Kodak Portra 160 film review – more than portraits

Let’s take a look at Kodak Portra 160 for 35mm cameras. Portra is, I believe, the only mainstream film to advocate its preferred application by its name: portraits, so why not try something else? Seeing is believing, so check out the video with more details.

Portra is a color negative film and available as 160, 400 and 800 ISO speed ratings for 35mm, 120mm and beyond. ISO 160 films are best suited for sunny days or bright studio lights in particular if you want to keep shutter speed high to reduce shutter shake.

Portra was first released in 1998 for professional photographers shooting portraits, fashion and weddings at the tail end of mainstream analog photography. Different Portra variants got condensed into a single formulation in 2011 under, I assume, declining market demand.

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Portra 160 with an Asahi SMC Takumar 1.4/50mm and a Praktica MTL5B

Our camera is a Praktica MTL5B and I’ve written a review about it, a sturdy East-German camera with a well functioning inbuilt light meter.

Our lens is a Asahi SMC Takumar 1.4/50mm, a truly great Japanese lens with high resolution, sharp contrast and intense color output. Now some people say that Portra has slightly muted or ‘balanced’ colors but this lens will compensate for that. It is also one of the  most radioactive lenses out there. The characteristics of specific lenses are often underestimated in my opinion.

Development was done by a professional developer with a good track record.

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Nice skin colors even under bad lighting

Kodak advertises Portra 160 with an emphasis on professional portraits with fine grain, natural colors and good shadow and highlight detail. The film is daylight balanced which is suitable for natural and flash photography. I assume the reference to a ‘wide variety of lighting’ implies a high dynamic range and robustness for over- and underexposure. Advertisements read as follow:

The New 35mm Professional Portra Color Film from Kodak is the consistent choice for beautiful portraits at any moment and under a wide variety of lighting. It could be the pose you’ve lit meticulously or a subject that’s suddenly in perfect light. In either situation, you can capture every detail with Kodak Professional Portra 160-speed films knowing that you will get a sharp, fine grained image with good shadow and highlight detail. Portra reproduces accurate and natural color across the entire spectrum. In addition, the fine grain of Portra permits you to print larger than traditional color negative films. Kodak’s T-Grain emulsion produces a clearer and more brilliant print with excellent resolution and skin tones.

Interestingly, most of these characteristics like fine grain, natural colors and high dynamic range are very beneficial for landscapes and nature photography as well, so we give it a try.

Check out my Flickr set with this film for full images. So what about that resolution and colors? Take a closer look at the sample images.

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More than just portraits
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Natural colors with an analog feeling
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Dynamic range at the limit
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Analog bokeh at F1.4
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Autumn day in natural colors

Portra 160 is indeed excellent for fine-grain portraits and most landscapes and thus great for people in landscapes. I believe that makes it a great all-purpose travel film if you change subjects every shot. You can consider Fuji Pro 400H as a general alternative or Ektar 100 for finest-grain with punchy colors.

Thanks for reading! You can check out more of this blog or my YouTube channel.

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