Ultramax 400 is one of three consumer grade films offered by Kodak, sitting alongside its siblings ColorPlus 200 and Gold 200. Unfortunately, it seems to be a bit of a black sheep.
Gold 200 has a cult status that to harks back to when holiday memories could only be captured on film, while ColorPlus 200 is the cheapest Kodak film available today. Ultramax 400 is then just kind of there alongside them, less mentioned and more expensive.
Aside from the price, I do have a couple of ideas why this is so. I also think, based on my experience shooting all three, it’s a little unfair.
Find your Kodak Ultramax 400 on Amazon today
What is Kodak Ultramax 400?
If you were to go researching old versions of Kodak Ultramax 400 packaging, like I did before writing this, you’d find the film hasn’t always gone by its current name.
It’s cycled through various ones down the years and they’ve likely differed from country to country too, albeit using different combinations of the same words for much of the time.
In no particular order and all at ISO 400, I’ve seen boxes of Kodak Ultra, Kodak Ultra Gold, Kodak Gold Ultra, Kodak Max, Kodak Gold Max, and Kodak Max Versatility.
There may be others that I’ve missed. Regardless, what we do know is they all date from 2007 onwards. Before that, from 1997, this film was known as Kodak Gold 400.
Going back further, from 1988 to 1997, it was Kodacolor Gold 400. Gold 200 also bore the name Kodacolor at that time.
So if you’re asking what Kodak Ultramax 400 is, the simple answer is Kodak Gold 400 with a more comic book-sounding name. Until it became Ultramax, it genuinely was Gold 200’s bigger brother. You can still see the resemblance in the packaging in the image below, especially with the canisters.
With that higher ISO, Ultramax is a more all-purpose film than Gold 200 and can be shot in lower light or to achieve higher shutter speeds in the same light. Hence the footballer icon on the box and that previous name that told you straight up it’s a versatile film.
On paper, this should be in the running to be Kodak’s best general purpose colour film. It’s a relatively inexpensive, daylight balanced, colour negative stock that can be bought anywhere that sells film and developed anywhere that develops it too.
With all that going for it, the question of why it isn’t as loved as Gold 200 sounds a good one to ask.
Kodak Ultramax 400 image qualities
As Ultramax is so closely related to Gold 200, it should come as no surprise that it gives you results with similar levels of that Kodak warmness.
As I talked about in the Gold review, whether you like that in your work is going to be down to personal taste. I’ve heard people say, both online and in person, that they don’t. That they dislike Ultramax chiefly because of that.
Perhaps the increased grain you can expect with the higher 400 ISO is a factor too. I didn’t notice a great deal of difference there between Ultramax and Gold though, but I’m not enlarging and examining for it.
For regular sized snapshots, it seems negligible, with the amount of grain overall perfectly acceptable for me.
A good number of the images I got with Ultramax were shot in the morning and afternoon sun, and the film reacted to that with good contrast. The sharpness is also nothing to complain about, bearing in mind what we’re shooting with here.
If you can accept that warmness, I think you’ll find the colours to be pretty balanced overall. They are well-saturated, but they’re all well-saturated. There’s no single standout colour like you get with your reds when shooting Fujicolor Industrial, for example.
One thing to note is skin tones may come out a little too yellow if you overexpose. With the wide exposure latitude though, you should be safe from this if you’re shooting at box speed and with a camera with a working light meter.
Overall, the bottom line here is similar to with Kodak Gold. If you like that warm, inherently retro look to your photographs, Ultramax could be for you. For me, it’s not a bad film.
That’s not me describing it as merely not bad, by the way. What I mean is some people not liking it doesn’t mean it’s objectively bad.
The warmness and saturation it gives to these shots is accurate to the light when I took them. Or at least my memory of it. It’s a good memory of a good time spent shooting, and I think that’s important to have.
Street photography with Kodak Ultramax 400
One potential advantage Ultramax has over Gold 200 and Colorplus 200 is its 400 ISO rating. I say potential because this might not matter depending on the photography you’re doing with it.
However, when using it for street photography, it definitely gives you a bit more versatility – that word again – when it comes to the light you can shoot in.
When shooting in a given amount of light and with your lens set at the same aperture, a 400 film will give you double the shutter speed of a 200. If shooting street on an overcast day, as the sun is going down, or even in and out of buildings, this can make all the difference.
All this while still performing in the kind of bright sunlight I shot it in for these images you see here means you could potentially stick to Ultramax for all your street shooting, if you liked it enough to do so.
And while it’s more expensive than both Gold and ColorPlus, it’s not like you’re walking around wasting a roll of Fujicolor Pro 400H on decisively missed moments.
When I reviewed Gold 200, I did talk about the warmness being too much if you wanted a more gritty street photography look and it being more suited to holiday or travel shots.
That’s still true, although I quite like it in the photographs here. Perhaps that’s because they kind of are travel shots, as opposed to ones taken in and around my neighbourhood.
Whatever the reason, and it’s probably me rather than the films, I’m happier with the colour and contrast the Ultramax gave these than the Gold did when I shot that.
Kodak Ultramax 400 specs and development
Kodak Ultramax is a 5500k daylight balanced, ISO 400, colour negative 35mm film that’s available in rolls of 24 or 36 exposures. It has the DX code 915373 and is developed using the regular C-41 process.
I don’t develop my own film but all the information you need for Ultramax can be found on Kodak’s own technical data sheet.
On there you’ll find recommended apertures and shutter speeds for different light conditions, a guide to which filter and exposure adjustments to use when shooting under different types of light, and a table of benefits and features of the film.
These include advanced T-Grain emulsion technology, optimised colour precision technology, better underexposure protection, great skin tones, and better pictures under more conditions.
Kodak also say Ultramax is designed to be developed in their own Flexicolor chemicals, which of course they would say, and to handle the undeveloped film in total darkness without the use of a safelight.
Final thoughts on Kodak Ultramax 400
As mentioned earlier, I’ve seen and heard a few people say how little they think of Ultramax. Mainly, from what I’ve seen, because of the results it gives.
While that’s the single most valid reason to like or dislike a film, it is a subjective one. Nobody can tell these people they’re wrong, just as they can’t say you’re wrong for being an Ultramax fan.
Based on what I’ve shot, I’m in the latter camp. Right now I prefer it to Gold 200. I’ve had better results with it – to my eye anyway – and appreciate the higher ISO is there should I ever need it.
On that, Kodak themselves say that it’s a worry-free, easy-to-use high speed film designed for snapshooters and that it gives you the flexibility you need to take consistently better pictures in more picture taking situations – better low-light picture quality with fewer underexposures, better results with zoom lenses, greater flash range, better ‘stop-action’ photos, and reduced impact of camera shake.
As well as some people disliking the look it gives, I wonder if part of the reason Ultramax isn’t as loved as Gold 200 is due to its current moniker.
Sounding like a 1960s Japanese superhero isn’t a bad thing in itself, but maybe losing that name lineage to the 1980s is denying it that cult status Gold 200 enjoys as a timeless stock.
It sounds shallow to suggest people would like a film more if it had different words on the box, but we all know how much branding matters. Not just for film, but for anything we consider buying. I just wonder how some people might feel differently about Ultramax if it was still – and always had been – Gold 400.
Regardless, let’s wrap this up by circling back to where we began. If this is the black sheep of the Kodak consumer grade film family, I’d advocate for letting it back in the fold.
Find your Kodak Ultramax 400 on Amazon today
… p.s. if you’ve shot Kodak Ultramax 400 yourself and have anything to add to this, let us know in the comments below
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