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Kodak Pro image 100 & Portra 160 review - Portrait shoot out

Now that I have FINALLY settled on some camera kit that I’ll be keeping around for the long term I can focus my energies on exploring different film stocks - not that I wasn’t doing that anyway but I was finding flitting from one camera to the next a bit of a distraction, for the record the cameras which have won my heart are the Nikon F2 and Pentax 67 - today’s blog features a portrait shoot on the F2 shooting with a shiny new portrait lens and using two different film stocks Kodak Pro Image 100 (a new film to me) and Kodak Portra 160 (a film I have used a few times before)

Whilst the main focus of the conversation will be on looking at the two film stocks first up I’ll take a moment to show you the kit I used on this shoot, I’ll then take you through the shoot itself.

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I have just bought the very wonderful Nikkor 105mm 2.5 a lens which has a HUGE reputation as an amazing portrait lens, when i bought it the focus ring was quite stiff so I sent it off for repair to a chap called Miles Whitehead who did a great job of fixing it and it now has silky smooth focus action - I would highly recomment Miles if you have some camera kit in need of some TLC check his site out HERE. In fact as I write this I am reminded that Miles also serviced my F2 when I bought it so double thanks!! :)

I was originally going to include a few thoughts on the 105mm lens in todays blog but I loved using it so much that I think I’ll reserve that for a dedicated blog all of it’s own - suffice it to say that it’s reputation is very well earned, an amazing piece of glass!

Ideal for portrait, weddings and social events dontcha know…..

Ideal for portrait, weddings and social events dontcha know…..

I think most people will be familiar with Kodak Portra 160 which is a mainstay of Kodak’s professional line up, but what’s this Pro Image 100 all about? I’ve been shooting a lot of Portra 400 and 160 recently and whilst I love both film stocks I am always interested in trying new things and the results I’d seen from Pro Image appealed to me - the other great thing about Pro Image is the price! I got this for £25.95 for 5 rolls!

This film stock has only recently come to the UK/European market - despite being around since the mid 90’s, the stock was only sold in warmer climates, big thanks to the good folks at Nik & Trick for being instrumental in making the case to Kodak for getting this film available in Europe :)

Ok so I have a lovely film camera - check, a great portrait lens - check, a shiny new colour film - check, a beautiful location to shoot in….check! What’s next? I need someone to photograph! Fortunately I’m part of a great facebook group for photographers and models to network and arrange shoots - Danni is someone I met through this group and we’ve shot together before when i was testing out my Pentax 645, you can see those images HERE.

Also worth mentioning at this point that i had my films processed and scanned by the good folks at Exposure Film Lab who I must thank again for their brilliant work, I use them for all my colour films these days because I just love the results I get from them - check them out HERE

The vibe for this shoot was a really natural summer look to make the most of the bright sunshine, we had a beautiful location filled with light, flowers, tall grass and trees - let’s GO!

First up i loaded Kodak Pro Image 100…

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Ok then at this stage in the proceedings the word at the forefront in my mind is wow! Danni is a very talented Model which makes my job much easier and the Pro Image film is just lovely :) Let’s move on to the Portra 160 which I loaded up next and we’ll do a bit of a comparsion at the end, here’s the Portra shots…

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The entire shoot lasted about an hour (if that) we went for a stroll through some lovely scenery and together we created some properly beautiful portraits full of light and life! Danni is a great model she did a brilliant job on this shoot, she puts lots of character into her work and is just a natural in front of camera, this really shines through the images - we’ve worked together before which I think always helps so we’re relaxed and comfortable working together and meant we were able to just get right into it and enjoy the shoot. I’m over the moon with the photos we created together - thank you Danni :) Check out her portfolio HERE.

In summary then both film stocks are clearly capable of wonderfully sharp, textured images with great skin tones, colour balance, contrast and detail - I therefore love them both! They each have their own look so whilst they’re comparable I think there are some differences to take into consideration. This was never intended as a ‘one film versus the other’ contest in which we have a winner and a loser but rather an opportunity to look at how these two film stocks worked under the same conditions - to that end I simply invite you to make your own mind up which you like best - or maybe like me, you like them both?!

Here’s a few of my thoughts on each stock:

Pro Image 100 - it has a wonderful grain structure, punchy contrast and I love how it handles the greens and yellows, shadows perhaps not holding as much detail as portra, it has a classic film ‘look’

Portra 160 - minimal grain as you’d expect from portra, slightly muted colour palette although in these images it produced stronger contrast than I’d expected, Portra definitely holds on to more shadow detail and also perhaps slightly sharper.

