, Portra 400 shot and developed at 800, Portra 800, and 8 other film stocks, please refer to this article. For an additional reference of Portra 400 shot and developed at 800, please refer to this article.

To ensure consistency throughout the experiment, all of the shots were taken using the exact same camera/lens combo. To accomplish this, 3 different film backs were used, each loaded with a different Kodak Portra film. The control conditions were as follows:

  • Camera: Mamiya 645 Pro TL
  • Lenses: 80mm f/2.8 N, 150mm f/3.5 N, 300mm f/5.6 N-ULD
  • Lighting (Portrait Only): 2 Profoto B1X with diffusers
  • Light Meter: LUMU Light Meter iPhone app

All films were developed at a local lab here in Columbus, OH and scanned at home using an Epson v600. All provided images were the converted negatives straight from the scanner software included with the v600.


As perhaps could have been expected, I didn’t prefer one film over the rest in all contexts. Overall, I preferred Portra 800 over 160 and 400 in most situations with a strict exception to portraits.

All told, we took 3 different sets of portraits (though only posting one) and in all 3, Portra 800 was far too saturated. To a level that I, personally, looked jaundiced. I honestly expected Portra 160 to shine here but I honestly thought all of the scans turned out equally as pale. So much so that they looked a bit distasteful. I do expect that I could have remedied a good deal of that in settings in the scan or in PS after but again, all of the presented images are straight out of the scanner’s software.

Probably the only example series where I personally preferred Portra 160 over 800 and a little over Portra 400 was in the library. Portra 800 had a tendency to be too saturated in a situation when the color palette was fairly white. Similar to the portraits above, Portra 800 tends to turn whites yellow in a fairly unattractive way. Portra 400 was right in the middle but in a scene I would have preferred to remain bright and airy feeling, I preferred no yellow tint.

As for the other 3 samples, I did strongly prefer Portra 800. In the vines sample, I think 800 blew the other two out of the water. The colors are intense but in a way that accentuates the present colors without changing them into something undesirable. For the tower, all three returned a pretty distinct color palette – so much so that I went back and rescanned each with the expectation of getting more uniformity then but the scans came back virtually the same as the first pass – that all 3 are distinctly different. Finally, for the vertical tunnel at the OSU campus, I really think the saturation of Portra 800 shined. I loved the way those colors turned out.


I’m not sure that my opinion between the three is really going to change. I will continue to shoot more and more 800 in and around Ohio (or at least on trips where I’m not flying) and I will shoot Portra 400 as an old reliable.


Special thanks to Matt Seal for being generous with letting us use his studio, Dr. H for being an uncomfortable model, and Nevin Johnson for his help with the scanning.

Experiment 1: Exposure Testing 11 Film Stocks

In this experiment, we exposure tested 11 film stocks and Kodak Portra 400 pushed one stop to 800. Among the color films, we tested: Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 400, Portra 400 Pushed One Stop, Kodak Portra 800, and Fuji Pro 400H. Among the Black and White films, we tested: Ilford PanF, Kodak TMax 100, Kodak TMax 400, Kodak Tri-X, Ilford HP5, Ilford XP2 Super, Ilford Delta 3200.

To ensure consistency throughout the experiment, the film stock was the only experimental condition. The control conditions are as follows:

  • Camera: Hasselblad 501CM
  • Lens: 60mm f/3.5 CB
  • Lighting: 2 Profoto B1X with diffusers
  • Light meter: Sekonic Lightmaster
  • Focusing Aid: Schneider Kreuznach 4x loupe

The loupe was used to set the focus at the start of the exposure test for each film stock. To ensure the exposure value (EV) was correct, the light meter (using an incident setting) was used to identify the neutral exposure as well as each EV in the center of the frame.

All B&W film was developed by the Darkroom Lab and all C-41 film was developed at home using a Jobo CPP2. All scans were done at home using an Epson V600. Each frame was scanned flat and adjusted in PS identically for all frames (‘true black’ was set by the darkest part of the record).


The results did not turn out as I expected. Although, for most of films tested, I had no idea what to expect. While there are some sources out there doing some exposure testing, I have not found a source completely satisfactory. I approached Matt Seal about this idea and told him I wanted to do it. His interest, skillset, and appreciation for the scientific method made the compliment to my own intellectual pursuits and scientific rigor. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to learn about how exposure changes an image and how that change differs by film stock.

For those getting into film, with the exception of the famously linear response curve of Acros 100 (R.I.P.), most all film stocks have a logarithmic-type response curve. While every film stock is different, most all of them adhere to this pattern. As such, when you get to a certain point, it becomes more and more difficult to increase exposure by a full stop. In the film world, this is known as reciprocity failure. It generally only affects long exposures and depending on the film stock, can result in some color shifting after a certain point.

