How is it that I’ve been back into film photography for 13 years but have never shot Kodak’s Portra 400? My 2018 EMULSIVE Secret Santa gave me the nudge I needed by dropping two rolls into the gift box she sent.
As I’ve seen others shoot Portra 400, some use it as a general-purpose color film and others find it most useful for photos that involve people. I don’t often shoot people. I tend to shoot things that don’t move. Like cemeteries. And flowers. In cemeteries.
I had been shooting my Nikomat FTn and decided to keep at it for this roll. I had my 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C lens mounted. Portra gave me just enough exposure room to shoot inside, albeit with shallow depth of field.
I can’t decide whether I think the colors are muted or not. So many people have said Portra’s colors are muted that I don’t trust my judgment. I see muted colors in these books, but that might be because the books’ colors are genuinely muted. The magnolia flowers and the American flag above don’t look muted to me. Are the greens below muted? I want to say no, but I also can’t recall how vivid the scene was in real life.
I don’t notice grain in these photos at this size, but I do when I look at them at full scan size. It’s neither pleasing nor disruptive. It’s workmanlike grain, faint and unobtrusive. However, I scanned these on my flatbed scanner. Lab scans might have made the grain even harder to detect.
The Portra was at its best at early evening, the sun in that golden-hour sweet spot.
Portra 400 is a very good film. I haven’t pixel-peeped to be sure, but it might have the least obtrusive grain of all the fast color films I’ve shot.
But the film I use most, Fujicolor 200, suits me fine and costs a lot less.
My EMULSIVE Secret Santa sent me two rolls of Portra 400, so sooner or later I’ll put the other one through a camera. I shot it at box speed this time, so next time perhaps I’ll shoot it at EI 200. Several photo bloggers I follow get really nice results when they do that.
Single tree flower Nikon Nikomat FTn, 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C Fujifilm Fujicolor 200 2019
I had high hopes when I shot my Nikon Nikomat FTn again. I’ve learned so much about photography and using vintage gear in the last few years, and I expected all of that knowledge would come to bear in the images. Yet I felt disappointment as I looked at the scans. I didn’t like the colors the Nikkor H-C lens rendered on Fujicolor 200.
Maybe it wasn’t the lens, but the processing. Or maybe the film was funky. I don’t know. But I had to do a lot of work in Photoshop to remove a brown caste from nearly every image. I’ve seen green and blue castes before, but never brown. It was weird.
Because of a scanner snafu some of the images weren’t usable at all. The lab agreed to rescan the negatives for me, and I’ve sent them back, but not before I scanned them myself. This is one of my scans. It isn’t bad but it’s mighty noisy. It’s not a bad look but it wasn’t the smooth, crisp look I was going for.
Yellow flowers Minolta XG 1, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD
Agfa Vista 200 (at EI 100)
When I was 22 I broke up with a young woman who I still call my first great love. We were such comfortable companions. Our favorite thing was to watch bad movies together on cable well into the wee hours. She was brilliant at heckling them. Her dry, nerdy humor kept me laughing. I don’t laugh easily. She was a real gift in my life.
Yet we couldn’t make other things about our relationship work, important things. I don’t think she ever felt like I really loved her. I showed her in the ways I knew how, but she needed to feel loved in ways I didn’t understand and couldn’t give. And when I was tired or overwhelmed or irritated I was prickly and difficult. Still am. She never knew how to deal with that and she took it hard.
Sometimes a relationship can’t last because you’re not right together in some ways that really matter. Yet you’re reluctant to end it because it’s otherwise so comfortable. But after awhile comfort isn’t enough, and after a longer while the places where you don’t fit start to grate. More of your needs must be met. We ended our relationship, and it hurt, and we missed each other. But it was necessary.
My many Minolta SLRs have all been lovely and felt great in my hands. Their lenses are sublime. My heart leaps over the images these cameras give me. I want to shoot with them forever.
But they have been so unreliable. I just can’t keep one working for the long haul. There may be photographers out there who enjoy taking their gear apart and keeping them working smoothly. I’m not one of them. I just want my gear to work, period. And that’s why I’ve just sold my last Minolta body and am running right into the arms of reliable Pentax and Nikon.
My son gave me some Kodak Gold 200 film for Father’s Day so I shot it all straightaway. With a roll in a fresh-from CLA Pentax ME (which I subsequently gave him), with my 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens attached, I photographed some roadside flowers.
I haven’t photographed many flowers this year. I had a pretty prolific garden at my last house which provided many lovely subjects through the blooming months. My new house doesn’t offer nearly the floral photographic opportunities.
But while carrying this ME around I had occasion to stop along a rural highway and to walk along South Meridian Street in Indianapolis. Both offered me posies to photograph.
I am swooning over the quality of the blurred backgrounds I got with this lens. I need to shoot it more to be sure, but it looks like it very well could be the best of the Pentax 50s (50/1.4, 50/1.7, and 50/2).
Lately I’ve come to appreciate the 35mm focal length for the walking-around photography I do, given how often I want to get a whole building in my frame. Sometimes I just can’t back up enough when a 50 is mounted. But I don’t think my 35 can do close work like this.
It’s a conundrum, which lens to bring along on a walk. But I suppose it’s a first-world problem.
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