What does all this show us then? Well they’re very close actually, much closer than I’d have thought! One aspect which does create an opportunity for comparison is the price with a five pack of Portra 160 retailing at around £35.99 and a five pack of Pro Image around £25.95 then clearly if budget is the deal breaker then Pro Image is your winner, if you absolutely must squeeze every bit of detail out of the shot then perhaps Portra is the one to choose - ultimately we’re all winners here as we in the UK now have access to the lovely Pro Image and I’ve got 4 more rolls sat waiting to go! I can’t wait to shoot it again.

Portraits on film - Night shoot with Cinestill 800T and Lomography 800 Colour

Sharing details of another portrait shoot, this is part of a major ongoing series I’ll be working on as a I rebuild my portfolio - it gives me an opportunity to share some insights on the cameras/films I’m using, the story behind the shoot itself as well as a place to share those photos which might not make it into my main portfolio.

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Having made the switch to full time film only and also recently adopting the very wonderful Pentax 67 as my main camera I have been keen as mustard to rebuild my portfolio, to explore the creative possibilities (and challenges) that shooting with film offers and basically have a shed load of fun along the way :) To that end I have been seeking out opportunities to collaborate with some of the very creative souls I am fortunate enough to know - hence this series of blogs! :)

This shoot was for my mate Paul who is a Music Producer under the pseudonym ‘Gamma Prime’ he’s been working on some new material and wanted a set of publicity images to help promote the new work.

The idea was to shoot at night and make use of available artificial lighting to add some creativity to the portraits, this assignment called for some special film stocks - Cinestill 800T and Lomography 800 and I also used a roll of Kodak Portra 400 too. I’ll give you a bit of an overview of these film stocks along the way and some thoughts on their particular qualities in use. I hadn’t used either the Cinestill of Lomo films before so I was excited to try them out - Cinestill is an expensive option and Lomo is more of a budget offering so we’ll see how they stacked up against each other.

First thing to consider when shooting in low light/night time is to take account of sunset! Golden hour light is there for the taking either side of the actual sunset so before I broke out the Cinestill and Lomo films I used a roll of Kodak Portra 400 to snag some of that golden hour light.

Kodak Portra 400

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Shooting with the Pentax 67 you only get 10 frames per roll of film so you really have to make each frame count! As the light fell I loaded the roll of Lomography 800 and since we were still in golden hour I used the first few frames here. At this point it’s worth stating that in a stand up contest Portra 400 vs Lomo 800 there’s really not a huge amount in it, they’re both great films although I think Portra has the edge - crisp grain structure as you’d expect from portra and shadows hold up well with lots of detail. That being said the Lomo film is no slouch and it has a very definite character and feel all it’s own.

Lomography 800

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We drove into town for the night shots and took a walk through the University Campus to take advantage of the artificial lighting and interesting architectural features. These first couple of frames are still on Lomo 800 and I really like how they came out - a very definite grain charachter which I like very much, shadows don’t hang on to too much detail but in this artificial lighting I think it adds to the effect.

Lomography 800

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The images below are all shot on Cinestill 800T - this film stock is repackaged motion picture film, the stuff they use to make Hollywood movies! I was very excited to try it out and it did not dissapoint! the letter ‘T’ in it’s name designates that it’s a Tungsten balanced film so it was designed to be shot under artificial lighting - as you can see the tonality and detail are really great here.

Cinestill 800T

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Note my iphone acting as a fill light here! Focussing was getting a little difficult as it got darker so this helped - I’m thinking of getting a little LED light to help in future

Note my iphone acting as a fill light here! Focussing was getting a little difficult as it got darker so this helped - I’m thinking of getting a little LED light to help in future

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Cinestill 800T has been processed to remove the Anti Halation layer which in some conditions gives lighting a strange glow, it also appears quite prone to light leaks as you can see on the left side of the above image - although in this case I kind of like the effect!

This shoot was planned as a portrait shoot for a friend to create some promotional images for his work as a Music Prodcuer - you can check out Paul’s music HERE :)

I hadn’t planned to compare and contrast these film stocks but the differences between the final images and the way I shot them presented the opportunity to reflect on the different charachters of each stock, overall I like all of these films and very happy with how they came out - here’s my thoughts on each in turn:

Portra 400 - what is there to say about this film which hasn’t been said already? It’s a classic for a reason and is one of my firm faves - clean grain, great details and rich colours. I’m tempted to explore how flexible this film stock is maybe pushing it to 800 and beyond in lower light to see how it coped. Portra is my go to film, a quality product capable of wonderful results.

Lomo 800 - this was a bit of a wildcard choice and it’s a very solid performer, espeically when you consider the price for a pack of three rolls of 120 is about £18. I shot it in good light and in low light in both situations it doesn’t hold up shadow detail as well as the other two stocks but this shouldn’t put you off, the grain structure is more prominent than either Kodak or Cinestill but this is also not bad news - it gives the film a look all it’s own which is good.

