New Kodak Max Zoom 400 Print Film

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.

Grain Structure
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; B+W polarizer.)

Technical Improvements
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 films.

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 mentioned earlier.

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.

Color Rendition
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 so.
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
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;

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.