appreciable differences between kodak gold/max/portra/supra, etc...?

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by vikramdmello, Apr 2, 2007.

  1. i am a beginner enthusiast. along with digital, i've recently been
    experimenting with negative film (color and b&w).

    for color film, i am overwhelmed and confused by the plethora of product lines
    under just one film brand - kodak. i'm sure fuji has an equally dizzying array
    of names.

    my question is: is there an appreciable difference between these myriad kodak
    color negative film brands? is the 'professional' moniker applied to portra
    meaningful? so far, i have tried only gold (200) and max (400), and just one
    roll of each. but i believe there are other names, such as supra, and perhaps

    what i'm trying to understand is how to choose: is there a catch-all approach,
    or do serious photographers simply try all and ascertain for themselves what
    works best for their work?

    thank you very much for any and all insights and guidance.

  2. You may or may not be able to tell a difference. It depends on how picky you want to get and which two films you are comparing.

    Lately, I've been seeing Kodak and Fuji sticking to one name for each film speed in the consumer space. Which is fine... most consumers can't tell much difference anyway.

    The pro films have differences. Usually each manufacturer will give a vauge guide for which film is good for what situations... e.g. Porta 400NC has less contrast than 400VC... but then you end up needing to compare between manufacturers and it gets complicated. Plus, there's certain films that are totally technologically obselete (at this point, a few Ektachrome films) that are still on the market.

    For the most part it's less a matter of "better" or "higher quality" and more a matter of "higher contrast" or "lower contrast" or "different color dyes" or things like that.

    Sometimes the difference is subtle. It took me a while to figure out the difference between Superia 800 (the 800 speed consumer film) and Fuji Pro 800Z (the 800 speed pro film) in practice but it's there.

    Generally, serious photographers read some, try whatever looks promising, and then pick the cheapest possible film that gives the results they want.
  3. Traditionally the consumer C41 films (Gold) are more saturated, higher contrast, possibly have greater exposure tolerance, but are grainier than the pro films. NC is a traditional portrait/wedding film. VC has more juicy colors but still excellent skin tones. UC has high saturation but quite different colors from VC or NC.

    I am not very familiar with current Fuji C41 stuff. Haven't had much success with them - the colors just don't seem right to me. This is a matter of taste and personal preference. A lot of people like Reala.

    You should try various films for different applications and see how things turn out. Just as important is finding the right lab.

    Some favorites of mine: 160VC, 400UC, the original Fuji Reala (before they made if very fine grained).
  4. Of the films you mention, let's deal with Portra first, since it's the film family with the most specialized use: professional portraiture. Excellent skin tone handling is the raison d'être for these films. The overall look is less punchy than the other films you mention; Portra isn't dull or drab, and VC has a bit more pep than NC, but if you want colours that make your eyes bleed, Portra isn't really what you're looking for.
    Supra, as a film line, has been discontinued for a few years. It was replaced by the UC line. UC has more pop than Portra. It's a general-purpose film and would be particularly good for things like animals/nature or product photography.
    Now we're done with Kodak's professional colour negative line. Gold, Gold Max, Gold Sun, Gold Bright, Gold Shadow, Gold Black Hole, or whatever they're calling these various films this week are the basic consumer films. Jack of all trades, master of none. It's often used in cameras that don't have the world's best lenses, and a lot of consumers also expect prints that look like the colours are on steroids, so these films tend to be punchy.
    Back when I shot film, I used to have rolls of several different ones sitting around: usually 160VC and 400VC for family events and other shots where people would be the main subjects, and 400UC (or Supra 400 before it) and Supra 100 (never bought any 100UC since I still had Supra 100 in the freezer) for more general-purpose stuff. When I started using a lab which used a Fuji Frontier to print on Fuji Crystal Archive, a combination which I found didn't work well with Portra and Supra, I started using Fuji NPH (which I think is now 400H) for people; it did a lovely job. I'm not familiar with the rest of Fuji's line, nor have I kept up with what's changed in the couple of years since I went digital.
    My reason for using NPH touches on something mentioned by another poster above: lab. Not just finding a good one (as in one that doesn't lose your negs, cut them to shreds, etc.), but also one that produces good results with your film(s), which in part is a skill and in part comes from their ability to work with whatever film you use. As a general guideline (and it's certainly not a hard-and-fast rule), Kodak films print well on Kodak paper (Royal paper if at all possible) and Fuji films print well on Fuji paper. Kodak paper tends to tolerate Fuji films better than Fuji paper tolerates Kodak films. But as I mentioned, the skill of the lab folks also has something to do with this.
    In the Olden Days, at least, when printing machines weren't computers which scanned the film and then printed it onto paper via lasers, the machine used "channels" for various films. A channel is a definition of the film's characteristics, basically, and helps the machine to get the colours right; different types of film have different base colours (you'll see the clear parts of negs are different shades of orange) and uses different dyes, so if you take exactly the same picture of exactly the same scene with several different films, the negs will all look a bit different. I don't know if the more modern machines use channels or not. Anyway, probably every lab in the world has a channel for Gold. Throw some pro films at them and you may find they don't have channels for them, which is one area where skill comes into play; if they don't have a channel for your film, a more skilled technician is more likely to get you good prints than the pimply-faced high school kid who only knows how to shove film into one end and pick up prints from the other.
  5. The best advice I can give is to read through post on and research this topic on the web. But yes, different brands have different color characteristics.

    In kodak color negatives you have kodak's consumer[max, gold, and hd] then you have the portra line[(160nc,vc) (400nc,vc), portra 800] and last you have the ultra color line [100uc and 400uc].

    In fuji you have the consumer[superia, reala,] the portrait pro line[(160c,s), 400h, 800z] and last fuji press[400-1600]. Hope this helps, Anthony
  6. many many thanks to you all, especially steve dunn. this is all excellent advice and information, and backs up what i've simultaneously found in my research into the subject.

    now i go and try it all! :)
  7. I like the Portra films for what they are suited for. I have used Gold 200 and its ok, but the only Gold film I actually like is the 100. The jury is now out if I'll like the new version or not. I never used Supra, but the Royal Gold films were fine grained and contrasty films equal to Supra. The Royal Gold films were replaced with High Definition. There was an HD 200, but it looks like its been killed off leaving HD 400 left. HD 400 is similar to 400UC. I like 400UC, but was not a big fan of 100UC. I will give that another chance when I shoot more of it.

    So have I confused you enough yet? Im suprised Kodak offer as many choices as they do.

    But if you want what is Kodaks best film now- stick with the Portra series. They've been upgraded. All you need to know is whether you need 160 or 400 speed, and want NC (natural color) or VC (Vivid color).
  8. I find Portra really is a good film but even the VC is very subdued , that's what it's
    designed to be like, and is not really useful for anything other than when people are the
    main subject. For studio portraits my favourite film is actually Fuji Astia transparency film.

    Finally I would say that unless you are really desperate for a very consistent colour pallette
    and/or you have no coolbox or fridge in which to store your film the consumer films are
    perfectly OK, as long as they give a look which you like - the only way to find out is to try
    them ! With so many people going to digital you can get in date, well kept film on auction
    sites (look for film kept in a 'fridge or even a freezer and in date) at a fraction of the new
    film cost.

    Hope this is of use ; CJB

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