Cinestill 800T - this film blows me away - I love the colours, contrast and tones but more importantly for these shots it’s how the film handles shadows with details holding up really clearly even in very low light, it’s expensive stuff that’s for sure but it’s definitely worth a shot in the right conditions. It’s proneness to light leaking could be annoying if you have ‘THE’ killer shot and some random leaks could spoil your hard work - on the other hand it could just add something to the image!

It’s worth stating at this point that I was really pleased with how the Pentax 67 worked on this shoot, I was able to achieve useable images down to 1/30 of a second in low light which pleases me very much! The 105mm 2.4 lens continues to impress me with it’s ability to create 3D like images with pristime sharpness and beautiful bokeh too.

I have some more creative portrait shoots lining up over the next few months so I’ll be continuing the portraits shot on film series and looking forward to exploring more wonderful film stocks!

Shooting 35mm film in the studio

Using film in the studio is a really enjoyable experience, I was fortunate to be asked to second shoot my friend and fellow Photographer Ruth's fashion shoot in her studio a while back and had the opportunity to grab a few shots of very awesome model, Zivvy. All of the black and white shots were taken on Fuji Acros 100 film on a Canon EOS 3 camera, all the colour images on a Canon 6D DSLR.

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I love working in the studio - it's a real treat, most of the time I shoot on location which requires some flexibility in your approach to allow for all sorts of variables in lighting and the general randomness that comes from shooting on location (although that is part of the fun)! However in the studio YOU are in full control!  In these images there are three studio strobes - one either side and another overhead, with a fourth light providing a backlight to the white background so there's a lot to take into consideration, it's an exercise in balancing and shaping light to achieve a certain effect depending on the look you're trying to achieve. I take no credit for coming up with the concept or the lighting arrangements for this shoot - that was all Ruth!

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It can take a while to get your lighting and composition worked out even when using a digital camera with the benefit of being able to instantly review  your shot, the process becomes slightly more protracted when using film, which is why I recommend using a combined approach - shoot film AND digital!

Back in the day photographers would often use a polaroid camera (or back for their medium format camera) to assess how the light was falling on their subject, polaroid is still available but it's expensive stuff, you can also get flash meters but they're not cheap either so I used my Canon 6D DSLR to meter the shots and judge the lighting - think of it as a digital polaroid! :)

Zivvy, Gav and Ruth reviewing the mood board and deciding on final styling

Zivvy, Gav and Ruth reviewing the mood board and deciding on final styling

As second shooter I took some behind the scenes photos on my 6D as Ruth, Zivvy and Gav the Hair Stylist did their thing - I really enjoy shooting candid, reportage images like this as it shows the hard work that goes in to making the final images - it's normal to spend a long time getting ready for even a simple shot and it's all part of the creative process that often gets missed out, behind the scenes shooting allows you to tell that story.

Zivvy trying out some vintage bling

Zivvy trying out some vintage bling

The key to a successful model shoot is not lighting, or kit it's....wait for it.... team work! Your ability to communicate, collaborate and ultimately create with the stylist, model, hair and make up artist is fundamental, I was fortunate in that Ruth had put together a great team and concept (and also put her make up skills to good use), Zivvy is a very talented model and the hair stylist Gav was also awesome, having a good team of people working together towards a shared goal is much more important that a whizzbang camera or lens or whatever (although of course they're nice to have too) ;)

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In order to integrate my digital and film sets ups when working in the studio I used a Canon EOS3 which has exactly the same mounts, inputs as the 6D so i could use the same lenses and flash triggers switching between film and digital as required, nice and simple it's no good spending ages faffing about trying to get ancient film gear to talk to modern studio lighting whilst the model, Hair and MUA, stylist et al are waiting for me to figure it all out, I like to shoot quickly and keep the energy going as I think this translates to the final images so having a fully integrated set up is a real bonus.

All of the black and white images you see here are Fuji Acros 100 35mm film which I semi stand developed myself in Adonal (on reflection probably not the best developer/process for the job as it's known to bring out the grain of the film and Acros is renowned for being smooth - next time I'll use something else)! I love the high contrast though!

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After the shoot I had a couple of frames left so I used them up around the studio.....

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Fuji Acros 100 is a lovely film, I kind of wish I'd been more patient and bought some more appropriate developer/used a more appropriate process but I was impatient to see the final images! Don't get me wrong though I love the images and am very happy with them I just think that a developer like Xtol or D76 would've made for a smoother finish perhaps - oh well! live and learn!

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Of course I wasn't just metering with the 6D - I enjoy digital photography very very much also, here are a few of my digital shots...

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So that's it then - I hope you've enjoyed this latest blog post. I'm really looking forward to working with a combination of film and digital cameras in the studio again soon :)