Emulating Portra 400 NC

Posted by on Jun 23, 2012 in Tutorial | 8 Comments
Emulating Portra 400 NC

When Kodak announced that Portra 400 NC will be discontinued in September 2010, they stopped producing my most favorite film. I always really loved the very natural desaturated look of this particular film. While most people were raving about the new Portra 400, personally, it never really convinced me completely.

Loving a filmlike look in my digital images, I started working on incorporating the general attributes of film in my digital workflow a long time ago – with mixed results. I first published a tutorial in 2011 about how to emulate the look of film and then later an article on Kwerfeldein about film vs. digital in professional environments.

What I am working on at the moment is emulating Portra 400 NC digitally. I found for myself that emulating the general attributes of film is very different from emulating the look of one particular product. Today I would like to share a couple of impressions of where I am with that right now. My attempts are surely not scientific or claim to be perfect. But the workflow produces halfway reliable results and I thought it’s time to invite some criticism.

I shot a scene at Glebe Gardens, Baltimore on film last year and happened to go back there this year. I thought this would be a good opportunity to evaluate my status quo and share it. I ended up shooting almost the same scene again (under different conditions and with a different exposure… but still comparable).

Film – Portra 400 NC
This was shot in June 2011 with the Nikon FM2, 50mm 1.2 Ai-S on Portra 400 NC:

0054

Digital – Emulating Portra 400 NC (JP Portra 400 NC)
This was shot digitally in June 2012 with the Nikon D700, 50mm 1.4 G and emulating Portra 400 NC:

Digital – SOOC
This is the unprocessed above image straight out of camera:

Please note that this is still work in progress.

I will publish a couple of more images processed with this workflow soon and I am happy to exchange thoughts and ideas with everyone who loves Portra 400 NC just as much as I do.

Update, 26.11.2012
I am getting good results now that look consistent and authentic (to me). I consolidated my workflow in Lightroom 4 and ended up with a self made color preset and a complimenting camera profile. Because of the camera profile the preset only works with the Nikon D700 at the moment, but I am already looking into a version for the Fuji X-Pro1/X-E1.

It’s usually not too complicated to color match one picture. It get’s a bit more challenging if you do that over one photography session that includes indoor and outdoor pictures and different lighting conditions. Trying to get consistent results that look authentically like one specific film is an interesting task.

A lot of people asked me why I don’t just use VSCO, so I posted a picture with VSCO’s Kodak Portra 400 NC Preset applied below as a comparison.

Digital – Emulating Portra 400 NC – (JP Portra 400 NC, Latest Version)
Nikon D700, 50mm 1.4 G, emulating Portra 400 NC digitally with JP Portra 400 NC in LR4:

Digital – Emulating Portra 400 NC – (VSCO Portra 400 NC)
Nikon D700, 50mm 1.4 G, emulating Portra 400 NC digitally with VSCO for LR4:

8 Comments

  1. Steven
    24. June 2012

    Nice! Looking forward to a more detailed tutorial on how to achive this effect. I’m in love with Kodak Portra too, but I started to late with analog photography to have a chance shooting the old Portra 400 NC.

  2. Kirstin
    25. June 2012

    You’ve done a wonderful job here with your processing skills! Seriously though, if you really like portra, go and shoot some more! Portra particularly makes for the best skin tones. Ever!

  3. Johnny
    25. June 2012

    Thank both of you very much.

    Kirstin, I love to shoot Portra 400 NC but I have to be careful as it’s not in production anymore and very hard to get. I agree, Portra 400 NC makes for the best skin tones ever.

  4. Rebecca Lily
    17. September 2012

    Gorgeous work. x

  5. Catherine
    22. September 2013

    Hi Johnny,

    just discovered your website/blog – a wonderful discovery! Love your photos! What is the picture style on your Nikon D700 SOOC? Was it Neutral, Vivid or Standard? I tend to shoot Neutral so it’s helpful to know what your style setting was when you shot this so that I can determine how much adjustment I need to apply in relation to your tutorial.

    Thanks!

  6. Johnny
    22. September 2013

    Thanks very much for your feedback, Catherine.

    I didn’t consistently use the same settings. For most parts I used the standard setting in Adobe Lightroom and then later switched to the D2X profiles Nikon offers. It has been a while since I published this post, but I’m almost certain I used the “portrait” setting from the D2X profiles.

  7. Lillie
    26. March 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Thank you for this post. I am curious what steps exactly you took to achieve the Porta 400 NC look in Lightroom. I’m having a little trouble in this area. Not sure really how to get that perfect look with digital.

    Thank you!

  8. Johnny
    26. March 2014

    Lillie, thank you for your feedback.

    I published this post a long time ago. I dismissed the Portra 400 NC preset after a while because it included many individual color tweaks and wasn’t versatile and reliable enough after I switched from Nikon to Fuji. I also switched my film stock to Portra 400 after 400 NC had been discontinued.

    I learned a lot about color work since then and I made a preset that incorporates the look of Portra 400 and Tri-X for my Fuji X-Pro1. I will probably share a tutorial about these two presets in the near future. I’m sure you would be happy with them if you just desaturated the Portra 400 version slightly.

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