Ghosts of Portra Past – Shooting Kodak Portra 400 VC and 160 NC Today

Ghosts of Portra Past – Shooting Kodak Portra 400 VC and 160 NC Today

2560 1440 Drew Chambers

I live my life reminiscing about a past I never had. I fantasize about drinking apricot cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre in Montparnasse or a glass of kirsch in Frankfurt’s Westend Süd with Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Like many who pine for days they did not live, I surround myself with residue of bygone eras that I take to be talismans aligning me with those times. An old Marantz receiver, an older Mido watch, old books, and, yes, old cameras. 

Sometimes when I go out to shoot, I imagine myself transported to the past. There I am, on some drumlin peninsula on the New England coast, wearing New Balance sneakers, probably some logo-less t-shirt, and jeans. My clothing is not really vintage, but I can pretend, right? Especially because I’m shooting with a camera that actually is decades old. 

I like to imagine that I’m breathing the air in 1995, when I had no idea what Kyocera was or that their newly released Contax G1 would go on to multiple year-end awards. In my imagination, I am outside shooting with a top-of-the-line, brand new camera. Social media doesn’t exist, the Internet is used by 0.7% of the world’s population, and, best of all, everyone’s still shooting film. Decades later, many films have died, and the two dead films I’m shooting this day are Kodak Portra 400 VC and Kodak Portra 160 NC.

Kodak released their first Portra films in 1999 to accompany their Pro (including Vericolor) and Gold lines. At first, Portra included speeds of 160 and 400 in two variations: Vivid Color (VC) and Natural Color (NC). Later they would release an 800 speed Portra and a C-41 B&W Portra. And then, to make decisions harder, Kodak introduced the Ultra Color (UC) film in ISOs of 100 and 400. UC was not a Portra film but was intended to be more saturated than the VC formulation of Portra. 

Today’s new, first-time film users will not have experienced the golden years of Kodak Portra. The Portras produced today are stellar, probably the best Portra ever made in terms of quality, and equally stellar at any speed (there are 160, 400, and 800 ISO versions). Having three speeds of one of history’s most beautiful film stocks is still pretty killer. But variety is the spice, they say, and sadly the days of having access to a range of Portras that vary beyond just ISO are gone, unless you pick up some expired rolls. When James told me that he had a few rolls of these extinct films up for grabs, I snapped at the opportunity to shoot them. 

I first loaded up the 400 VC, set my ISO to 100 (I didn’t know the expiration date, so I figured two stops of overexposure to be safe) and set out for a state park on the North Shore.

The North Shore of Massachusetts is rockier than the South Shore and the Cape, and I particularly love it for these rocky coasts. To see these massive boulders strewn together as if some kid had spilled a tub of blocks is overwhelming. Who knows how far in the past geologic forces created the landscape at which I’m now looking? Certainly well before 1995. Wikipedia says the granite here is 440 million years old. The fact that I’m there among crags created half a billion years ago is kind of nuts to me. 

The day is overcast but that just makes for moodier photos of the coasts, the sea, and the accompanying mountain vegetation that grows there. The flora is marvelous. Even in late October, there are these little asters and goldenrods that sprout up out of the crevasses and grit and sand of the place. 

A particular tree catches my attention. Not knowing much of anything about trees, but nonetheless a great admirer, I tried to find out something about the tree in retrospect. It might be a limber pine (pinus flexilis) or maybe it’s a pitch pine (pinus rigida). These guesses seem contradictory, but, again, this isn’t my forte. The tree is Seussian and I love it. 

As always, shooting with film is a deliberate process. I’m not seeing my shots, I only have a few dozen frames to work with, and I’m never shooting in Program. My G1 does the focusing for me, but I have the Portra 160 NC in my Voigtländer Bessa R2 and that camera is fully manual. I’ve metered at ISO 50, to again compensate for the cruel degradation of time on my expired film.  

As I clamber and crouch around the coast and the old quarry behind, I’m lost in time. What matters in those moments is framing the world within my viewfinder. In a poem by Wendell Berry called Sabbaths 2001: VI, Berry talks about a singing wren “who thinks he’s alive / forever, this instant, and may be.” In these moments on the Cape Ann coast, I, my camera, and my film are all twenty-something years old. The mallards, the sparrows, and the sandpipers are only a few years old. The asters are even younger and soon they’ll be gone. But together then we might as well be alive forever. 

