Photos & Projects

Popping off a Roll of Colour Negative – Portra 400 pushed +2 – By Phil Harrison

October 23, 2022

It seemed like a good idea to drop a roll of 35mm colour negative into my camera and go and pop off 36 exposures in a couple of hours*, or at least it would have been two years ago. Two years ago you could choose from a number of budget films for under a fiver or posh films for a tenner. Now there are rarely any budget films to be had just the posh films at around £18 a roll, such is the shortage of 35mm colour negative film. Pretty much all that seems to be readily available in the UK, as I write, is Kodak Portra 160 & 400. Then there’s the used film camera prices which have steadily increased over two years, some extraordinarily so – a 1990’s Leica M6 35mm Rangefinder body was £1600 now £2850…what?!

So back to the title, I had a two year old posh Portra 400 that I bought for a tenner so I thought this would be very suitable for popping off in two hours. There I was thoroughly enjoying popping through my 36 exposures in Chester Cathedral. The lighting was low and it seemed a good idea to push the film +2 stops to 1600ISO, the first time I’d tried this on Portra 400.

The reason I’d gone to Chester Cathedral was to see the gigantic model railway taking up a large area of the Cathedral. I don’t own a model railway but I do like to see the skill of the model-makers. Ok I’ll own up I have built model rail layouts in my youth, which is a very long time ago.

I have but one lens, a 35mm, this should be ideal for most of the photos, however close-ups of model trains with a 35mm lens and a rangefinder camera was always going to be tricky, but I had a go. Having enjoyed the model railway and partaken of a coffee and a delicious fresh scone with butter, jam and cream, it was time to continue with photos of the interior and quadrangle of the Cathedral. You can see how I got on popping through the film below.

The negatives from the 1600ISO roll should have been push processed +2 by the lab, but were quite thin almost as if the film hadn’t been push processed, actually I doubt the lab pushed this film as requested, apparently a not uncommon problem with certain labs in my experience. I have had this before when pushing +1 with a different lab.  I wonder why labs would offer push process on colour films and then not fulfill the service requested. Anyone else had this problem?

So we have Portra 400 underexposed by 2 stops at 1600ISO, it has handled the mixed lighting inside the Cathedral and the exterior lighting rather well I think. Inside there were red spotlights on the altar and organ and daylight through the windows and various other light sources of varying colour temperature. The exposures were all manually metered with the cameras in-built meter. You can see that the contrast, saturation and grain have increased but the film has retained its high definition, such a shame it wasn’t push processed +2.

* the reason for popping off the film in 2 hours was because that was the time I had between trains to and from Chester.

I hope this nonsense was of some interest to you…
Phil

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Wes Hall
    October 23, 2022 at 11:16 am

    Nice ramble Phil and useful to see how flexible Portra is. The cost is certainly an issue to overcome when you want to experiment, so getting to see examples is always good!

    Not tried requesting push processing yet from labs, but I will be this winter, hope they get it right!

    • Reply
      Phil Harrison
      October 23, 2022 at 12:15 pm

      Thank you Wes, good luck with your push processing.

  • Reply
    Ted Ayre
    October 23, 2022 at 12:09 pm

    Phil these photos are brilliant! I love Chester Cathedral as I live in Manchester and pop over occasionally. Portra 400 handled the exposures really well, and I particularly love the stained-glass window shots. Maybe I’m lucky with the labs I use, but I’ve not had that particular problem. Also, I think you nailed those focus shots of the model trains – nice one!

    • Reply
      Phil Harrison
      October 23, 2022 at 12:21 pm

      Thank you Ted, I found out by mistake how good Porta 400 can be when heavily underexposed.

  • Reply
    Jens
    October 23, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    – the locomotive with the black roof and the yellow and red flank should be a Class 66 ?
    – the cathredal pics are wonderfully with the Kodak Portra

    • Reply
      Phil Harrison
      October 23, 2022 at 12:21 pm

      Thank you Jens. I’m not sure about the loco.

  • Reply
    Phil Harrison
    October 23, 2022 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you Ted, I found out by mistake how good Porta 400 can be when heavily underexposed.

  • Reply
    brian m cox
    October 23, 2022 at 3:44 pm

    I’m getting back into film again after a 12 year absence. Due to all the concerns you mentioned about scarcity and price of film I tried pushing Kodak gold 2 stops. I wanted to use my Olympus XA for a sunset walk and Kodak gold 200 was all that had in hand. I knew the Kodak 200 wasn’t going to be fast enough for the available light and 800 speed film is only available mail order where I live. Even if it was readily available I not sure I wanted to invest $15 in film for my walk. I haven’t received the negatives back only the scans but it does appear they honored my request of +2 processing. Grain was definitely increased along with color shift towards what this film is known for – gold warm tones. The biggest surprise was the increase in contrast. I knew this was going to happen but it was more than I anticipated. It has a look some might call it “lomo”. It would prob be great for low light overcast cloudy days (low contrast) but for high contrast golden hour times expect to loss a lot of info.

    • Reply
      Phil Harrison
      October 23, 2022 at 5:21 pm

      Enjoy getting back into film photograpy again. I’ve used up my last colour film on this shoot, so I will be just using B/W for the forseeable future, it’s my favorite medium.

  • Reply
    Phil Harrison
    October 23, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    Enjoy your return to film, many people have done the same. I’ve decided to just shoot b/w for the foreseeable future, it is probably my favorite medium.

  • Reply
    Lee
    October 26, 2022 at 1:09 pm

    Given that you’re sure the lab did not fulfill your request to push process your Portra 400 by 2 stops, I think you got some very good final images. I’ve pushed Portra 400 one stop before (self developed) and was very happy with the results. I suppose, since you dedicated the first paragraph of the article to lamenting the lack of color film options and the increasing costs of shooting film and buying film cameras, you’re probably not going to make the leap to developing your own color negative film. If you don’t shoot enough film then it’s not worth it, as the chems do lose their mojo over time. But it may the the best way to make sure that your film gets processed the way you want it to be. Typically, with C-41 developing kits (including Dev, Blix, and Stabilizer), a 1-stop push means extending dev time by 25-30% and a 2-stop push means extending dev time by 50% from box speed. Maybe it’s worth looking into for you.

    • Reply
      Phil Harrison
      October 26, 2022 at 2:08 pm

      Thank you Lee. I have looked at home processing for colour and B/W but the chemistry would go off too soon for the amount of films I get through. I will be staying with B/W for the present.

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