Guide to Portra 800 – Pros, Cons and 50 Sample Photos.
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For many years, Kodak Portra 800 has been one of our favorite color films to shoot. And while we’re definitely reaching for Portra 800 in low-light situations, this film looks great in daylight, too.
The extra flexibility will cost you, though – no matter which brand you’re looking at, higher film speed = higher price point.
Portra 800 is no different, plus it carries the title of a “Kodak Professional” film, which costs more than “consumer-grade” options like Ultramax 400.
We’ll break down all of the things we love and hate about Portra 800, as well as plenty of sample photos. (All images featured in this article were taken on Kodak Portra 800 35mm or 120 film).
Table of Contents
Kodak Portra 800
Pros of Shooting Portra 800
There are plenty of benefits to shooting Portra 800 – it’s one of the most versatile color films you can currently buy. Here are some of the characteristics that make it such a great choice.
Neutral Colors and Natural Skin Tones
Generally speaking, Portra 800 looks pretty similar to its 400 speed sibling. This is a good thing – a big part of Portra 400’s popularity lies in the way it depicts colors and skin tones.
We’d say that Kodak Portra 800 has a bit more visible grain and contrast, but the overall tones stay true to the other versions of Portra. The palette is relatively flat and neutral, with accurate looking skin.
If you primarily shoot photos of people, it would be hard to find a better film than one of the versions of Kodak Portra. These films are beloved by wedding and fashion photographers who require the most accurate skin tones possible.
In this regard, Portra 800 is going to deliver better than any other 800 speed, color film on the market.
You’ll also find the same warm, yellow-orange tones that you expect from other Kodak brand color films.
These benefits are particularly important when comparing Portra 800 to the other high-speed, color films available. For all intents and purposes, Portra 800 is the only film this fast that we’d consider “normal” looking – the other options have more dramatic colors and contrast.
Quick Summary: When you need a high speed option with reliable colors and tones that you’re used to finding in slower films, you can’t go wrong with Kodak Portra 800.
Good Exposure Latitude
One of the most important characteristics of any type of film is the exposure latitude, and fortunately, Portra 800 has plenty.
In case you didn’t know, exposure latitude is the amount that a film can be over/under exposed while still producing an acceptable exposure. Low exposure latitude means the film does not do well with any over/under exposure, high exposure latitude means the film can take a few stops of over/under exposure.
Many times, people choose high-speed films like Portra 800 because they’re going to be shooting in a very low-light situation. But even with a fast lens and high-speed film, it can still be tough to get good exposures in the dark.
This is where the decently high exposure latitude of Portra 800 is a blessing – even when we’re forced to underexpose by a stop or two, we can usually get a decent image from Porta 800.
Same goes for overexposing, although there aren’t as many situations where we opt to overexpose this type of film.
Now, it’s not all fun and games – over/under exposing Portra 800 film does have some noticeable downsides.
The more underexposed an image is, the more visible the grain becomes, which can look particularly muddy in dark, shadowed areas of an image. That said, we’re not usually bothered by this, because the alternative would be missing the shot, or getting a blurry image from trying to use a slower shutter speed.
We’ve also noticed that colors can get a little bit funky when Kodak Portra 800 is not exposed properly. Most often, this looks like a slight green cast on your images.
This usually has as much to do with the scanning- if your lab uses an automated scanning workflow, you’re more likely to have a few images where the colors are a little off. Most of the time, a little bit of tweaking with photo-editing software should be able to correct the issue.
Quick Summary: The exposure latitude of Portra 800 film is a huge advantage that contributes to its versatility.
Looks Great in Dark and Daylight
You could probably consider 400 speed film to be the “standard”, if there were such a thing. It’s the most versatile option – you can usually get by shooting ISO 400 from morning to evening. There are also more 400 speed films available than any other speeds.
As such, we know a lot of photographers that almost never shoot film faster than 400 ISO and when they do, it’s reserved for strictly nighttime shooting.
If this is your approach, you may be missing out on some great looking photos – we’ve found that Portra 800 film looks just as nice in the daylight as it does in darker scenes.
Shooting Porta 800 in the daylight may also change the look of your images by giving you additional flexibility with your shutter speed and aperture.
A lot of street photographers love shooting Kodak Portra 800 for this reason. With a higher film speed, it’s easier to shoot a smaller aperture (usually f/8), which is key to zone focusing.
Once again, this benefit is particularly relevant when comparing Portra 800 to the other high-speed color options.
For example, Cinestill 800T may be the most popular 800-speed color film available, but images taken in daylight aren’t going to look anywhere near as “normal” as they would on Portra 800.
Quick Summary: Portra 800 film is a great choice for low-light situations, but it also produces beautiful images in bright daylight.
Cons of Shooting Portra 800
While there’s no doubt that Kodak Portra 800 is one of our favorite films, that’s not to say that it’s perfect. There’s one negative in particular that may deter a lot of photographers from ever purchasing a roll.
Most Expensive Color Film?
The reason that a lot of people avoid buying Portra 800 is a simple one – it’s expensive AF.
At roughly $20 per roll of Portra 800 35mm, it wins the title of most expensive color-negative film available.
