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Film review: Fomapan 400 Action / Arista EDU Ultra 400 – by Alex KurganovFilm review: Fomapan 400 Action / Arista EDU Ultra 400 – by Alex Kurganov

Film review: Fomapan 400 Action / Arista EDU Ultra 400 – by Alex Kurganov

I first tried Foma films about eight years ago when I moved to the Czech Republic. Since then I’ve purchased it in both 135 and 120 format, I switched to other brands of film, after that purchasing a bulk roll of Fomapan 100 just to see if I could load cartridges myself – until recently I decided to settle on one film and this film was Fomapan 400.

It was an easy decision to make because by that time it became my favourite 400 film.

Fomapan 400 at EI 800

Fomapan 400 at EI 800

Before I continue with the review I need to note that these days I use my Olympus XA almost exclusively, so I will talk about 135 format mainly.

Though in my experience this film behaves the same regardless of the size – same contrast, same shadow detail, etc. except for the grain, which is more apparent in the small format of course.

Fomapan 400 at EI 800

Fomapan 400 at EI 800

The only difference between 135 and 120 formats worth mentioning is the base curl. While 120 film curls a bit lengthwise after drying, 135 stays perfectly flat. In fact I’ve never had Ilford or Kodak films dry that flat.

Fomapan 400 at EI 1600

Fomapan 400 at EI 1600

Since I already mentioned grain, let’s cover this aspect first. Fomapan’s grain is quite fine for an ISO400 traditional cubic grained emulsion. It has a regular and pleasing structure and is at least on par with similar films from Tier 2 brands if not marginally better. Many say that these days it looks more Kodak Tri-X than Tri-X itself.

As with all other black and white films grain size and structure can be altered with the choice of developer – Rodinal will accentuate grain, while Perceptol will give you the smoothest tonalities possible.

Fomapan 400 at EI 400

Fomapan 400 at EI 400

I think I mostly like this film because of it’s distinct look, some people use the word character, defined by the classic grain structure and lovely tonality it provides. It prints really nice, the grain doesn’t distract even at 30×40 size enlarged from 135 format. If I want to get even smaller grain and/or to lower the contrast of a scene, I expose it at EI125-160 and shorten development time by 1/3. This way the grain becomes almost inconspicuous at 30×40, certainly comparable to best in class traditional (not T-grain) ISO100 films.

Fomapan 400 at EI 125

Fomapan 400 at EI 125

Shooting mostly with Olympus XA I found that EI800 works best for me, I can get faster shutter speeds at low light while keeping sunny scenes manageable. This means that I almost always push Fomapan 400 by one stop. If I need to shoot hand-held at night I will uprate this film to EI1600 and get good results with prolonged development in diluted X-tol.

Of course with this film’s latitude correct measuring is critical. I don’t own a light meter, but I found out that a digital point-and-shoot set to B&W with maximum contrast can be used to “pre-visualize” the scene. After that I transfer exposure parameters to my Canon 50 and get the picture I want.

Fomapan 400 at EI 1600

Fomapan 400 at EI 1600

Anti-halation layers in Foma films are not in the same league as the ones of Kodak/Ilford, which make the final picture a bit softer and flooded with light. I don’t consider this to be an issue at all, I love the glow that occurs in the adjacent bright/dark areas and it can be very useful in portraiture.

Fomapan 400 at EI 1600

Fomapan 400 at EI 1600

Another lesser-known feature of Fomapan 400 is it’s near infrared sensitivity. My recipe for IR shots with this film is to dial E I6 and let the camera measure through the IR 720nm filter. This way I get quite predictable results with my Canon 50.

Fomapan 400 at E I6 shot through R72 filter

Fomapan 400 at E I6 shot through R72 filter

As with all IR films one needs to bracket (mainly on the + side), because intensity of IR radiation varies a lot during the day and also depends on a number of factors including weather conditions, time of the year, etc.

Fomapan 400 from left to right: no filter EI400, R72 EI6, R72 EI6 +2

Fomapan 400 from left to right: no filter EI400, R72 EI6, R72 EI6 +2

FOMA also makes a line of tremendous black and white papers and darkroom chemicals both very reasonably priced. I use their Fomatone and Fomabrom papers and many of their chemistry products including film and paper developers, wash aid, stop bath, fixer and even sepia toner.

Fomapan 400 at EI 800

Fomapan 400 at EI 800

In conclusion Fomapan 400 (Arista EDU Ultra 400) is an excellent mid range film at a good price, but you might want to do some quick testing to find developing times and EIs that suit you best. It’s well worth a try.

~ Alex Kurganov

 

 

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About The Author

Alex Kurganov

I'm a self-taught photographer based in Prague, CZ. My favorite subject is landscape, but I tend to photograph whatever captures my eye or imagination.

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  1. Is it the same as infrared photography, normal exposure to EI 1600 with fomapan 400?

    Reply
  2. Are you using normal exposure to EI 1600?

    Reply
  3. Arista is my fav BW film for a year now. Grainy, as hell, but stand development helps

    Reply
    • Its box speed actually rating higher than real speed. If you look at the data sheet, you’ll see that the development curves are maxed out only around ISO 250-320. I guess overexposing by a stop might help.

      Reply
  4. I just tried shooting infrared with Fomapan 400 in 120, and the results are NEGATIVE. The photos are way underexpose even at IE6+2 stops-over. The negative is almost translucent. The sky is darken, but there are no wood effect on trees at all, leaves are just black.

    This is my setup:
    Lubitel 166 Universal (old russian, not lomography remake)
    Zomei 720nm filter
    metering with LightMeter app on Asus Zenfone 2 laser

    and I’m sure that 1) filter works, because I used it with Nikon D40 before, and the results are positive. 2) The metering app is quite accurate, because I used it with other films in normal photography, and it just works fine.

    Reply
  5. I see you referring to various EI numbers. Do you mean ISO? I’m confused.

    Reply
    • Hi,

      EI – Exposure Index is the “speed” you choose to assign to a film when you shoot it. This speed may or may not be the same as the ISO depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

      ISO is a measure of the film’s sensitivity. So, if a film has a label on it of ISO 400, that tells you what the native sensitivity (or speed) the film offers.

      You can’t shoot a film at a different ISO because the film’s ISO is fixed and unchanged. But you can choose your own Exposure Index to shoot the film however you want – higher or lower than the native sensitivity of the film – and then deal with it in processing.

      There’s some bold text a few paragraphs in on this article that will describe it in a bit more detail: https://emulsive.org/articles/black-and-white-high-ei-shootout-part-1-ei12800

      Hope that helps!

      EM

      Reply

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