Kodak Portra 800: My Latest Crush In Film Photography – By Aukje

Another year (I lost count) of shooting film – Part 18

(Read Part 17 here)

When it comes to choosing film I am not the most adventurous person, I tend to stick to Kodak Ektar and Portra 400 with the occasional Velvia. Last year I decided to try Portra 800, and I fell in love.

I didn’t think it would be a huge difference from Portra 400, but although the differences are subtle, I have more keepers, better colours, better sharpness, and it is more versatile than I thought. I first bought Portra 800 for our trip to Bonaire, where I wanted a bit more room to play with my Nikonos. I like to snorkel, and shoot under water with a Nikonos V, a wonderful camera that is a joy to shoot. If you are interested, I wrote about the Nikonos V here.

But the light under water is limited, and the scale focussing is challenging when shooting wide open. I have pushed Portra 400, but I thought shooting the 800 film would make my life just a little easier. I am not sure if it really works this way, but to me there is only so much playing room that a film will give you, and pushing the film eats up part of that playing room. But since light under water can sometimes be difficult to read, I also need some playing room for under- and over exposing. I am not sure if this makes sense, maybe I made this up to justify buying the more expensive Portra 800…

Anyway, my reasoning aside, I was happy with the results. Here are some of my underwater images shot on Bonaire:

Nikonos V with 1:2.5/35mm
Nikonos V with 1:2.8/15mm
Nikonos V with 1:2.5/35mm
Nikonos V with 1:2.5/35mm
Nikonos V with 1:2.5/35mm
Nikonos V with 1:2.5/35mm
Nikonos V with 35mm

With a few rolls off Portra 800 in my bag, I started to think about other uses. Most are pretty obvious: the extra speed is useful in low-light conditions. But I also discovered the versatility of this film. I like to shoot around sunrise, where light is equally challenging to the under water conditions, being rather scarce and changing fast. Also, I don’t bring a tripod on my holidays, and even if I did, I don’t like how it restricts my motion when finding the best viewing spot. So it made sense to try some Portra 800 in my M2 and use it for my dawn shooting. I really don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before. Again, I am quite happy with the results:

M2 with Summicron 1:2.0/35mm
M2 with Summicron 1:2.0/35mm

Not always do I finish a roll in the morning, so here is my biggest surprise, it also doesn’t disappoint in the bright light of midday Caribbean Bonaire. Of course without filters (I don’t like carrying extra stuff, so I don’t have filters) shooting EI 800 in these circumstances limit the aperture to f/16 or f/22, but for landscape that is no problem at all:

M2 with Voigtlander 1:4.5/15mm
M2 with Voigtlander 1:4.5/15mm

And to finish the day off, sunset works just as well 🙂 …

M2 with Summicron 1:2.0/35mm
M2 with Summicron 1:2.0/35mm
M2 with Summicron 1:2.0/35mm

Finally, but this should not have come as a surprise to me, it also performs really well during my favourite shooting when I am back home in The Netherlands: mornings in the forest. Again, not a lot of light, so having the extra speed gives me more flexibility. But what I didn’t expect, is that like the underwater photos, the colours have just that bit extra compared to Portra 400. By the way, for some of these shots I did use a tripod. I still don’t like carrying it around, but I have to admit that in the rather dark forest it does help to get better images.

M2 with Summilux 1:1.4/50mm
M2 with Summilux 1:1.4/50mm
M2 with Summilux 1:1.4/50mm
M2 with Summilux 1:1.4/50mm

The big question of course is if Portra 800 is worth the extra cost. Of course that is personal, but to me it is. I will still keep shooting Portra 400 and Ektar. I like the slightly more subtle rendering of Portra 400 in bright light. And I prefer Ektar when the light is more bland, the higher saturation of Ektar can bring something extra. But Portra 800 has given me more than just a bit of extra speed, it has given me more keepers, and it has given me the confidence to use film photos for my first exposition. Furthermore, I just had one of the photos above printed in large format: 60 cm x 90 cm, and it still holds up well. That is not an easy feat from a 35mm negative!

All film was developed by me in Tetenal Colortec C-41, and scanned on the Reflecta RPS 10M scanner. If you are interested you can find more of my photos, both digital and film, on my website: whataukjesees.com.  I also post regularly on instagram.

Thanks a lot for reading, and Hamish, thanks for having me!

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43 thoughts on “Kodak Portra 800: My Latest Crush In Film Photography – By Aukje”

  1. Pierre-Alix Favillier

    the NikonosV is a brilliant thing, I just came back from a week long motorcycle ride and took it along as my only camera as I imagined it would be indestructible. I shot 8 rolls through it and absolutely adore it.

    Portra 800 is great as well, I’ve only experienced shooting with it a couple of times but looking forward to the autumn/winter to shoot more of it.

    great little article!

    1. Thank you! I love the Nikonos, but I wish they still made them so I could buy a new version. Relying on secondhand means that you don’t know how they were treated, which is really important for keeping it waterproof. I have had two ones with issues, but my current one seems fine. Fingers crossed…

  2. Hi Aukje. Just a quick comment to say that there are really wonderful images. I am not often too wowed by landscape/nature shots (seems we’re saturated with amazing images these days) but these really have something different. The forest shots are particularly mystical. I’ve been umming and erring over a summicron 50 or a summilux 50 (pre-ASPH, I’m not loaded), and wonder if you have an opinion on how much the summilux enhances the images you capture.

