Written – 02/08/2023
I’ve been shooting film for over 7 years and over that time I’ve shot a lot of Ektar 100 and Portra 160 and found the small differences between the two.
Kodak Portra 160 has fine grain, pastel colour saturation, perfect skin tones and brilliant dynamic range, making it perfect for a number of different types of photography. Ektar 100 has very fine grain, saturated colour and amazing dynamic range.
There are a lot of things to understand about the differences in these two film stocks, including skin tones, types of photography to use them for and much more!
A Brief History
You could be forgiven if you thought that there wasn’t too much difference between Portra 160 and Ektar 100, they’re just two low ISO film stocks, what could be so different? Well, there’d be no point in creating a whole different stock if there weren’t different identifiable qualities.
Ektar 100’s history is quite a comeback, it was produced from 1989-1997 as a 25, 100 and 1000 ISO but it was initially completely discontinued. That was until 2008 when it seemed to finally find its place as the superfine, super-saturated film stock it is.
Portra 160 on the other hand, came about in 1998 and it was produced under a bunch of names until they finally landed on Portra 160. More recently, the entire Portra range has gained massive popularity, it’s seen as the best film that you can get. But the question is, what type of photography a particular film stock is best for?
There really isn’t much difference in price when it comes to these two brilliant film stocks, they’re both basically professional film stocks so they come with a premium price.
Here in the UK Portra 160 sits at about £18.50 per roll if it’s bought as a single roll and it’ll be a little less if it’s bought in a pack of 5.
Ektar 100 sits at £19 a roll and again you can get it for a bit less if you buy it in a pack of 5.
Now, obviously, prices will vary in the US and the rest of the world but basically, there isn’t a great deal of difference in price between these two.
Saturation & Colour
Saturation and colour are one big area where these two fantastic film stocks differ. You see, Kodak Portra is generally quite muted and pastel by nature, this is because it’s a professional film stock that people want to edit and change as they wish.
On the other hand, Ektar 100 is a very saturated film stock that’s made just for landscape photography and while it could be edited, it readily brings out strong colours naturally.
In the picture above, you can see with Ektar on the left there’s a beautiful magenta hue to the wild grass and all of the picture is generally more punchy than the Portra.
The Portra 160 on the right has much more of a yellow hue, which seems to fill the image, whereas, the Ektar 100 feels as though it has much more of a natural variety of colours.
Now, this isn’t to say that one of these film stocks is better than the other. Ektar is made to be a landscape film stock, that’s its job. It’ll be punchy, sharp, clear and saturated and Portra 160 is just fine for landscape photography but it’s better suited to other things which Ektar 100 just can’t do.
Ektar 100’s magenta hue is great here, but a little later on we can see why this hurts Ektar 100’s versatility.
Exposure latitude is one of the most important things when it comes to a professional film stock.
What is exposure latitude? Exposure latitude is basically how much a picture can be under or overexposed and still be usable. So for instance, Portra 160 and Ektar 100 have very good exposure latitude, which means you’ll get more information from the shadows and highlights.
The pictures above are a great way to show exposure latitude. You can see that despite the contrast between the harsh shadow in the foreground and the highlights in the background, both of these shots are still well exposed.
Although the Portra 160 looks different, I’d say that it’s probably underexposed by 1 stop rather than anything to do with the film stock.
In the shots above, I can’t really see any difference in exposure latitude, all I see is the difference between a magenta and yellow hue.
Basically, these film stocks are brilliant at helping you to get the most information possible from an image and that’s something that’s really important in all professional photography.
There isn’t much difference between these two when it comes to exposure latitude, they’re both brilliant and have top-tier dynamic range.
This is where we really see why Ektar 100 is just a landscape film stock and nothing else really (of course, you can use whatever film you want for whatever kind of photography you want).
Basically, Ektar 100 renders light skin tones as red, which looks like complete rubbish. Whereas, Portra 160 renders them much more naturally. Now, apparently, Ektar 100 looks much better on darker skin tones than it does on light ones but I think it’s a much safer bet to just use Portra 160 for any kind of portrait-based work.
This further solidifies Ektar 100 as a landscape film stock, it’s not produced to be anything else, it’s not trying to be a jack of all trades, it’s trying to be a master of landscapes. Ektar 100 doesn’t care about skin tones, it cares about making landscape photographs look amazing.
Portra 160 on the other hand, (like all other Portras), can kind of do it all, it’s there to be edited but it can also produce pretty beautiful, natural skin tones.
Unsurprisingly, there is a small difference in the grain of these two stocks. Ektar 100 has a slightly lower ISO than Portra 160 so it’s a little bit clearer, but not really a noticeable amount.
