Pushing Portra 400 to 1600

Portra 400 - everybody’s favourite colour film (me included). I’m sure we’ve all read and seen online the rave reviews, the under/over exposure camparisons, and seen the gorgeous tones it renders. What I found out recently though that I hadn’t heard about, was it’s ability to be pushed to 1600 or even 3200 (see Jonathan Canlas)!

I stumbled upon a blog post that claimed Portra 400 pushed one stop (to 800) gives more satisfying results than Portra 800 shot at box speed (800)! What?! Check out that blog post here. Obviously “better” all depends on what look you are after, so I set out to see for myself. Full disclosure: this isn’t a comparison as I haven’t tried pushing Portra 800 - just a test to see what Portra 400 looks like pushed.

My Setup/What is “pushing”?

I loaded up a roll in my Olympus XA. Normally if I’m pushing Tri-X or HP5+ to 1600 I set my meter to 800, so I did the same here. The XA shoots in aperture-priority (meaning you can basically forget about metering) with manual rangefinder focus for the sharp little 35mm f/2.8 lens. It’s nice being able to just focus, frame and shoot. Another benefit of the rangefinder camera is you can shoot slower shutter speeds than you would on an SLR (no mirror = no mirror slap/camera shake)!

So what is “pushing” film? The Darkroom Lab have a very clear guide to this on their blog, if you’re interested in pushing film you should go give it a read here, then come back! It would be a waste of time to repeat it all here but basically, you underexpose the film when you shoot it and you develop longer to compensate for that. When you push film, make sure that you tell your lab how many stops to push it in processing, and that it is marked super clearly on the roll/s! In this case it’s a 400 ISO film pushing to 1600 ISO which is 2 stops, marked as “+2”.

Results

When pushing film you will see added grain and contrast. I really like the way the colours came out! You still have gorgeous Portra tones but with more contrast (a side affect of the push processing) - really nice blacks with little/no weird colours in the shadows. Being able to shoot with smaller aperture or higher shutter speed indoors or in low light is really handy, so I may just have to do this again!

Click an image below to scroll through the gallery and see the results for yourself. Leave me a comment if you have any questions.

-Sam