Photography

Shooting Foma Fomapan 100

I want cheap, decent film when I shoot casually or test an old camera. Fujicolor 200 fits the bill on the color side. It’s pretty good and I can get it for $2.50 a roll. On the black-and-white side my go-to, the wonderful Arista Premium 400, was discontinued and I recently used up my stock. Time to look for a replacement!

You might not expect to find a film manufacturer in the Czech Republic, but Foma has been at it there since 1921. They make black-and-white films under the Fomapan brand, at ISO 100, 200, and 400, in 35mm and 120.

Their films are about as inexpensive as you’ll find in black and white, a little more than $4 in most places I’ve found. Amazon recently offered 36-exposure rolls of 35mm Fomapan 100 for about $3.50, so I bought several while the price lasted. And it’s generally understood that Freestyle Photo’s Arista.EDU Ultra 100 is Fomapan 100, and as of spring 2016 Freestyle consistently offers 24-exposure rolls for $3.19.

I just shot my first roll of Fomapan 100; I used my Nikon F2AS. The quick verdict: it’s not bad. My test roll photos showed more contrast and less tonal subtlety than what I experience from T-Max, Tri-X, and Neopan Acros. But the film also never misbehaved with things like blown-out highlights, which I’ve experienced with other inexpensive black-and-white films (coughKentmere100cough). Here’s a selection of Fomapan 100 shots.

I started out with my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens. The office building where I work is lined with callery pear trees. They briefly each April. Briefly, thank goodness: the flowers smell like rotting shrimp.

Callery pear

The golf course behind my house went bankrupt and is essentially abandoned. I need to do a whole photo series on it, as watching it decay has been fascinating. This is the cart path behind my house.

On the abandoned golf course

Deeper inside the golf course I photographed this footbridge. I feel sorry for the people who bought houses on this course thinking they were living in a golf community. My house predates the course by 20 years; it’s happenstance that I have a golf view.

On the abandoned golf course

Back at home, I shot my daffodils in full bloom. I like the clarity and detail this film returns.

Daffodils

I switched to a 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens I just bought for the rest of the roll. This shot in particular shows how contrasty this film is. I like the bottomless blacks.

Welcome

This film performed well enough in all kinds of light, but I liked it a little better under overcast skies than in direct sun. Diffuse light brings out greater tonal subtleties.

Shut

The sun came out for this photo, which made the whites mighty white. I toned them down a little bit in Photoshop to make them a little more pleasing.

Benches

Apparently, Foma’s b/w films all use old-fashioned grain structures. Some reviewers around the Internet liken these films to emulsions common during the 1930s and 1940s. But Fomapan 100’s grain, at least, is not prominent.

Tree shadow

I like this film. I can see myself using it for everyday black-and-white shooting. But before I stock up, I want to try the ISO 200 and 400 versions.

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18 thoughts on “Shooting Foma Fomapan 100

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Had a problem with this in the mid-2000’s with emulsion tearing, but I sent a few rolls back to Freestyle and it seemed to go away…I’ve tried the Efke and all the others they offer too (Foma, Adox), as I like the ‘classic’ emulsions (heck, I started by shooting the ‘classic emulsions’), but they can certainly do well with a more compensating developer to make them less contrasty. I never liked the look of Kodak’s T-Max emulsions, so going backwards in film time is fine by me!

    I did all my black & white work as a pro, I lived in a city where I just could not find a good lab, and black & white was always open to far more interpretation than color transparency. I still have all my stuff packed up in storage, but I cannot find cheap enough space where I live now to set it up (much easier in Milwaukee where there were a lot of old empty industrial spaces). It’s now almost impossible to get good service without mailing it someplace, and unless some one is going to do it dip-and-dunk in a Refrema processor, or by hand, the results will probably not be too good (most likely either far too ‘flat’, or far too ‘contrasty’.

    I was having problems with finding processing, so I thought I’d try changing over to a chromogenic black & white like Ilford XP-2 and see what happened. Have to say, I loved the result! Not only was contrast ‘normal’ (because C-41 is what it is), but it was easily scanable, and could be scanned with all the digital “ICE” software on (something you couldn’t do with ‘real’ silver film, as the grains confuse the system). My lab was able to make far better digital prints from it than what they were giving me from scanned standard black & white. It’s worth a try! To tell the truth, Kodak used to have a great chromogenic black & white that all the wedding guys I knew used, but they discontinued the 120 (might be some 35mm still around, tho), so I switched to Ilford.

    Tri-X, is of course, the superior 400 speed film, but because Kodak has basically abandoned so many emulsions and papers (not because they weren’t making a profit, but because they weren’t making as much profit as they wanted); I feel I should get the Ilford, Foma, Adox, etc, brands tested up as I want to support those who support me!

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    • I do understand that with b/w, processing matters a ton. And I do expect that wherever I send my b/w out for processing, they have their one process and that’s it, no meaningful adjustment for the film. I really, really do need to invest in my own processing equipment. I’d’ve done it already were it not for scanning taking so much bloody time. I don’t have time for that right now in my life.

      I’ve shot the Kodak chromogenic b/w. It was okay. Didn’t like the bluish-purplish caste all the scans had. Maybe I should try the Ilford.

      https://blog.jimgrey.net/2012/09/26/chromogenically-characterized/

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      • Andy Umbo says:

        Jim, these scans look great from the Kodak film…I think what people mistake with chromogenic films is that they think the neg ‘looks’ flat and lifeless, when in reality, they probably have more tone in highlights and shadows than people are used to seeing with marginally processed conventional black & white films. Think of chromo B&W as almost like your digital camera with HDR turned on all the time. These scans you made looked juicy, but if you would have tried to get those blacks and whites out of conventional B&W film, you might have had more blocked up highlight detail and blacked in shadow detail.

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  2. Fomapan 100 isn’t a bad film, definitely contrasty. I shot my most recent roll with the Canon 7 and my 1953 Summarit, and really liked the results. If you don’t have control over the development, you can reign in the contrast quite effectively using old lenses. Something tells me your Nikkors are a bit too new to get the best results…

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  3. I’ve thought about trying Foma before, but the moment I do, the company will go belly up. Happened when I tried Forte and happened shortly after I tried Efke (and got it dialed in for 8×10 large format work). So now I just stick to Kodak, Fuji and Ilford and cross my fingers that none of them go anywhere anytime soon…

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  4. Bill Bussell says:

    I recommend 35mm 100-foot rolls, and wind your own. By far the low-cost alternative. I bulk-loaded thousands of rolls over the years. I have considered a 400- foot roll of Super XX. Kodak 5222, I believe. Cine film with rounded sprockets works dandy.

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  5. Excellent write-up and photos! I love Fomapan too, though I find myself using the 400 version since I don’t shoot in daylight enough. I should pic up the ISO 100 version, based on your pics!

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  6. Steve Miller says:

    I know exactly where those benches reside, and I’ll be in the gallery behind them from 10 AM to 5PM this Saturday, should you care to visit!

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