First Impressions: A Fomapan 400 Review

Having only been shooting film for a little over a year, there are so many firsts. There’s so much I haven’t even heard of and so much to learn. There is an endless list of films, cameras and techniques that I doubt I will ever get around to trying them all. So I’ll be doing more of these “first impressions” articles as I try new stuff and just let you guys know my thoughts on it!

Fomapan 400

Fomapan 400 is a black and white negative film that has a very unique look. Trying to choose between black and white films can often feel like trying to understand the difference between cappuccino, latte or a flat white. At first, they all seem the same. However, the more you work with them and compare them to each other you start to see the differences. You start to see how each film reacts to how you personally shoot.

Fomapan is among the first 3 black and white films I’ve shot so far; Ilford HP5, Kodak Tri-X and Fomapan 400. Currently, Tri-X is probably my favorite of the 3, but Fomapan is becoming quite the competitor.

So far, I’ve shot about 5 rolls of this film and my first several were a bit disappointing. My developing process has simply been the Cinestill monobath. Ilford HP5 and Tri-X look absolutely stunning with this developer. However, when I developed fomapan using the exact same process, my negatives were very thin. While the scans looked pretty good, I knew there was more to this film that I wasn’t getting.

Fomapan Rating

The images above all felt under exposed. Not being concerned with grain and underexposure, I didn’t mind it. I’ve always liked the look I’ve been getting, and can definitely see a uniqueness from HP5 and Tri-X. However I really wanted to get better negatives. I was reading an article that Simon King wrote on 35mmc where he shot fomapan 400 at 200. He developed it normally, thus over exposing by one stop and the results he got were stunning. I highly recommend you check it out here.

Simon recommended either shooting it at 200 and developing normally, or shooting at 400 and push in the developing. I love 400iso. It gives so much more versatility as light begins to drop, and I love the mood in twilight images. So I opted to push in developing.

Developing Fomapan 400

While Simon is stand-developing in DDX, I’m using the Cinestill Df96 monobath. This developer is known for increased grain and contrast, therefore not achieving those lovely silky blacks that Mr. King is getting. Both of these are fine by me as I love this in my photography and it’s such a practical developer for me right now. So before people start saying that the developer is the problem and I should be using a proper developer, Cinestill Df96 is excellent and I have been very pleased with the results on other films (HP5 and Tri-X). Fomapan just needed a bit of work.

With Df96, you can push or pull developing based on temperature and agitation. Generally you heat up the chemicals to 80°F and use constant agitation. For two of my last rolls of Fomapan, I heated the chemicals to about 85° and noticed a huge improvement. The negatives actually looked like negatives and not a clear strip with faint images. I feel that maybe I could take the developer to even 90° as some of the images still look a bit underexposed. But there is progress!

I think Fomapan is a film that will have drastically different results depending on what type of developer you use. Perhaps there will be an update on that in a later article, but for now these are some of the images from developing Fomapan at 400 in Df96 at 85°F.

Conclusion

This last round with Fomapan 400 has certainly excited me A lot! I look forward to shooting more of it in the future. The tones in this film and its grain structure is just gorgeous. While it may not be as rough and tough as a film like Tri-X, the end result is giving Tri-X a run for it’s money. Thanks to recent Kodak price increases, Tri-X is getting to be pretty pricey, while Fomapan is still one of the most affordable black and white films available.

I think Fomapan is great for a variety of situations. It’s perfect for street photography, having those lovely black tones, or more architectural photography. It’s also great for those moody black and white landscapes. I’ve only taken a few shots of family members with fomapan, but I feel this film would perform beautifully for portraiture with the right developer.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first Impressions of Fomapan 400 and perhaps will inspire you to go out and shoot some for yourself! For it’s price, Fomapan is an absolute bargain. I don’t think you can go wrong giving this film a try, and you just might be surprised at what you get! Here are a few more of my favourite shots using this film.

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve ever tried this film, and if so, what’d you think?

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