Finding film part three: Czeching out Fomapan – Tom Rayfield
Welcome to part three of my journey with film in 2017. As you read in part one and part two, throughout 2017 I’ll be sharing my experiences with different medium format films and developers – all new to me. For part three I decided to go with Fomapan…
Fomapan is known for being cheap, and I was curious to see whether this was for a reason, or whether this would be my next film of choice. With winter still in full force here in the UK, the weather was once again grey, overcast and not very pleasant, so I chose two rolls of Fomapan 200 for my shoot, as the weather promised some sun later on in the day.
Since my last shoot, I had acquired a spot meter (Sekonic L-608*) from eBay. I find metering on the Yashica Mat-124G to be very hit and miss, as it is a case of pointing the camera in the general direction/angle of the shadows/highlights and a lot of guesswork.
*[EMULSIVE: I acquired the same model last year and have to tell you that this is the best meter I have ever use. Period. Well worth the investment!]
The spot meter made sense to make my life a little easier. Fortunately, the resulting shots were much better exposed than before, so I am extra pleased with the decision.
Feeling uninspired, and with a new spot meter to try, my first strategy was to head to my beach of choice, Cromer, to see if there was anything there I could shoot. I often tend to find something good there when I am feeling uninspired. The tide was in, and there was a biting wind coming in from the North that was well below freezing. Fantastic.
So in the biting cold I just about managed to unwrap the first roll of Fomapan with my frozen fingers and loaded it into the camera. I started to turn the winder and the word “START” came up quite early on the backing paper. Having not used Fomapan before I took this to be the starting arrows that I had to align on the film. I looked at the spool at the bottom and there were no signs of an arrow. Being in an area without mobile phone reception I couldn’t look this up, so I went with my gut; I presumed this was the start, closed the back and wound on to frame 1.
How wrong I was!
If you are ever thinking of using Fomapan 120 roll film, don’t believe the START word. There is an arrow, but much, much further down on the backing paper. This still frustrates me, even after my shoot, as I cannot see the logic in Fomapan putting the word START so far away from the arrows. How hard can it be to move it further down the backing paper?!
I know this is my own stupid fault, but surely you would consider first time users when designing this sort of thing?
Rant over: the downside to this is that both of my rolls were 11 images instead of 12, and the 11th frame barely made it onto the film. Still, lesson learned.
Next time I will be winding on much further before closing the back!
Both rolls were shot on the same day at box speed, using my Yashica Mat-124G. By the time I got home, I was a little pressed for time, so both rolls were developed in the same tank, at the same time. The rolls were developed in Rodinal (1+25) for 05:15 at 19c.
The films were agitated five times every minute. I used the same mixer of Ilfostop as my stop bath (1+19), and Fotospeed FX30 Fixer (1+9) on both rolls of film.
Darkroom wise, Fomapan was by far the easiest film I have ever managed to get onto the spiral, and the tape came away with ease. Development went fine in the same tank (another first for me). For those who are not aware (I had already read this), Fomapan comes out a bright colour when you throw away the developer. Mine was a rather intense shade of fluorescent green. Mmmmm, lovely.
I dried the film in the usual conditions, yet when I cut it into strips for scanning, the film curled…a lot.
I’m talking like a 1980’s perm levels of curl. Even 24 hours under some very heavy books did very little to fix the curl. Despite this, I managed to scan the film fine, unlike my previous article, where I ran into issues with the Tri-X.
Here are a couple of shots from the first roll. The only changes made to any of the images are fixing the square crop, straightening/alignment, and removing any major dust added whilst scanning.
A lot of the images in the roll turned out like this, dirty looking, lots of noise, and like they were taken 70+ years ago.
Still, some of the images turned out OK, with good tonality, deep blacks and smooth whites. It’s almost hard to believe this is on the same roll as the first image. I do like the contrast in this shot, even if compositionally it is far from my best work.
Some of the shots on this roll had huge marks on them (seen on the cropped images above). These must have been there from the factory, as many of the others turned out fine. Fortunately, roll 2 did not turn out as bad, so I am presuming this was a case of a bad roll.
Following my frozen adventure at the beach, I headed home, stopping off at a woodland not too far from my house. At this stage I was feeling a little more inspired, and there is always something to shoot there, so I figured this would be a good contrast to the coast earlier in the day. At this point the sun had come out, and was starting to poke through the trees.
Similar to the earlier roll, there were some shots with good tonality, excellent blacks and smooth whites. At closer inspection with the 100% crop, Rodinal once again delighted me with its sharpness and modest noise.
Some of the other shots on the roll came out well, with a much better success rate than roll 1. There were no marks on any of the frames from roll two, which leads me to think roll 1 must have been a bad example.
Out of the 22 shots I ended up with, this last one is my favourite from the day. I love the contrast and detail in the shot, and am generally pleased with how it turned out.
Since scanning my film, and writing this article, I have learnt that (apparently) Fomapan does well in DD-X, using stand development, so I will try that on my future next rolls.
I still love Rodinal as a developer, and developing both films in the same tank at the same time was a massive time saver. However, the results when used to develop Fomapan were very average, with one roll being majorly different from the other, despite being shot/developed at the same time.
There is a huge unpredictability with this film (in medium format at least). Some shots would turn out fine, and others would look awful. There was a lot of film curl, and the confusing start line was unacceptable.
Will I shoot Fomapan again? Yes, because I still have 4 more rolls of it. Past that point, it’s going to take a lot to change my mind.
I would much rather my film was predictable, safe and I knew what I was going to get at the end. Based on this experience with Fomapan this is definitely not the case. Ultimately, you get what you pay for.
I’ll be back with part four on May 4th, when I pay an old friend in search of a new hope.
~ Tom Rayfield
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