The results from the early-2000s Portra are to be expected. The VC looks a bit grainier than Portras of today, and the colors are, interestingly, more subdued. The NC, which I also shot while walking around Cambridge with my friend Jess, needs some help in post processing – its contrast and the black point dropped down with the white point brought up – but overall it performs pretty well. 

In the end, between the two rolls, I have many keepers, but many more throwaways. The shots that work really work. But most of the frames are just too noisy and too flat to be worth it. 

Some of that comes down to my personal style, which favors punchier contrast and color rendition. Frankly, some of the VC photos fit the mainstream profile of that sort of lonely, grungy, faded look that’s associated  in some circles with shooting film. It fits, because this film is old and produced photos that look old. 

When I fantasize about being an adult in 1995 when Contax was still around and digital photography hadn’t yet become the de facto image recording medium it was destined to be, I often wonder why so many of the 35mm film photos produced back then look so atrocious. After all, I’m using cameras that were made back then, and shooting film that was for the most part available then, if not identical in quality. So why do the photos in my parents’ photo albums look so different from my own prized photos taken on film today?

Part of it was the fact that my relatives were likely using inexpensive point-and-shoots rather than top-of-the-line cameras of the day, the Contax G1 or even a respectable SLR from Olympus, for instance. Another factor is probably the development and scanning. I remember dropping off rolls of film at Rite-Aid with my dad and while the labs there may have been technologically fine, the care given to the process was probably not equal to the care given by specialty labs operating today – the one I use is Northeast Photographic. And then, of course, maybe the photos were taken without ideal settings and conditions—a lot of the photos I look back on are underexposed. 

But today, the vast majority of the over one-trillion photos taken every year are taken using a smartphone. And thanks to exponential technological advancement, the software and hardware at play in a modern smartphone is pretty damn good. Someone may dispute this—especially after seeing their parents’ highly-edited, 5x-digital-zoomed Instagram shots—but it’s really not that difficult to produce a beautiful image in 2020. 

Shooting expired film is a small accoutrement of the pretend-it’s-thirty-years-ago photography make-believe game. But in the end, if you prefer the photos you make on brand new Fujifilm Provia 100F to the photos you make on expired film, then is it worth it? 

Today when I went out to shoot for a few hours, some young kids were using their phones to record TikToks on the gorgeous and awe-inspiring Cape Ann cliffs. This is about the least old-fashioned thing you could be doing at a nature preserve. My first inclination was to laugh a bit inside and I even said to my wife, “Why hike a mile into a State Park only to prop your phone up and do choreographed TikToks?” 

In retrospect, I resent my ever-so-slight disdain. It didn’t really matter, and it didn’t ruin the illusion for me. When I sat down, nestled against a rock wall, listening to the waves crash, holding my camera (loaded with fresh film), I was outside of time. It wasn’t 1995 and it wasn’t 2020, it just was. 

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Drew Chambers

Drew Chambers is a former high school teacher and current master's student at Harvard University. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts with his wife and their perfect dog. Outside of teaching, reading, and writing, Drew spends most of his time listening to indie rock. He is happy when photographing.

All stories by:Drew Chambers
  • You might equally argue that film and TikTok are equally insignificant blips in the (pre)history of a landscape — but that both, in their way, encourage people to appreciate it and to keep it wild.

    As one who was an adult in 1995 (though not in 1885 as my fat finger tried to make it) a G1 still seems pretty modern to me — as does almost anything without a film-advance lever.

    • It bothers me too, the cell phone pictures.. the Tik Toks. But everyone has their own way of capturing their memories, and if I was twelve again I’d right on that Tik Tok.

  • Nice post. Quiero los carretes

  • I’ve already opened this great article this morning! I have to admit that it’s always brilliant to try “new-old” films, expecially if they’re Portras!😍😍😍😍

  • I’ve never shot with expired film. Definitely gonna try it 🤘

  • Beautiful and nostalgic memories that you describe from former times.

    The world revolves around us fast that in most places it is virtually impossible to speed down and enjoy the moment anymore. It is great that through photography, and in special getting more involved with the process as it happens with analog photography today, it is possible to achieve that.

