Film Review: Kodak Portra 400BW (EI 100-400 mini review)
Well here’s something you don’t see every day, or every week for that matter. Ladies and gents, I’d like to introduce you to the rather unique Kodak Professional Portra 400BW – that’s black and white.
It’s not a film that I’d come across before and when I found a few rolls available on eBay a while back, I jumped at the chance to grab and shoot them.
This particular batch expired in June 2004 and (I’m assured), was cold stored by the seller. True or not, you’ll see from the from the images below that it hasn’t aged as well as other traditional black and white films might have.
About Kodak Portra 400BW
Much like Kodak’s BW400CN, which eventually replaced it, Portra 400BW used new generation T-Grain emulsions and was a black and white negative film designed to be processed in normal C41 chemistry alongside rolls of color film, and printed on standard color paper.
Unlike BW400CN, Portra 400BW used a simpler emulsion stack. This gave it a wider exposure latitude and the ability to be exposed from ISO 50 all the way to 1600. Whilst BW400CN (apparently) stood up better to greater variations in lighting conditions, it was a more complicated chromogenic film stock (where layers of emulsion and dye are laid down alongside layers of silver halide).
In my opinion, the newer BW400CN has a more clinical look to the softer tones of Portra 400BW but I’ll leave you to make your own minds up. As you’ll see from the example shots below, grain is clearly visible and the images are all the better for it.
If you want to give it a once-over, you can grab the datasheet here.
I recently found myself with some spare weekend time and considering the unseasonably nice weather, I decided there was no time like the present to take a roll along with me for a bracket test. Bracketing isn’t a regular practice for me but considering that this is a rather unique film, I thought it best to find out how it performs today before going mad with my remaining rolls.
The nine shots below were all shot on the same camera and lens combination; and within about 30 minutes of each other. Each shot was taken at ISO 400, 200 and 100 respectively. The first shot on the roll was unusable due to some hack-handedness with my darkslide, so that three-bracket set isn’t included here to save my embarrassment.
As you’ll see, the ISO400 images all exhibit some (minor) degree of fogging but over exposing by one stop eliminates this problem. In my opinion, contrast, highlights and shadows look best at ISO 200 on the whole, although I prefer the look of the first shot below, as opposed to its ISO 200 counterpart.
The ISO 100 shots really surprised me, as I wasn’t expecting to find so much detail in the shadows. In addition, the lower contrast of these shots has a certain appeal that might lend itself to a darkroom print.
I’ll leave you to make up your own mind but heartily recommend you grab a roll or two if you find it flying about on that auction site, or elsewhere on the web.
Time to let the images do the talking.
If you have a particular film stock you’d like to see pushed, pulled, cross processed or otherwise knocked around a bit, please let us know in the comments below. We’re happy to fail you so you don’t have to.
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