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So I recently found my Grandfather's old Pentax ME, I just finished my first roll and noticed that the scans came out very white/grainy. I am wondering if this could be an exposure issue, it was new film so age shouldn't have been a problem. You can see the issue in my first picture vs one I took outside.

I took this on auto with Kodak Portra 400. Would anyone kindly help out on what they think the issue could be? I know the shutter is functioning (tested it before putting in film).

Here is the issue picture, taken inside with light hitting the object: enter image description here

Here is the second picture taken outside that came out better but still washed out: enter image description here

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  • The title of the question asks about scans of film but the body of the question is concerning only the exposure and look of the film itself. Is the question about scans or about the film itself. – Alaska Man Oct 24 '20 at 14:17
  • This isn't pertinent to my answer, but I just wanted to add: Make sure that you ALWAYS get your negatives back (some cheap places will develop the film and give you access to the scans, but will not send you back your negs). If there is a problem that you need to address, the best thing to look at is the negative, not the scan or print. Also, find a good lab - a place that primarily handles photos (not a drugstore/pharmacy/costco/etc). It may be a little pricier, but it's worth it for guaranteed development and better scans/prints. – OnBreak. Oct 26 '20 at 20:41
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Your first image is incredibly underexposed. Grainy + grey/lack of contrast on color negative films is the dead giveaway for underexposure.

Your second image looks properly exposed and the color and contrast look to be what I'd expect with Portra 400 shot midday-ish in hard sun.

I don't think there is a gear/film issue here. ISO400 film is not fast enough for hand-held shutter speeds at night or in dim lights. Interiors may look bright to your eyes, but they actually have very, very little light when compared to outside.

You need to work on your metering and make sure that you are exposing the film properly. With color negative film, err on the side of overexposure as they'll tolerate a few stops overexposure with ease, not blowing the highlights...but even just a stop underexposed and they start to get grainy and lose contrast.

If you want more saturated colors, then you need to shoot when the lighting is better. Golden hours are good, as are overcast days. The hard, bright sun during midday tends to wash everything out. But, it can make for some great tonal shifts in a black and white image, so consider carrying black and white film as well.

Additionally, you can switch films. Portra 160 and Ektar 100 are both pretty punchy. Fuji Pro 400H is good as well, and Fuji Velvia is incredibly saturated - though it is a color reversal film, not color negative. Though films have differing characteristics, you'll see the most dramatic change in saturation captured by exposing your film correctly and shooting in softer lighting conditions.

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  • I want to add that these are obviously lab scans. Labs are notorious for messing up scans of dark photos. Many to most labs put their scanners in full auto, resulting in scans such as your first image. A home scan will without doubt give better contrast, and may also resolve more information. – timvrhn Oct 24 '20 at 0:41
  • @ timvrhn - Why are these obviously lab scans? – user10216038 Oct 24 '20 at 3:46
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    @user10216038 Because of the way the first image was "corrected" in the exact way that the automated routines of lab film scanners are programmed to "correct" underexposed/very dark images. – Michael C Oct 24 '20 at 6:28
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    When metering and shooting very dark scenes such as in the first example, one must also consider the Schwarzschild Effect a/k/a reciprocity failure to prevent underexposure. – Michael C Oct 24 '20 at 6:33
  • The bigger problem is that the scanners' software does not only attempt to (poorly) correct for underexposure. With dark images in general, be it night shots or shots with large patches of strong shadows, correction occurs in the majority of cases- even though exposure is entirely correct. That's why I always recommend film shooters to invest in a scanner, and stop paying labs that put no effort in quality control. – timvrhn Oct 25 '20 at 14:18

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