I realize that there is a myriad of blogs reviewing camera gears and film. Regardless, I will add myself to that list now. In my photographic quests I use quite a few different cameras, lenses, films, and other photo products and I think others might gain from hearing my opinion and experience with them.
For this first review I was inspired when Facebook prompted me with a "memory" of an album I posted five years ago. The album was from one of the first rolls of film I shot with my Bronica ETRs, consisting mostly of headshots (or mugshots) of my brother and friend Nick. The film was Arista EDU 100, which is basically the only film I shot back then.
Arista EDU 100 sold by the good folks at FreestylePhoto.biz, is basically (and essentially) Fomapan 100 film with different packaging. It is an eastern European film with a traditional grain structure and feel. It is also the first B/W film that I ever shot and processed myself. It comes in 100, 200, and 400 speed flavors, each with increasing graininess. It is also very inexpensive and possibly the most economical deal for fresh B/W film one can buy. When I first started shooting it 120 rolls went for around $2.25 a roll, as of this post it is at $3.32 on sale. Still an excellent deal.
So here goes for my experience shooting this film over the past 6 or so years. I am going to break it down by type of shooting and end with a few comments related to processing it.
My first interest in photography and my most frustrating. Landscape, as a term, encompasses such a large range of subjects that I will clarify and say that I am referring to outdoor and nature photography.
Black and white landscape work is all about contrast and tonality. As I have become more experienced and more able to analyze a given scene the more important film choice has become for me. Each film has a very unique character and feel. I've used many different films for this kind of work: Kodak TMax 100, Ilford Delta 100 and Pan F+, Fomapan 100, Fuji Acros 100, as well as infrared films. Out of all of these it is the Fomapan that has the warmest and most "classic" feel and image.
More modern films, like TMax and especially Acros, are very cold in my opinion. They have a very mechanical way of rendering their tones. It is Fomapan that captures a much more inviting and familiar tone to its images. However those modern films have much finer grain and show more fine detail than Fomapan does. Fomapan is a grainy film, even at 100 ISO, yet it is also a very sharp film. The grain is very aesthetic and quite wonderful, but can be hinder optimal results.
When doing landscape work now I generally choose Kodak TMax 100 over Fomapan for a number of reasons. Mainly because landscapes are about control and resolution to me now. When I have an image in my mind that I am chasing and attempting to capture I want to be as close to that image as possible with my process. That means finer grain, more resolution, and a certain coolness to the result.
People, portraits, and skin is where this film really shines. Put simply this film is the best B/W film I've ever used for people work. I've shot with over 20 different B/W films and this easily is the best of the lot, including compared against Kodak Tri-X.
Again this film has a very old fashioned tonality palette that makes skin tones absolutely pop. The mixture of the tonality of the midtones and the texture of the grain turn skin, eyes, and hair gorgeous and organic. With window light skin tones turn almost metallic, and with a touch of sepia tone create photographs that are uniquely familiar and comfortable. I simply can't express how amazing this film is. I will just let a few of my shots demonstrate what I am trying to describe.
Aside from shooting and knowing how a film will render a scene, processing and printing/scanning are several other factors that can make and possibly "break" a film.
Fomapan 100 was the first film I ever processed back in my High School photo class. It is extremely forgiving to develop and simple to print in the darkroom with. For example, I process my Fomapan in Kodak d76 at a 1+1 dilution single shot. At 68f I have had good results with times between 8 and 10 minutes. Yes, a two minute range yields quality results. On top of this the film handles over exposure quite well. This film is very much an excellent beginner film.
With the ease of processing of this film there are also some deal breaking drawbacks. The key and most major is the lack of consistent quality control. Occasionally I find spots and streaks on the emulsion that are from the factory. While they have not exactly ruined any shots (thank you photoshop and clone tool) they have made several of my negatives not possible to wet print from.
Another aspect of the film that can be seen as a drawback is the steep reciprocity curve of the emulsion. Any exposure longer than 1/2 a second requires drastic correction to combat the loss of sensitivity. By 10 seconds you need two stops correction. By 30 seconds three stops and so on. However I find this very useful for long exposures in the late afternoon where I am looking for that timelapse look.
What Fomapan delivers is an image that has a presence rather than a scientific and physical representation of the scene. Fine details are resolved as warm bunches of grain that harken back to an older and gentler sense. I shoot with it when I am looking to capture a feeling more than the subject itself.
This film, like any film, has its own unique character. It does some things great while others not so much. If you are just starting out with analogue photography or are interested in darkroom work, or if you are a more experienced shooter and are looking for something to make your portrait work standout, or if you are on a tight budget and want an all around do everything emulsion then this film is just for you. If landscapes and technical resolution are what you are interests you this film will most likely not be what you are looking for. But hey, for $3 bucks a roll (or $20 for 25 sheets of 4x5) why not try it for yourself?