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UltraMax 400: Underestimated

I came across an image on Emulsive of a vibrant blue door and I was immediately drawn to its colors. I wanted to know what this image was shot on. Then I saw it in the captions: “Shot on ULTRA MAX 400 at EI 1600.” I had to shoot this. I talked to “Mr. Know-it-all,” Steven Wallace. He confirmed it. There is a following for UltraMax 400 and you can find it in your local drugstores.

“What?! Film at drugstores, still? Shut up… no way.”

So off I went. I drove to my nearest drugstore, Rite Aid. They had film! Not Kodak. Fujifilm Superia 400. “Meh. Maybe another time.” Next stop, I drove across the street to Walgreens. Bingo! They have 3-pack UltraMax 400! I grab the box and run over to cash register, eager to load it into my camera. “That’ll be, $20.13.” To my surprise, “What?! Do you price match?” The clerk replies, “No. Sorry. We don’t price match.”

I’m quickly weighing out how badly I ‘need’ this roll of film. How will my wife respond to this? I then hear Gollum’s voice, “We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious!”  Done. I conduct the transaction and I am out the door!


Ok, enough of the elaborate narrative on how I got this film. Let’s get to it. Kodak UltraMax 400 is considered as a ‘consumer’ film in comparison to the ‘professional’ lines like Portra 400. What makes this film different? Well, the answer is in the curves. You’re more than welcome to read the tech sheets for each of these films. I highly recommend reading  the article by Film Shooters Collective in understanding film characteristic curves.

Long story short, Portra 400‘s exposure tolerance is significantly better than UltraMax 400. In shooting UltraMax, overexposure results in color shifts where as Portra tends to maintain colors and highlights when it is overexposed. These color shifts are more apparent when you have a low key lit image. After scanning, I would say that Portra 400’s grain structure is much tighter than UltraMax.

With all that being said, this is not exactly a bad thing. I’ve been told for great results, rate UltraMax 400 to 200 and develop at box speed. So, overexpose by one stop. In overexposing UltraMax, I notice the image tends to lean warmer in evenly lit images. However, in the shadows the colors tend to shift a bit towards a teal hue. However, this can easily be corrected in post without sacrificing quality from your scan.

Image on the left: UltraMax 400 scanned without color adjustments. The image on the right was adjusted +20 warmth (towards yellow) and +25 tint (towards magenta). However, these are my preferences in color temperature. This is completely subjective.

I walked around my small town with my Minolta X-700 with my Rokkor-X 28mm f/2.8. At  ISO 200 and towards dusk, I found myself shooting with a wide aperture to keep a faster shutter speed. However, the results are very pleasing!

I believe this film really shines during the day. Especially when you find a giant window with light pouring in. I found the film to be warm which is my personal preference!

On overcast days the color temperatures lean cooler. However a quick adjustment brings those colors right back to my preferred warmer tones. Despite the cooler tones and flat lighting conditions I found that it maintains contrast quite nicely!

I believe I am in agreement with Steven. This is a great film and it deserves much more credit! I believe this film packs one heck of a punch. And for as little as $3.50 per 24 exposure roll, it is far more cost effective to shoot this film on for personal usage. For Portra, I would definitely stick to that film for portrait sessions simply because the consistency, exposure latitude, and highlight details. I will be stocking more UltraMax 400 as my general purpose film.

A few words from Mr. Know-it-all, Steven Wallace.

I love this film.  I want to shoot it a whole lot more.  You should shoot it too.
That could be my whole review of Kodak UltraMax 400 and it would say everything I want to about this underrated and wonderful film stock.
Portra 400 and Ektar 100 had always been my go to for anything important and Fuji Superia for a good cheap film, because it used to be really easy to find.  I bought a 3 pack of UltraMax a few years back on a whim when I saw it on clearance at a local grocery store. It sat in my fridge for well over a year.  I can’t remember what motivated me to finally shoot it, but once I saw the scans there was no going back.  UltraMax 400 did everything I wanted it to and more.
In a lot of ways, UltraMax is like if Portra 400 and Ektar 100 had a kid.  It has a fantastic amount of saturation – especially in the blues of an image.  It handles bright and sunny days great – like most color film, but it also does amazingly well on overcast & cloudy days, and even shooting in artificial light indoors.
Sample images of Portra 400:
It’s not quite as saturated as Ektar, but it has plenty of vibrancy while keeping natural skin tones (something Ektar can struggle with).  Unlike Portra 400 or a lot of other color negatives films, I’ve found that UltraMax actually gets more contrasty and saturated when you overexpose it a stop.  I usually rate it at 200 and still err on the side of overexposure.  It doesn’t have anything like Portra 400’s ability to handle underexposure, but not much does.  It’s also more grainy than Portra, but that’s not something that I mind at all.  The grain I’ve seen is very pleasing and I think only adds to the feel of the images.
Examples of UltraMax400:
My only real criticism of UltraMax 400 is that it’s only in 35mm.  If Kodak made it in 120 or even 4×5, I would shoot the crap out of that too.
So to sum all that up:
I love this film.  I want to shoot it a whole lot more.  You should shoot it too.
*All images are copyright protected and may not be used without permission.

Bill Manning View All

Host and Executive Producer for Studio C-41

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