Getting back on track – it is because of this behavior in the response curve that allows you to continue to pour in the light without blowing out the highlights. It should be noted that the response curve is what makes film so unique and separates it from digital. Between film stocks, it is not just that colors are rendered different ways but it also interprets light differently. Comparing film with digital, digital has a perfectly linear response curve. This means that it blows out the highlights much faster but conversely, it does not lose details in the shadows near as quickly.

Results – Color Film

Comparing the neutral exposures, the Ektar is good bit more punchy while having a more delicate transition in tones. Portra 800 is noticeably warmer than even the Portra 400 – something I expected as it’s more contrasty but I didn’t expect it to quite the extent that it was.

I think I was most impressed with the Ektar of all the film stocks. I’ve only used it twice and neither time did I like the outcome. Although admittedly, both times I only had the scans from the local film lab in Charleston – and they had a really bad habit of over saturating any and all scans to the Nth degree. After those, I’ve stayed away from it from it until this testing. As soon as I saw these results, I picked up 2 pro packs to take on a trip to Banff.

Between the 2 400 speed films, I think that the Portra 400 held up a bit better than the Pro 400H when it comes to overexposing by more than 2 stops. But if you prefer cooler tones, you would probably conclude the opposite.

Results – Black and White Film

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the stocks behaved in a similar way except for the Delta 3200 – which didn’t get crushed blacks near as quickly or dramatically. This isn’t particularly unexpected given the difference in emulsion and the fact that it’s actually just a really flexible 1000 asa film.

Probably the most surprising performance was TMax 100. I think that it stood up to underexposure better than any of the other stocks and while I don’t see myself ever accidentally (or purposefully) overexposing by 5 stops, I think it handled the contrasty parts quite well. All in all, I’m going to have to pick some of this up an shoot it immediately.

As for second place in the biggest surprise, Ilford HP5 did a great job in my opinion. Since I tend to find myself in positions of not having enough light more than too much light, I care a lot about the ability to be underexposed. In this area, I think HP5 did really well.

Last specific thing I’ll touch on – I was genuinely surprised to see how similar T-Max 400 and Tri-X were. The Tri-X had a bit more grit but overall they were pretty similar.

Special Thanks

Of course, a huge thanks to Matt for the encouragement and supplying the all the equipment and his technical know-how to make sure the scientific rigor was above reproach. Could not have done it without him.

Thanks to Pete for his input, insight, and participation in the peer review(-ish) process. His input has been extraordinarily helpful in ensuring everything was reported in a clear and reproducible way.

Guide: Double Exposures (Multiple Exposures)

The first time I experienced double exposures, it was my grandmother showing me some of her old 6×6 photos in her retro photobooks.  Following that, I found myself going through IG and would be particularly attracted to these photos.  Accordingly, I hit Google and searched for ‘How to take a double exposure’.  There are some resources out there, most of which is for PS and not film.  Having experimented with it enough now and discussing the physics of it with a friend over a beer, I have a much deeper understanding for what’s happening and that has translated to better images. So here we are… I hope I can help you take double exposures you love.

For those looking for a simple how-to: If your camera has a multiple exposure switch, engage the switch and take photos to your heart’s content (I would start with a double exposure before going for something with 3 or more). For those that don’t, no fear – you can do it just as easily.  Take your first exposure and engage the release on the bottom of the camera (the button on the bottom of the camera you press-in when you’re rewinding the film) and “advance the film” like you normally would (make sure you’re holding the button down all the way through the process).  This action will cock the shutter and set you up for your next exposure while leaving the film unmoved.  When you’re done, just continue on as you normally would.

For those looking for more detail and my thoughts on multiple exposures, please read on.

For those that have never tried it before, the rush of a double exposure turning out well is so much more exhilarating than any single exposure can give.  Keep in mind though, a lot of that rush stems from it being less reliable (aka, much more likely to not go your way).  There is something about them that attracts not just my attention but attention for a lot of people.  I feel like half the time someone sends me a message on Instagram or looks at my IG and asks me a question in person, it’s about one of my double exposures.  I am by no means a professional photographer nor a professional at shooting double exposures.  I am, on the other hand, proficient at it and love taking them.


First and foremost, light is everything.  Isn’t it always with photography?  Yes?  But with double exposures, it gets a bit more interesting.  When you take a photograph, the objective – the primary objective – is to limit the amount of light entering the camera so as to have enough to expose the subject without having so much that the frame comes out completely exposed.  So the trick here is to properly expose your shot… twice… It can be harder than it sounds.

