We’ve been asked about the difference between Foma’s films. Now, we do not want to ignite the old “which film is the best film” debate. (Frankly, there is no answer to that question.) We just wanted to do a quick comparison of FOMAPAN 100 Classic, FOMAPAN 200 Creative, RETROPAN 320 soft and FOMAPAN 400 Action.
Let’s start by reviewing the descriptions from the manufacturer:
FOMAPAN 100 Classic is a panchromatically sensitized, black-and-white negative film designed for taking photographs. The film meets high requirements for low granularity, high resolving power and contour sharpness and a wide range of halftones.
FOMAPAN 200 Creative is a panchromatically sensitized, black-and-white negative film designed for taking photographs. The film meets high requirements for low granularity, high resolving power and high contour sharpness. … FOMAPAN 200 Creative emulsion contains T-crystals providing high resolution and very low granularity of the film
RETROPAN 320 soft is a panchromatically sensitized special negative black and white film with fine grain, good resolution and contour sharpness. The film is characterized by a wide range of half tones and soft light which makes it suitable for photography and subsequent contact printing or “retro” style enlarging of negatives (photographs of still lives, architecture, experiments, landscapes, portraits, etc.)
FOMAPAN 400 Action is a panchromatically sensitized, black-and-white negative film designed for taking photographs under unfavourable light conditions or using short exposure times. The film meets high requirements for low granularity, good resolving power and good contour sharpness.
Not very helpful. In fact, there are only three notable differences:
1. Fomapan 200 mentions “T-crytals”. This is Foma’s answer to tabular grain films. However, it appears to be a hybrid emulsion with both tabular grain and traditional grain.
2. Fomapan 320 claims to be a “retro” style film that incorporates “soft light”. More on this later. What we think they mean is “lower contrast”. You'll see this in the curves below.
3. Fomapan 400 simply states that it is intended for unfavorable lighting conditions, meaning that it has the highest ISO rating of their product line.
So let’s take a look at the technical date. Here are the exposure/density curves from our testing with SP-Ultra 4LF developer. (Foma’s curves are very similar.)
Basically, the 100, 200 and 400 are almost identical (except for processing times) but the 320 curve is much lower.
Interesting but not very useful. So we did the obvious: shot the same scene with all four films. Each negative was exposed based on our test data and processed accordingly (SP-Ultra 4LF). They were then scanned on an Epson 800 and adjusted in Capture One to produce the optimal image (optimal according to us.) However, no image sharpening or grain reduction was performed.
Here’s one set (high resolution images are linked to Flickr, just click):
And here are some 100% crops and you can draw your own conclusions.
However, before you get too dogmatic, bear in mind that any differences in contrast, shading etc are probably canceled out during editing. (We did leave sharpness and film grain untouched.)
With that disclaimer, it’s not surprising that Foma 100 is the sharpest and has the finest grain. Nor is it surprising that Foma 400 is the least sharp and the grainiest. Foma 200 landed in the middle and the negatives have a different look that’s hard to capture in a scan and hard to quantify, it may be related to the “T-crystals” or it may be our imagination (but it’s still our favorite film). Foma 320 surprised us with how sharp and fine grained it was.
Note also that if you were printing these in a traditional darkroom, the differences might be much more apparent and important. For example, the Foma 320 is definitely a flatter negative.
We readily acknowledge that this isn’t the definitive test. Undoubtedly, the performance of any of these films could be optimized. For example, use a different developer and trade film speed for fine grain; change the agitation scheme and modify the contrast etc. It all depends on what’s important to you. Hopefully this little experiment provides a good starting point.
Our conclusion: there really isn't much difference! Unless you're making really large enlargements, the grain probably won't matter. Again, those making traditional wet prints might favor one film over another.
Our advice: pick one and master it. You'll get better photos if you stick with one film and optimism it to match your style and needs.
In any case, we'd love to see some of your work, join our flickr group: Stearman Press: Large Format Photography