    I would compare it to pick up my violin and try to reproduce brilliant baroque music as it was meant to be played, with the same atmosphere and state of mind. It is, in my opinion, a great exercise of imagination to navigate your mind into the aesthetics of photography or any other art form and to think about the gist of it aside from the continuous technical development.

    Thanks once again for your blog!

    /Pablo (@pablouskii)

  • I really feel this article; I spent a good chunk of high school (c/o 2012) chasing that nostalgia for a time I didn’t live through. Owned cars ten or more years older than I was. Brought a typewriter to class. Got into Polaroids just as the film started getting discontinued, and picked up 35mm just as the convenient drug stores and chain camera shops started closing. Sometimes it’s tough doing things “the hard way”, but I find the process much more exciting and deliberate because of it.

    Interesting to see how old Portra’s taking the effects of aging. The only knowledge I have of how it renders is an older article written by Ken Rockwell when I used to pour over his stuff. I don’t know if he even does film stuff anymore, doubt it. So thank you for showing!

  • I wanna try shooting with expired film 🤘

  • Nice photos and a very interspersed concept. I suppose that I think about reliving the past when I use my film cameras, as I got my first SLR in 1980. Same for playing my vinyl. Perhaps I’ve just never changed and the past is still the present for me. Either way, I really enjoyed your article. Thank you for sharing.

  • It’s so much fun shooting with expired film, you never quite know how it will turn out. Great article as always.

  • Why NOT hike a mile into a State Park only to prop my phone up and do choreographed TikToks? Hahaha in all seriousness, it’s not too difficult to make a beautiful image these days, but perhaps the difficulty lies in making meaningful images.

    Very well written article, I enjoyed it 🙂

    • Haven’t experienced much film only used some fujifilm but can’t wait to try different ones and choose my overall favorites!

  • Fascinating phenomenon — shooting with expired film in old film cameras, as a trip into the past! This blog gives me hope that the expired film I’ve listed on eBay may have a new life, too! (I no longer have a 35mm film camera but only recently realized I had a dozen assorted rolls in a basement fridge.) I’m having similar, albeit less intense experiences as I use my Rollei 3.5F (vintage 1960) with current Portra in size 120.

  • Great article Drew, makes me want to try harder to track down some of these unique old portra stocks!

  • I’m hoping Kodak will push out some new filmstocks now that they are increasing their prices. Maybe even rerelease some of the classics, too!

  • Ah! 160VC was so grand! I remember when it first came out. Great article. Great stuff.

  • Love to try a couple of rolls in my new Leica M4-2.

  • Big portra fan and the colors you get from these to are still really interesting!

  • I think my tendency towards film, and other older forms of media and technology, is related to a desire to be a little more deliberate about my choices and slow things down.

  • Ryan McLellan, Jr. January 8, 2020 at 9:16 am

    I think what’s most important is expressing yourself in whatever method you feel most inspired by. For some people, that’s making Tik Toks, for others such as myself, it’s diving deep into the world of film photography. It seems to me that you feel the same way, though, after having thought about it some more.

    I love the freedom of expression that photography in general presents, and the ability to be as involved in the artistic process as possible that film photography allows. Art is obviously subjective, we all know this; what I feel like is the more defining factor of good art beyond what it means to the artist is the technical skill involved with that art. A painting with masterful brushstrokes, incredible use of color, and painstaking attention to detail will forever be more impressive to me than an abstract painting of colorful splatters on canvas.

    In that same way, a photograph taken on film will, I think, forever be more impressive to me than one taken on a digital camera. Not that there aren’t some incredible images in digital cameras and there are certainly digital shots that required far more work than many of the film shots out there. But the fact that there’s more pressure with film to have some real technical knowledge about light and it’s interaction with our outdated photography equipment, and that there is again that ability to be far more involved in the process of making the image, speaks to the artist in me and causes me to be grateful that I still have the opportunity to shoot in film and explore what it truly means to be a photographer.

  • Legends from the past. Fabulous article!

  • Great article, I really do like to pretend to be back in the past when I’m out with my old cameras…but being outside of time may be a better way to describe how it really works. I have always wondered the same about why my modern film photos look so different from my parents’ film photos. Lots to think about here! I love how pretty these different Portra rolls look!

