Review: Fomapan 100, 200 and 400 black and white films (120)

Let’s face it: Shooting film is not exactly the cheapest of all possible endeavors. And many of us are looking for ways to shave a few bucks off the cost of our favorite hobby. That’s originally what got me to try Foma Bohemia‘s three primary film stocks — all under the Fomapan name — but it’s not what’s kept me using them.

To begin, Fomapan is available in three speeds, with the following names:

  • Fomapan 100 Classic
  • Fomapan 200 Creative
  • Fomapan 400 Action

Of the three, I’ve found 400 Action to be the most useful — largely due to the 400 ISO speed, and its ability to cover a wide range of shooting situations. But all three perform similarly, aside from speed.

Given that I shoot primarily 120 film, this review covers only that format; I haven’t shot any Fomapan in 135, but may in the future, and will amend this review if and when that occurs.

What I like

To be honest, there’s a lot to like about Fomapan films:

  • Low cost
    The price point of Fomapan is pretty incredible. Having paid as much as US$9.75* for a roll of Kodak Tri-X at a retail camera shop in New Jersey, paying just US$4.29* for a roll (B&H, Adorama, Freestyle) represents a pretty significant cost savings. For the record, and for a fairer comparison, B&H sells Tri-X for US$7.00* per roll in a box of five, which still makes Fomapan a pretty incredible value.
  • Great performance
    As you might expect, Fomapan 100 Classic and 200 Creative have the best grain qualities; very fine and lots of detail. But honestly, Fomapan 400 Action is nearly indistinguishable from the two slower speeds in terms of grain, contrast, and image quality. It renders images with exception detail, beauty and tonality, which hopefully comes across in the examples below.
  • Incredible latitude
    Foma’s data sheets for Fomapan 100 Classic, 200 Creative and 400 Action all cite great latitude, with a stated range of +1 EV (over-exposed up to 1 stop) to -2 EV (under-exposed up to 2 stops). In practice, I’ve done bracketed shots at +2, +1, 0, -1 and -2 — and all come-out great. As you can read in this test, I actually preferred the +2 image, which could be nothing more than poor metering on my part. But regardless, all five scanned well, rendering good results, the only real difference being in the level of shadow detail. Granted, nearly all films have good latitude, but Foma seems to stand out a bit.
  • Perfect for Sunny 16
    That incredible latitude? Well, it makes Fomapan a really strong candidate for using the Sunny 16 method of exposure. If you don’t get it quite right, Fomapan has your back — a couple of stops in either direction — which is arguably more than you’re going to need with Sunny 16.
  • Good results processing at home
    I’d hardly expect otherwise, I suppose, but I’ve had excellent results processing Fomapan at home with Kodak HC-110 Dilution H. Strangely, Foma cite HC-110 development times in their own Foma Retropan 320 data sheet, but not in the regular Fomapan data sheets. I’ve also found that the Massive Dev Chart doesn’t give me the results I want, but I do have times that work for me, and I’ll include those at the bottom of this post.
  • Scans great
    As a hybrid workflow guy, the scan quality with my Epson V800 is important, and Fomapan delivers great scans. I don’t currently use Lightroom or Photoshop to adjust my images; I manually correct dust or other anomalies by hand in Photoshop, and leave it at that. The results really do speak for themselves.

What I don’t like

Of course, I don’t love everything about Fomapan…

  • Oh that anti-halation dye…
    While not an issue for people who take their film to the lab, all flavors of Fomapan carry a vivid green anti-halation dye. If you’re developing at home, and using a one-shot developer like I do, it’s not a huge issue; when I dump the HC-110, it comes out shamrock green. I actually rinse the film several times before introducing the (by then probably unnecessary) stop bath so it doesn’t pollute my stop with the dye. But if you’re a reusable developer person, you may want to consider a presoak step — although presoaks are not always recommended (e.g., Diafine specifically says not to presoak).
  • Occasional emulsion anomalies
    In a roll or two of Fomapan, I’ve experienced what seem to be tiny bubbles in the emulsion here and there. These present themselves as very, very tiny round white dots in the scans, at most 2 or 3 per image (and not on every image) which when zoomed-in on, appear to have splash-like edges around an otherwise perfectly circular dot. Since they’re white, these would actually be black on the negatives, so “bubbles” is not really what they could be, but I have no idea what they are. Removing a couple of tiny spots in an image is not a big deal; I’m in there touching-up stuff anyway. But this suggests a minor manufacturing defect that’s not really ideal. Still, given that it’s only happened a few times, I’m not worrying about it.

The proof

Here are a few examples of shots I’ve taken with Fomapan 400 Action, 200 Creative, and 100 Classic.

Fomapan 100 Classic, taken with a Hasselblad 503CW, developed in HC-110 Dilution H. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King
Fomapan 100 Classic, taken with a Hasselblad 503CW, developed in HC-110 Dilution H. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King
Fomapan 200 Creative, taken with a Hasselblad 503CW, developed in HC-110 Dilution H. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King
Fomapan 200 Creative, taken with a Hasselblad 503CW, developed in HC-110 Dilution H. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King
Fomapan 400 Action, taken with a Yashica Mat-124G, developed in HC-110 Dilution H. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King
Fomapan 400 Action, taken with a Yashica Mat-124G, developed in HC-110 Dilution H. Copyright © 2019 Wesley King

The verdict

My bottom line is that while I might have first considered Fomapan for the price alone, this isn’t merely a “student” film; it’s a serious black and white offering that delivers great results at a great price point, encouraging experimentation and creative exploration that higher-priced films inherently rather discourage. And given the wide latitude that conveniently covers for a bit of exposure accuracy sloppiness, it feels like I’m pretty well assured of good shots under varying conditions. Hopefully the results above prove me right.

Frequently rebranded

Fomapan seems to be a frequent candidate for rebranding. Freestyle’s Arista.EDU student films are repackaged Fomapan, as is Kosmo Foto film. It’s tempting to poo-poo rebranded/repackaged film stocks, but Kosmo’s Stephen Dowling makes a strong argument why this is a good thing, not a bad one. Regardless, these folks have clearly picked both a willing partner, and a decent film stock, to put their own label upon.

Processing notes and development times

  • I don’t believe that reusable developers are a great idea with Fomapan, due to the anti-halation dye (see above, and a note below as well); one-shot developers where you can dump it off seem like a great idea — including my preferred HC-110 Dilution H.
  • Fomapan 100 Classic
    HC-110 Dilution H, 9:00 minutes at 20°C.
  • Fomapan 200 Creative
    HC-110 Dilution H, 7:00 minutes at 20°C.
  • Fomapan 400 Action
    HC-110 Dilution H, 13:00 minutes at 20°C.
  • I thoroughly rinse the film after dumping-off the developer to ensure that none of the vivid green anti-halation dye remains to avoid polluting my stop both with it; with that level of rinse, the stop is probably redundant, but I do it anyway.
  • Fix, rinse, hypo, wash and surfactant as normal / desired.

* Pricing quoted in this post was obtained in October 2019, and obviously is subject to change.