Film Photography

Shooting Foma Fomapan 400


I like to learn things by trying them. It would be a lot more efficient if I could learn things by reading about them, or hearing about them, and accepting the information as fact. But I always have to find out for myself.

The blogs and forums all say that Fomapan 400 looks best when shot at EI 160 or 200. But the box says 400. I’m stubborn about this: why the heck would a manufacturer rate a film at a particular ISO if they don’t mean it? Call me stubborn, but I always shoot a film for the first time at box speed. If the results demand it, the next time I shoot I adjust exposure up or down as appropriate.

Pentax Spotmatic F

It was time to give my Spotmatic F some exercise. I chose my delightful 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens for this roll. I developed the film in LegacyPro L110, dilution B.

I got okay results from most of the roll. I’m pleased with my bathroom-mirror selfie above. Everything is so sharp, you can almost count the hairs on my head. I’m reasonably pleased with these next four photos. They show good detail and a reasonable tonal range, and good contrast after I boosted it in Photoshop. My Minolta ScanDual II scanner delivers mighty flat scans, so punching up the contrast is a must. If you pixel peep you’ll see lots of pleasant grain.

Est. 1851
Whitestown buildings
Brewpub Entrance

The main challenge I had with this film at EI 400 that shadows looked underexposed. This photo shows this reasonably well; look under the front bumper and around the wheels. The negatives looked to have good density to me, though I’m still developing my eye for that.


A few shots on the roll looked flat and lifeless, no matter what I did to them in Photoshop.


A couple of the flat shots benefited from reducing exposure in Photoshop, at cost of enhancing the grain.

Durango in the neighborhood

It was lovely to shoot my Spotmatic F again. It’s such a wonderful SLR. Every time I use it, I wonder why I don’t use it more often. Then I remember that I own about 15 very nice SLRs at the moment, plus about 20 other lovely cameras. I’d have to shoot one roll of film every week to be able to use each of my cameras about once a year.

Prayer mail

I bought several rolls of Fomapan 400 (and 200) when Freestyle Photo had it on sale not long ago. I’ll shoot another roll of the 400 again soon, but I’ll set my camera to EI 200 and see what happens then. Because I’m an experiential learner.

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34 thoughts on “Shooting Foma Fomapan 400

  1. Thanks for the post! I’ve tried Fomapan in 100 and 200 but not 400, yet. I’m not thrilled with the slower speeds so maybe I ought to give 400 a go.

    • I have loved the 200 when I’ve sent it to a pro lab for processing, but have disliked it when I process it myself. I don’t understand why it works out that way!

      The 400 shows real promise. I need to shoot more to be sure.

  2. I don’t think you are alone. You have described what I call (perhaps immodestly) JP’s Law: Nobody ever learned anything by being told.

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    Plus One for Pentax. I love my screw mount Spotty almost better than anything now. The perfect camera in your hand, and an unlimited supply of these on eBay: you can always find one.

    Just an FYI about film speeds. I’ve had a life-time of shooting film professionally since the 70’s, and I’ve always found when “correctly” exposed, the film speeds to be nominally correct. Shutter working OK and within specs? Lens shutting down to aperture correctly? Light meter perfect? Hand held light meter perfect? Are you metering correctly? Chemical mixing correct? With distilled water? Timer for processing working correctly? Part of being a professional is having everything tested and “reset” every year, or if something seems “off”. So many variables.

    Even in my day photo “artists” would say they exposed Tri-X at asa 200, or 160, or whatever because it would be “better”, but who knew what their equipment was doing? A lot shot Tri-X at 160, but then “pull” processed it by 30% to compress scale, and then printed it on a higher contrast paper. They were looking for something in their technique, but it didn’t mean the asa was “wrong”.

    I’ve commented before the the blog-o-sphere is chock full of inaccuracies, especially when it comes to film photography. I’ve read more “wrong” stuff on the internet, that seems to be supported by others parroting the wrong stuff, until it seems like it’s the correct info! Not. It’s a good rule of thumb that if you expose film at the stated ASA, and it looks weak, or too dense, or just not right; start looking at your equipment or your technique before thinking the manufacturer doesn’t know what they’re talking about. You’re right to be suspicious of internet “information”.

