Kodak Portra 400 VS Portra 160 – What’s The Difference?

After shooting both Portra 160 and 400 for years I’ve learned all of the small differences between these two stocks!

Of course, Portra 400 is a higher ISO film stock than 160 and so it has a bit more grain but that’s not the only difference. Portra 400 has up to 12 stops of dynamic range whereas Portra 160 has around 7. Also, Portra 160 tends to colour shift more when over or underexposed whereas Portra 400 is a bit more stable. Generally, people suggest that Portra 400 is better but it depends on what you’re shooting and what film speed you might need. I like them both but I shoot Portra 400 more because it’s a bit more versatile.

I’ll cover this in more detail throughout the rest of the article, so don’t miss out!

A Brief History

The entire Portra range was released in 1998, that’s Portra 160, 400 and 800 and Portra 160 and 400 were both available as “natural color” (NC) and “vivid color” (VC) until 2011.

In 2011 both Portra 160 and 400 were upgraded to have improved sharpness, finer grain and better skin tones, while Portra 800 remained the same.

Since day one, Portra was renowned for being some of the best colour film around and to this day it’s used by everyone, from professionals to amateurs.

Over the years, prices and continually increased for all film stocks, Portra being one of the most impacted. This has caused some photographers to move away from film or particular film stocks in recent years.


Of course, these two stocks have a fair difference in ISO which results in more grain for Portra 400 but it also means that Portra 160 is less sensitive and therefore not very good in low light.

There isn’t really a tremendous difference between the visible grain of Portra 160 and Portra 400. They’re both very sharp and Portra 400 has quite fine grain anyway so it’s still really sharp and clear.

The key difference comes with the sensitivity of the film. With Portra 160 being a low ISO film stock, it isn’t ideal for shooting in low light whereas, Portra 400 is a great middle-ground ISO that allows you to shoot in a variety of light situations.

For most daytime shooting Portra 160 is still great, it’s just not ideal for low light or nighttime.

Dynamic Range

All of the Portra range has a brilliant dynamic range, with Portra 800 at the top with 12.5 stops of dynamic range, 400 with 12 and Portra 160 with about 7 (which is still brilliant).

In case you’re unsure, dynamic range is how much information is maintained throughout the highlights and shadows of an image. So if a film stock has a great dynamic range then it will maintain a well-exposed image even if there are blown-out highlights and harsh shadows.

If your film has a bad dynamic range like Kodak Colorplus (about 2 stops), then you’re much more likely to see blown-out highlights and harsh shadows, the image won’t be exposed as evenly.

As you can see in the picture above, despite the vast difference in exposure, information is maintained in both the shadows and the highlights of these two images.

So technically, Portra 400 is much better in terms of dynamic range but Portra 160 is still very good.

Colour Shift

Film can change depending on how you expose it and that can certainly be the case for Kodak Portra 160. 160 Can pick up a cyan hue when overexposed which is probably not desirable for most people.

Kodak Portra 400 on the other hand tends to go more pastel when overexposed. Most people tend to overexpose Portra 400 by 1 stop and expose Portra 160 at box speed.

I don’t think that Portra 160’s colour shift is too wild but it is something to be aware of when you’re shooting with it. If you don’t want to risk it, then it’s probably much simpler to go for Portra 400.


Price is one of the biggest deciders for most film shooters today and this is probably why a lot of people still pick up Portra 160 over Portra 400.

A roll of Portra 400 is currently about £22 (it’s slightly different anywhere but generally it’s a bit more expensive than Portra 160). Whereas, a roll of 160 is £20, although I’ve just checked and 5 rolls is £82 which is a pretty significant saving.

Per roll, there’s not much difference but per a brick of 5, it’s quite a difference.

Which Is The Best Then?

Well, Portra 400 is probably objectively better than Portra 160 because it’s more versatile, it’s got a better dynamic range and it’s not as liable to colour shift in the way that Portra 160 is.

I will say that I’ve had really good experiences with Portra 160 and I stand by it as a really good colour film. But that being said, it’s hard to ignore its slight drawbacks.

I would never turn down Portra 160 but all things being equal, Portra 400 is the best option out of the two.

But as I always say, film has such a tiny impact on whether you’ll take incredible photos or not, so worry a bit less about that and spend some more time on your philosophy and taking more photos.

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