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:
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:
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:
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.