Like much of the film photography community, I waited with bated breath for my backer rolls of Cinestill 400D to arrive so I could jam it into a camera and start etching that sweet acetate. How would it look? Was it special in any specific way to pull people away from the bulletproof Kodak Portra 400? Would the film’s halation overwhelm the highlights and pull the eye towards them like Cinestill 800T?

Thankfully, there was an easy way to find out: one roll for my favorite summertime rangefinder, the Konica Hexar RF, and the other for the cinematic masterpiece that is the Hasselblad Xpan.

The shot rolls were processed by my local lab, and scanned by me on my Kodak Pakon F135 scanner, then touched up to taste in Lightroom. The Pakon has amazing color right out of the gate, with only minor adjustments needed typically (can’t say the same for my Nikon Coolscan 8000). However, it was a bit baffled by the 400D.

I noticed a slight greenish undertone on some of my shots, at least with these first 2 rolls. It was more prevalent on the Hasselblad Xpan roll, so your mileage may vary. But, with the flick of a few Lightroom sliders, I was able to get it closer to what I was used to. Saying that, I didn’t completely nuke the greenish tinge, as I liked it in moderation for some of the shots.

I should also mention that, as much as I love Cinestill and what they do, I have rarely had luck/success/whatever with 800T, I just can’t seem to make it work with how/what I shoot. I have never shot 50D, but I do have a couple of rolls in the fridge, so I’ll get to those when I go to Maui in February. Cinestill’s BWXX is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE B&W FILM — Kodak EASTMAN DOUBLE-X 5222 FTW! So, given my lack of skill in shooting 800T, I didn’t really have any expectations for 400D, I was just happy to try something new and support a kickass company.

Before we get to the final shots, here are a few side-by-side comparisons for you (click to enlarge):

Now, I mostly shot 400D outdoors in daylight, so I can’t speak too much as to what happens under artificial lighting, but the halation seemed slightly tamer than 800T, which I was happy about. For the outdoor shots, you can see the familiar reddish-orange-tinged specular highlights (orange balls) but, at least in outdoor sunlight, they didn’t overwhelm the frame.

For the sunlit shots, I found the grain to be nice and controlled and not gritty like something like Ultramax 400. In some ways, it is comparable to Kodak Portra 400 — it was a nice compromise. The film does render with that slightly flat “cinematic look” that is usually reserved for ECN-2 development or VISION3 stocks, which makes sense as it seems to be based on those films in some form or another. Of course, shooting on the Hasselblad Xpan helps to enforce that cinematic feeling even more, which isn’t lost on me either.

I shot most of the first roll of 400D with my Hexar RF with a Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH v1 at a local car show one morning during the summer. As I mentioned, the Hexar RF is my summertime fave, since I can squeeze two extra stops of light out of it (thanks to its 1/4000 shutter speed) compared to my Leica M6. Oh, and I’m lazy and love aperture priority sometimes. I believe I shot the roll at EI 320, as is my practice with most 400 ISO films. This first set from the Konica Hexar RF was on my “early bird” roll, which arrived a few months ahead of my other 35mm rolls.

A few shots from the roll:

I think this film really shines (pun not intended, but appropriate in hindsight) in bright sunlight. It really seems to appreciate the extra exposure. Notice the aforementioned halation in the highlights (#6), both in the lone indoor shot, and from the sun sparkles off the chrome of the cars.

This next set was shot on my Hasselblad Xpan on a morning where the seasonal forest fire smoke turns the sky a moody shade for sunset and sunrise and adds a haze to the scene (a now common thing in the Pacific Northwest part of the US during the summer months). The shots were spread out over two days, but the smoke was still present and definitely tinted the photos a bit.

At the end of the day, 400D does not make me sad, and I can see myself tossing it in my cameras when I want something that isn’t Portra-perfect, but also isn’t Lomochrome Metropolis/Purple/Turquoise crazy. The price per roll is a bit off-putting as it exceeds Portra 400 by about 15-20%, so I won’t be daily driving it unless Kodak Portra 400 or Lomography Color Negative 400 (another fave of mine) are not available — quick comparison below!

That being said, we should all be grateful that companies like Cinestill and Lomography continue to add new flavors to the film counters of our local stores are giving us options besides those that come in yellow boxes.

Thanks for reading,

~ Ryan

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About the author

Avatar - Ryan Gabbard

Ryan Gabbard

I burn film and pixels - poorly.

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      1. yes, and although I didn’t want to get another 135 cam, GAS kicked in and I got myself a very nice Hexar (with the 28mm Hexanon) from Ebay. I arrived yesterday and what can I say… a great japanese masterpiece, and I got it in MINT conditions for a reasonable price… will shoot a lot with it in the near future…