Fuji Pro 400H & Kodak Portra 400 – Quest For Colour – By Aukje

My first year of shooting film Part 8

(Read Part 7 here)

Since I started exploring film photography in the fall I have found myself on two more or less parallel paths: one is black and white photography, and the other is colour. Where up till now the black and white learning curve has been focussed on getting contrast, the colour path has been about finding colour at all! So far I’ve had mixed results with colour film to the point where I even feel robbed.

The colour photos that I have been happy with were all shot during mid-day. For example I had some nice result with Superia 200 I shot in the fall in the Peak District with my first film camera, a Minolta Hi-Matic 7s. But that was fall, and that was daytime. My favourite time for photography is around sunrise. I love the light and the special colours in the sky at this hour. However, I didn’t see it in my photos (I wrote a little about it here). I wasn’t sure if it had to do with over- or under exposing. Some suggested using Kodak Portra 400 instead of the fuji Pro 400H I had been using. But I still had a roll of Pro 400H in my Leica M2, which I had to finish first.

Well, I received the negatives and scans from the this film, and much to my surprise there is all the colour I could wish for! To be honest, I am not sure why this one is different, I thought exposure for the previous roll was pretty ok. But this time even the low-light early morning shots have plenty colour. For example the two photos below I shot on my way to work on a cold January morning, about 15 minutes before sunrise. When I compare the images to some of the digital photos I made that morning I can see that the colours are different, and are less saturated, but there is colour! I even prefer the film version as the result seems more painterly to me. For these photos I used my digital camera as a light meter and metered for iso 400, leading to 1/125 sec at f/2.8.

Orange sky / Pro 400H
Orange sky / Pro 400H / metered for iso 400

Stripes / Pro 400H
Stripes / Pro 400H / metered for iso 400

For the next two photos, taken on a different morning in the same week, I used a similar approach. Again, I couldn’t wish for more colour or for more saturation. By the way, this was a special week, with such amount of colour on a couple of mornings. Ok, it was cold, but I love January mornings like these!

Icy canal / Pro 400H
Icy canal / Pro 400H

Biker / Pro 400H
Biker / Pro 400H

About 10 days later another beautiful sunny winter morning presented itself. This time I metered for iso 200. I think I had more margin to do so, as sunrise was getting later and there was more light available at the time I cycle here (these too were made on my way to work).

Bridge / Pro 400H
Bridge / Pro 400H

This morning I also did a little experiment with exposure. Metering with my digital M suggested 1/250 second for iso 200 at f/4. I wanted to see what even more exposure would do so I also used 1/125 and 1/60. Looking at the result I don’t see much difference, although the third one is a little light for me. But there is still enough to work with in post processing. Looking at the negatives I think the middle one is best, a dense negative with contrast, but still enough details in the sky. This would suggest that metering for iso 100 is indeed optimal.

Mirror Trees / Pro 400H
Mirror Trees / Pro 400H / 1/250 sec @ f/4

Mirror Trees / Pro 400H / 1/125 sec @ f/4

Mirror Trees / Pro 400H / 1/60 sec @ f/4

Taken with NightCap Pro
Taken with NightCap Pro

Since not every day is a sunny day I took some photos on a rainy morning. But even here, where it is before sunrise and it is raining, there is still enough colour.

Boats / Pro 400H
Boats / Pro 400H

Rainy day / Pro 400H
Rainy day / Pro 400H

I also took a photo indoors. I included this one because I like how the light worked out in this photo. I was a bit surprised by this one, as it looks so much clearer than what I have seen so far. And I had to look really close to find the grain. Furthermore where the landscape photos are all more green than what I remember from real life, this one seems really true to reality colour-wise. For me it is still strange that this photo comes from the same roll and lens as the others (all photos from this roll were shot with the Summilux 50mm 1.4 type II). There is a difference in aperture, where most outdoor shots were made with relative large aperture due to the lack of light, this one was shot at f/8. I guess it shows that the lens is supposed to be sharpest at this value.

Living Room / Pro 400H
Living Room / Pro 400H

After the recommendations for Kodak Portra 400 I wanted to try that too, and the first results are shown below. The first two were shot indoors, the portrait even in the evening, but they do seem pretty nice in colour too. I used different lenses for this roll: the Tele-elmarit 2.8 90mm for the decanter and Summicron ASPH 35mm for the heather. I metered for iso 100 for the decanter, and I used a tripod since exposure time needed to be 1/8 seconds at full aperture (f/2.8). However for the portrait I metered for iso 200 as I shot this one handheld and I didn’t want to go below 1/30 second (shot at f/1.4) .

