Kodak Ultramax 400 35mm Film Review

kodak ultramax 400

Ultramax 400 is one of three consumer grade colour negative films offered by Kodak, sitting alongside its siblings ColorPlus 200 and Gold 200. And to me, that higher ISO is its single biggest selling point.

Gold 200 has a cult status that to harks back to when holiday memories could only be captured on film, while ColorPlus 200 is typically the cheapest Kodak film available. What Ultramax 400 mainly brings is more versatility in lower light and at a more budget-friendly price than the professional Portra 400.

That doesn’t mean I think the only value Ultramax brings is in doing things that those others don’t, though. I think it’s a good film in its own right and one that’s well worth shooting.

You can read on to find out why that is, along with plenty of technical information, and also see some lovely example shots of what you can expect from it. They’re coming up… right now.

What to expect from Kodak Ultramax 400

I’ve got through a few rolls of Kodak Ultramax, in a few different cameras and in a few different parts of the world. And some of these rolls were developed and scanned by different labs, and then all were edited slightly by me before publishing.

So bear that in mind when you’re looking at these example shots. They’re not all going to look exactly the same, and what I got is not going to be exactly the same as what you get.

That said, let’s start with some from the first roll of Ultramax I shot. These were with the Yashica Electro 35 GSN in Wuxi, China.

As we’ll explore later, Ultramax is closely related to Gold 200, branching off from the same family tree, so it should come as no surprise that it gives you results with similar levels of that trademark 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 might expect with the higher 400 ISO is a factor to consider 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 good light – in morning and afternoon sun – and the film reacted to that with good contrast. The sharpness is also nothing to complain about.

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.

A few more example shots come courtesy of the original Soviet Lomo LC-A which I shot in Weston-super-Mare, England. Which is a long way from Wuxi, in more ways than I could tell you here.

These definitely have a more lo-fi feel, as you’d expect from the godfather camera of the Lomography movement, but those Ultramax image qualities are still present. Warmness, sharpness, and good contrast when the light is conducive to it.

Kodak film has always been brilliant at reproducing the warm hues that photographs from days at the seaside need, and this one doesn’t disappoint in that respect.

Three more shot with another Lomo camera – this time the much newer LC-Wide – show other aspects that Ultramax handled pretty well.

These were at Colwyn Bay by the way, which too is a long was from Wuxi.

First up is the sun glistening on the water. You don’t always have to shoot into the sun to get nice results. Sometimes going against it is good too.

Second is a dog that was running past me at a decent clip. The point of sharing this image here isn’t so much the image quality or qualities, but that more ISO 400 versatility.

Would the camera have had enough shutter speed to freeze that motion at ISO 200? We’ll never know. But it would have stood less chance.

And finally for this section of this film review, a portrait of my friend. Ultramax isn’t a film designed for portraits like Portra 400 is, for example. But even with its inherent saturation and warm hue, it didn’t do badly with the skin tones et al there.

Overall, I’d say 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 a good film.

I like it.

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, and of having a great time doing it.

Sometimes, that’s all you want from a film. Art doesn’t matter. Not when it’s just about preserving those memories.

What is Kodak Ultramax 400?

Now you’ve seen some example shots of what Ultramax can do, it’s probably a good time to get into what it actually is.

According to Kodak themselves, with words lifted straight from their own datasheet, this is ‘a worry-free, easy-to-use high speed film designed for snapshooters’ that ‘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’.

The literature goes on to state that ‘even when enlarged, ULTRA MAX 400 Film delivers excellent sharpness and fine grain for crisp, clear pictures. Optimized color precision technology provides consistently bright, vibrant colors with accurate skin-tone reproduction for natural-looking people pictures.’

What Kodak are basically saying is that Utramax is a clean, sharp and vibrant film that is versatile enough to use in a variety of lighting conditions and still get good results.

My experience of shooting this film would lead me to agree with all of that.

It’s one of the cheaper colour negative films out there, is sold in most places that sell film and, as a regular C-41 stock, can be developed anywhere that develops film.

There’s nothing pretentious here. Just a simple film that’s simple to find, simple to shoot, and simple to see the results you got from it.

The history of its name is a little more complicated though…

4X Kodak UltraMax 400 Speed 35mm 36 Exposures Film
  • 4 Rolls / 36 Exposures / 400 Speed
  • 35mm / ISO 400
  • Process C-41

The evolution of Kodak Ultramax 400 – a brief history

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 while many people compare Ultramax 400 to Gold 200, what we’re in effect looking at here 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.

On paper, with that increased versatility, this should be in the running to be Kodak’s best general purpose colour film.

With everything it has going for it, the question of why it isn’t as loved as Gold 200 sounds a good one to ask.

kodak ultramax and gold

Shooting Kodak Ultramax in lower light

The versatility brought by Ultramax’s ISO 400 rating means it can be shot in situations with lower light, and we have some examples of how it performs with that right here.

