Kodak Portra 800 Review: Low Light and Much More

The vast majority of the film that I shoot is Kodak Portra. It is one of the best 35mm film stocks out there.

Kodak Portra 800 Review

In this Kodak Portra 800 review, I’ll explain to you how I use this film and in what situations you should load it into your camera.

Portra 800 is a very fast professional-quality film and the price reflects this but when you are looking to shoot a special occasion then this is the film for you!

Low-Light Versatility
Natural Skin Tones and Fine Grain
Wide Exposure Latitude

Introducing Kodak Portra 800

Introducing Kodak Portra 800

Kodak Portra 800 is a color-negative film designed for professional-grade use. It makes an excellent addition to many film photographers’ gear bags as a low-light film and one that is surprisingly versatile.

The History of Kodak Portra 800

In 1998, Kodak released the Portra 160, 400, and 800. They provide a lineup of speed choices and balance options for film enthusiasts and professionals.

Portra 160 and 400 get the most attention due to perceived higher versatility. But even the low-light-focused 800 performs well in many conditions.

Since its introduction, Kodak has introduced upgraded versions of the Portra lineup. The brand stays committed to ongoing excellence.

Key Features of Kodak Portra 800

The Portra 800 is a speed color negative film. It is part of a rare segment of film classes with an 800 rating. As you can tell from the name, the Portra 800 has an ISO of 800. This high ISO rating helps capture quick-shutter images in low-light environments without a fuss.

It comes in 35 mm format with 36 exposures per roll. And is an excellent choice for portrait and fashion photography, but I was surprised by its performance in other uses.

The Technical Aspects of Kodak Portra 800

The Technical Aspects of Kodak Portra 800

As you can likely relate, most film photographers understand that minute details can make a big difference. And that’s why I take my time to dive through the Portra 800’s specifications.

One thing to know from this Portra 800 review is that it uses Vision2 technology. The other Portra films have stepped up to Vision3. Although we wish the 800 was updated, the difference is minimal.

Breaking Down the ISO of Kodak Portra 800

As an 800 ISO film, this Portra does well in challenging light situations where using a tripod or other extended shutter speeds isn’t easy. It walks a tight-rope balancing act between ISO and speed that is hard to match.

Kodak Portra 800: Grain and Color Reproduction Analysis

While the 800 won’t have the extremely-fine grain of the 160, it still offers very-fine grain that doesn’t distract from the result. Compared to other low-light films, I was amazed by the Portra 800’s grain.

Although this film can produce some grain in the unfocused areas of the shots, the results with the Portra 800 are clean. Of course, when you enlarge the photos to the extreme, these little details become more visible.

The saturation of the Portra 800 is supposed to be well-balanced, which I found to be true. Once again, I expected a noticeably worse saturation against the Portra 400, but that wasn’t the case.

The Aesthetic Qualities of Kodak Portra 800

The Aesthetic Qualities of Kodak Portra 800
Photo by Michele Palombi

One of the most critical features of any film is the overall aesthetic. Kodak knocks it out of the park in this regard since the Portra 800 can replicate natural skin tones, vibrant colors, and superb sharpness.

I put this through a wide range of shooting conditions for this Portra 800 review, expecting to be let down with at least one set of results. That didn’t happen.

The Color Profile of Kodak Portra 800: An In-Depth Examination

I put the Portra 800 through the wringer. Even after pushing high-contrast situations, the results were spectacular. It has no problems capturing vibrant oranges and reds while providing a balanced contrast.

The skin tones were natural across many subjects and lighting conditions. Even the sharpness left nothing to want.

Grain Structure of Kodak Portra 800: A Close Inspection

Grain Structure of Kodak Portra 800
Photo by kenzoooo

As expected from a high-ISO film, the Portra 800 does have a more visible grain structure. Some high-speed film alternatives are designed for lower ISO use. Having said that, it far exceeded my expectations, and in most shots, the grain was nearly on par with the 400 series film.

If you wish to minimize grain at all costs, this Portra 800 review shows it’s not the ideal film. It’s also going to leave a grainy image, especially in the unfocused areas, on anything that’s enlarged to an extreme degree.

Kodak Portra 800 in Various Photographic Contexts

Understanding the best situation for your film is the only way to bring out the best shots. When I tested the Portra 800, I used it in varied situations. These include portraits from near and far, landscapes, and plenty of low-light environments.

