I asked around the store what comes to mind when people think Kodak Ultramax 400. Nicole said “the 90s!”. Meghan said “Kodak moments!”. Sean said “classic mom and dad with me as a baby photos!” Hunter was indifferent as apparently he only shoots professional films. Good for you, Hunter.
You can sense a common theme here. Nostalgia. Ah, nostalgia, that wistful yearning and overly sentimental longing for the “good ol’ days”. For many, Ultramax and its many previous iterations like Gold 400, and Kodacolor Gold GC represents their childhood as this was likely the film their parents used to take their photos as children. (Its funny how, as someone who spent the majority of their childhood in Asian countries Fujicolor Superia is that nostalgic film for me). Everyone remembers those flash filled prints that you would get from the drugstore of their vacation or birthday party taken with a point and shoot. For a lot of people who started photography back then or started analog photography in the past 5 years, Ultramax is likely the film they learned on.
So what is Kodak Ultramax 400? It is their consumer medium speed colour film that can be found in a lot of drug stores and photo stores. It’s cheap, it’s dependable, and it’s common enough that you can just grab one in a pinch if you find yourself out of film.
Sure, it’s not the most remarkable film out there on the market right now. That is why so many people are willing to pay more for the professional films like Portra 400. But if there is one thing that Ultramax has over a lot of other films, it is its relative versatility.
But Mustafa, you may ask, isn’t Portra 400 and Pro 400H pretty darn versatile as well? Well yes, but those films excel at portraits and they’re decent at everything else. Ektar or Velvia? Spectacular landscape films, but utter garbage for portraits. Ultramax 400 is the best general purpose, daylight balance colour film you can get, perhaps only rivaled by Fuji Superia 400. The differences between the two are minor at best, with the Kodak being warmer and Fuji being cooler in tone. Its all a matter of preference really.
The colours are punchy and contrasty, lying somewhere in between Portra and Ektar in terms of saturation. Perhaps if there is one notable weakness or major difference depending on how you look at it, it is the grain. It is grainy. It is not ugly grain thankfully, but if you come in expecting sharp images that will rival digital, you will be disappointed. And if only Kodak would make it in 120 format as well! One other thing for all those people that claim that Ultramax 400 is a jack of all trades, master of none type of film. Sure, but is there any other film that has the potential to do well in every situation that’s thrown at it for so cheap?
We’ve shot tonnes of it through all sorts of cameras from dinky point and shoots all the way to Leicas and Contaxes. It produces great images every time. Well ok, good to great images, with some terrible ones thrown in but that’s every film.
Did I mention already that it’s cheap? It’s under $9.77 a roll, making it almost half the cost of Portra 400! Tomorrow and Saturday only, it’s even cheaper at $8.79 a roll of 36 exposures! (Oct 2 & 3)
In the meantime, here’s some photos Meghan and I have taken with Ultramax for you to enjoy to get a good sense of what it’s like!