The first three were shot with the aforementioned Lomo LC-Wide on an overcast day at the beautiful Pen yr Ole Wen in north Wales.

Despite the gloomy light and real lack of variety of colours in the shots, I think the Ultramax did everything asked of it. The greens are nice, and there was no noticeable uptick in grain or anything else you might expect when there’s a risk of underexposure.

Not that there was much risk of that though, with an ISO 400 film. Which is kind of the point I’m trying to make here.

The flexibility of shooting Ultramax in low light is most evident in the couple of images below however, which were taken with the Lomo LC-A.

Shot indoors, inside an amusement arcade and using mainly the light coming from the machines themselves, I don’t think they would have been possible with an ISO 200 film like Gold or ColorPlus. Not without some noticeable camera shake, at least.

You don’t need a flash to shoot film in low light, be that outdoors at night or indoors at any time. You just need your subject to be lit well enough.

In my experience, it’s not difficult to do this with ISO 400 film, but I think that’s probably where the cut-off is. Going down to ISO 200 would just be a step too far to realistically and reliably achieve this.

Street photography with Kodak Ultramax 400

The versatility that increased sensitivity of ISO 400 gives you over an ISO 200 film can extend to street photography too.

In the case of the low-light photography just mentioned, we want a faster shutter speed to avoid camera shake when shooting inanimate objects. With street photography, we want that shutter speed to freeze the motion of moving subjects.

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 – thanks to Ultramax’s wide exposure latitude – means you could potentially stick with this film for all your colour 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 Fuji Natura 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.

kodak ultramax 400 film

Where to buy Kodak Ultramax 400 film

Kodak Ultramax is not a film you should have any trouble tracking down, picking up, and buying from an actual person in an actual shop.

It’s the kind of everyday stock you might see in places you didn’t even go to with buying film in mind, like the supermarket, grocery store, or petrol station. If they have any film, their small selection could well include this one.

Still, if you did want to take advantage of the convenience of the internet and order some online or compare prices, there are plenty of people who would be happy to help you out there.

You can check the prices and availability through the links below.

4X Kodak UltraMax 400 Speed 35mm 36 Exposures Film
  • 4 Rolls / 36 Exposures / 400 Speed
  • 35mm / ISO 400
  • Process C-41

Wrapping up this Kodak Ultramax 400 review

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. It’s ever bit as good as Gold 200, albeit with different strengths and attributes. I’ve had very good results with both – to my eye anyway – but I do appreciate the higher ISO that Ultramax brings.

The exposure latitude isn’t quite as wide as Portra 400‘s and the grain is more pronounced than that of Ektar 100. But they are both in Kodak’s Professional range of films, and so this is to be expected.

This is more of a simple yet reliable film that does most things well, and is hard to shoot wrong.

I do wonder though if the name Kodak gave it in 1997 is holding it back, though. Like its current moniker is preventing it from having the same cult status as a time less stock that Gold 200 has.

Sounding like a 1960s Japanese superhero isn’t a bad thing in itself, but maybe losing that name lineage to the 1980s has harmed its appeal to the youth of today in some way.

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. And just maybe 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 – with praise for what this film does. In a nutshell, that is everything pretty well and in a way that’s hard to mess up.

Yes, it’s more expensive than Gold and ColorPlus. No, it doesn’t have that cool retro name anymore. But if you like the results you saw here and want an ISO 400 film instead, it deserves a chance.

You can pick some up from B&H Photo, from Amazon, or from Analogue Wonderland if you want to give it that shot.  🙂

Further Kodak Ultramax 400 reading on My Favourite Lens

If you want to see even more shots taken on Kodak Ultramax 400 or just enjoy reading blog posts on film photography, take your pick from the selection just below.

Alternatively, if you’re in the mood for more reviews of different film stocks, why not dive into some of those in the other list instead. 🙂

written by
LEE WEBB
Hi, I'm Lee - creator of My Favourite Lens and the one whose work you're seeing whenever you read a post on here.
I shoot as much film as I can in as many different cameras as I can, and I enjoy playing with vintage lenses on digital cameras also.

Everything I do and what I learn along the way gets shared on here, to inform and inspire you to get out and shoot as much - and as well - as you can too.

6 thoughts on “Kodak Ultramax 400 35mm Film Review”

  1. I agree the name is a factor. ULTRAMAX sounds like something from Beyblade. Very enticing to a 5 year old kid. Not so much to people who shoot film.

    I got over the name and this is now my preferred general use color neg film.

    Reply
    • Cheers for reading and commenting, John. Yep, I can see how it would be someone’s favourite general use film. I liked it and reckon it’d be a good choice for a holiday film. Bright memories and not breaking the bank. 🙂

      Reply

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