View Full Version : Color Saturation of Portra 160VC vs. Other Color Neg Films When Scanning

Eric Leppanen
12-Sep-2009, 14:05
When drum scanning and digitally printing from LF film, the general feedback I have gotten over the years is that the choice of color neg film stock makes little difference as to final print appearance. In other words, the difference in color saturation/contrast between Portra 160VC (theoretically the highest saturation color neg film available in LF) and other color neg films is relatively small, much smaller than, say, the difference between Astia-to-Provia (let alone Astia-to-Velvia). Any small differences that exist tend to get lost in the shuffle in Photoshop.

As I contemplate some landscape shooting trips this fall, I'd just like to check: is this really true? If so, then as an 8x10 shooter, I see no reason not to go with the higher speed of Portra 400NC, particularly given the recent improvements in this film. Then again, I also hear feedback that the color palette of the Portra NC films is relatively mild ("NC" sometimes disparagingly referred to as "No Color") which may not be desirable for landscape subjects (particularly fall colors). Given the relatively small enlargement factors contemplated from 8x10 negatives, grain size is not an issue.

Any feedback you have on this topic would be appreciated.

Bruce Watson
12-Sep-2009, 15:17
I actually like drum scanning color negative film (I admit I'm a heretic). As a result I've scanned a fair amount of color negative film over the years, both for myself and for clients. Nothing in my experience suggests that your main supposition is wrong. Scanning does tend to "even out" the differences between films; the differences between films seems to be less important when scanning than it is when making darkroom prints.

That said I would absolutely recommend 400PortraNC. It is an excellent film, an amazing achievement in film making.

I used to use 5x4 160PortraVC almost exclusively because I could get it in readyloads. With the demise of readyloads I tried both Fuji 160S and 160PortraNC. I like them both. I find they they both scan somewhat better than the VC - just a little smoother. Not a lot better, just a bit better. Most people won't notice it really. But I'm a picky sod so I see it.

The real winner I think is the 400PortraNC film. It's just great when you need that extra bit of speed, and in landscape work that need shows up with surprising frequency. At least for me. The 400 speed film is just a bit more grainy than it's 160 speed brother, but other than that the two are just about the same. To be clear, I find 400PortraNC to be nearly as sharp as 160PortraNC. It resolves amazingly small detail (like those tiny distant tree branches) just about exactly as well as it's slower sibling. And they have very similar tonal attributes also.

Finally, to allay your fears of not enough saturation for fall colors... I've got a nice shot I made a few years ago while being chased out of the Michigan Upper Peninsula by an early snow storm. A nice scene with a snow covered farm field containing two beautiful maple trees. The big one is flame orange, the little one just about fire-engine red. The problem I have in printing this image is that I have to desaturate the reds so much because they exceed the gamut of the printer. I'm just sayin' that while 400PortraNC ain't no Velvia (nor does it aspire to be) it does have sufficient punch for fall colors.

12-Sep-2009, 23:40
Bruce, youre no heretic! We scan close to 75% color negs.
I personally love scanning them, its fun!
Ive been shooting 160vc in RL (well not anymore) and Pro 160s in QL for a while and i have almost abandoned chromes.
I have found that i can get more then enough saturation from color negs, even the NC variety.
I do whoever see a difference when scanning NC vs. VC.
Its a preference for the individual photographer, especially if you also print traditionally.