How I learned to stop worrying and love Fomapan 400
When it comes to Fomapan film, results and opinions are mixed. Some people love them; others can’t stand them. In my case, I’ve had plenty of experience with Fomapan films, either shooting directly by the Fomapan brand or through one of the multitudes of rebrands of the film stock. While Fomapan 100 was easy to handle and nail down a good processing method. Fomapan 200, I’m still trying to figure something out. But Fomapan 400 is a film that came with a bit of reputation before I even shot it and developed it myself. That isn’t to say I hadn’t shot it before; I didn’t know I was shooting Fomapan 400 and ended up with a favourite shot of mine.
Fomapan 400 is one of those polarising films, either you love it or hate it, and even those who love the film have mixed opinions. Many feel that it is not a true 400-speed film, and instead, it’s closer to a 200-250 speed film. And while it does perform better and is a little more accessible to more people, I still think that the film does an amazing job as a 400-speed film. But as is the case of any fickle film, you have to develop it right. You can’t throw any developer at Fomapan 400 and expect pleasing results. Also, Fomapan 400 is a film that shines in certain situations and conditions and if you’re looking for a specific look and feel to your black & white images.
If you’re a fan of a particular era of films and love that high-speed crunch and grain that you’d find in a 1970s roll of Kodak Tri-X and are okay with a bit of speed loss or an increase of grain plus a bit of soft mush and a mid-to-low contrast than Fomapan 400 might be a film to try. I see this as a good film for those who want to photograph historical events like World War Two or similar mid-century conflict reenactment. I’ve even shot the movie at a World War 1 event at Toronto’s historic Fort York, and it looked amazing, especially when I framed the images right to avoid the modern condos surrounding the fort today. Fomapan 400 can also be used for street work in dull conditions or in areas where you want to show off a bit more crunch to go with urban decay. Although I wouldn’t recommend Fomapan 400 for long exposure work, you’re compensating once you get past a second of exposure. The datasheets say that at 2″, you should go with a 6″ exposure.
But how did I come to love Fomapan 400? Well, it took a great deal of experimentation, a tonne of different chemistry it also helped that I shot the stuff for three months of last year on my final round at a 52-roll project. As I mentioned earlier, the film performs the best when over-exposed by a stop or a little less than a stop, but that shouldn’t stop you from shooting it as the box speed of ASA-400. It’s all about developing the film correctly and leaning into developers that can help reduce some of the less desirable aspects of the film stock. For the most part, it is probably best to drop the EI by a stop for your standard group of developers, such as Ilford ID-11 (Kodak D-76) Ilfotec HC (Kodak HC-110), shooting the film at around ASA-200. Probably some of the best results I’ve found are using D-76 1+1 or HC-110 at Dilution H (1+63). But don’t limit yourself to those; it also sings in Kodak D-23. And while you cannot buy D-23, you can buy it in kits from Photographer’s formulary or mix it up yourself. It works well in Rollei Low-Speed, Adox FX-39 II, Kodak D-96, Adox Atomal 49, etc. But not everyone wants to limit this film to over-exposure and pull development. And to those who want to shoot it at ASA-400 or even faster, I say go for it! I found that Kodak TMax Developer, Acufine and Ilfotec HC all do wonderful jobs developing Fomapan 400. Thanks to the compensating nature of TMax and Acufine and using a highly dilute (1+63) mix of Ilfotec HC. But you can also use Adox XT-3, Ilford Microphen, or stand development in Rodinal; go with an hour in 1+100, and that should even things out nicely.
Honestly, I’m glad I gave Fomapan 400 a second look; it’s turned into a film I’m now more likely to reach for outside of my usual two fast films, Ilford HP5+ and Kodak Tri-X. Especially if I’m working at a reenacting event. And the best part is that you can get Fomapan 400 in medium format and sheet film. Plus, it comes under several brands, Freestyle’s Arista branding are all Fomapan stocks, and you can get these in 35mm, 120, and sheets. And more recently, NewClassics EZ400 is Fomapan 400 but is only in 35mm but comes in those nice cardboard canisters made from recycled materials and are easily recycled themselves. If you’re looking for something a little different or want a bit of a challenge and a change from the near-perfection of Ilford and Kodak films, give Fomapan 400 a try, you never know. You may like the results.