Sharpness is very high and resolution of fine detail is
exceptional; every feather in a macaw's portrait is clearly
defined. When it comes to sharpness, the new Max 400 is
comparable to some ISO 100 films.
Even in my 8x12 prints, new Max 400 exhibits extremely
high sharpness and resolution. The higher ISO--as compared
to my usual ISO 100 film--allowed me to shoot at smaller
apertures, at the lens' optimum f/stop, without fear of
blur from camera shake. This also helped to maximize image
quality. (Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6LD at 250mm; Canon 550EX;
flash; f/8 at 1/250 sec.)
Photos © 2001, Peter K. Burian, All Rights Reserved
Until about five years ago,
any color print film with an ISO over 200 was considered to be in the
"high-speed" category. Then, the many ISO 1000 and 800 films hit the
market, and eventually, the ISO 400 products were defined as medium
speed. They became the standard film for most owners of point-and-shoot
cameras with "slow" zoom lenses, often f/6-f/10. Many SLR camera owners
also prefer this speed for the same reasons: less risk of blur from
camera shake, greater effective flash range, sharper action shots, and
sometimes, greater depth of field.
As discussed in our PMA Report
(May 2001), Kodak introduced a substantially improved version of their
ISO 400 consumer-grade film this spring. Although it's still called
Kodak Max 400, the new version is even better than its highly rated
predecessor. I shot a number of rolls of this new emulsion during trips
to Las Vegas, Zion National Park, and the classy Art Deco district of
Miami Beach. I was certainly impressed with the 8x12 enlargements, which
resemble prints made from slower film.
At typical viewing distances, grain is invisible, even in
sky areas, where grain is generally most noticeable. Only
when viewing the 8x10 prints at uncomfortably close distances
(a few inches) does grain become visible. Even then, its
structure is incredibly fine, without clumping, and exceptionally
smooth. While the grain of the best ISO 100 films is even
finer, the difference is minimal in prints of this size,
the largest typically made by those using consumer films.
In my subjective judgment, the 8x12 prints seem identical
in grain structure to those I have gotten in the past from
Kodak Gold 200 film.
Unless new Max 400 is underexposed, its grain structure
is surprisingly fine and smooth for a film of this speed.
Even sky areas--where grain is typically most noticeable--appear
devoid of grain in my 8x10 prints, from normal viewing distances.
(An 8x10 print; Canon EF 28-135mm IS zoom at 135mm; f/8;
Kodak has incorporated all of its latest technology into the new Max 400,
producing the following claimed improvements. Sensitivity to light has
been increased--without an increase in silver-halide grain--with Kodak's
Advanced Development Accelerator, which is specially designed to work
in combination with the Kodak T-grain emulsion technology. The new film
is claimed to be "superior to any competing 400-speed product" in light
sensitivity while featuring an exceptionally fine grain structure.
Other claimed advantages include:
improved skin tones, more consistent color in a variety of lighting conditions,
electronic charge stabilization agent for consistent print results under
a wide range of storage conditions, improved shadow and highlight detail,
plus superior digital photofinishing compatibility. According to Kodak
literature, digital noise and artifacts in digital prints made by scanning
the new film will be noticeably lower than with previous Kodak ISO 400
In The Field
Because I was using "slow" zoom lenses during most of my tests, I certainly
appreciated the higher shutter speeds available when using this ISO 400
film. I generally use ISO 100 slide film, so the benefit was immediately
noticeable. I could shoot at 1/250 sec in situations that called for 1/60
sec exposures with ISO 100 film, virtually eliminating any chance of blur
from camera shake or the need for a tripod. Or, I could stop down to smaller
apertures, such as f/11, instead of shooting wide-open, taking advantage
of the "sweet spot" of the lens and the greater range of sharp focus.
Naturally, flash range increased substantially, too, so I could use fill
flash on friends hiking along Utah trails.
When I needed higher shutter speeds--as for this indoor
shot of the ceiling in the spectacularly lavish Venetian
hotel in Las Vegas--I did not hesitate to shoot new Max
400 with the camera's ISO dial set to 1600. In spite of
the underexposure, grain and color rendition remain pleasing.
Any lack of sharpness is due to camera shake. (An 8x10 print;
EOS-3 in Evaluative metering; Canon EF 28-135mm IS zoom
at 50mm; f/5.6 at 1/8 sec.)
A Kodak rep offered the following
comment about the advantages of an excellent ISO 400 film vs. its slower
counterparts. "Based on our testing, up to 25 percent of the pictures
captured with Kodak Max 400 film are improved over pictures captured with
100 and 200 speed films." This is definitely understandable for the reasons
Preliminary Print Evaluation
Initially, I had my film processed and printed by a minilab with very
high standards of quality control. They happen to use Fuji paper but the
results were impressive in 4x6 prints: high sharpness, vivid colors, natural
skin tones, and invisible grain. Print contrast seemed high, however.
