Date written – 17/08/2023
Over the years I’ve shot a lot of different film stocks and over that time I’ve learned the pros and cons of them.
Kodak Portra 400 is a professional colour film stock with fine grain, brilliant exposure latitude and muted colours and Fuji Superia is an amateur film stock that is sharp, has a good exposure latitude and muted colours.
It may seem like these two film stocks aren’t that dissimilar but there are some really important differences, to find out more, read on!
A Brief History
Kodak Portra has been around since 1998, although, I’m sure a variation of it has been available for a lot longer (Kodak loved to chop and change the name of things).
Since Portra’s conception, it’s been seen as nearly the best professional film stock and these days it’s a Youtube photographer’s wet dream.
Strangely enough, Superia also started out in 1998 and while it was mainly produced as a consumer-grade film stock, it’s still to this day thought of as a mid-top tier film stock.
For Superia, Fuji had introduced a 4th layer of Cyan to the emulsion in order to produce better colour reproduction under fluorescent lighting.
Despite the fact that Fuji Pro 400H had been produced as the direct competitor to Portra 400, 400H is no longer in production, so let’s take a look at the difference between Fuji’s ‘consumer-grade’ film stock and Kodak’s ‘Professional’ one.
How I Tested Them
I saved and saved for weeks and weeks to pick up a roll of Portra 400 and Fuji Superia 400 and I put each of them into an Olympus MJU II and took the exact same pictures.
I try my best to take a variety of pictures and push the film stocks so that I can see how they handle blown-out highlights and low light.
Otherwise, I just try to have a bloody good time.
Colour & Saturation
Kodak Portra 400 is pretty notorious for having fairly muted tones so that it can be edited to your heart’s content, so it’s generally pretty pastel which is what I expected. What wasn’t prepared for was for the Superia to be almost identical.
I know what you’re thinking, it’s that meme from the office where she’s like “They’re the same picture” and honestly, there’s very little difference at all. The only thing that I think I can glean from these pictures is that the Superia may have a little more saturation in the magentas (the pink flowers) and possibly a little more green.
Perhaps you can see in the bottom right-hand corner, there is some browny/yellow brush which seems more saturated in the Superia image than in the Portra image.
I think that generally, Portra is known for its muted, pastel colours (with perhaps a very slight yellow hue) and to be honest, Fuji Superia nearly replicates that with perhaps a little bit more saturation.
So I think we can say that Portra is the more professional stock when it comes to saturation and colour because it’s more editable, however, Fuji definitely isn’t far behind and it’s a question of preference.
Both Portra 400 and Fuji Superia are known for having fine grain, however, Portra 400 should have the finer grain of the two.
In the close-up pictures above, we can see that Superia does have more noticeable grain than Portra 400, but with that being said, I’d still say it’s pretty good.
So in short, both have fairly fine grain but once again Portra 400 takes the cake.
Now, once again, I’ve only got on picture with someone in it and it’s not the best picture to show skin tones with.
That being said, I think both have great skin tones, both were made with natural skin tones in mind and I think they both deliver. As we can see with other shots from these stocks, neither of these film stocks really learn towards a specific hue, they’re quite neutral which is ideal for portraits.
As per usual, Portra 400 is probably better in this department because of its dynamic range and finer grain, it’s tones are probably a bit better.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects in a film stock, dynamic range (or exposure latitude).
What’s exposure latitude? Exposure latitude is essentially how much a picture can be under or overexposed while retaining as much information as possible. Basically, Portra 400 has very good exposure latitude, which means you’ll get more information from the shadows and highlights.
It might be hard to see, but with Portra 400 on the left, the overexposed areas aren’t as ‘blown out’ as they are with the Fuji on the right. Also, the Portra retains a bit more of the shadows than the Fuji does.
This is all down to Portra having a better exposure latitude. And, while that is definitely true, I had to look closely to find this difference so I’d be happy to say that Fuji has good exposure latitude, it’s just that Portra has great exposure latitude.
Generally, photographers want film with good exposure latitude as it helps them to get better, more well exposed images.
Which Is The Best?
It’s kind of an unfair comparison to be fair, this is Fujis consumer grade film stock and well, if you compare it to Kodaks consumer grade 400 ISO film stock (Ultramax), then it’s far better.
Kodak Portra 400 is undeniably better but Fuji Superia is really good for what it is.
What Are They Best For?
I guess this is the important question because I think it’s quite complicated, I think Superia has a place (for as long as it’s still around).
I think Fuji Superia 400 could be a great option for projects that might not be completely important. Like, let’s say you want to shoot good portraits or documentary photography or street photography and you want it to be good but you don’t need it to be absolutely perfect, this is where I think Fuji Superia comes into play.
I guess what I’m saying is that I think Fuji Superia is a great alternative when you don’t need the absolute best. Whereas, I can’t honestly think of a Kodak alternative (because Ultramax kind of sucks).
Portra 400 on the other hand, is there for when you need to take really good, high quality pictures. It’s ideal for portrait, editorial work, landscape and a lot of things in between.
Are They Worth It?
It’s kind of difficult to answer whether these film stocks are worth it but in my opinion it all depends on why you’re shooting them.
For instance, is it worth buying Portra 400 for your holiday? Probably not unless there’s a good reason why you wanna shoot your holiday with a professional film stock.
Is Portra 400 worth it if you’re taking some really great portraits? Yes, it probably is.
Superia is more worth it because at the time of writing it is a good bit cheaper. Is it worth using it on holiday? Probably. Is it worth using it for some semi-important portraits? Probably also.
It’s really hard to answer the question of whether a film stock or film camera is ‘worth it’ these days because both have increased pretty dramatically.
What Formats Are They Available In?
These days, Fuji Superia is only available in 35mm, which is a shame, I know Pro 400H was available in 120mm back when everything was right with the world.
Portra 400 on the other hand is available in 35mm, 120mm, 4×5, 4×10, 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, and 20×24.
All of this makes sense since, Superia was produced to be consumer-grade, for the most part, people only really had 35mm cameras so there wasn’t much point in producing medium or large format film.
Can You Shoot Them Out-Of-Date?
Can you shoot these out-of-date? Yes but it’s complicated.
Basically, whether you can or can’t shoot out-of-date film is determined by a number of different things.
Firstly, black and white film lasts longer than colour.
Low ISO film lasts longer than high ISO.
Film stored in a cool, dry place lasts longer than film stored normally or in warm, damp places.
If you don’t know the storage history of your roll of film then I’d say it’s safe to assume that it’ll be fine up to 10 years out-of-date. After 10 years you’ll have to adjust and maybe overexpose a little bit.
This was a really interesting comparison for me. Fuji Superia does have quite a lot going for it, much more than I gave it credit for.
After this, I’d probably consider using Superia for some of those less important projects that still need to look good!