I Shot a Roll of Kodak Portra 160 on the Contax S2

Jan 14, 2020
4 min read

After lurking on the Contax S2 for a while, I finally got myself one as 33rd birthday present back in November. There’s been a lot of debate in my head on which version should I get – the S2 with its spot meter or the S2b with a standard center-weighted meter. The decision was rather easy to take as I didn’t have the funds to get the S2b, which costs nearly the double!

So I clicked on the Buy Now button and waited for my new Contax S2 to travel from Japan… A few days and a salty custom tax later, it finally arrived so I rushed out for a first run loaded with Kodak Portra 160.

Portra 160 is notorious for its warm tones and low contrast which blends perfectly with the diffused late fall light we had at this time of the year. Even though its winter, here on the French Riviera, we are lucky to have lot of sun and light, so shooting a slow film isn’t really an issue throughout the year.

Grain is the finest of all three Portra’s as one could expect and is noticeable just enough to give that texture and softness we all love about film.

Portra 160 reminds me a bit of Kodak Pro Image 100, especially on the blue tones like on this roll I shot a while ago on my Leica M3. Though they may look alike in some situations, Pro Image 100 doesn’t play in the same league. Pro image 100 has a little more saturation, contrast and grain. While I really enjoy this cheaper alternative to Portra, it doesn’t come close to what you can get out of Portra 160, especially when it comes to skin tones.

In my early days as film photographer, I used to favour Ektar 100 for its vivid colours and high contrast. That was also because Ektar was easier to scan than Portra on my Epson V550. I never managed to get satisfying results when scanning Portra and always had to do some serious colour correction to my scans to get decent results.

But now that I’m sending all my colour films to Nation Photo, I don’t have to worry about that anymore and can finally enjoy all the benefits of a professional film like Portra 160!

It may be tempting to think that shooting a pro film will necessarily lead to better images, but to take full advantage of this professional emulsion, you need to use a scanner able to capture more details and a wider dynamic range than any basic flatbed scanner will ever be capable of.

I’m not saying that all flatbed scanners should burn in hell, and some of you may even have found a way to get results that you’re happy with a scanner like the Epson V550. However, those of you who’ve never shot Portra before, just be aware that it’s more demanding to scan than a cheaper consumer film, like Kodak Gold 200 or ColorPlus 200 for instance.

Metering can be challenging with this S2 if you’re not used to the spot metering system. The smallest movement can drastically change the exposure and it can cause some confusion at first to say the least when looking through the S2’s viewfinder. Though since this first roll with S2, I’ve had the opportunity to shoot a little more with it and start getting used to acquainted with. We’re not BFF yet but we don’t hate each anymore!

In this case the spot meter was quite useful to meter for the shadows, which is what’s often recommended to get the best out of most C41 color film.

I’ll get back to that in detail in a future review about the S2 but it’s not as bad as I was complaining in this post 😂

All these were shot with either a Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.7 or Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135mm f/2.8 and processed at Nation Photo.

Portra 160 is still fairly new to me and even though it’s not my favourite colour film, yet, I quite like how it looks and easily see myself shooting it more often in the future.

Before you go, I’d be curious to know which of the Portra is you favorite? I’m assume the 400 will be the number answer but wonder if any of you have made of the Portra 160 their go to film.


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