Same goes for Portra 800 120 – around $75 for a five pack is a full $10 more than it costs for Portra 400.
Plus, shooting film is more expensive than ever before – the cost to buy film as well as developing/scanning have seen significant increases in recent years. When you choose the most expensive type of film, the total cost can be hard to swallow.
The unfortunate news is that we don’t see this changing anytime soon. Kodak Portra 800 is just an expensive film, and it always will be. There’s no doubt we’d shoot tons more Portra 800 if it were a few dollars cheaper per roll.
Quick Summary: While it’s a great film, Portra 800 is incredibly expensive.
Other Negatives to Shooting Portra 800
While there are probably additional complaints about Portra 800, the truth is that they don’t bother us much. Especially with the price being such a glaring downside, the other issues seem minor.
As we mentioned above, Portra 800 does show a bit more grain, especially comparing it to one of the lower speed Portra films. When underexposing images, this becomes much more noticeable.
We’ve also seen some minor color shifts that confused our lab’s scanner and required a bit of tinkering in photo-editing software.
Truth be told, the only thing preventing Portra 800 from claiming the crown as our favorite type of film is the price. We love the versatility, love the images it produces, and would shoot it much more if it didn’t cost so much.
Kodak Portra 800 Alternatives
You may be looking for an alternative to Portra 800 after seeing the size of the price tag. While high-speed, color films aren’t very common, you do have a few additional options. There are no longer any Kodak 800 film other than Portra, so you’ll have to shoot a different brand.
As we mentioned above, Cinestill 800T might be the most popular 800 speed film on the market. The price point falls more in line with other, slower films – usually around $15 per roll.
There’s some big differences between the two films, though. First and foremost, the “T” in Cinestill 800T stands for “tungsten”, indicating a color balance intended for artificial lighting.
On the other hand, Portra 800 (along with the rest of the Kodak color films) uses a standard, daylight color balance. This is why we mentioned that it was a big advantage that Portra 800 produces such accurate looking skin tones.
Cinestill 800T is an interesting film that can create some incredible results. That said, not everyone likes the look. Check out our full rundown of the different Cinestill films to get the full picture and decide if it’s the right film for you.
Lomography 800 Color Film
The other option you have for 800 speed color film comes from the folks at Lomography. While this brand produces a lot of interesting, special effect films, the 800 speed color film is one of their more traditional offerings.
Lomography makes standard, color-negative film in 100, 400, and 800 ISO. All three speeds are available in 35mm and 120 medium format.
In the past, you could find Lomography 800 Color Film for quite a bit less than Portra 800. It was, for a while, the cheapest 800 speed, color film available.
Unfortunately, the prices have jumped quite a bit, currently about $60 for a three pack, bringing Lomography 800 to roughly the same price as Portra 800.
That said, we find that Lomography 800 looks much more similar to Portra 800 than the Cinestill. When the prices were lower, we would’ve considered Lomography 800 to be the poor man’s Portra.
Pushing Portra 400 One Stop
Another way to get your hands on high-speed color film is to simply push Portra 400 one stop, giving you the same ISO as Portra 800.
The basics of pushing film are that you treat the film as if it were a higher ISO, and then tell your lab, who will develop the film for longer, to ensure your images are properly exposed. When pushing film, you have to specify how many additional “stops” of exposure you’re going to shoot the film at.
Pushing Portra 400 one stop would give you 800 ISO, pushing it two stops would give you 1600 ISO, and three stops would give you 3200 ISO.
When pushing film, each additional stop adds more grain to your photo, and even just two stops can create pretty unattractive results in certain shooting situations.
95% of the time, if we’re pushing Portra 400, it’s just one stop. This feels like the best balance of a higher ISO while retaining a good amount of the fine grain that makes Portra 400 so great.
The other 5% is all pushing two stops to 1600, and this is usually something like a concert where we know the photos won’t look the greatest, but we want them for sentimental reasons.
Pushing film is much more suited to black and white film, which can tolerate many stops of pushing without being as visible. Some people even prefer the contrasty look of black and white film pushed a few stops.
Portra 800 vs 400
You may be wondering if it’s worth it to pay extra for Portra 800 vs 400. The biggest determining factor is how much you want to pay to shoot film. Some people are willing to pay any price to shoot Kodak 800 film.
For Portra 800 35mm, you’re looking at a roughly 30% price increase compared to the 400 speed version. For every three rolls of Kodak Porta 800, you could afford four rolls of Portra 400. The price differences are about the same for Portra 800 120 film, too.
When comparing the visual differences of Portra 400 vs 800, they aren’t as significant as you may expect. The 800 ISO version has a bit more grain and contrast, but overall, they look similar.
At the current prices, we usually reserve Portra 800 film for special occasions or specific situations where we know it will shine. We’re more likely to push Portra 400 one stop and save the four or five dollars.
Kodak Portra 800
Kodak Portra 800 Sample Photos
There’s no point in reading a film review without looking at plenty of sample photos. But it’s important to note that things like shooting environment, gear choice, developing, and scanning preferences all greatly impact the final look of a photo.
That’s why we’ve included Portra 800 photos from a variety of photographers and subjects. This should give you a good idea of what this film is capable of.