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Kodak Ultramax 400 Review – A Great 400 Speed Budget Film Stock

Kodak Ultramax 400 is one of the best value budget film stocks available. Find out why!

Kodak Ultramax 400 is a budget 400-speed film stock that is one of the best choices if you’re looking for a faster film stock at an affordable price. It features the classic warm vintage saturated Kodak colors, high exposure latitude, and is very easy to use in a variety of different light conditions. 

Out of the budget Kodak films (Kodak Gold 200 and Kodak ColorPlus 200), I’d argue that Kodak Ultramax 400 is the best value and choice especially for beginners because of its faster speed. Having a faster ISO of 400 will make it much easier to use in low-light situations such as sunrise, sunset, and indoor photography especially compared to the slower 200-speed film stocks.

For this Kodak Ultramax 400 review, I loaded up my Nikon F3 and documented my daily life throughout a couple of days. Since my schedule usually revolves around our Shih Tzu, Sushi, you’ll see a lot of photos of her 🙂

As a heads up, this article is geared towards the beginner, but if you’re a seasoned film pro I think you’ll find some useful information in here too.

Why It’s One of My Favorite Film Stocks

The main reason why I keep coming back to this film stock is because of its affordable price and the fact that it’s one of the only budget 400-speed film stocks. 

At first glance when comparing a 400-speed film stock to a 200-speed film stock it might not seem like a big difference, but in low-light situations, this could be the difference between whether or not you’re able to execute the photo.

So, if you’re looking for a budget film stock with beautiful vintage colors that will give you the flexibility to shoot with it in a variety of different light conditions, Kodak Ultramax 400 is a great choice.

PROS

  • Faster 400 speed film makes it much more flexible to use in a variety of situations especially compared to 200-speed film.
  • Very affordable and widely available. Add in the 400 speed and you have one of the best budget film stocks available.
  • Classic warm saturated vintage colors that you expect from Kodak.
  • Has good exposure latitude meaning it deals well with underexposure and overexposure.

CONS

  • Because it’s a faster film, it also has courser grain which might not fit with everyone’s style.
  • It’s usually slightly more expensive than the other budget Kodak film stocks. However, this also depends on where you’re buying film from.
  • It is a warmer film stock, so if you’re looking for a cooler color palette, Fujifilm C200 might be a better choice.

Kodak Ultramax 400 Features

Colors

Like all Kodak film stocks, Kodak Ultramax 400 features a classic, warm, saturated vintage vibe. 

It has a very similar look and feel to Kodak Gold 200 which means you’re getting a film stock with lots of saturation in all colors and high contrast; especially on bright sunny days. This makes Kodak Ultramax a great film stock to use for landscapes especially during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.

It’s also a good film to use for portrait work too, but out of the other Kodak budget film stocks, I’d rather go with Kodak ColorPlus 200 because of its flatter and slightly less saturated color profile. 

Kodak Ultramax 400 performs best at its box speed of 400 and loves bright light. In good sunlight, the film stock accentuates the warm tones in the image just like Kodak Gold 200. I’ve heard from some people that they’ve experienced color shifts with the film stock when they under or overexpose, but I haven’t run into that issue.

Here are a couple of photo examples that I think will give you a good idea of what the colors of Kodak Ultramax 400 look like and its exposure latitude.

Example Image #1

In this image, Sushi is sleeping on our bed and there is a stream of natural light flowing in from the window which is illuminating her face. Other than the ray of light hitting Sushi, the rest of the room is pretty dark, which is why most of the image is in the shadows.

The parts of the image that are in the light have a nice warm saturated glow to them. This result is expected because Kodak film stock is known for its warm undertone. 

What’s notable about this photo is how the film performed with the shadows. If you look closely at the shadows (especially on the right side of the image), you can see how much detail was captured and how you’re still able to see Sushi’s body. I don’t think this would have been possible with a 200-speed film stock.

Example Image #2

This image was taken on the shores of Lake Washington close to sunset. I wanted to use this photo as an example because I think it gives you a good idea of how the film stock renders sunlight, shadows, and blues and greens in a natural environment.

As you can see, all the highlights in the image give off a warm vintage glow. This is most apparent around the leaves of the tree on the right side of the image. 

