Back in 2018 I shot my first roll of Fujifilm Superia Venus 800, and loved it so much I swore I would never need to shoot any other ISO 800 colour negative film, until they discontinued it that is. As a replacement I started to shoot the less expensive Lomo 800, but I did wonder about the other more expensive 800 films available, like Cinestill 800T and Kodak Portra 800, were they worth the extra cash ? So at some expense I bought a single roll of each and decided I would do some sort of comparison, at some point, when I could get around to it, well actually they just sat in my fridge.
That is until Simon Forster of The Classic Lenses and The LFPP fame, invited me along with a couple of others from Alsager Camera Club to do an evening shoot around Merseyside. I say ‘invite’ but basically they needed somebody to act as a guide to the local chip shops. Here though, was an opportunity, to finally do that comparison of ISO 800 films, yay !
As a group we ended up taking photos overlooking the River Mersey, which in the end took up most of the evening, however as I ‘thought’ we would mostly be shooting in street situations I chose 3 SLR’s with wide lenses;
All those in one big bag plus a tripod, it was a fair old weight to lug round for sure, thankfully we did more chip shop dining than walking.
All the films were shot in four locations, the first two with the group and the second two on my own;
- On the shore at New Brighton during blue hour
- Looking across the River Mersey to Liverpool from Seacombe Ferry after dark.
- Around Rock Ferry pier in the daytime.
- At home on a dark day with tungsten lighting.
Kodak Portra 800 (Nikon F80 & VR Zoom)
Kodak claims Portra 800 has well balanced saturation, very fine grain and best in class under exposure latitude, understandably it is recommended for long lenses and low light situations. It is a modern T grain emulsion for daylight or flash use at ISO 800, including development accelerators and dye sensitisation in the mix to help achieve the film speed and relatively fine grain. Retail the film goes for around (gulp) £15 per roll of 36 exp, a price that might be difficult to justify for regular amateur use.
Cinestill 800Tungsten (Minolta XD-S & 28mm f2)
This film from Cinestill is not merely repackaged Kodak Vision 3 500T, rather it has been processed such that it can be simply processed in C41 chemistry, rather than the more cumbersome ECN2 that entails remjet removal. A tungsten balanced film to be rated at 800 ISO at 3200K, or shot at 500 ISO using a No. 85 warming filter in daylight circa 5500K. In my case I only had an 85b filter which I thought would be close enough with only 200K difference. Cinestill provides instructions for pushing the film up to 3 stops, I didn’t do that this time, but its certainly something to think about for the future. This film retails around the £13/36 exp mark in the UK, a bit better than Portra, but still enough to make you think twice I would think.
Lomography Color Negative 800 (Nikon FM3A & 24mm f2)
What is this film ? Lomo don’t tell us much, and I’m not sure I can say much in detail either, although I suspect it is a repackaged older Kodak consumer grade emulsion. I see this as a good thing though, as it’s not really available to buy elsewhere, so it’s kind of unique in that respect. Belonging to the Lomo Color Negative range of films, the ISO 800 version is perhaps not surprisingly promoted for use in low light conditions and of course for use with Lomo’s wide range of 35mm cameras. At around £28 for a pack of 3 rolls of 36 exp it’s considerably less expensive than the other 2 films being tested, so you would expect the VFM to be it’s USP, or is price it’s only quality …. we shall see below !
All three films were developed simultaneously in Tetenal Colortec C41 chemistry. Scanning was with a Nikon D750 and processing was carried out with Lightroom and the Neg Lab Pro plug-in.
The ‘vision’ was to take the same 36 photos with each of the three cameras. However the difficulties of working in the dark, a heavy bag and changing light conditions meant that the shots between cameras did get out of step somewhat at times, so please forgive me if not all the photos shown in the comparison galleries to compare are not exactly the same or miss out one of the 800 films.
I think the first thing to point out is how well all three films perform considering these are ISO 800 colour negative films, yes they all have visible grain, but nothing unpleasant at all, after all it is film, and us analogue shooters we like grain, right ? If you really want low grain, then I guess Porta just wins that particular race.
The detail from all 3 films is good too apart from when the light really gets low, but that’s to be expected. Take a look at those flowers, pretty amazing I thought, again I’d say Porta takes the result on that one too, but not by much, its pretty close between the three of them.
In terms of colour rendition, I find this one a really tricky one to assess, if it was possible for little old me to assess the negatives, then maybe I could make some comment about how they perform without any influences from scanning and processing. In addition Cinestill 800T is primarily designed for indoor lit situations, yet I’ve shot it here 90% of the time outdoors, yes some was at night with artificial lights, but still its not easy to assess, especially as I didn’t have the exact warming filter.
So I can only assess colour rendition as I see it, as I’ve processed it. Cinestill seemed to me to be the furthest away from reality, but given the above caveats its perhaps understandable. Of the other two I thought Portra gave nice colours, a touch more intense than Lomo, but perhaps surprisingly I thought Lomo was the most natural, had you asked me before hand I would have said it was likely to be the other way round. Like the other factors though, its very close and totally a personal preference.
So am I going to change my preference away from Lomo 800 on the basis of what I’ve seen ? I think Cinestill 800T would be impractical for me, shooting mostly outdoors, I make most use of ISO 800 films as the outdoor light starts to dim, so not dark enough for tungsten use, yet having to drop the ISO down to 500 for use with a warming filter, that kind of defeats the object.
What about Portra then? Yes I like it, its slightly finer grain and detail, that’s good, I even like the moderately jazzed up colours, but is it £6 a roll better ? If I had a special project maybe, then I might buy a couple of rolls, but I don’t think this film is aimed at me, an amateur photographer. So I think I’ve made my own mind up anyway, Lomo 800 will continue to be my ISO 800 colour film of choice, occupying its usual place in my fridge. It would be good to know what you think, I know colour film is a very personal choice, please leave a comment on what you think !
© Copyright owner Steve Starr. First publication 28th September 2021