We decided a fine brisk November morning called for a day trip to a nearby annual charity horse race meeting at Exeter Racecourse, one of England’s oldest racetracks. It’s also the highest, which can mean it’s swept by bitingly cold winds. On that day these were happily tempered by late autumn sunshine, which prompted the first photographic question. My Pentax P30, at the time mid-way through a roll of Fomapan 400, would require exposure to be set manually when fitted with the Tamron 28-200mm zoom that I thought best suited to the event.

The sky was clear and the incident light fairly constant, and I judged that a Sunny 16-type approach would be the most appropriate, as there would be no time to adjust the exposure for each shot. But what shutter speed and aperture combination to use? Logic soon descended into pure guesswork: At northern latitudes ‘Sunny 11′ is apparently a better guide. But it’s not summer sun – does that make a difference? Fomapan 400 has a box speed of ISO 400, but most say it should be shot at EI 320. Then again, it’s supposedly quite forgiving of under or over exposure anyway…’ I settled on 1/500 sec at f6.7 and hoped for the best. For some intentional blur I also intermittently used 1/30 sec at f22.

Reviews emphasising the distinctive character of Fomapan 400 had encouraged me to give it a try. From what I’d read I was expecting good contrast, nice grain, and strikingly bright highlights, and so it turned out. Most of the photos taken on the day were quite grainy, though the optimum exposure value was not set for each frame, and comparison test shots from the same roll, taken with the benefit of a 50mm fixed focal length lens that supports the autoexposure feature of the camera, showed much less grain when the film is used as recommended.

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As it was, the versatility of the zoom-in capturing more-or-less frame-filling subjects at a range of distances was a plus. Some highlights stood out like titanium-white oil paint applied with a palette knife. Perfect. This effect is still more pronounced when you dim the lights on the photos with a brightness adjustment slider, which I’ve done on frames 2 and 3. I don’t usually post-process, but it definitely lifted these two photographs: the other three are exactly as received as scans from the processing lab, except for some moderate cropping. All in all, indeed quite a distinctive film.

Autofocus, autoexposure (and probably digital) would have been the obvious choice for the occasion, but the draw of film photography, at least for me, is all about the choices and challenges it presents, often its constraints, and certainly its capacity to surprise, and I was quite happy with the results.

~ Iain

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Iain Paterson

Recent arrival to film photography's revitalisation and based in the UK's far south west, resuming a journey first inspired by a Fujica STX-1 and the then nearby National Museum of Photography, Film & Television


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