  • I like the textures and colors that the rolls gave you, this article is very interesting.

  • Charles Villarreal January 8, 2020 at 10:04 am

    Good article! People have all kinds of reasons for shooting film but my motivation seems similar to yours. It connects me to the past and the present. So much of my day-to-day is caught up in the rapid pace of modernity and it’s nice to make myself slow down occasionally. In the act of slowing down I do feel more connected to the moment (I tend to remember way more detail about my film shots vs digital) while also getting a chance to appreciate the technology and methods of the past.

  • I actually just found a roll of Portra 400VC not too long ago at local antique shop. Unsure of the expiration as well. I haven’t shot it mostly because its the only one I’ve had the chance of finding. But I might shoot it after reading this article. I’d like to see what results I get! Once winter is over I’ll give a try.

  • I love the portra films… I am sad I really have no experience with portra VC 400 I feel like I would have loved it. I mostly use portra 160 if I know I might sell some of the photos that I am taking. It has become predictable for me witch is nice. Unfortunately the price is going the opposite direction I would like it to. (thats really all film) I just paid like 50$ for 5 rolls of velvia 50 120… I think any higher I won’t be able to afford that film. I have yet to try kodak Ektachrome in 120. hopefully I will soon.

  • 72 frames of awesomeness which will outlast digital pixels.

  • Great read! I’ve returned to film photography after a long hiatus – makes me revisit the archived files of yesteryear. I have ancient portra 120 in the fridge begging to be shot.

  • Great article I am new to Casualphotophile and really looking forward to making my way back through the archives to find more material like this!

  • VC used to be my favorite color film. I was fond of the UC as well.

  • Lovely photos, expired film = <3

  • Love seeing these older stocks, gotta get my hands on them someday (soon hopefully)!

  • Beautiful post, as always. Thank for keeping up the community and inspiring people.
    Got myself FM3a after reading the article at casual photophile.

  • Stephen McCullough January 8, 2020 at 11:03 am

    A very useful post. The photographs are very well chosen to illustrate the character of each film.

    My own experience is largely with Portra 400 and some 800. I try other films and have particularly liked Lomo 800 but keep coming back to Portra.

  • And now I want to go watch ‘Midnight in Paris’.

    This was a lovely read. I remember feeling a very similar way when seeing Brassaï’s photos for the first time. Transported. Experiencing Paris in the 1920s. It’s nostalgic in an impossible way, given we weren’t around back then. But nostalgic nonetheless.

    I still have his ‘Lovers in a Cafe’ photo set as the background on my phone. Yes I see the irony here.

    Thank you for another great article. 🙂

  • Another well written article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and the film via giveaway)!

    My kids are all over the Tik-Tok fad. They spend so much time practicing their choreographed moves. I think it’s silly, but then again, I’m not 13 years old. It’s not for me. And, documenting the mundane, everyday life of our family isn’t for them. That responsibility falls to me. So, let them shimmy and shake to a 45 second clip of some Top 40 hit, I’ll snap the photos of them as they dance and then years from now, they can laugh or cringe at the images.

  • I often read about amazing film stocks of the past and feel rather bad that I will never get to experience them. There is still time to try out Portra NC/VC but the prices are way too high for a young uni student to justify.

    The photos in this article really reminded me of my hometown, maybe I can convince myself that being financially irresponsible just this once is worth it.ys

    Lovely read as always.

  • When I was young I shot with Kodak Gold mostly I just recently finished a role of Portra 400 in my Rolleicord. Im anxious to see the results.

  • I’m certainly a VC man, it was my go to film, the one that I knew back and forth. Actual Portra is almost there but is not the same. Wish I have bought it in bulk.

    Nonetheless if I have any film loaded in my camera at hand I just feel like a happy modern man 🙂

  • Merlin Marquardt January 8, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Beautiful article and photographs.

  • Absolutely nostalgic pictures!

  • Portra 400 is a great pick if you’re not sure what, who, or where you will be capturing that day but if it’s bright out and I’m shooting a portrait, I would definitely pick the 160.

  • A beautiful and thoughtful article! Really resonates with me. Will have to come back and read again later.

