Ektar 100 and Portra 160VC compared

I have continued to put Kodak’s spectacular new film, Ektar 100, through its paces, and I’m getting a better handle on its strengths and capabilities. I really like this film—Kodak did us a solid by making it, then offering it in 120 as well as in 35mm. I wonder if there’s any chance at all they might make it in 4×5? One can dream….

Before Ektar came along, I shot a lot of Portra VC in both 160 and 400 speed, and continue to do so. I have struggled a bit to put my finger exactly on the differences between these films, and to figure out in which scenarios either film might prove most at home. Now that I’ve accumulated enough experience with Ektar to have produced comparable images, I’ve assembled two pairs of images taken over the span of a week at nearly the same time of day—warm, late-day summer sun—differing only in the films used.  All films were processed by me with Kodak Flexicolor C-41 chemistry in a Jobo ATL-1500, and scanned with a Nikon LS-9000 film scanner.

The captions contain pertinent shooting information:

2009121-07
Ektar 100, EI 100, Mamiya 7, 80mm

2009107-10
Portra 160VC, EI 160, Mamiya 7, 80mm

Both films produce vibrant color, exceptional sharpness and contrast, and very fine grain. Ektar’s grain is nearly invisible, while Portra’s is slightly more prominent, but not at all objectionable. Color is of course highly subjective; but to my eye, Ektar is warmer and more saturated than Portra, especially in the reds and greens. I find Portra to have a slightly more neutral “coolness” compared to Ektar, though it is still saturated.

Ektar is not likely to become everyone’s standard “portrait” film, but in the right light, with the right skin tones, I think you could get by with it. My son has my olive-brown “mediterranean” skin (courtesy our Sicilian ancestors, probably) and both these films render his skin tones a warm reddish brown, more so the Ektar than the Portra. Of the two, Portra VC would be the better choice for a “conventional” portrait where more neutral (caucasian) skin tones are desired.  Even better, I’d use one of the NC Portras or Fujicolor 160S or 400H; 400H is my favorite go-to portrait film for general use.

Here are two landscapes shot with the two films:

2009123-01
Ektar 100, EI 100, Mamiya 7, 80mm
2009109-05
Portra 160VC, EI 160, RZ-67, 90mm

Again, both images were made in warm, late-day summer sun. You can really see how saturated the reds and greens are in the Ektar image. The Portra image is quite a bit cooler, even accounting for the differences in sky prominence and brightness. In both cases, as with the portraits, I white-balanced the scans on white or neutral areas in the images, and made only black- and white-point adjustments.

So which film would I use for a given lighting situation? For sunny days—meaning that there is at least some open sky—either one does the trick. Choose based on how much saturation, warmth, and contrast you’re looking for. For duller days, however, I prefer the look of Portra VC over Ektar—though in looking through my catalog I realize I have formed this notion based only upon the sparse handful of images I’ve made under such conditions. (It appears I really am a fair-weather photographer.) In those, I find that Ektar takes on an unpleasant greenish cast:

2009103-04
Ektar 100, EI 100, Mamiya 7, 80mm

Regular readers know I’m no shill for any manufacturer; I use what I like and what works, since I have no one to please save myself. Using these films, I feel like I’ve stumbled upon the horn of plenty. It’s really no-lose, and dealer’s choice which one you use in a given situation. It is good to have choices—especially new choices in films in an increasingly digital age.

I’d welcome your comments about how Ektar’s look compares to that of other films. Since I’ve shot very little color transparency film—Kodachrome or otherwise—in my time by choice, I’d especially like to hear from those who think Ektar reminds them of Kodachrome or some other -chrome; and from those who beg to differ.

Ektar 100, EI 100, Mamiya 7, 80mm
Ektar 100, EI 100, Mamiya 7, 80mm

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7 thoughts on “Ektar 100 and Portra 160VC compared

  1. I agree with you and had pretty much the same experiences with Ektar. I’ve used it in both 35mm and 120 rolls. I’ve never used Portra, but I have to say that Ektar has a completely different look to it from any other films I’ve used. It’s hard to describe…it’s just “different.” The colors are beautiful…very poppy and saturated, especially red and blue. To me, it’s the perfect film for landscape and architectural photos. If you have a subject with something red contrasting against the blue sky or water, (like a flag on a building, or a red boat out on a lake or ocean etc) it really looks incredible. And you can really see that in the picture you took of your son at the pool. When you have red and blue in the photo, it really jumps out.

    Ektar is very picky about exposure (more so than other color print films), but once you get used to that, I think it’s awesome. It’s one of my favorite color films now.

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  2. Thanks Chris. Now that Ektar’s been offered in 4×5 (should I take the credit? :-0) I’m just waiting to get my hands on some.

    I’ve been shooting a lot more Portra NC lately. I can see the 400 ISO becoming my standard film, with 400VC and Ektar in the wings. I may keep some 160 on hand, maybe the Fuji. But the grain is so fine, and the contrast better tamed, in the 400’s that shooting 160 seems less necessary. And I’m trying to sImplify while keeping a broad palette of emulsions to choose from.

    This is one of the pleasures—and trials—of shooting film: understanding the emulsions’ nuances well enough to choose the right one for the light you have and the look you want. It’s an ongoing self-education process for me.

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  3. Hi. You comparison is very interesting.
    I have an old 6×6 Yashica twin-lens camera and I am having a lot of fun with it.
    I started to use slow films (portra 160VC, ektar 100, ilford delta 100), but I would like to switch to more fast films:
    I am not a pro, so I often take some shot in a situation and I finish to use the same roll some weeks after in a completely different situation, so I think a faster film could be more versatile.
    So, I would like to know your opinion.
    B/W: Do you prefer ilford delta 400 or t-max 400?
    Colours: Do you prefer portra 400, provia 400X or fujicolor 400H?
    Thank you very much.

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    1. Marco, thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting. You are correct; a faster film is certainly more versatile, especially in the situation you describe. If I could have only one color negative film, it would be the new Portra 400. Provia 400X is certainly a good film, but overall I prefer color negative films. And I also like T-max 400, though there’s nothing wrong with Delta 400.
      So with those two films—Portra 400 and 400TMY—I have pretty much everything covered.

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  4. Hi Michael,

    Enjoyed the articles on Ektar, Portra. I used to shoot mostly provia and cross process it – lighting it with HMI’s and mixing tungsten as well..but it certainly has it’s limitations. Now with Photoshop’s capabilities and third party software like Alien Skin many more possibilities have opened up to manipulate negative film.. and E-6 processing is definitely going by the wayside. I like the look of Ektar, but I notice that a lot of big shooters(like Annie Liebowitz) use Portra 160…

    Thanks

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