Bob Nuttmann

Kodak Portra 160 Film Review

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A lot of people say Portra 160 is optimized for people and wedding photography.  But as can be seen in the photo above it does pretty well with landscape too.  The featured photo is 35mm Portra 160 with a Minolta 600si camera and 50 mm 2.8 macro lens.  I had this developed at northcoastphotographicservices.com and edited the shot in Lightroom Classic.  My edit was a little extra exposure on the foreground and turning up the vibrance just a little in the sky.  Total edit time less than 1 minute.

My experience is that Portra 160 is a very easy to like film but you have to know it’s needs to get good results.  Colors tend to be a bit less vibrant than most film on bright sunny days.  The above shot was done on a cloudy day and I did not use any filters.  I used box speed and exposed for the mid tones.  When you are shooting sunny mid day a polarizing filter helps keeps the full sun toned down to get the best results.  Kodak Ektar, Ektachrome, Gold 200, Ultramax, Fuji Velvia, and Fuji 200 usually do fine in full sun without filters.  Portra for me seems to like a tungsten filter when shooting indoor with mixed natural and artificial light.

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Portra 160 without filters.  35mm Minolta 600si 50mm f2.8

The above shot is on a hike I have done quite a few times during the corona shut downs as it was open.  I took a photo of this subject with an iPhone 11 Pro, Nikon Z7, Nikon Z50, and then this Portra one.  The Portra was the best of all.  The colors were just better, richer without looking over done.

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Look at these vivid colors.  Again no filters.  My only edit was to slightly increase the vibrancy on Lightroom Classic.  Total edit time 30 seconds.

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I tried this shot with my digital Z7 and like the result better with Portra.  I generally prefer the results of Ektachrome e100 for landscape shots, but under these conditions of overcast the Portra 160 has bright color every bit as good as the slide film.

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I love the strip of color on the rose and the very nice bokeh in this shot.  Part of the reason it came out so well is the 50mm Quantaray / Sigma 2.8 macro lens is so good.  I love this lens and you can get one on eBay for about $70.  It does 1 to 1 macro too.  Even though it gives a tiny less beautiful of an image than the Minolta 100mm 2.8 macro on macro the 50mm is a much better carry around lens than 100mm.

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The above flower is normally pink but about 1 out of every 500 turns out with white petals.  I took photos of this flower and a couple similar with all of my digital cameras.  By far the color is best with Portra.  The Nikon Z7 with 50mm f1.8 lens gives just a slight bit more detail, but unless you have a full sized file and look at it magnified the color is more important than a slight difference in detail.  Looked at full sized the colors are rich and vibrant.

In my experience of using both Portra 160 and Portra 400 they are two of the best films currently available.  If I lived in a lush green place like Ohio, New Hampshire, or Virginia I might only use Portra.  But in brilliantly lit southern and western USA locations many times Kodak Ektar or Kodak Ektachrome are better choices.  Even lower cost films such as Kodak Ultramax 400 or Color Plus 200 tend to hold up better for me in mid day sun.  And Fuji Velvia has done a very good job in those conditions.

The best pictures I have ever taken of Zion National park were captures with Ektar.  Ektar loves red and orange landscapes.  But Portra 160 is a much more rounded film than Ektar.  Portra is good to excellent for people, portraits, weddings, botanical flower shots, and landscapes.  I like 160 at least as well as the more popular 400 because it is cheaper (currently $40 for 5 compared to $48 for 5 rolls of 36 with 400), has finer grain, seems to render bright mid day sun better than Portra 400.  And I can use it in my old Voightlander that has a weak shutter spring and sometimes 400 is too fast.  If you want to settle on one film and one film only this is a good choice.

Tell me what you think.

One Reply to “Kodak Portra 160 Film Review”

  1. Thanks for the Portra 160 review. I’m just getting into film . Actually this is all I shot growing up because it was all that was available. Never the less I now am at 57 learning to shoot film . I want to give the Portra line of films a shot doing closeup and macro nature photography. This 160 looks like a great midday film for what I’m shooting at the moment. Thanks again

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