Decanter / Portra 400 / Tele-Elmarit 1:2.8/90mm
Decanter / Portra 400 / Tele-Elmarit 1:2.8/90mm

Rob / Portra 400
Rob / Portra 400

The last one was shot in the early morning again, as I prefer to take my photos. However this was a complete overcast day. I metered for iso 100, and I am pretty happy with the colour, as this is all there was in real life.

Heather / Portra 400 / Summicron ASPH 1:2.0/35mm
Heather / Portra 400 / Summicron ASPH 1:2.0/35mm

So all in all I am pretty happy with the result. I can’t say that I understand it really. I try to be more consistent with exposure but my metering is not always the same. I sometimes use my app, sometimes my camera. Depending on the light I meter for iso 100, 200 or 400. And apart from details that doesn’t seem to make all that much of a difference. Even when the photo could be improved with respect to grain or sharpness, there is colour, which was my first main concern.

I did shoot more Portra 400, but as the other photos were made in the Caribbean I decided that it wouldn’t be a fair comparison here 😉 . So I leave the results from that week for another post. All film for this post was developed and scanned by AG-photolab.

Thanks for reading, and as always Hamish thanks for having me!

Read Part 9 of my journey into film here.

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17 thoughts on “Fuji Pro 400H & Kodak Portra 400 – Quest For Colour – By Aukje”

  1. Hi Aukje, nice post, and you did find colour after all!

    I find that a really important variable is scanning. I mostly do my own scanning, but even then I get mixed results that can be quite different when I have a second try. I think the same must be true of many labs where they can tweak things to make it look more how the operator likes. If your earlier rolls were processed at at different lab, or by a different person in the same lab, then that might be part of the explanation. It might be worth trying to get some of the disappointing frames rescanned just to see if that is part of what is going on.

    People that know way more about these things also point to the glass of different manufacturer’s as having a significant effect on the colour. If I remember correctly (and if I don’t, I hope someone sets me straight), such people claim great film colours from Minolta glass – so maybe that is influencing results as well? I have never noticed much difference between lenses I use (I rarely shoot with Minoltas, and only fixed lens versions), but then I have not done a deliberate set of tests to see if there is one that I can spot.

    1. Thanks Ehpem! I try to keep most variables to same to do some comparisons. There is one roll with the same film, same lens, same lab. Of course I don’t know about the lab guy. But on that roll there is only a couple of early-morning shots, which makes it a bit difficult. I might have gotten exposure wrong for that one. The roll with most disappointing colours were developed by a different lab and scanned with a different scanner, so that might be a bigger influence than I thought. It is difficult as the light circumstances are different for each occasion. I think I just have to keep shooting to get more data 😉

      1. The glass is an interesting one. Let me have the serial number of you Sumilux Aujke …
        Also, it’s interesting just how similar the differently exposed frames are. But as Ephem points out, it’s as much to do with the man at the scanner than anything else.
        I use AG because I like the colour I get from my lens, my exposure, my choice of film, their Noritsu and their eye.
        There is a lot of judgment on their part going on… but the choice of their judgement over the judgment of another lab has been just as much as part of your process for me.
        I do wonder if the next step in your path could be a conversation with a lab who works closer with you to get the colour you want. Is that a concept you have come across so far?
        Have a read of this
        Also, you might find this interesting – Pay particular interest in the differnce between over exposing portra vs. overexposing 400h

        1. Never mind, its a version 2 lux, I wondered if you had a v1 which are a little more pastel in their rendering (from what I understand)

        2. I had a look at the page from UK Film lab. I had seen their page with different exposures before, but not their offer on working with the customer to create a desired look. I think a conversation with a lab could be very valuable, the feedback on my film alone is worth it. Thanks for the tip.

  2. I thoght this might be interesting. Not so.
    Just another guy snapping off a few pictures, and writing a self-centered piece, sort of pictures as an excuse…..

    I thought maybe it was an interesting story about a quest for real color, self-sufficient color, like taming color film via correct exposure maybe a few filters to get corrct colors (a lost art…..) and last but not the leasta quest for developing color film, which might turn out to be the single most imortatnt thing to keep color films alive.