Some of the prints were a bit too bright because I had frequently bracketed
toward overexposure while shooting. This has been a standard tactic for
me with color print films because increased exposure generally offers
some benefits: finer grain and richer color rendition.
With new Max 400 however, that
strategy was totally unnecessary. I noticed absolutely no improvement
in the images that had been slightly overexposed. This was confirmed later
when I made 8x10 prints from select frames. While I do not have equipment
to conduct scientific film speed tests, I would say that the true ISO
of Max 400 may be even higher than 400. If so, this would be a real benefit
to anyone using point-and-shoot cameras, which can often underexpose bright
scenes. In any event, this is at least a full ISO 400 film and there's
no need for intentional overexposure.
Colors are rich, bold, and vibrant--especially the reds,
purples, and blues; however, they are a bit dark, even in
professionally made prints. Yellows, pinks, and other pastels
are clean and fully saturated. Overall, color rendition
offers high visual appeal. Saturation is high but not excessively
New Max 400 produces rich, bold, and vibrant primary
colors, and dark blues. On sunny days, it's worth using
a polarizer as with any film, to wipe glare that might desaturate
colors. A richer sky tone is a bonus. (Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6
Aspherical; f/11 at 1/250 sec; B+W polarizer.)
When I intentionally underexposed
a roll by one stop--to simulate the results produced by point-and-shoot
cameras in bright scenes--print quality remained more than acceptable.
In a 4x6 print the difference is not noticeable at all, confirming wide
exposure latitude. In an 8x12 enlargement, grain is more visible but remains
fine and quite smooth; contrast is even higher. If a faster shutter speed
is necessary, in low light I would not hesitate to shoot this film at
an Exposure Index of 800.
Evaluation Of Enlargements
Next, I took some of the negatives to a pro lab using Kodak chemicals
and paper with a simple instruction: "Make the best possible print, using
your own judgment." As expected, the results were even better in terms
of print exposure and color rendition. When I showed the enlargements
to several advanced photographers, they all assumed that I had used an
ISO 100 or 200 film. The minilab used the filtration pack intended for
Kodak Gold films and found this to be an ideal setting. Prints made by
the pro lab on Kodak Professional paper are excellent. Even better results
may be possible on the new Ektacolor Edge 8 or DuraLife papers. These
yield richer colors and superior skin tones. However, at the time of my
tests, neither lab had yet acquired these papers. The following specific
comments provide a detailed evaluation of all of the qualities of the
new Max 400:
Skin tones are highly accurate, perhaps a bit lighter than
I recall them. There is certainly no artificial sunburned
look, as with some ultrahigh saturation films. In my estimation,
most people will consider portraits to be pleasing, especially
when fill flash is used to soften shadows.
Kodak new Max 400 produces pleasing and accurate skin
tones and rich, deeply saturated colors. Because of its
higher contrast, it's worth using fill flash on sunny days
to moderate contrast, when possible. (Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8
APO EX HSM; Canon 550EX; B+W polarizer; f/11 at 1/250 sec.)
New Max 400 is the right general purpose Kodak film for most consumers,
although the new Max Zoom 800 may be preferable for some. Those shooting
with compact cameras with very slow telephoto zoom lenses--and underpowered
flash units--can always benefit from a faster film. However, given the
excellent imaging qualities of new Max 400, I can really see no reason
to use an ISO 200 print film. As emulsions keep getting better and better,
the day may come when ISO 400 will be the slowest film necessary for the
consumer market. This is high praise, indeed, and a prediction that I
could not have made five years ago.
Contrast is higher than I have come to expect with various
ISO 100 and 200 print films. In the flat light of an overcast
day--or when using inexpensive lenses with low inherent
contrast--this quality would be highly desirable. Snappy
contrast does increase the impression of sharpness in such
situations. However, under sunny Utah and Florida skies,
the contrast sometimes seems excessive. Since the pro lab
avoided burned out highlights when making the prints, some
shadow areas are blocked up and show little detail. In outdoor
photography on bright days, fill flash is certainly useful
with this film. Printing on paper with lower contrast may
be useful, too.
In the soft light of shade or overcast skies, the snappy
contrast of new Max 400 proved to be ideal for an increased
impression of sharpness. At Harrah's Casino, Las Vegas.
(An 8x10 print; Canon EF 28-135mm IS zoom at 90mm; 550EX
Speedlite; f/8 at 1/125 sec.)
For more information, contact
Eastman Kodak Company at (716) 724-4373; fax: (716) 781-1730; www.kodak.com.
Note: It is extremely
difficult to reproduce all slide 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.