When you take your first exposure, the value of every “cell” in the negative is exposed somewhere between 0-100% of its total value (I tend to think of photographs as a grid of cells (like Excel) with a different exposure value in each cell such that it composes a photograph).  Then, when you take your second shot, you are replacing the cell’s value if the new exposure has a brighter value than the first. In the most extreme scenario, a double exposure can be thought of as a single exposure if the first exposure was totally underexposed.  That is, every cell was exposed with a 0% value and could be completely exposed over.  In a less extreme scenario, the first exposure is a standard shot and every cell is exposed between 0-100%.  Let’s say one cell is exposed at 40% on the first exposure and 60% on the second, the cell will be written over to be 60% exposed. Conversely, if the cell is exposed at 60% on the first exposure and 40% on the second, nothing changes.  In this example, I’m referring strictly to B&W film – color film is acts a lot differently because you start blending colors together.

All in all, it’s pretty rare for a shot to unintentionally be completely exposed in one part of the frame and unexposed an another – almost always it’s in the middle of the exposure continuum.  And since there’s no difference as to which is first, there has to be some strategy for underexposing some frames and overexposing others to ensure you keep the parts you want and replace the parts you don’t.

Framing and Composure

Now that I’ve talked through the technical aspects of a double exposure, more practically you have to consider the framing as it will make or break your shot.  As far as exposure is concerned, it takes practice and a lot of forethought but with the right film, there’s a lot of forgiving. Framing, on the other hand, is just as important if not more so and there isn’t a film stock in existence that can correct for botched framing.  Almost all of my double exposures that didn’t turn out were ruined from framing that wasn’t exactly where I needed it to.

To get started with DEs, I would suggest starting with a silhouette for a first exposure and a shot of something with texture as the second.  It’s tough to go wrong with those… If you wanted to go for something more involved, it helps to use a split-image circle and/or microprism circle in the center of most focusing screens to act as a reference.  Some cameras have interchangeable focusing screens – some of which have lines on them to act as references for landscapes or architectural photos but work quite well as reference lines in multiple exposures.

Since every DE is completely different, the way you approach them is different.  Thus, it is pretty difficult to provide any additional, sound advice that can be directly applied to various specific contexts.  Instead, I would suggest that you make a goal to take a whole roll of DEs or half or some significant portion of a roll.  It’s not easy to get into it until you dive in.  Once you begin to push yourself, you’ll start to see where things are working for you and where they aren’t.  You’ll hopefully also start to get some ideas.

As a last note before I show some examples, I’ve found that the more flexible films are, the easier it is to get a double exposure turn out alright.  I’ve taken some shots with more rigid films and it’s much easier to get blown out.  On the other hand, one of the most flexible films I use (Tri-X) can be difficult to get it to behave entirely because it’s exposure latitude is so wide.


Review: Fujifilm Fujichrome Provia 100F RDP-III

If you’ve never shot a roll of slide film, you should absolutely do it now. The sensation you get from holding the diapositives (or slides if you’re shooting 35mm and you get them mounted) is exhilarating. I still get the same rush of looking at them the 20th time as I got the 1st time.

It’s hard to overstate how much I love Provia. My first foray into slide film was Ektachrome as soon as the new stock came last year. Since Ektachrome wasn’t available in 120 and I wanted the chance to shoot through a roll in my Mamiya on a trip to Arizona we were taking in October, I picked up some Provia. The vibe of it is just unreal. The tones are amazing and there’s so much clarity… I took a good scan of the first photos and printed it out into a 24in x 36in sheet and it couldn’t look any better. I honestly think it’s sharper than an equivalent shot on my digital camera (Sony a7).

That’s enough of the good; as for the bad, it suffers from the same qualities all slide film have and it can be a bit persnickety. Like all slide film, you have to nail the exposure and keep the scenes fairly low contrast or the scene or will get blown out in a hurry. That said, Provia has one the widest exposure latitudes of it’s slide stock peers. As for its quirks, it tends to be pretty cool. If you don’t have a warming filter on your lens, you will almost assuredly have to do some post processing white balance adjustments. For those that have warming filters, I typically use an 81A but if it’s particularly cloudy or closer to dusk, I’ll switch out the A for an 81B and everything tends to work out fine.

Those first shots are from my first roll on a visit to Arizona. The weather conditions were perfect – a lot of sun and crisp temperatures. The second set are from a quick stop in Hocking Hills one late afternoon. It was a lot more cloudy and all the shots came out with a bit of a blue wash that had to be corrected post.