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Many different types of film have received some level of cult-status over the years, but one of Kodak’s humble, consumer-grade offerings – Ultramax 400 – is usually left out of these conversations.
Often touted as a severely lacking film stock, only suited for newbies, we’re here to set the record straight; we think that Kodak Ultramax 400 is a great film for both beginners and advanced film photographers alike.
As with just about every other aspect of photography, the appeal of a certain type of film is completely subjective. Beauty certainly is in the eyes of the beholder, and from where we’re standing (with hundreds and hundreds of rolls of Ultramax shot over the years), Kodak Ultramax 400 can definitely create some absolutely beautiful images.
Whether you’re new to film photography, or a seasoned skeptic who’s loyal to another type of film, we’ve got 10 reasons you should try shooting Kodak Ultramax 400.
No film stock review would be complete without plenty of sample photos, so we’ve included 50 photos from a variety of photographers to show you just what Ultramax 400 is capable of.
Check out the list below and then go pick up a roll of Ultramax 400 to try for yourself!
1. Kodak Ultramax is less expensive than other film stocks.
While the price of every film stock has seen astronomical growth in the last decade, there’s no denying that Ultramax 400 is one of the cheapest 400 speed films available.
For example, if you’re looking at Kodak Ultramax 400 vs Kodak Portra 400, you can expect to pay about 50% more per roll to shoot the professional option (Portra).
Three or four dollars may not seem like much, but when many photographers have no problem shooting 5-10 rolls a month, this can equate to hundreds of dollars a year in savings!
While there are plenty of situations where it’s worth springing for pro grade film, we think there are just as many, if not more, situations where Ultramax is perfectly adequate.
Especially for beginners in film photography, Ultramax is one of the best cheap 35mm film stocks for everyday photos.
2. Kodak Ultramax 400 is the easiest film to find, no matter where you’re located.
Walmart. Photo labs. Drugstores. What do these places have in common? You guessed it – you can usually find Kodak Ultramax 400 at all of these spots.
We’ve all run into the dreaded situation: you’re stranded, with a camera, photos waiting to be taken, but you’re fresh out of film.
In situations like these, there’s almost no question that Ultramax 400 will be the most likely to be found, no matter where you’re located.
This particular film’s ubiquity has been long standing, and we don’t see another film taking its place anytime soon (if ever). Sure, it would be incredible if 24 hour pharmacies and Walmarts carried Portra, but that just ain’t the world we live in.
If nothing else, you should embrace Ultramax 400 for the fact that at some point, it just might save your ass and let you get the shot you may have otherwise missed.
3. Ultramax 400 has a wide exposure latitude, making it a very forgiving film.
Exposure latitude is the amount that a film can be over or under exposed while still producing an acceptable image. Essentially, it’s how much room for error you have if you don’t get the exposure quite right.
Ultramax has a wide exposure latitude, making it a great choice for beginners.
This doesn’t mean that more advanced film photographers can’t appreciate the flexibility that comes with shooting Ultramax 400, though.
As we all know, metering for a perfectly exposed photo isn’t always possible when shooting film. Especially when bouncing between different lighting situations you might be completely unable to make a perfect exposure.
Shooting a film with wide exposure latitude gives you a bit more wiggle room for those situations where you need to slightly over or under expose a shot.
4. Kodak Ultramax 400 produces vibrant colors with nice saturation.
There seems to be a misconception that consumer grade films always produce flat, desaturated images. Sure, they can do just that, but Ultramax 400 is just as capable of creating vivid photos with vibrant colors and nice saturation.
Now, the caveat to this is that many people experience odd, incorrect colors when shooting Ultramax at speeds other than 400. Our experience has been mixed in this regard, but the general consensus seems to be: Kodak Ultramax 400 shot at box speed produces the best, most accurate colors.
Generally, the colors produced by Ultramax are perfectly suited to most subjects and lighting situations. Skin tones usually look quite accurate (this is where you usually want to shoot at box speed), and landscapes can also look fantastic.
As before, this isn’t to say that Ultramax is better than all other film stocks. If you exclusively shoot portraits or weddings, you’re definitely better off shooting Portra. Landscape photographers would almost always choose a roll of Ektar, or maybe even slide film for their work.
But for the majority of film photographers that shoot a variety of subjects, oftentimes on a single roll, Ultramax feels like a safe bet to handle anything you’re going to throw at it.
5. Ultramax, like most other Kodak films, has a pleasant, warm tone.
This is mostly a matter of preference, but we’ve always been attracted to the classic, warm tones present in most film stocks produced by Kodak.
While Ultramax is known for its warmth, Fujifilm is just as well known for being cooler, with green and magenta tones.
While Fufjifilm can, of course, produce fantastic images, we’re much bigger fans of the warmth found in Ultramax and other Kodak films. We find that Fujifilm’s cool tones can look fantastic in specific circumstances, whereas the warmth found in Ultramax almost always looks great.
6. The contrast produced by Ultramax 400 is decently high and visually pleasing.
We’d consider the contrast produced by Ultramax to be pretty dead center in the world of color film stocks. Not as much contrast as Ektar 100, but more than Portra.