    • There are a lot of strident voices in the forums saying they know better than the film manufacturer. Many of them think their way is the only way. It does get tiring.

      I’m pleased with these images except for the graininess and lack of definition in the shadows. I’m not sure exactly what to do next time to overcome that.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        It’s good to remember that Foma films have a certain “look” based in their technology. These films are defined as “old technology” European films. I’ll bet that Foma 400 probably has the grain and contrast of the Tri-X I shot during the early 70’s. Tri-X has been refined (without fanfare) over the years, the last actual announced refinement was in 2007, where they reduced silver content again, which resulted in finer grain. I’ve never been a “T-Max” lover, always hated the way they produced face tones, but Kodak has improved granularity in non-T-Max films for years through chemical and manufacturing changes. I’d be willing to bet that Foma 400 probably looks like most available 400 ASA films from the 60’s and 70’s.

    • Fascinating. I’m not sure I’ve entirely figured out the Foma films yet. They all show great promise, but I don’t think I have exposure and developing quite down yet.

  4. Victor Villaseñor says:

    Nice results, that selfie is sharp indeed! I also liked the painting of the Locomotive, the brick texture of the wall really comes through.

    Here is one Fomapan 200 shot I recently developed and scanned myself:

    And here is a 400, exact same process:

    The 400, while I like the shot more, it’s a tad grainy and flat for me (I don’t play much with the parameters on black and white film, just invert, desaturate and some cropping).

    Take a look at the spec sheet of these Foma films, they say you can go +1 and -1 on exposure without any compensation on development.

    I think I’ll stick with Fomapan 200 and just rate it 400 in a pinch.

    • Sadly Instagram no longer lets you view things on it without being logged in, and I closed my Instagram account last month. :-(

      I haven’t had great results with Foma 200 developing it here. I bought some more to try again given I have the process down now and didn’t last time I shot it. We will see how it goes!

      • Victor Villaseñor says:

        Weird, just tried on an incognito window and I can see the posts, perhaps shutting down your account leaves some tracking behind and baits you to reopen it.

        Anyway, I bought a 10 pack of 200 and a 10 pack of 400 a while ago, the 400 consistently gave me meh results.

  5. I like “Night Depository”. It could stand a touch more contrast, then I think it would be a prize winner.
    Can’t fault the Pentax. I’m enjoying using the Super Takumar lenses on my Canon 1Ds; it’s a perfect marriage of old and new. Even if it does mean I’m not using half the functions of the camera like auto exposure and focus.

  6. I’ve used Fomapan 400 a bit over the past year. When I get it right, I love the results. But when it’s off, it’s pretty meh for me. I tend to like Foma 200 better, but even that stock is temperamental. I bought up a bunch of Foma because of the low price, but ended up getting rid of most of it. I’m sure I’ll shoot it again at some point. I’ve found Kentmere to be the most reliable of the “cheap” black and white stocks, though it can be a bit boring.

    Here’s my Fomapan 400 shots. Note that some are also Arista EDU 400, which is the same thing:

    • I haven’t shot Kentmere 400 yet. I’ve been trying Ultrafine Extreme 400 lately and haven’t liked it much. I liked most of this roll of Fomapan 400 and am trying it in my Pentax KM right now at EI 200. We shall see how it goes.

      In the end, I can afford Kodak and Ilford films and am starting to realize I should just quit looking for bargains.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Jim, I have to say I have no problem with Kodak and Ilford films in terms of price, they all seem to perform absolutely perfectly and I would certainly buy them if I needed to actually shoot something for money! I occasionally photograph jazz people, and I try to always shoot black & white neg for the “archivalness” of it, and usually shoot Tri-X or FP-4 Plus.