    Based on my experience with expired C-41 film I wonder if some additional exposure would help with the saturation and flatness issue?

  • Lovely shots. Sometimes that little magic from old films can really make a photo. I shot a roll of Kodak GFX160 last year that turned out beautifully. Would love to give these a go too!

  • Portra 400 VC was the first colour film I shot on when I was learning film photography. I was pretty bummed it wasn’t available anymore when I picked up my camera again this past year.

  • Meaningful article. I am asking myself, can I imagine a world where… “Social media doesn’t exist, the Internet is used by 0.7% of the world’s population?” That’s my thought experiment for this week. I remember that world but have a hard time imagining it now. Maybe I should be curious about that and do some digging. Maybe this is why I enjoy shooting film? So much of my fast moving impulses slow down. It’s therapeutic just to shoot. The negatives are just a bonus to the soul work I do in shooting.

  • Very well written article and beautiful pictures. That’s why i like shooting expired film – you never quite know how the colors will turn out.
    Love the blues from the Portra NC!

  • Portra 160 has to be my favorite film out there. 🙂

  • I recently shot with expired portra 400vc on my mamiya 645 at it was a blast! Unfortunately I only ever grew up with the portra we have today so when I found a local seller selling his stock of expired portra I had to jump on it. Shooting with something that’s not being made anymore and is such a relic is so thrilling and exciting especially since I had no idea what my photos would look like either. I’ll definitely be shooting more expired film in 2020!

  • James Grindstaff January 8, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    Such a fantastic article! Although the ability and the way we capture things, both artistically and as memories may change, it’s important to look back at the way it was once done!

  • Found it interesting that you mentioned how VC looks grungy, wondered if it was shot fresh whether or not it would still produce the look.

  • I just recently tried Portra 400 and fell in love. The 160 has always been my favourite film tho, even though I have only shot it once. It would be amazing to shoot some of the older stocks, but I don’t know where to look for them.

  • It’s nice to see some great photos from the New England area. Always loved the wood paneling on the grand wagoneer

  • In 1995, I was 14/15, and had a pretty terrible Minolta APS point-and-shoot my dad bought me – it strikes me that no one I knew back then – not me, my friends or any of my parents or their friends, ever cared much for or thought about what film they used – it was just whatever was available and whatever was cheapest. Looking back at the photos I took in the 90s now, I wish I’d used a better camera and better film. But there was no internet then to endlessly pore over reviews and comparisons. Simpler times, but I prefer now 🙂

  • Thank you for this article! Enjoyed reading it. As a relative newcomer to film I pine for all the old stocks I never will get to shoot (though I am unendingly grateful for all the wonderful ones still around!), and love reading about them.

    I really like the Seussian tree shot (fellow tree admirer here).

    Also, I’m just about to ship off five rolls to Northeast Photographic, myself. 🙂

  • I originally came here from IG just trying to grab some expired film for free like the dirty scavenger that I am. I thought the 400VC would be a lovely experiment but after looking at your photos the 160NC look gorgeous. Also I ACTUALLY READ YOUR ARTICLE!! Aren’t you proud of me?
    Thank you, it was a wonderful meditation on shooting old film and old cameras; both of which I love also. If I don’t end up with free film I will definitely be inspired to shoot some expired film soon. (I actually did today, but nothing so grandiose as portra; CVS 400 stock from god knows when)
    Keep writing. Keep shooting. Keep old film alive!

  • Nicolas Molinero January 8, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    Just found 3 120 rolls expired in may 1937 and reading this article I’ve been thinking how many stops I’ll have to over expose 😂😂

    Really good article who gave me a lot of shooting fever

  • Vital’-‘ Cavalcanti January 8, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    Nice post!!

  • Yeah I hope I don’t get ghosted. Absolutely stunning pictures!

  • Thanks for the review. Being new to film it’s hard to figure out what film does what. Post like this help so much. Thanks again.

  • interesting photos

  • I love shooting expired film

  • Well written and I can appreciate the sense of nostalgia. Oh and I’d love to try some of these stocks myself, wink wink…

  • Love the grain of the old VC! Really enjoyed hearing your thoughts about these beautiful films, thanks!