    1. Thank you for your kind words.
      I find it very difficult to make objective statements about a lens. I love my summilux (also pre-asph), but it is difficult to explain exactly why. What I do see objectively is that compared to my modern ASPH summicron the colours are slightly more turquoise. With the modern lens the blues are more towards purple, as with the summilux they are slightly more green.
      Furthermore the summilux has less microcontrast than my modern lens. I use the ASPH summicron if I want crispness, and popping sharpness, for example when small details matter, or with detailed textures.
      The more subjective part of it is that due to less microcontrast and the colours, I feel that the results with the summilux are more painterly. Besides that, I use the larger aperture of f/1.4 quite often so I can keep shooting handheld in lower light conditions.
      I hope this helps a little bit 🙂

    1. Invisible fish? There’s fish in that [3rd underwater] photo? Good lord, there ARE fish in that photo!! And I thought I was admiring the sand patterns. 🙂

  3. Fine images, both underwater and on dry land. BTW, the “official” term for playing room is latitude. ‘Chrome films generally lack latitude and demand accurate exposure. C41 films – going back as far as Kodak Gold, offer 2.5 to 3 stops’ latitude … and as such have been the preference of many who shoot using manual exposure control in dim light, or in a rush.

    1. Thank you! And thanks for reminding me of the term latitude, it must have been too far away in my brain to remember :-). But come to think of it, ‘playing room’ has a kind of truth to it that I like.

  4. Thank you, Aukje for sharing this very appealing sampling of your work with Portra-800 in such a variety of lighting conditions. I particularly love those atmospheric forest scenes with the diffused rays of sunshine illuminating the settings. I find the second one especially magical!
    Thanks also for reminding me of a good use for Ektar to make colors more vivid in subdued lighting conditions – I’ve not yet used that film in such conditions. Your account – and photos – also remind that Portra-800 remains a good medium for shooting outside of low light conditions, where one might be more inclined to use a slower film.
    You have an engaging style of writing that certainly conveys your enthusiasm for photography and takes the reader along on your shooting adventures.

  5. Inspirational Aukje! It was a post of yours a couple of years ago that landed me in 35mmc, from memory, early in your film use. Sensational results!

  6. Just curious, Aukje, but what do you do for maintenance and servicing of the Nikonos V to ensure it is watertight? I recently bought one and love it, but have not yet taken it underwater.

    BTW, I love the pastel colors you got in the Caribbean photos!

    1. For the first trip underwater I test the camera in the sink with a piece of paper inside. After using the Nikonos in salt water I put the camera in a bucket with sweet water and let it soak for at least 30 minutes. After every 2-3 uses in salt water I clean the o-rings and put new grease on them. And then it’s fingers crossed… I am afraid that I have had two Nikonoses where the film advance lever got stuck, but I do know know how to clean the o-ring inside the lever as well. So basically, get rid of sand and salt as fast as possible.

  7. Whaou ! THANKS VERY MUCH.
    PERFECT USE OF VOIGT 15MM i love it too, a majestic lens (with my M3).
    I feel well after your photos

  8. I also liked the invisible fishes 🙂 At first glance, on the phone screen, I saw some kind of holes arranged in an unnatural pattern.
    Very nice post, I’m for sure gonna spend some time on your website.
    Keep on shooting!

    1. Thanks, you’re very kind. Now I am not sure if people see the fish on the pebblestones, because I wasn’t sure which invisible fish you all mean…

  9. So nice to see some high quality work on 35mmc, I find many of the ‘5 frames with’ etc are such poor quality photos I don’t want to read the text. But this was a thoughtful review of Portra 800 and a wonderful selection of photos to showcase it with. The only thing I’m left wondering is how it handles skin tones – I mainly shoot pictures of people, so this is important to me.

    1. Thank you, we are all learning I suppose. I don’t shoot portraits very often. I found one that I shot on Portra 800, but it was exposed poorly, so all the colours look ugly.

  10. Beautiful photographs, Aukje! I’ve been following your work for a while and have been tremendously inspired by your view of the world and what you share with the film community. I’m sort of a dyed in the wool black and white guy but it was your color work that inspired me to branch out a bit into color. Terrific stuff!

  11. Some stunning shots there, especially the woodland ones and the 15mm/M2 shots. Its been a while since I shot Portra 800, I switched to Lomo 800 purely for cost, but you have reminded me how Beautiful Portra can be.

  12. Lovely stuff. Super images. Do you overexpose your Portra 800? I’ve heard it can take 3-4 stops of overexposure, is very light hungry and can occasionally look muddy if shot at/near box speed.

    1. I mostly shoot it at box speed, all images shown here were shot that way, I use the sensitivity to shoot handheld in low light conditions. So I don’t recognise it getting muddy at box speed. I suppose it can take a bit of over and under-exposure, but I find the best results and most beautiful colours shooting at iso 800. I have not tried pushing it, maybe I should try that too…

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