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.