Fomapan 100 was the first film I purchased to use with the Graflex Pacemaker Speed Graphic. I chose it for one reason – cost – it worked out at about 50p a sheet, which was roughly half the cost of the next cheapest film I could find (which happened to be Rollei IR400).
Prior to that I’d tried using paper negatives to get a feel for using the camera (and because I’d been given a lot of old photographic paper) but the results were a little unpredictable. Some of the paper was quite old and it was difficult to find the precise ISO to base meter readings on. Photographic paper is normally around ISO 3 – 6 but it slowly loses its sensitivity to light after its expiration date, with the speed of this degradation depending on how it has been kept.
After spending some time thinking about how I was going to process sheet film I picked up a Paterson 3 reel tank along with a MOD54 insert. This method uses 1L of fluid to process up to 6 sheets at a time so it’s perhaps not the cheapest in terms of processing costs but it seemed to offer the lowest set up costs.
I didn’t find the MOD54 the easiest thing to use for a couple of reasons:-
1/ It took me some time to get used to loading the film. I practiced in daylight with some test sheets, I practiced with my eyes closed, but still when it came to doing it for real in the change bag it was a shambles. I’m a lot more comfortable loading it now but it has taken me some time to get used to it.
2/ Uneven development. I noticed something that other people had reported, denser negatives (resulting in brighter areas) around where the fins held the film in place. This was more noticeable in areas of continuous tone, like skies/snow.
The difficulty I had loading this film on to the MOD54 for developing led me to discover what is probably the biggest issue with Fomapan 100 – the emulsion does appear to be quite fragile. I had scratches on quite a few of the first sheets I used which looked like they were made by the fins of the MOD54. Additionally I spent so long loading the MOD54 that it become slightly humid inside the change bag and I had a couple of instances of sheets of film touching and patches of emulsion coming off.
Out of the first fifteen or so sheets I probably had one that I’d consider ok so I decided a different approach was in order and processed the next couple of batches by hand using dev and fix in takeaway containers inside my change bag. The bottom three of the images above were processed using this method, with Rodinal 1:40 for 7 mins 30 seconds.
By now I was starting to think that large format wasn’t worth the extra stress. I didn’t want to process sheets by hand and I needed to overcome the scratching and uneven processing issues I was having using the MOD54
I shot four more sheets and loaded them – loading four sheets (two each side) was a lot easier than loading the full quota of six. I’d run out of Rodinal by this point and only had Ilfotech HC which, according the data sheet for the film is not a recommended developer. The Massive Dev Chart had no time for the Fomanpan 100/HC combination so I used the Fomapan 100/HC-110 dilution F time which was 12 mins when rating the film @ ISO100.
Some extra research about the uneven development revealed that my agitation technique had been causing the development issues and possibly some of the scratching. There seemed to be more advice/videos available since I had purchased the MOD54, including this video showing the agitation technique recommended by the inventor. This had to be worth a go so I opted for slow inversion of the tank followed by a twist, doing this for first minute of development and then again for 10s at the start of each minute. This next batch came out absolutely fine and I was starting to think that maybe this film is alright after all. The top image above was shot @ ISO100 and developed in Ilfotech HC 1+47 for 12 minutes @ 20C.
I decided to experiment with the remaining sheets to see how well Fomaoan 100 coped with being pushed, first one, then two stops, mainly because I wanted to explore using the Graflex without a tripod. The development times for these were as follows:-
Fomapan 100 shot at EI200, 18 minutes in Ilfotech HC 1+47 @ 20C
Fomapan 100 shot at EI400, 24 minutes in Ilfotech HC 1+47 @ 20C
These times were based on these general guidelines for push processing and also this excellent resource page for Kodak HC-110 (Ok, so I know Ilfoech HC and HC-110 are different developers but they do seem to be very similar)
Both sets of tests came out really well – there was a slight increase in contrast but I couldn’t discern a great deal of difference in the grain.
Foma’s own product text states that Fomapan 100 Classic “gives good results even when over-exposed by 1 stop (asa 50/18) or under-exposed by 2 (asa 400/27), without any great impact on processing, that is without having to change the developing time or the bath temperature” but I’ve yet to test these claims.
I’ve used all 50 sheets now but I’ll be getting some more – if you’re wanting to shoot large format and trying to minimize costs, two things that don’t often go together, then I can recommend Fomapan 100. Maybe it needs treating with extra care as it lacks the some of the durability of modern emulsions but it’s more than capable of producing quality results.