35mm color negative film – Fuji or Kodak?

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While today’s color film selections are more limited than they were 25 years ago, there are still some excellent color negative films available. I will limit my discussion to the two most dominant brands today: Fuji and Kodak color negative film. There are various film types and speeds to choose from within each brand, so let’s just dive in and make some comparisons.

Portrait Films: FujiFilm Pro 400H vs Kodak Portra 400

This pair of color negative films is a good starting point, and the folks at fstopppers.com published an article in August with a short video by Film Supply Club that compares these two films. I have shot Portra 400 in the past and admit that it is my preference between the two. And as Braedon Flynn points out in the video, it all comes down to a matter of preference. In viewing the video (which may not be a very good comparison) I saw that the Fuji Pro 400H appeared consistently cooler and at times with more of a magenta cast than the Portra 400.

The images shot in the video were exposed at ISO 200 as Braedon pointed out that the Fujifilm Pro 400H performed better with one stop of overexposure, and the Kodak Portra 400 could handle the same overexposure with no problem. In fact, most negative films have a greater tolerance for overexposure than underexposure.  So unless you need the speed of the rated ISO for a given film, mild overexposure will yield rich negatives that print well and a bit more contrast in the final print.

Consumer grade films: Fujicolor C200 vs Kodak GOLD 200

These films are commonly found at the grocery store or neighborhood pharmacy, and are easy on the wallet. If you are looking for a retro-style type of photograph either of these would help get you there, being reminiscent of the snapshots and vacation pictures of yesteryear.

Both of these films have more grain than the pro grade films. They also fare better when overexposed by one f-stop, and the C200 has a particularly wide exposure latitude that handles this well. While Kodak Gold 200 can be overexposed by several stops, shadow areas tend to have a blue cast. Another benefit of Gold 200 is a more natural appearance of skin tones.

Consumer grade films: Fujifilm Superia Xtra 400 vs Kodak Ultramax 400

These high speed color negative films are still considered consumer grade, and the Superia Xtra 400 does better when overexposed (thus effectively decreasing the film sensitivity to ISO 200 or even 100). The Kodak Ultramax 400 has less color shifting tendencies than Superia Xtra 400, but both have some issues with skin tone reproduction. Both of these budget films tend to be grainy too. We get what we pay for, and for snapshots these films work just fine. For more critical work it may be worth spending a bit more for more accurate color tones and finer grain.

Cheapest Film: Kodak Color Plus 200

This film competes directly with Fujicolor C200 and yet it is lower quality and is less accurate in color rendition than Gold 200. Also used by street photographers just like Gold 200, this is a budget-friendly film that is useful for that style of photography. It would be worth the time and effort to shoot a roll of each to determine if one or the other is a good fit for you. As with the professional grade films, it all comes down to personal preference.

Conclusion

Developing an eye for composition, developing your own color film at home, or just shooting color negative film for fun begs for the use of budget-priced color film. As I stated earlier, it would be a worthwhile project to shoot a roll of each film that you are interested in to see what you get.  Budget films are great for practice becasue they are inexpensive. So it makes sense to pick up a few rolls of budget film for these “practice” purposes.

On the other hand, if you want to do something more serious with color negative film it would be wise to spend a bit more for a pro film of whichever brand you are interested in using. This is especially true for photographing portraits, because the pro films like Kodak Portra and FujiFilm Pro 400H are specifically designed to reproduce the most natural looking skin tones.

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Happy Shooting!

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