First Look
New Kodak Max Zoom 800 Print Film

Kodak Max.

Until recently, ISO 400 seemed to be the uppermost limit in terms of film speed for excellent print quality in 8x12" reproductions. However, there are many advantages to shooting with an ISO 800 film: less risk of blur from camera shake, greater effective flash range, sharper action shots, and sometimes, greater depth of field. Especially with the "slow" zoom lenses of most compact lens/shutter cameras, the "faster" film is often a better choice than ISO 400, previously the "standard" speed recommended by most photo retailers.

When printed on the newest papers--Ektacolor Edge 8 or DuraLife--Max Zoom 800 colors are particularly vibrant. Note that contrast is not excessive, making this film as suitable for sunny day shooting as in low-light conditions.
Photos © Peter K. Burian, 2000

As mentioned in our PMA Report (May 2000), Kodak has introduced an entirely new ISO 800 print film for "consumers," Max Zoom 800 "with significantly improved picture clarity and superior sharpness making it the company's best film for 35mm zoom camera snapshooters." During my meeting with the Kodak reps, they provided 20 rolls of this new film and I managed to shoot some 144 frames while exploring the Las Vegas area and later, Walt Disney World in Florida. I was certainly impressed with the resulting 8x12 enlargements which resemble prints made from the ISO 400 films.

Technical Improvements. Kodak has incorporated all of its latest technology into the new Max Zoom 800: the highly efficient T-Grain emulsions, advanced color enhancement accelerators, Quad-Coated emulsion layers--with a fourth red sensitive recording layer for greater color accuracy--exposure optimized color chemistry, and an electronic charge stabilization agent for consistency even when the film is improperly stored. The practical advantages of this complex technology are simple: higher sharpness and finer grain, improved color accuracy in a broad variety of lighting conditions, greater resistance to damage from heat and humidity, plus wider exposure latitude.

Since lack of sharpness due to camera shake is a common reason for disappointment with photos, the higher shutter speeds possible with ISO 800 will be a definite advantage. Max Zoom 800 will be appreciated especially by owners of cameras with "slow" built-in zoom lenses or by anyone shooting in low light. (Sigma 28-105mm f/3.8-5.6 Aspherical zoom at f/5.6.)

The latter is significant indeed. Kodak claims that Max Zoom 800 has an exposure latitude in the --2 to plus range. In other words, good prints should be possible even when the film is underexposed by up to two stops or overexposed by up to four stops. Frankly, underexposure is generally the problem with most high-speed films, especially in snapshooting applications so greater tolerance in this direction will be good news indeed.

Another advantage is worth noting: the new film should print perfectly on the same channel as labs use for Kodak Gold films, increasing the odds of better prints from most any minilab.

Preliminary Findings. Very extensive testing will be required to confirm all of the claims for this new film, but consider my following conclusions based on examining numerous 4x6 prints and a dozen 8x12 prints:

· The grain structure is very smooth and even without clumping. In general the grain is very fine, comparable to that of the previous generation Max 400 film. This is a subjective judgment; in other words, the 8x10 prints seem identical in grain structure to the prints from the ISO 400 film to the naked eye.

When I needed higher shutter speeds, I did not hesitate to shoot Max Zoom 800 with the camera's ISO dial set to 1600. In spite of the full stop of underexposure, grain and color rendition remain pleasing. (Sigma 28-105mm f/3.8-5.6 Aspherical zoom at f/4; at 1/30 sec.)

· Colors are rich, bold, and vibrant, especially the reds and blues. Yellows and other pastels are clean and fully saturated. Overall, color rendition offers high visual appeal.

· Sharpness is high and contrast is moderately high. The latter is close to ideal: adequately high for an impression of greater sharpness in flat lighting but not so high as to be excessive on sunny days.

· Prints made by a minilab with high standards of quality control--using the filtration pack intended for Kodak Gold films--are very pleasing. Kodak indicates that even better results will be possible on the new Ektacolor Edge 8 or DuraLife papers: richer reds, greens, blues and superior skin tones. However, at the time of my tests, neither of these new papers were available in my area.

Even in unusual lighting conditions, Max Zoom 800 produces excellent results. Note the high sharpness and definition of fine detail in the background, an impressive result with an ISO 800 film. (Sigma 28-105mm f/3.8-5.6 Aspherical zoom at f/5.6.)

· When I intentionally underexposed a roll by one stop--for higher shutter speeds during the Disney Electric Light Parade--print quality remained more than acceptable. This is an impressive result with an ISO 800 film. Slight overexposure is preferable however, producing prints with even finer apparent grain and richer colors. When the full ISO 800 film speed is not required, I would generally overexpose this film by 1/3EV for the most impressive image quality.

Conclusion. My preliminary tests confirm the manufacturer's claims making Max Zoom 800 the all-purpose film that I would recommend in the Kodak line for use with compact zoom lens/shutter camera owners. For the very best results, it would be worth finding a lab that uses the new Ektacolor Edge 8 or DuraLife papers; Kodak provided several sample 8x10 prints (on Edge 8) and color rendition is indeed more vibrant.

Photofinishers--including my favorite lab--confirm that the single most common reason for customer disappointment is lack of sharpness due to image blur: caused by camera shake or subject movement. Switching to an ISO 800 film should virtually eliminate this problem, except in night photography or with sports subjects in low light. Combine this advantage with the high image quality produced by the new product, and Max Zoom 800 lives up to Kodak's claim as "our best film for zoom cameras."

Note: It is extremely difficult to reproduce all characteristics with absolute fidelity on the printed page. Hence, if the illustrations do not seem to exactly match the captions, rely on the written analysis as the accurate representation of the image characteristics.

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