    I know we’re ahead i technology here in sc andinavia, being nearly 100% digitized, (much like Japan, but there 10 to 30 times the population CAN keep film developers alive a little while longer), over here the one-hour shops disappeared 10 years ago, nowadays only 2 outlets still accept films to be developed in the second largest city in the country, and enlarged, almost exclusively 35mm film.

    Pretty soon I expect one of theose outlets to stop accepting film and stop selling film as well.
    Here where I live, noone is still selling film AFAIK, I have to travel one hour by bus or car to get a film, and have it developed as well. And once gone, it will never reappear.

    So what to do? Buy film via the internet (got 20 films in today) and teach yourself how to develop film, B&W AND color. Since getting kits for developing film is way harder than getting films via the net (the costoms open chemicals and test for drugs, since they have no real knowledge og chemistry, one guy got clobbered, trying to fetch his chemicals in the post office, they tried to charge him with posession.

    So the only vialbe solution, in order not having the chemistry contaminated by bafoons, is to buy chemicals separately and mix your own…..

    Iwas hoping to find a soulmate, another fellow exploring a road to the future. Not so.

    Read my harsh comments as nothing more than a little frustration, unless more people wake up to the realities of the digital catastrophe, film will be totally gone, once the economy dictates the last dev.&print-shop to close its doors, just like earlier processes, daguerre and tintype, what did them in was better, faster and cheaper processes, and in todays world that is digital….

    Sorry I have to get back to my chemicals.

    1. Hi Erik
      Always good to hear from you, even when you are apparently in a grump 😉

      Let’s get some perspective here – Short of snaps when she was a kid, Aukje has only actually been shooting film for a few months. She might correct me here, but we are talking less than 10 rolls of colour.

      She’s been posting her blog posts about her journey through this experience and has been getting plenty of advice from other readers as she goes. Advice that I’ve also learned from I should add…

      I also hoped her posts would encourage more people, like herself, to shoot film for the first time. This encouraging of more people to buy film should in turn help keep it alive – which is clearly something you care about..?

      Lastly, you are very welcome to write me some content about where you are within your quest for colour. A different end of the spectrum, if you’ll excuse the pun, will bring more interesting content to this site, and might even find you that elusive soul mate!

      Cheer up, it (the end of film) might never happen 😉


    2. Hi Erik, thanks for commenting. I am sorry that you didn’t find what you are looking for. With respect to the self-centered approach, I have been thinking about that. I write from my own perspective to keep it real and honest (I only know my own mind). But it might be interesting to include photos of others that I admire to put my own efforts in perspective. I will give that another thought… By the way, not that it matters, but I am not a guy 😉

  3. I have to say I enjoy reading Aukje’s posts, we should all approach photography with as open an inquisitive minds. There are just so many variables when it comes to color or B&W film photography, always interesting to read someone document their experiences.

  4. Very nice results, Aukje! Happy you found your color at last!

    It’s a shame that Fuji seems to be killing off their films one by one if you look at the results from your negatives. And what are posts worth if they don’t come from you own soul, and are in fact self centered. Everyone knows himself best, so can write about his own experiences best.

    Keep on exploring the wonderful (colorful) world of film – there’s still plenty of it around!

  5. Great set Aukje. I like the last few especially, from the boats tied up onwards, not the least the lovely shot of your living space (so neat and tidy) which includes the fabulous Lego Unimog.

    1. Hi Jeremy, thanks! Can I ask you why you prefer the last ones? Do you just prefer browns over pink/blue, or is it something else? Just curious what catches other peoples eye…
      And yes, the Unimog is great, although most visitors prefer the 41999 below 😉 .

      1. Hi Aukje, I prefer them because they are more interesting. I do like the one of the swing bridge though.

        I’m not so interested in landscape pictures in general. Your canal shots are really nice but for me there’s not much to grab my attention. It is simply a matter of my personal taste rather than your skill as a photographer. The three indoor shots are beautifully framed and focus is spot on. Remarkable.

        1. Thanks for clarifying. Apart from developing technical skills I am also trying to figure out what makes a good photo. Tastes differ of course, but it is interesting to hear other opinions. And in this case I did like the photo of my living room, but didn’t know why, so that triggered me.

  6. Pingback: My First Experience With Portra 400 - Guest Post by Aukje - 35mmc

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