There is obvious high contrast between the highlights and shadows in the image, but what’s nice to see is that there is still a good amount of shadow detail being kept (similar to image #1). 

The blues of the lake and the greens of the grass and tree are also rendered very nicely too. Although it’s a more saturated look, the saturation of the blues and greens are subtle enough that it’s not overpowering.

Film Speed

Kodak Ultramax 400 is a 400-speed film stock which is its biggest advantage when compared to the other budget Kodak film stocks which are 200 speed.

At ISO 400 speed, it’s still easiest to use it on bright sunny days, but what’s nice is that it’s fast enough to use on cloudy days and low light situations if you need to.

Additionally, the higher film speed will make it much easier to use faster shutter speeds in different light conditions which is useful if you want to take photos of pets and kids who are always moving around. 

Indoor photography with Kodak Ultramax 400 is easier to execute too. For the best performance, you’ll still want a good amount of natural light flowing in from the windows. However, if you don’t have natural light, you can always use a wider aperture and slower shutter speed too.

Latitude of Film Stock

Kodak Ultramax 400 has a very good exposure latitude that is slightly better than the 200 speed Kodak Gold and Kodak ColorPlus. 

The reason why this is important is that the more exposure latitude a film stock has, the more you can underexpose or overexpose an image while still getting good results.

What this also means is that if you’re shooting in a high contrast scene with bright highlights and dark shadows, you’ll be able to retain more detail at both extremes.

One thing to keep in mind is that similar to other film stocks, Kodak Ultramax 400 performs better overexposed than underexposed. As I mentioned before, I’ve heard from some people that they’ve experienced color shifts when this film stock is under or overexposed, but I’ve yet to have this problem. 

Overall, I would say that you can easily overexpose Kodak Ultramax 400 by 2 or 3 stops. You can probably underexpose the image by the same amount but I’d try to keep any underexposure to a minimum of 1 stop. 

If you underexpose the image too much, you risk muddling the shadows and introducing grain into the image since it has coarser grain. 

Beginner’s Note: What “latitude” means is how well the film stock performs when it’s under or overexposed. For example, if a film stock has high latitude it means the film stock performs well throughout a wide range from underexposure to overexposure. On the other hand, if a film stock has low latitude, it means the film stock only performs well in a narrow exposure window.

Grain

Since Kodak Ultramax 400 is a faster film, it means it has coarser and larger grain. The larger grain size is more sensitive to light which gives the film its higher speed and ISO (ASA) rating. 

The grain is most visible in images taken in low-light, but it’s not a deal-breaker. In fact, I think the grain of Kodak Ultramax 400 is one of its distinctive characteristics.

For example, this image was taken at blue hour right after the sun had set and the moon came out. You can see noticeable grain in the image, but it doesn’t make the image unusable or “bad” by any standard. 

This is one of the trade-offs between low speed (low ISO) and higher speed (higher ISO) film stocks. In general, the lower the ISO, the finer the grain. The higher the ISO, the coarser/larger the grain. 

With that said, if you don’t like the look of coarser grain in your image, you can go with the professional Kodak Portra 400 film stock. Although Kodak Portra 400 is also 400 speed, it has a much finer grain. 

How to Meter for Kodak Ultramax 400

TL;DR – Meter at box speed of 400 for best results but err on the side of overexposure when you have to. If you have to overexpose the image, don’t worry either as the film can handle it very well.

Kodak Ultramax 400 has the best exposure latitude out of the budget Kodak film stocks and performs best at box speed to slightly overexposed. After shooting through and developing a few rolls, I’ve found it best to meter at the box speed of ISO (ASA) 400 to slightly overexposed. 

The film handles overexposure very well, but similar to many film stocks it doesn’t perform the best when underexposed.

Since the film stock performs better overexposed, the best way to make sure you’ve exposed your image properly is to meter and expose for the shadows and mid-tones in your image. Most of the time when you meter for shadows, it means your highlights will be overexposed, but that’s ok.

For example in this image, I set the camera ASA to 400. Then I used the internal light meter of the Nikon F3 to meter and expose for the shadows by the river in the bottom left corner of the image.

