Back in the days when the film was the most popular way of taking photos, Kodak popularly had three consumer-grade films in the market – ColorPlus 200, Gold 200, and UltraMax 400. Of the three, the Kodak UltraMax 400 was the most expensive and easily the most overlooked one. Previously, it was also known as Kodacolor Gold 400, and then Kodak Gold 400 before Kodak settled for Kodal UltraMax. Only those who really spent some time using the UltraMax 400 know how versatile, consistent, and color accurate the experience with the film was.
The Kodak UltraMax 400 is by no means a professional grade film. In fact, it is a general-purpose film. Yet, the great thing about this film is that it gets the job done without any fuss. It was designed by Kodak to be a worry-free, easy-to-use, high-speed film for snapshooters. And boy, did they do a great job or what?
What makes the UltraMax 400 noteworthy is the results that you get with it. The fine grain structure, deep and balanced color saturation, great color accuracy, and wide exposure latitude makes working with this film a great experience.
Image Characteristics of Kodak UltraMax 400
The first thing you can tell about the film before popping a roll in your camera is its ISO rating of 400. Compared to the ColorPlus 200 and Gold 200 that have an ISO rating of 200, the UltraMax has an ISO rating of 400 and is faster by a whole stop than the former two. In simpler terms, the UltraMax is twice as sensitive to light than the two. The higher ISO rating is one of the prime reasons why the UltraMax is so versatile, as you get fewer images that are underexposed when using the film.
Greater ISO means that the images produced by UltraMax are not very smooth like the professional and more expensive Provia or the Ektar. The grains are quite noticeable in the images. However, they have a fine structure and are quite good-looking, to be honest. Personally, I like them a lot and feel that they give a certain personality to the image.
If you want minimal grain in your images, just be sure to expose the image well. Keep an eye on the camera’s light meter, or use an external light meter if your camera doesn’t have one. With a good amount of light, the grain is never overbearing. You can even try overexposing the film by a stop or two. You’ll be surprised by the results you can get this way. However, you will notice a slight yellow color cast if the film is overexposed too much.
Outdoor portrait taken with the Kodak UltraMax 400 in good daylight by Konstantin Surovov
Another advantage that ISO 400 has is that it allows you to use freeze your subject with crisp details intact. Since the UltraMax is already sensitive enough, you can use your lens at higher f-stops and with the camera set at faster shutter speed. This is a big deal for street photographers.
The higher ISO rating of the Kodak UltraMax also goes well with zoom lenses. You can tackle the camera shakes that creep in when using the telephoto end of the lens by using faster shutter speed. This again helps you deliver crisp, clear, and sharp images.
The colors from the Kodak UltraMax 400 come out well saturated and are a bit on the warmer side; a typical Kodak look. When compared to output from professional films, the results from Kodak UltraMax 400 appear to have a slightly higher saturation. Kodak did this to appeal to the mass consumers who generally love to see colors pop in the images. Like most Kodak films, its warm tones make the UltraMax a good portrait film and its strong saturation works well for landscapes as well.
One of the nice traits that the UltraMax 400 has colorwise is the fact that the color intensity is evenly distributed. You will not find that some colors stand out more than others. The balance is perfect. In comparison, Fuji Superia 400 is more biased towards the reds and the greens.
When it comes to color accuracy, the UltraMax 400 is tough to beat. Colors are true to life and are pleasing to look at. But when it comes to contrast, the images lack a punch. This is not much of a concern for me as I prefer to work with files that are flat. Remember, you can always add contrast in post.
I especially love the way it renders skin tones. No matter what kind of skin tones you throw at it, the Kodak UltraMax 400 reproduces it graciously. However, you will need to ensure that you are exposing it correctly. Incorrect exposures will show a mild color shift. But they can be corrected easily if you are planning to scan the negatives.
Indoor portrait taken with the Kodak UltraMax 400 by Ashley Jensen
If color accuracy is of high importance, keep in mind that the UltraMax 400 is daylight balanced (5500K). So, if you’re shooting it in different light sources, like mixed light, the colors will be off. This is a normal and expected behavior.
Indoor portrait taken with the Kodak UltraMax 400 in mixed light indoors by Hien Huynh
The Kodal UltraMax 400 has a pretty solid exposure latitude. The wide exposure latitude of the film ensures that just by shooting at the film’s box speed, you will end up getting well exposed images. It is difficult to go wrong with the film when using at box speed. Also, the fact that it is DX coded, cameras with auto-exposure can automatically set the ISO to 400, all ready to take some fantastic images.
You can easily overexpose the film up to 3-stops while retaining ample highlight details. However, I did notice that overexposed images have a slight yellow color cast on them, especially the skin tones.
Reasons to Shoot with the Kodak UltraMax 400
The Kodak UltraMax 400 was designed to be a consumer-grade film, and it is. But, the fact that it can stand toe-to-toe against the professional-grade films at a much cheaper rate alone speaks volumes about how good this film is.
Consistency and predictability are other areas where this film shines. When taking an image, it is very important that you know what you are going to get. This is even more important for a film camera now that we have been spoiled with the comfort of using digital cameras. The film delivers consistently good exposure with great color accuracy and saturation. However, since the film is daylight balanced, you will want to account for the light sources you’re using when taking photos.
Availability is another key strength of this film. No matter what film you use, you’d want it to be easily available, right? Well, you can get the Kodak UltraMax 400 easily in almost every camera store, online stores like Amazon, B&H, and Adorama, and even in local drugstores. Once you get the hang of using the Kodal UltraMax 400, you can rest assured that you won’t need to look too hard to get more supplies.
As easy as it is to purchase the film, it is equally easy to find a lab where you can get the negatives developed and the photos printed. The film is designed for processing in Kodak Flexicolor chemicals for Process C-41 which basically means that every lab should be able to develop the film for you.
Kodak Ultramax 400 Sample Photos
Final Verdict on the Kodak UltraMax 400
The Kodak UltraMax 400 is indeed the ultimate consumer-grade film that delivers a hasslefree photo-taking experience. If you are all about taking photos without having to worry if the photos are properly exposed or not, you must give the UltraMax 400 a try. The higher ISO rating and the wide exposure latitude of the film will ensure that your photos come out crisp and well exposed.
It is a versatile film, good for daylight and lowlight shooting. It also features Kodak’s slightly warm tones that make it an ideal portrait film. And if you are into landscapes, you will love the saturated look in your images. The somewhat flatter appearance is also a big plus if you are into scanning and editing your images, as this provides greater control over the final look of the image.
Whether you are a professional or a beginner, this is one of the best budget films out there. I totally love it and I feel that if you are into film photography, you must give the Kodak UltraMax 400 a try for sure.