Overall, it proved a versatile film that didn’t cause me to avoid using it in any particular situation. But there were some areas that I felt proved stronger than others.

Portraits With Kodak Portra 800

Portraits With Kodak Portra 800
Photo by Sandy Phimester

Nailing portrait photography isn’t an easy task. Between the spectrum of skin tones, the need to capture raw emotion, and the varying degrees of sharpness required, finding the right film can be a challenge.

My favorite aspect of the Portra 800 concerning portraits is the ability to hit the skin tones right. The rich saturation and sharpness also captured the shot I was going after.

Landscape Photography Using Kodak Portra 800

Landscape Photography Using Kodak Portra 800
Photo by Furio Zazen

When the golden hour rolls around, it’s hard for me to be inside or away from my camera. But sometimes the light shifts, and I can’t step up the ISO as I wish.

This Portra 800 review shows that’s where it shines. It did great with mid-day shots, especially with a bit of overexposure, but the golden hour brilliance came through well on this film. It extends the time, adding valuable minutes to this critical time of day.

Kodak Portra 800: A Go-To Film for Tripod-Free Low-Light Situations

Kodak Portra 800: A Go-To Film for Tripod-Free Low-Light Situations
Photo by Joe Benjamin

The Portra 800 offers the highest ISO in the Kodak Portra professional film lineup. There’s no doubt its low-light performance is where it stands out the most.

As most of us know from learning to deal with low light as a film photographer, this can be quite difficult. Getting the proper film can make a major difference.

And the Portra 800 captures those brilliant moments when you can’t rely on a vivid natural light source. It also works when you can’t use a tripod to draw out the shutter speed.

Comparing Kodak Portra 800 to Other Color Films

Comparing Kodak Portra 800 to Other Color Films

Before buying any film, sizing them up against the competition is a must. Let’s see how Portra 800 stacks up against one in the same range, plus a bitter rival with similar specs.

Kodak Portra 800 vs. Portra 400: A Head-to-Head Comparison

The Kodak Portra line has three options that are all noteworthy. These high-quality films are capable of taking professional-level photos. But the Portra 800 is for those low-light situations, whereas the Portra 400 is a more well-rounded film.

The Portra 400 is less grainy and better for enlarging shots. After using both, I’m still not sure that the 800 gets its deserved spotlight because it is capable.

Kodak Portra 800 vs. CineStill Film 800 Tungsten: A Battle of the 800s

CineStill Film is reformatted movie stock prepared for still camera use. Ideally, it uses tungsten, fluorescent, or incandescent light. To use it in natural light conditions, a filter plus a lower ISO is ideal.

The Portra 800 has no such limitation. It provides a better balance of highlights. Even in challenging natural light situations, it performs well.

Developing and Scanning Kodak Portra 800: Practical Guidelines

Developing and Scanning

In general, I didn’t find any tricky elements of developing or scanning Portra 800 photos. Due to its sharp, vibrant shots, it was a breeze to work with. It required almost no adjustment after scanning, which is exactly how I like my film photography to work.

Essential Tips for Developing Kodak Portra 800

One crucial tip for using Portra 800 is that since the 800 ISO film can be more grainy than alternatives, it’s not the best choice for enlarged photos.

Low-Light Versatility
Natural Skin Tones and Fine Grain
Wide Exposure Latitude

Conclusion: Portra 800 Review

Conclusion: Portra 800 Review

After using the Kodak Portra 800 film for various shots and purposes, I was surprised by its versatility. It doesn’t get the credit it deserves, far surpassing my expectations for a high-ISO film.

Not only did it perform exceptionally well in the targeted low-light conditions, but it also did so without a grainy appearance. It captures skin tones well and offers vibrant contrast and sharpness. This Portra 800 review found that even the saturation during overexposed mid-day shots was spot on.

Evaluating the Kodak Portra 800’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Portra 800 is great as a film. It can meet your low-light, fast shutter needs, but yet can also work as a relatively versatile and professional-level film. While it’s not ideal for enlarged photos and does have a little more grain than alternatives, Portra 800 is still an excellent choice.

Identifying the Ideal Kodak Portra 800 User

The ideal user of the Portra 800 is someone looking for a low-light film that can handle fast shutter speeds. You need to be comfortable dealing with the grain and have a wide range of settings that you can capture. Portra 800 also works if you are looking for something versatile enough to handle most situations.

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