The Ever So-Reliable Kodak Ultramax

The Ever So-Reliable Kodak Ultramax

Known for its affordability and versatile speed, the Kodak Ultramax is easily one of the most popular film stocks available in the market today. As an all-purpose, daylight colour negative identified by its bright yellow canister similar to Kodak Gold, the Kodak Ultramax is an easy to get and easy to use stock for everyone who refuse to burn their wallet for professional grade films.

A roll of fresh Kodak Ultramax typically cost around US$5-6 depending on where you buy it. For an ISO 400 film stock to cost under $10 is, in my opinion, really cheap especially when you compare it to the likes of regular Fuji Superia X-tra that can cost $5 more, again depending on where you get it. The difference in price gets even bigger when you compare the Ultramax with, say, the Japanese line of Fuji Superia (for example, the Superia Venus 800) and the Superia X-tra Premium. I’d go as far as to compare it to the highly favoured Kodak Portra 400 but that’d be unfair since Portra is of professional grade and you won’t be able to get it for less than $10. That said, sometimes I see the Ultramax as Portra’s grainier but cheaper dupe.

I always say my choice of ammunition is something along the range of ISO 200-400 because it’s the safest bet when you don’t know the kind of situation you’ll be exposed to that day. Most of the time, it’s either the Fujicolor C200, Kodak Gold 200 or the Ultramax 400 — do notice that I only have one ISO 400 film in mind when I'm thinking of a quick load up. In fact, the Ultramax is widely known as Kodak’s ‘do it all’ consumer grade film, making it all the more reason for you to try this out.


Film: Kodak Ultramax 400
ISO: 400
Format: 35mm
Developer: C-41
Exposures: 36 (also available in 24 exp)
Availability: ★★★★★
For this amateur review alone, I loaded my Ultramax 400 to my current favourite pocket camera, the Pentax Zoom 90 and brought it to a saturdate with the boyfriend. During my time shooting random, unplanned subjects, my camera was set to 'no flash' with no exposure compensation. It's safe to say that I was shooting things with the box speed, exactly at ISO 400.

Boyfriend and I went to PIK, a seemingly called prestigious gated community located in North Jakarta. The weather was so warm that day and the sun was shining so, so bright my skin practically melted. I had to lose my outer jacket that day and strolled around the area with a sleeveless summer dress or else I'd be sweating from head to toe. As much as I hate the sunlight, my camera certainly loves it. I just knew I was going to get decent photos that day though I wasn't sure about how saturated the colours would be since different lighting condition may lead to different outcome sometimes.

The above photos were taken somewhere around 13:00-14:00 where the sun hit the brightest. The colours are neutral and well-balanced with no over-saturation especially with warm tones like reds. This is also one of the few reasons why I love the Ultramax 400 despite some film practitioners hating it. I, for one, am not someone who wants warm tones in my photos to be very enhanced. If anything, I prefer deep saturation in blues and greens (hence my love for the Fuji stocks) and will reject intense reds, yellows and oranges usually found in cheaper consumer grade films like Kodak Colorplus 200 for example.

There was a public, so-named Eco Park located within a particular housing area and random me decided to drag my boyfriend to explore the area. There wasn't a lot of people though and I only found several boys playing basketball so I decided to take a quick shot. Notice how the image may not be perfectly straight? Yeah, that's my astigmatism and the result from rushing to take a picture. Side note, we also found two swans chilling by the pond!

By evening we decided to go to Mutiara Beach which is another prestigious residential community but with houses facing towards the sea. It's not really a beach despite the name because there's no open sandy area but it's a famous spot to watch the sunset, as proven by the number of local couples during the weekend. It gets even better for them because there's no entrance fee. Boyfriend and I aren't frequent visitors of this place but we tend to randomly drive there for a few minutes just to watch and smell the sea. Though it's the cheapest way to enjoy a super brief sight-seaing (heh), I personally don't recommend this place due to its crowd and piles of garbage. Not gonna lie, it's actually pretty sad to see these junk. Then again, you can never expect locals to look after our environment. They're pretty hopeless anyway.

Alright, let's talk about the photography thing. By the time I took these pictures, it was somewhere around 16:00 going to 17:00 and if I remember correctly, I was occasionally shifting from no-flash auto mode to no-flash exposure compensation just to test the feature out. Personally, with exposure compensation, I think some shots came out pretty flat. Not bad, just a little flat. Since my Pentax is pretty much a fully automatic camera, the exposure compensation is also automatically programmed which means I can't choose whether to over or underexpose it. I guess it's better to shoot things at box speed when you have a high ISO film, an automatic camera and well-lit condition. With a manual SLR, however, I'd try overexposing it to one stop and shoot it at ISO 200 out in the sun. Of course this is by no means an absolute technique and is only my own personal preference.

When it comes to portraits, I personally quite like how it turns out. I don't take a lot of close up portraits so I can't really conclude more than I already did. I've heard some people say that in darker skin tones, results tend to produce a subtle yellow hue which is something not found in lighter skin tones. In lighter skin tones, the Kodak Ultramax stays true and natural and just really balanced.

For grains, the Ultramax has really obvious but really fine grains that I find add a little flair of aesthetic. I'm not a fan of intense grains but finer ones that give off this old school, fuzzy vibe are alright. In fact, I quite like it. Considering its affordability, I was actually quite surprised that the Ultramax's grains aren't destructive to my shots. It's also one of the reasons why I keep going back to this film for daily use. On the other hand, if you're not a fan of grains, the more professional Kodak Potra 400 or Fuji Pro400H is something you can consider. They are, however, pricey. I also think the finer, less grain there is, the more expensive the film stock will be.

That said, the Ultramax is without a doubt a staple in my collection. If you are looking for a better option from the cheap Kodak Colorplus 200 and with faster speed, pick the Ultramax 400, load it and shoot. Just a quick tip, since Kodak is famous for their preference to overly saturate warm tones, try to stay away from yellow backgrounds and tungsten light when shooting with this roll. In fact, I wouldn't pick any consumer grade Kodak stock for shooting under tungsten light and would recommend the colder tone Fuji C200 instead.