There aren’t very many situations (if any) where we’re turned off by the level of contrast present in Ultramax 400.
Photos have that nice “punch” that attracts many folks to film photography, and we’ve been known to even boost the contrast a bit when scanning images shot on Ultramax 400.
While some black and white film stocks (and even Ektar) can produce images that feel like they have too much contrast, that’s never really the case with Ultramax 400.
7. 400 speed film gives more versatility than most other consumer grade film stocks, rated 200ASA.
If you’re sticking with Kodak, the other options of less expensive, “consumer” grade film are both rated 200 ASA. There are plenty of circumstances where 200 speed film is a preferable choice, but the 400 speed of Ultramax is a much more versatile option.
If we were going to choose a film speed to shoot for the rest of time, it’d be hard to imagine picking anything other than 400 ASA.
With Ultramax 400, you should be safe to shoot during bright daylight, but you can continue shooting into the night while still achieving satisfactory results.
For all intents and purposes, we think of 400 as the standard, all-around film speed, and only opt for faster or slower film stocks if the situation specifically calls for it.
When loading up a roll and we don’t know exactly what we’ll be shooting, you can bet that we’re going to reach for a 400 speed film of some variety.
8. Kodak Ultramax 400 has a relatively fine grain, appreciated by many photographers.
“Relatively” is the key word here. If you’re comparing Ultramax 400 vs Portra 400, there’s no question that the professional, more expensive choice will have a finer grain. Same goes for film stocks with a lower ASA rating, even Kodak Gold 200.
All that said, for a cheap 35mm film with a rating of 400 ASA, the grain in Ultramax 400 could certainly be a lot worse!
In most cases, a well exposed photo taken in decent lighting conditions on Ultramax shouldn’t produce much grain visible to the naked eye. Once again, if you’re comparing a photo taken on Portra or Ektar, you might find a little more issue with the humble Ultramax shots; a lot of times, though, you’d be surprised how menial the differences are.
You shouldn’t notice too much of an issue until you start shooting darker, underexposed photos; that’s when the grain really starts to become visible.
Now this is absolutely a matter of preference, but some folks actually like the look of the grain that presents itself in darker photos. Call it retro nostalgia, call it bad taste, call it whatever you want, but just know that you’re definitely going to notice the grain on darker photos shot on Ultramax 400.
9. Ultramax is commonly available in both 24 and 36 exposures.
We may be standing completely alone on this one, but we actually like having the option of 24 or 36 exposures when loading a new roll of film.
Have you ever been stuck rushing to burn through the last few frames of a roll so that you can switch to a different type of film? Awkwardly pointing your camera at things you don’t really find interesting, thinking “I guess this is better than nothing”?
When it comes down to it, 24 frames feels a lot easier to get through in an afternoon. It’s also cheaper per roll and the 24 exposure version of Ultramax 400 can be easier to find if you’re in a pinch and shopping somewhere other than a dedicated photoshop.
By no means does this mean we exclusively like to shoot film with 24 exposures, we just like having the option. As they say, variety is the spice of life!
10. Kodak Ultramax 400 is a great film for just about any circumstance.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably come to the same conclusion; Kodak Ultramax 400 is a fantastic all-purpose film that performs well in just about any situation.
And at the end of the day, that’s probably the main reason that we love it so much. Other film stocks might be better in specific circumstances, but for us, the flexibility is the main draw to Ultramax 400.
If you’re looking for a cheap 35mm film that’ll perform well no matter what you’re shooting, it’d be hard to go wrong grabbing a roll of Kodak Ultramax 400.
Where to Find the Best Deals on Ultramax 400
While you can almost certainly find Ultramax film somewhere near you, you may want to hunt around to find the best deal. The fact that many drugstores carry 35mm film is nice, but it’s common to see a significant markup in exchange for the convenience.
If you’re in a pinch, the easiest place to find a roll (or more likely, three) is usually a large chain drugstore. CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart are usually safe bets. We wouldn’t recommend dropping off your film for developing at one of these spots, though (read more on that here).
If you have time to plan ahead, you should definitely check online to get the best deals.
Love it or hate it, Amazon can be a great place to find lower prices on Ultramax 400 in a variety of quantities. Especially with many listings offering quick, free shipping, you can save a few bucks while stocking up.
eBay can be another great place to find deals on any type of film, including Ultramax. This option may require a bit more searching to find exactly what you’re looking for, but there are some fantastic deals waiting to be uncovered.
Take a look here to find cheap 35mm Kodak Ultramax 400 on eBay.
If you live somewhere with a dedicated photo shop/lab, chances are, they’ll keep Ultramax 400 in stock. We always like to support local labs, and many times you’ll be able to drop off your completed rolls at the same time as you’re stocking up on fresh film.
To find a local photo lab in your area, check out our guides to where to develop film near you.
Sample Photos Taken on Ultramax
Possibly the most important part of this review, what do photos taken on Ultramax actually look like? We’re glad you asked…
We’ve gathered a selection of photos from many different photographers, a variety of subjects, lighting conditions, editing styles, etc.
Take a look below to get a better idea of the true versatility of Kodak Ultramax 400.