By doing this, I was able to make sure the shadows were properly exposed while being confident that Kodak Ultramax 400 could handle the overexposed highlights in the sky. 

Beginner’s Note: If you don’t have a light meter or your camera doesn’t have one, a quick way to meter for light is to use a phone light meter app like this one. It’s not as accurate as a Sekonic light meter, but I’ve used it with good results.

Alternative Budget Film Stocks to Consider

Kodak Gold 200

A classic 200-speed Kodak film stock with rich, warm, vintage colors that is very similar to Kodak Ultramax 400. If you’re looking for the same color profile as Kodak Ultramax 400 but don’t necessarily need the extra speed, this might be a good choice.

If you want a more detailed look into my experience with this film stock, make sure to check out my Kodak Gold 200 Review too.

  • ISO (ASA): 200
  • Best Shot At: Its best shot slightly overexposed. Try shooting it metered at 100 – 160 ISO.

Kodak ColorPlus 200

If you like the look of Kodak Ultramax 400 but want something with a flatter, less saturated look, Kodak ColorPlus might be a good choice. Similar to Kodak Ultramax 400, Kodak ColorPlus is also a budget-friendly film stock with a flexible exposure latitude that’s always great to have in your bag.

  • ISO (ASA): 200
  • Best Shot At: Its best shot slightly overexposed. Try metering it at 100 ISO

Where to Develop Your Film

For newbies, having a professional lab develop and scan your photos is the best way to start, You’ll save time, get consistent results, and you’ll get to figure out if you want to continue with film photography before investing in film development equipment.

The downside is that it’s more expensive to have a professional lab develop and scan your photos in the long run. 

In general, the price for developing and scanning a roll of film is usually around $15 – $20 per roll. You might find cheaper or higher prices, but I’ve found this range to be pretty standard.

If you don’t have a professional camera lab to work through in your area, here are a few of my favorites that take mail-in orders:

Where to Buy Film

The cost for film has been slowly increasing since I first started, but here are my favorite places to find a good deal on film stock. 

  • Amazon: Surprisingly, Amazon is quickly becoming one of the best places to buy film when you take into consideration shipping fees and customer service. It’s kind of a no-brainer if you’re an Amazon Prime member as you get free 2-day shipping without a minimum purchase quantity.
  • Freestyle Photographic Supply: A huge supply of different film stocks at a great price. Unfortunately, they don’t have a free shipping option.
  • Adorama: Free shipping options are available. Another good choice for a wide selection of film stock at a fair price.
  • B&H Photo: Another place to find a wide selection of film stock at reasonable prices. They also have free 1-2 day shipping if your order is over $49.
  • The Shot on Film Store: An awesome film store in the Seattle area that offers free shipping on orders over $49. They carry a large selection, however, prices have recently increased a little.
  • eBay: eBay is a great place to look if you want to buy expired film stock to try. Just make sure that you buy from a reputable seller.

If you have any questions about particular film stocks and want to speak to someone, give The Shot on Film Store a call. They are my favorite local lab where I live and are always very helpful when I have questions.

Who’s Kodak Ultramax 400 For and Conclusion

Overall, Kodak Ultramax 400 is one of the best value budget film stocks. It’s easy to use, produces beautiful colors, and is 400-speed so you have more flexibility to use it in a variety of different lighting conditions. 

The biggest downside is that its color profile is more on the saturated and contrasty side of the spectrum, which might not fit everyone’s style. So, if you like the warmth of Kodak films but want something with less punch, Kodak ColorPlus 200 might be the better fit.

Also keep in mind that Kodak Ultramax 400 is still a budget film stock, so if you’re a professional photographer or are looking to do more serious work, you might be better off spending the extra money for Kodak Portra 400.

By Tom Shu

Hi! I’m a Washington State-based professional photographer and filmmaker. I quit my corporate job in 2018 to pursue this passion full-time and have been lucky enough to work on projects all over the world with brands such as Visa, Airbnb, and prAna. Here are examples of the work we do in case you're wondering. My goal with all these articles is to help you out, so if you ever have any questions just send me an email at tom@witandfolly.co, DM me at my Instagram @tom.shu or leave a comment on any of the articles!

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