Kodak Portra 400 is the most popular color film on the market today, so popular that it’s become near synonymous with modern color film photography – and for good reason. It’s a highly versatile, professional-grade film with wide exposure latitude, modern grain structure, and warm pleasing tones. But, it’s no secret that shooting color film, especially professional-grade Kodak color film, like Portra, has become significantly more expensive over the past couple of years.
At the time of writing, a 5-pack of 36 exposure rolls costs a cool $79.99 from our friends over at B&H. That’s $15.99 per roll! Remember when you could get a roll for $6.99? Ahh, 2015, what a time to be alive.
But don’t run off to sell your kidneys yet. There are still plenty of great color film alternatives to Portra 400 that are worth your time if you want to save a couple bucks.
While some of the alternatives listed here aren’t directly comparable to Portra in terms of grain structure or low light capability, they’re all close enough to be useful in nearly all of the situations in which one would typically be using Portra. It’s also true that using some of these less popular films may even help your photos to stand out from the crowd!
Fujicolor 200 is a fantastic consumer-grade film that yields slightly subdued colors and leans toward cooler tones when compared to Portra. An upside to its consumer-grade status? It can sometimes be scored at big box stores at steep discounts when taking advantage of promotions and coupons. It’s a great film for street photography or in areas where there’s lots of leafy green foliage (think greens and tans). Despite leaning toward the cooler side of the spectrum, it still produces natural, pleasing skin tones, making Fujicolor 200 a great choice when you want to grab some candid shots of friends but don’t want to burn through all your expensive Portra 400.
In December of 2021, it was learned that Fujifilm had outsourced production of Fuji 200 to Kodak, and that the new Fuji 200 was nothing more than repackaged Kodak Gold 200. This news was never explicitly announced, but comparing Kodak Gold 200’s spectral sensitivity curves with the published specification sheet for Fuji’s new 200 film showed identical information. Fuji further confirmed that some of their product line had been outsourced to partners during that period of time, a period in which supply chains were disrupted and materials scarcity became a problem.
More recent reports have claimed that Fujicolor 200’s spec sheet has reverted back to the older spectral sensitivity of original Fuji 200. So, although this is again unconfirmed, it seems that Fuji has resumed production of Fujicolor 200 in Japan. We’ll update if and when we get further news or confirmation.
Current price: $29 for a 3-pack of 36 exp rolls or $9.66 a roll (B&H)
[Fujicolor 200 image samples provided by the author, Sarah Rizzo, and Casual Photophile writer Josh Solomon]
Lomography’s color negative 100 is a sharp film delivering punchy colors and a retro vibe. At an ISO of 100, it’s a great film for the sun-soaked days of summer. Although the film is sharp, it doesn’t have a lot of fine detail and will show a touch more grain than Portra 400 despite being an ISO 100 film. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend it for intricate, detailed landscape work. With that said, I think it’s a great option if you’re going to be in a bright and colorful location like a beach town or carnival and want to throw it into a reusable disposable, point-and-shoot, or Holga for some fun shots.
Current price: $29.90 for a 3-pack of 36 exp rolls or $9.96 a roll (B&H)
[Lomo 100 image samples provided by Casual Photophile writer Danielle Wrobleski]
Kodak Gold 200
Okay, you knew we weren’t going to make it through this list without at least one other Kodak stock making an appearance! Good ol’ Kodak Gold 200. It’s a film that was in the family camera of many film photographers who grew up in the U.S. in the 90s and early aughts. Kodak Gold 200 is nostalgia. It provides warm tones, a forgiving exposure latitude, and medium contrast. There’s really no situation where I wouldn’t recommend bringing some Kodak Gold along. Take it camping, into the city, into a wheat field for luscious golden hour portraits, or out into the desert for Americana scenes – I could go on forever. If you want a higher-end look, load it into a nice SLR or rangefinder with a sharp lens. If you want the retro vibe, load it up in your favorite point-and-shoot with the flash on.
Current price: $29.99 for a 3-pack of 36 exp rolls or 11.99 per 36 exp roll (B&H)
[Kodak Gold image samples provided by the author, Sarah Rizzo]
Launched via Kickstarter by Lomography in 2019, Lomochrome Metropolis was the first new color film stock in years (The formula was reworked in 2021, so keep this in mind as you browse sample photos). This unique film is rated with an extended ISO of 100-400. It provides a very unique aesthetic, best characterized as gritty, and delivers beautiful chrome hues. It’s definitely more grain-forward than other options on this list, but that’s part of its charm. Metropolis is the perfect film for those gritty street scenes and fluorescent lighting. However, the skin tones aren’t particularly natural, so I wouldn’t recommend it for portraits unless you’re going for an experimental look. This film is roughly $2 per roll cheaper than Portra and I’d say it’s a perfect choice if you want to experiment with something unique.
Current price: $13.90 per 36 exp roll (B&H)
[Lomo Metropolis image samples supplied by Lomography]
Another crowd-funded addition to the list, Cinestill 400D, was launched in March of 2022. According to Cinestill’s website, this film is not their usual re-packaged motion picture film, but a brand-new stock developed for stills photography. The film is daylight balanced and while it’s rated at ISO 400, it has an impressive exposure latitude. According to Cinestill’s website, 400D can be push-processed up to 3 stops, making this a great film if you’re loading up toward the end of the evening and may need to do some night shooting. At box speed, it delivers soft, yet rich colors that are suitable for everyday use. In extreme lighting situations, there is halation in the highlights. At about a dollar less per roll compared to Portra 400, the savings won’t make you a millionaire, but during a time when color film stocks are limited, it’s nice to have options.
Current price: $14.99 per 36 exp roll (B&H)
[Cinestill 400D image samples provided by Cinestill]
So, there you have it. Kodak may be the last man standing when it comes to professional-grade color negative film (RIP Fuji Pro 400H), but there are still some great consumer-grade options when you want to save some cash and set yourself apart from all the other Portra-toned fish in the sea.
Whatever film you shoot, enjoy it! Don’t stress. Just take your time, shoot your shot, and enjoy the process. Despite the rising cost, we’re lucky that this stuff is still around.
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Fuji Pro 400h! Even though discontinued, B&H and others have still the 120 version in stock (35mm is sold out everywhere as far as I can see, but still a few in my freezer). The pack of 5 is cheaper then Portra 400. Expiry dates seem to be all end of 2023 from my orders this year and 1-2 years ago, so I guess all from the same last batch. Frozen they should still last quite a bit longer!
In general, seems like 120 color film is more available these days then 35mm, so it still turns out more expensive per shot even when using 645, but still…