        My experimentation with small batch and small manufacturers film offerings is to totally try to see if they’re closer to films I loved in the past, like Verichrome Pan! My look at Foma 100 and 200 is to see how close it is to that. Foma’s branding of itself as “old tech”, had made me think that it might match the “old tech” of Verichrome Pan. The juries still out since I haven’t been able to set up personal processing to insure the results in my tiny apartment….

        Search continues, but it’s not money based.

        • You answered my earlier question here! Tri-X or FP4+.

          I love to experiment. If I’d settle in on a few key cameras and a few key films, I’d probably become a much better photographer in short order.

      • While I do like HP5 and Tri-X, for me it is nice to have a more “budget” stock. And over the past few months it looks like the gap between the budget and premium black and white stocks has widened. Looking at B&H, Kentmere 400 is about three dollars less than either HP5 or Tri-X, which is pretty significant. Before that it was more like a dollar to $1.50 difference, so there wasn’t as much impetus to use the budget stock.

        Kentmere 400 isn’t my favorite, but it is more dependable than Fomapan. I have gotten some nice shots out of it.

        I’ve avoided going down the budget hole too far, though. I thought about rolling my own, but when I pencilled it out, I’d only save a buck or so per roll, not counting the cost of the film rollers or canisters. Plus, you’d be stuck with about 18 rolls of the stock, so you better hope that you really liked that emulsion that much.

        • I should try Kentmere 400 next then. I recently shot two rolls of Ilford Delta 400 and really liked the results developed in HC-110. That could be a place I settle. I don’t know yet.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          APDX, I tried the “rolling my own” back in the 1980’s, when I was a free lance and trying to save some money on my personal stuff (didn’t really shoot 35mm for money). I realized in short order that I had to meet a certain quality level for every thing I was doing, and started referring to the “rolling machine” as the patented “film scratcher”. No matter how I cleaned it, and how often I replaced the “cans”, you couldn’t seem to get rid of the scratching. If there’s one film that you want to avoid scratching on at any cost, it’s 35mm! False economy…

        • Yeah, the fear of scratching has turned me off. The argument about “rolling your own” that makes sense to me is the ability to customize the lengths of rolls, especially if you want short rolls. But I’m fine with 24 and 36 exposure rolls.

  7. Hi Jim,

    I’ve never tried pulling this film stock maybe I’ll try at some point. I found Foma 400 can a very muddy looking film if shot at correct exposure giving the same under exposed look. I found it best to overexpose by a stop or two at 400 but is a poor performer any higher I found, also it’s not a great emulsion for soft lighting conditions, images can look very washed out but does perform better in medium high to strong light giving very contrasty, punchy results with a old fashioned grain pattern.

    All the best.

    • Thanks for the experience report! I’m currently shooting a roll of Fomapan 400 at EI 200 to see how it goes – watch this space for the results.

    • I got the same results. When the contrast is good, the images are nice, some of my favorite. But there’s plenty of “muddy” shots. Adjusting in Photoshop via the “auto tone” function seems to correct it. But I don’t really like having to adjust the scans. (I have a lab develop and scan.)

  8. On screen, your frames look great. Well done! And as you know, a Spotmatic with the 55mm ƒ/1.8 is hard to beat for 135 size – Leica quality at a discount.

    I tried a number of rolls of Fomapan 100, and sometimes it was great, other times less so (for me). I also noticed that the dark areas were thin and somewhat mottled. But as Andy Umbo above noted, Fomapan films have a certain “look.” I’d never discourage anyone from using it.

    • Andy Umbo says:

      BTW, I was having some great results getting close to a Verichrome Pan “Look” back when I was experimenting with EFKE, only to find out when I got back to it around 2018, that EFKE had quit making film in 2012…

      Interesting read on their manufacturing process here:

  9. Felipe V says:

    I found that EI 320 is a good place to be with Foma 400. The extra exposure resulted in more images per roll that I liked. At 400 a lot seemed more prone to be flat especially when there was no brighter contrasting light in the scene, but every once in a while I would get a grainy but pleasantly moody image usually when there was some medium light in combination with shadow that was not very dark.

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