Portra 800 – a desaturated delight

Back in October, I took a trip over to Norfolk to visit my very good pal and fellow film photographer, Tom. It was the last outing of the year for me in our converted campervan, before the weather got too cold (it was still pretty chilly), and I wanted to visit one of my favourite places, Holkham Nature Reserve. I also wanted to test out my latest eBay find, a Vivitar V3800N – a fairly standard-looking K-mount SLR, with one interesting feature: a multi-exposure button!I’d recently bought a mixed lot of film from Analogue Wonderland as well, including a roll of Portra 800, which I’d not tried before. The 160 version is lovely, and I was hoping for the slightly more saturated colours I’d seen in example shots – so I loaded it up and we headed off to the pines.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous – despite being late in the year, it was warm and windy on the beach, and even though the car park and café was rammed, once we headed off the beaten track and along the coast, the people (and their many screaming children) thinned out, and we were almost alone with the sounds of the sea and the skylarks twittering above us.

holkham portra 800-4

The V3800N is a nice camera to hold and use, with the kind of rounded plastic body you expect from late-90’s SLRs. I bought it for two reasons: it takes Pentax K-mount lenses, of which I have many, and it has an unusual function – a dedicated multi-exposure button. Located on the front top of the camera, keep this button pressed as you wind the film advance lever, and it disengages, cocking the shutter but not advancing the film. This easily enables multiple exposure photos, without the faff of pressing the film rewind button underneath and trying to keep the film taut. My example was in good cosmetic condition, but the meter was not working. I took along a Weston Euromaster meter, bought for the princely sum of £5, which was easy to use once I’d got the hang of it.

img_1011Exploring the shoreline and woods presented its own metering challenges though – remembering to take another reading when I moved from full sun to shadow was a bit of a distraction, and I realised how much easier having a TTL meter is, especially one as simple and quick to read as the needle in my Cosina PM-1‘s viewfinder.

Multiple exposures also benefit from underexposing each shot, to ensure the final combined image is correctly exposed. This was a bit difficult using a separate meter, so some of my shots came out a bit over-exposed (luckily Portra has good latitude, so the shots didn’t suffer too much).

An ISO 800 film was also probably not the best choice – being more suited to low-light conditions, it made taking wide-open shots impossible, and I must have fluffed the metering for some of the woodland shots, as they came out rather under-exposed and low contrast. However, the overall feel of the day’s images was just what I wanted – desaturated, almost dreamy. Portra’s tones didn’t disappoint on that front, and I’ll be getting a few more rolls of the less sensitive (and cheaper) stuff soon.

Regarding the Vivitar, I’ve decided to swap it for something with a working meter, and the Chinon range is looking good. Watch this space…

1 thought on “Portra 800 – a desaturated delight

  1. How fun!

    I’ve wanted to try one of those Vivitars for a long time — nice to know they’re good users.

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