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I am a newbie to color analog photography. So far I have only use B&W films. Specifically, I prefer Ilford Delta 400, Kodak Tri-X and Ilford 3200. My camera is Pentax ME Super. I am on the big step to move to color photography using film.

I have found in the store in my neighborhood two types of films, Fuji Superia and Kodak Portra. Since I am keen to try several films, I wonder what are the differences between those two. What should I expect to see from each of those? What about the noise of each? What are the differences in color temperature? What other color film alternatives are there?

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    I don't think there is a "Protra". That's just a typo. (Unless there was some historical film with this name — which would be very unlikely to be found in a neighborhood store!) So I don't think that's really unclear — just an accidentally swapped pair of letters! – mattdm Sep 6 '14 at 17:48
  • :) the story of the historically film in my neighborhood sounds great!! – Jose Ramon Sep 6 '14 at 21:35
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    Speaking of history: prior to 2011, Portra came in NC and VC variants, for Neutral Color and Vivid Color. These were discontinued in favor of a newer single film, apparently on the assumption that film will be scanned and colors adjusted digitally. – mattdm Sep 7 '14 at 12:58
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    I haven't used the newer Portra (because I have a bunch of the NC I bought cheap when it was discontinued, from a camera store refrigerator straight to mine), and I haven't used Fujifilm Superia at all, but I did want to add the observation that Portra 160 and 400 have a different character due to the grain structure. To my surprise I found a strong preference for the 400, and coming from the B&W films you list, I think you might find the same. – mattdm Sep 7 '14 at 13:02
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    Generally I am looking for those films with low grain and ISO as big as possible with grain constraint. – Jose Ramon Sep 8 '14 at 7:09
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Portra is a low-contrast, low-saturation film made primarily for wedding and portrait photographers (it's the successor to Vericolor III Professional). It's designed to capture the details in both the white wedding dress and the black tuxedo at the same time, while rendering pleasing, blemish-minimized skin tones. There's nothing special about its grain structure or resolution; it's about par for the course in last-generation colour films. As with most colour negative film, you can increase the saturation and contrast by slightly overexposing (shooting the 160, for instance, as if it were ISO 100) without any special development (as long as you don't go over by more than 2/3 of a stop), but that just gets you into the same sort of range as general-purpose consumer films. Pushing it (underexposing by 1 or 2 stops, then having the film developed to compensate) will result in a grainy pastel-coloured image. This film would definitely not be your first choice for shooting autumn foliage, but if you want to flatter people or create something just a little bit on the sentimental side, it's a great choice.

Superia is a general-purpose film designed to be a bit "snappy". The colours aren't super-saturated, but they're definitely there in an unmistakable way, and there's a lot more contrast in the midtones. (You can bring the saturation and contrast down a touch by very slightly underexposing; again by no more than 2/3 of a stop, and you'll suffer a slight grain penalty doing so.) You'll want to be a lot more careful shooting people; if you want a polished, commercial look for fashion-type shots, then good makeup isn't optional. As with most films designed for slightly higher contrast and saturation, the grain is a little bit smaller and "tighter". If you want "candy colours" in a fashion shoot or are shooting things other than people, this is probably the film you want (if Portra is the alternative).

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According to Kodak, Supra was discontinued over 10 years ago : http://www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/support/techPubs/e2519/e2519.pdf So if your store is still carrying Supra, check the expiration dates on the boxes. For Kodak, you now have the choice of Portra 160, 400, or 800 or Ektar 100. For Fuji, it looks likes the only choice you have is Superia 400. (Availability info from B&H). Other than the big two, B&H carries Agfa, plus two other, Cinestill and Lomography, neither of which I've heard of.

As for qualitative differences between the two, I suspect that they are very close. Your processor will probably be the biggest factor. I know this from experience back when I shot film- I couldn't tell the difference between films that were supposed to have different color characteristics.

  • Hm my mistake, I was meant Protra. – Jose Ramon Sep 5 '14 at 10:49
  • Cinestill is nice. It is an 800 emulsion which can be pushed. Tungsten balanced so requires a filter for daylight shooting. – Francesco Nov 18 '14 at 10:38
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I tested both of them; Kodak Portra 160 ISO and Superia 200 ISO. As a first reaction, I think that I love Portra. The main reason is the fine grain — Portra leads to a better grain result than Superia. Also, the color palette, in my opinion, is better in case of Portra (resulting in pastel colors). Basically that is what I am looking for right now — super-fine grain films lead to the best resolution regarding my equipment and film that leads to pastel colours.

  • Yes you are right. I will move to a new question. I describe the alternates (based on fine grain and color palette). – Jose Ramon Nov 18 '14 at 12:25

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