There is very little difference in the grain of these two stocks but I’d say Ektar 100 is just a little bit clearer.
Of course, these are both supposed to be fine-grain film stocks but it’s more necessary for Ektar 100 than Portra 160. Ektar 100 must be super clear and super sharp as a landscape film stock. Portra 160 on the other hand is still super clear and super sharp but it doesn’t need to be quite as perfect.
Really, if you’re choosing these film stocks then (amongst other things), it’s because you want low ISO and in turn, clear, less grainy images. These both deliver on that and the difference between the two is very small.
What Are They Best For?
It’s probably been fairly clear throughout this article that these film stocks have quite different uses.
Ektar 100 is best for landscape and nature-based photography due to its very low ISO and saturation. I’d also suggest that it could be good for cityscapes etc as long as there are no people involved. Yes, you can photograph people with Ektar 100 but light-skinned people will have a red hue (which you can correct but it makes it clear that Ektar isn’t the best for this job.
I specifically wouldn’t shoot portraits or editorial photos with Ektar 100 because of the red hue, and while it may be okay on darker skin tones (don’t take my word for it, I’ve only heard it from others), you’d just be better off using a film stock that renders skin tones correctly.
Kodak Portra 160 is a bit different, whereas Ektar 100 is a master of landscape photography, I’d almost say Portra 160 is a perfect blank slate that could work for a number of different styles.
First off Portra 160 would be good for landscape photography, perhaps not as good as Ektar but it’s tones are more muted and editable than Ektars. I would shoot it for portraits, editorial, street photography (providing the correct lighting conditions), documentary photography, landscape and the list kind of goes on.
With Portra 160 it’s more a question of “is 160 ISO enough for the situation”? If the answer is yes then Portra 160 could work for you.
Basically, Ektar 100 is one of the best for landscape and Portra 160 is probably one of the best for portrait and editorial work (and it’s brilliant and a lot of other stuff).
Which Is The Best?
As I covered before, it’s not really a question of which one is the best but which one is best for what.
Portra 160 is the best for portrait and editorial work, Ektar 100 is the best for landscapes.
Are They Worth It?
Whether either of these film stocks are worth it depends on the kind of photography you’re doing and why.
Of course, £18.50 for a roll of film and perhaps another £8 on processing is a lot of money, it works out at nearly £0.73 per shot, which is pretty bloody expensive. (Yes, I know prices vary everywhere and if you’re lucky enough to get it for less elsewhere then that’s great)!
However, if you’re shooting for something specific and intentional that you know either of these film stocks will do the job for you then they are worth it. If you’re just trying to shoot film because you enjoy shooting film or you want to take some film on holiday then Kodak Gold or Colorplus does the job just fine.
What other options are there for landscape photography that are as good as Ektar? Perhaps Fuji Velvia 50 which is a little bit more expensive at £20 a roll.
What other options are there that are better than Portra 160 for portraits and editorial? Perhaps Portra 400?
So when we compare them to what’s available, for the job they do, there isn’t much better available.
What Formats Do These Come In?
Of course, most of us shoot 35mm film or medium format, but professional stocks do come in a wide range of formats.
Kodak Ektar 100 comes in 35mm, 120mm and it also comes as sheet film for large format cameras which is 4×5 inch and 8×10 inch. This means you could get some absolutely phenomenally detailed pictures with it.
Kodak Portra 160 is exactly the same as Ektar, it comes in 35mm, 120mm and it also comes as sheet film for large format cameras which is 4×5 inch and 8×10 inch.
Can You Shoot Ektar 100 Or Portra 160 Out-Of-Date?
The answer to any question about shooting out-of-date film is ‘Yes, but it’s complicated’.
Ektar 100 and Portra 160 have a bit of an upper hand when it comes to shooting it out-of-date because it’s a low ISO, high-quality film stock. But, that being said, colour film doesn’t last as long as black and white.
Shooting out-of-date film can be quite hard to work out, it’s determined by quite a lot of different things: How it was stored (warm or cool temps), how old it is, what ISO the film is and whether it was damp or dry.
If it was stored in a fridge for 10 years then yes it’s probably completely fine. You’d have to overexpose a stop or so if it was 20 years old.
Basically, Ektar 100 is a brilliant film stock but it’s near enough just for landscape and nature work. Portra 160 is great for portrait and editorial work and much more.
I love them both, I took Portra 160 on a trip to Lake Como and it was incredible and I’ve shot Ektar 100 on a Pentax 67 and it was beautiful.