First roll impressions: Kodak Pro 400 MC

From about 1995 to about 2004, I hardly made any photographs. Those were the years I was married to, and living with, my first wife, who was a professional photographer. She was so very good at making pleasing family photographs that I didn’t even try.

I made plenty of photographs before that with the cameras in my collection. I knew about Kodak’s consumer films, especially Kodacolor II and Verichrome Pan. I also knew that store-brand films were made by Scotch, which I did not know was Ferrania in Italy — and that Scotch films just weren’t as good as Kodak films. Later I shot whatever Kodak happened to call its color film at the time: VR, and later Gold. I knew so little about film that I bought whatever was least expensive of what was available, which meant sometimes I got ISO 100, sometimes 200, and sometimes 400. I chuckle at myself over it now. Fortunately, it all worked well enough in the simple cameras I owned.

I had no idea about all of the films Kodak offered in its professional line. It was a lot of films! Even Wikipedia’s list of discontinued films doesn’t know about all of the films Kodak used to offer.

One of those films was Kodak Pro 400 MC. Kodak billed it as featuring “moderate color saturation and contrast, and wide exposure latitude.” There was also a non-MC Kodak Pro 400 that had stronger color saturation, as well as Kodak Pro 100 and 100 T (which was balanced for tungsten light sources), and super-fast Pro 1000. The Portra line of films replaced them all by the late 1990s.

Two rolls of Kodak Pro 400 MC in 120 came in the big box of films reader tbm3fan sent me late this summer. I shot one of them in my Yashica-12 as I went about in October. Even though the roll was always stored frozen, it expired in November, 2000. I shot the roll at EI 200 to hedge against any degradation the film might have experienced.

This is a lovely film with realistic color rendition, as you can see in this scene from downtown Vincennes, Indiana. The grain is fine and pleasing.

Vincennes, IN

No matter what color I threw at this film, it rendered it true. This is just how I remember this blue wall.

Jazzy silhouettes

Shadows show extra grain and a little loss of detail. This is expired film, after all.

Vincennes, IN

This photo of a big red barn from somewhere in southwestern Indiana shows a fair amount of grain. You can really see the film’s deterioration in the red sides of the barn. I’m not sure why this frame shows it so strongly when other frames look like fresh film. Perhaps a little extra exposure would have helped this image.

Red Indiana barn

Not every film renders yellow this well. Purple and yellow just seem to be tricky colors to render, both on film and digital. Pro 400 MC nails yellow. I found this scene in Worthington, Indiana.

White door, yellow wall

If Pro 400 MC is the moderate saturation option, I wonder how saturated the non-MC Pro 400 was! This 1893 bridge is near Martinsville, Indiana.

Lamb's Creek Bridge

I made this indoor image just to see how the film handled it. Not unexpectedly, it had a noticeable green caste. Fortunately, it was easy to remove in Photoshop.

Lamp and candle

I have just one more roll of this film to shoot. Not only am I sad that I don’t have more, but I’m also sad that I didn’t know about this film while Kodak still manufactured it. This is a lovely film, full stop.

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8 responses to “First roll impressions: Kodak Pro 400 MC”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Man, those are some great colours, even after translation to scan. I haven’t shot a frame of film since I went digital in 1996, but it makes me think. :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If this is what this film can always do, it was a real loss when Kodak discontinued it.

  2. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Getting images this good out of 20+ year old film reminds us of just how good Kodak’s products were. Especially in the hands of a talented photographer.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Helps a lot that it’s always been frozen. But yeah, Kodak made good stuff!

  3. P Avatar

    Great results, Jim. I’m also sad you’ve only got one more roll of this stuff. I really enjoyed what you did with this roll and look forward to what you do with your remaining roll. I’d still love to see that last image taken again, in the same lighting, but with the candles lit. Something tells me this film would render it beautifully. Even without the candles lit, that’s my favorite photo from this roll.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you! You’re probably right, this film would have handled the lit candle well. I might be able to try again; this is at my mom’s condo which is sitting there doing nothing.

  4. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Lovely images Jim. I still have some expired film in the fridge, some was always refrigerated and has worked well for the most part, some not so well stored, I must get around to shooting some of that! I was like you in my younger days, always went for the most economical film and processing, much of it has not stood the test of time. Although well processed Kodak emulsions have done much better than some of the others! Now I shoot mostly Kodak Portra and Ektar, it is worth paying the little extra. But then I don’t have young children now :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m just shooting whatever I come across, so expired films are usually good enough. You never know when you’re going to get a bad roll, and it’s always disappointing when it happens. But it’s not a real loss.

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