  • There is something so timeless about a photograph taken on a camera other than one on a smartphone. To hold the physical evidence of a moment you captured is truly beautiful. Thanks for this article. So nostalgic and real.

  • Lovely last paragraph, particularly the last sentence. People spend so much time thinking about and judging people who have no influence on them and forget to just be. The act of being is hard to come by, but then again common within the film community. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. Either way, I applaud you for recognizing that you were “outside of time” as you so elegantly put it and that what was important about that moment was being in the moment. Not worrying about the kids, but being in the moment. The opinion from one stranger on the internet can’t mean much, but your article definitely reminded me of some things I was to focus on in life. So thank you for that.

    I do have a technical question though; when you metered the expired film at 50 and 100, how did you have it processed? Were they processed at box speed or pull-processed to match the over exposure?

    • Great question! These were processed normally at box speed. As film ages, it loses speed and also gains density in the area known as base plus fog (or base plus stain). This area is called the density-minimum and is how dense the film is in unexposed areas. So the dark areas of your scene will have less density (and be less dark) on your negative. As the d-min increases, the density curve becomes flatter toward lower exposure values. So to compensate for the altered density curve, you’re overexposing the film.

      Basically, you’re just trying to add light to your exposures to overcome the fact that aging has created a “starting point” for your film that is denser than that of fresh film.

  • 1990s nostalgia is an odd thing, doesn’t quite feel right. After all, 1995 was just a few years ago…

  • Loved this “In my imagination, I am outside shooting with a top-of-the-line, brand new camera. Social media doesn’t exist, the Internet is used by 0.7% of the world’s population, and, best of all, everyone’s still shooting film.”
    Can you really imagine nowadays culture (I mean, only 30 years after that) but without social media? maybe with nowadays cell phones and digital cameras but NO SOCIAL MEDIA… it would be interesting…

  • I’m lucky that I was able to shoot some NC in both 120 and 220. It seems it’s harder to find these days. Both VC and NC are great films that would be awesome to try in 35mm!

    The risk of expired film is always tricky though when you don’t know how it’s been stored. I try to only buy cold stored expired film, and always overexpose a stop beyond the norm.


  • Love how the colours turned out, and it’s even all the more amazing with expired film! Truly timeless captures.

    A shame we won’t be able to enjoy such varieties of film at the cost it was in the past now. Then again the last decade has seen a “revival” of film, so maybe the new the roaring 20s will bear some great fruit too. Or at least we can hope 🙂

  • Wow, I love looking at all these old stocks. It’s so interesting to see what once was and never will be again.

  • Always wanted to try the old Portras.

  • I only shoot expired film and it’s so fun to experiment with. 🙌🏽

  • I once had the opportunity to shoot 220 Portra 160VC And loved it. One of the rolls I’ve gotten most beautiful pictures per roll. Awesome to scan, and beautiful colors. I hope then invest the money of the increase in price in bringing back discontinued films like these.

  • Stunning pictures! Wish they never stopped producing these.

  • I already enjoyed discovering Drew’s Insta-Feed and enjoyed browsing through his work. I discovered he’s been using a camera I recently acquired. I already have a roll of expired film in it and it was really exciting to see some of his results with it.

    I lernt a few things too. I already figured I’d have to decrease the ISO setting. It was really handy to see the corrosponding shots to the description of the development and postprocessing.


  • Love this article. I share your sentiments with longing to go back in time before digital was on the rise. Freaking love Portra film as well 😍

  • Antonio Ambrosino January 9, 2020 at 3:22 am

    So nice adventure!

  • freakin dope shots and neat read! good content to accompany my evening tea.

  • I am more of a bnw film person, but Portras are what I love the same!

  • A beautifully written article. Left me nostalgic, looking for expired film in all the corners of my room so I could satisfy this need for experiencing the past.

  • I really enjoyed reading that, just how connected to photography you clearly are is inspiring. I love feeling like I’m back in time, it’s the freshest freedom I ever have. Photography is the one thing I connect myself to the past with. It’s a true fantasy for me to go back in time, and I feel the only way to really instil that feeling is to do some of the things that aren’t normally done in our time, things that were common place and taken for granted 30-40 years ago.

