Continuing on from the last post, here are the results of my other test: rating Kodak Portra 400 at ISO 3200 (!), and then having the lab push it two stops. Why two? Because it’s cheaper than having them do three stops. I’m planning for the future when I might have multiple rolls of this stuff to push, so I wanted to see what that combination would yield. We’ve already seen what simple underexposure does, both on my previous post and on the Twin Lens Life site. And we’ve also seen what rating the film at 3200 and then pushing it the appropriate three stops yields, on Jonathan Canlas’ blog post. My local lab, which will remain nameless, was shocked that I asked them to push C41 film two stops. Never fear, Richard Photo Lab to the rescue again. Two stops is no problem for them.
One purpose of the test was also to see what such extreme pushing and underexposure does to skin tones. Sadly, I decided to shoot this in my living room! We have beige walls, and the walls add a sickly yellow-green color cast to everything. So I’m unable to determine how skin tones really look. I’ve tweaked as much color as I could in Lightroom, but didn’t want to overdo it. These were scanned, like the images from my previous post, on my Epson 4990 film scanner. Perhaps a lab scan would yield even better results, and I’m sure the color would be correct.
These images were shot on my Mamiya 645AF. I set up two strobes in two corners of the room, bouncing the light off the wall/ceiling junction. I metered in front of the Christmas tree, so that each strobe was properly exposed at ISO 3200. The data didn’t print on the film for some reason, so I can’t bore you with f-stop info.
To my undiscerning eye, the combination of ISO 3200 and pushing two stops looks a lot like simply underexposing the film two stops, at ISO 1600, with no push. With a difference that the grain is slightly increased in the more extreme test. Compare the Christmas tree branches in both posts. The shadow detail appears to be about the same. And I must point out that either one of these tests look better than the (expired, cold-stored) Fujifilm NHGII 800 film I also shot on Christmas, rated at box speed. That film looked so bad that I had to convert the images to black and white!
Is Kodak Portra 400 a wonder-film? Can you push it to ISO 3200 and have it look like Ektar? No of course not. Is it usable at 3200, and something you’d be glad to show a client? Yeah, I’d say it is. I would not hesitate to shoot it at these speeds for night photography, or for indoor/event work.
And here’s a thought: my (mostly-disused) dSLRs are about three years old, and so are only decent up to about ISO 400. Do I spend several thousand dollars to get usable ISO 3200? Or do I spend $5 and buy a pack of Portra 400? I don’t really need to answer that, do I?
And here’s a thought: Ilford Delta 3200, and Kodak Tmax 3200 black and white films both go for about $7 each (35mm roll, B&H Photo). Both films are the ‘nuclear’ option when lighting is so bad you can’t shoot with anything else, color or black and white. The new Portra 400 is about $6 per roll. Given the decently subtle grain, and the lower cost, does it make better financial sense to shoot ALL low-light work on Portra, and convert digitally to black and white when the urge hits? I guess it all depends on whether your lab charges the same to push Delta/Tmax to 3200 vs Portra, and/or whether you’re developing your own black and white film. An interesting way to simplify your film stocks though. Anyone have some thoughts on that?
That’s me on the right, in the shorts.