I’ve been shooting film for 7 or so years now and over that time I’ve shot a lot of Kodak Portra 160 and It’s slowly become one of my favourite film stocks.
Kodak Portra 160 has very fine grain, brilliant skin tones and amazing exposure latitude, making it an almost perfect film stock for all kinds of professional photography, including portrait photography, landscape photography or documentary photography.
If you want to find out more about Kodak Portra 160 and whether it’s the right stock for you then read on!
A Brief History Of Portra
Originally produced in 1998, the Portra range was produced with wedding photography and portrait photography in mind. Before Portra there was Vericolor and before that it was Ektacolor.
Initially, Portra 160 went under the name NC or Natural Color and Portra 400 went under the name VC or Vivid Color. In 2010 the Portra line was upgraded (which is interesting to me, since film would have appeared to be on a strong downward trajectory at this point).
Portra now had finer grain, better skin tones and was generally sharper than the previous NC and VC stocks.
Culturally, Portra has become more and more popular in the last few years, with popular Youtubers or online photographers agreeing that Portra is pretty much the best professional film available.
Interestingly, (to me anyway) Portra 160 usually doesn’t get quite as much attention as I think it deserves and that’s probably down to its low ISO. Well, I’m here to give Portra 160 the love and attention that we all know it needs.
First off, we have grain. Kodak Portra is well known for having fine grain and Portra 160 is no exception.
As you can see from the zoomed-in version of the shot on the right, the grain is clearly there but it’s not big and crunchy, it’s nice and fine.
This fine grain means that Portra 160 is particularly good for landscape photography since landscape photographers tend to want the sharpest and clear image possible.
Of course, not everyone wants fine grain but I find the subtlety of the grain to be a nice aspect that can really lend to the professional vibe of Portra 160.
Exposure latitude is where Kodak Portra 160 completely blows everything else out of the water. Okay, it’s not the best Latitude ever but it’s up there for sure.
If you don’t already know, exposure latitude is basically how much you can over/underexpose your film and it’ll still retain data. What that means when it comes to film photography is that if you have a film stock with good exposure latitude (or dynamic range), you’re more likely to get a more evenly exposed picture.
You can see this illustrated in the first picture, the subject is in the foreground in shade and the background is in the harsh sun, if this were a lesser film stock like Kodak Ultramax 400 then you would probably get a lot less information back from the shadows. Because I was using Portra 160 the picture is much more evenly exposed.
Exposure latitude is a massive plus for Kodak Portra 160, the whole Portra range has great exposure latitude but I think 160 is interesting because it adds versatility to such a low ISO film stock.
Saturation And Colour
Kodak Portra 160 is better known for being a bit more pastel and less saturated than other film stocks. As its original name states (Natural Color), it was made to be natural and real feeling, it wasn’t really produced to have an overwhelming hue or identifiable look.
All of the Portra series is pretty much made to be edited, it’s got great exposure latitude so you can change the exposure settings as you want afterwards and colour is somewhat muted so you can reduce or bring out the tones you want to in the edit.
You might be thinking “But you don’t edit film, there wasn’t Lightroom in 1998”, well, people did edit by using various techniques while printing. Portra and its predecessors were made with that in mind.
I feel like ‘skin tones’ is banded around quite a lot when there are such a variety of skin tones. But the Portra series is a series that will accommodate all skin tones, from light to dark.
I can’t show this with my own photographs but once again due to the great exposure latitude of Portra 160 and the muted saturation, it’s a great film stock for people with light or dark skin.
How Much Is Kodak Portra 160?
Interestingly Kodak Portra 160 tends to be less than any of the other Portra series. For instance, on Analogue Wonderland Portra 160 is £18.50 (on sale at £15) whereas Portra 400 is a flat £20 a roll.
This slight difference in price can make a difference if you’re buying packs of five or so and there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two. The main differences are the ISO, difference in saturation and grain.
Can You Shoot Out Of Date Kodak Portra 160?
You can shoot any out-of-date film but each one will deteriorate at different rates. Kodak Portra 160 has a bit of an upper hand because it’s low ISO film so it’s not overly sensitive. But it’s colour film which 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 bit if it was 20 years old.
What Kind Of Photography Is Kodak Portra 160 Best For?
Kodak Portra 160 is such a versatile camera film that it’d be great for portrait photography, wedding photography, landscape photography, street photography, travel photography and day-to-day life.
The main thing that you’d want to take into account is the ISO and whether that’d be high enough for your particular project or style.
Why is Portra 160 and not 200?
I think Portra 160 is 160 rather than 200 because it sets it apart from their cheaper film stocks like Kodak Gold or Colorplus. Also, it ensures that the grain is at an absolute minimum without having to drop to 100 like Ektar.
I guess 200 ISO film stocks tend to be consumer-grade, like Fuji C200 and Colorplus, I actually can’t think of a single 200 ISO film stock that would be considered professional, so taking Portra to 160 gives it a little bit of panache.
It’s pretty funny though, there really isn’t much difference between 160/200 and with Portra 160’s exposure latitude you could shoot this at 200 without any worries at all.
What’s the difference between Portra 160 and 400?
The key differences between Portra 160 and 400 are saturation, ISO, grain and price. Portra 400 is a little more saturated than Portra 160, 160 is quite muted and pastel.
Obviously, Portra 400 has really fine grain but Portra 160 has even finer, due to its 160 ISO.
Finally there’s a small difference in the cost which can amount to a pretty big difference over time!
Can you shoot Portra 160 At Night?
You could shoot Portra 160 at night but you’d definitely want a tripod. This isn’t really a film stock that’s made for shooting at night however, the dynamic range of Portra 160 means that it would retain a lot of information if the shutter speeds were long enough.
Of course, in the evening when it’s still a bit light Kodak Portra 160 would be fine, but preferably you’d have a wide aperture like F/1.8 or you’d have a tripod.
Sample Photos Of Kodak Portra 160
Personally, I really love Kodak Portra 160. I shot my whole holiday to Italy on it and I loved the way everything came out. As low as that 160 ISO is, it’s still versatile enough to take care of business.
You should go and shoot a bunch of Kodak Portra 160 because it’s just so great.