  • Dan Rubin (@danrubin) January 9, 2020 at 8:26 am

    Portra 160NC is one of the loveliest stocks I’ve shot (and I’ve only had a few expired rolls of it to work with). 400VC is lovely to see in use, need to get my hands on some of it…

    As for why so many images we see in the film photography community feel so much better than 35mm family snaps of our childhood: we’re *all* being more selective in what we shoot and share (those old photo albums are often whatever came out in focus on a given roll, and there was no cropping or straightening to be found) — and still the average images found on a family member’s smartphone / mirrorless / DSLR will be about the same quality as those snaps of old.

    The quality of the labs we use, as you point out, is another major element — the quality of my images increased across the board when I started using a pro lab, as they also provided feedback on exposure for the various stocks I was using. That made me shoot even more film, which improved my eye and approach to shooting in general, which results in an even higher success rate per-roll. Rinse and repeat.

    I also believe there are a lot of amazing images from the past that none of us have ever seen — discoveries like Vivian Mayer and other ‘lost’ collections are likely the tip of the iceberg; I even have friends who are only just digging out photos they took when they were kids and realising they had a knack for composition even then.

    Thanks for the great article, as always!

  • Great article! I can relate quite well to the excitement of trying new films! Love the results you got from these films. Definitely makes me want to use an expired film 🙂
    Keep up with good work 🙂

  • Rangga Firmansyah January 9, 2020 at 9:52 am

    I really want to try both of these films, because I’ve never tried them on my camera. so from otu I really want to have fun taking pictures with this film. 🙂

  • In my film shooting career I’ve found that I enjoy shooting expired and HEAVILY expired (10+ years) films more than I do new films. expired slide film from the 70s has been my favourite.

  • Thanks for a great exploration of both the mechanics and less tangible aspects of shooting old film stock. It certainly seems to have struck a chord with many, myself included. As one who was (ostensibly) an adult in the 1990’s and shooting film at the time, I do sometimes pine for those days. But in retrospect, as I was living them, I was oblivious to them if that makes any sense. Just like someday, today’s youth will look nostalgically back at when they all carried phones with them and did x, y, and z that we currently take for granted but will someday also be things of the past. Given the nostalgic bent of the discussion, a favorite short story entitled “Where the Cluetts Are” by Jack Finney comes to mind. Storyline centers around being in (or out) of time with the world about you. Dig it up if you can… I think you’ll enjoy it.

  • I was born in the 90’s so my younger years were spent toting compact 8mp Canon’s for school field trips. I have only recently started shooting analog and while it does not spark any form of nostalgia for me, there is a certain level of fascination in using cameras that existed way before I was born. Some of my favorites are even older than my mom and dad! While my Fuji X-T30 can produce amazing photographs on it’s own, it doesn’t spark that same feeling of joy when you use analog cameras.

    Anyway, this review made me realize how much the younger generation (who has only started to take an interest on film in the recent years) has missed the glory days of analog. I wish Fuji and Kodak would one day bring back the greats.

  • I was looking through a bunch of film I had, not realizing how much time had passed since I bought it. I found a couple roles of Portra 400 VC. A web search led me to this post. I’m definitely going to be thinking more when shooting this role. Thank you for the wonderful post!

  • I just ran a roll of Portra 160 NC through my Mamiya 645 Pro and was amazed at the vivid–“NC” designation notwithstanding–rendition of color in the final images, even though it was at least a decade expired. In my experience, modern Portra starts getting that washed-out, 1970s faded-color look the SECOND it expires…not that that’s a bad thing, I quite like expired Portra, but the results of this particular roll quite surprised me.

    RE: modern film images looking far superior to those in your parents’ photo albums, the only camera we had in my household growing up was a Kodak Star. If you’re not familiar with 110 film, a single frame is smaller than a postage stamp, so the images were soft and grainy, even in 4×6 prints. We didn’t help it by shooting too close to the subject so they were always out of focus, leaving the flash off when it needed to be on (and vice versa), shooting indoors with daylight-balanced film, etc. I seriously didn’t know what an SLR was until college.

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Drew Chambers

Drew Chambers is a former high school teacher and current master's student at Harvard University. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts with his wife and their perfect dog. Outside of teaching, reading, and writing, Drew spends most of his time listening to indie rock. He is happy when photographing.

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