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1116 Vista Point Ln
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The visual works and portfolios of Josh Harmon. Northern California native photographer, videographer, and seeker of moments specializing in portraits, landscapes, and water. 

Fomapan 100 (Arista EDU 100) Film Review

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Fomapan 100 (Arista EDU 100) Film Review

Josh Harmon

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.

 My brother Zach in 2010 appeasing me by letting me take his mugshot

My brother Zach in 2010 appeasing me by letting me take his mugshot

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.

Landscapes

Path to Mt Zion, Mt Diablo 2011. I ditched my morning classes to take advantage of the morning light along the foothills of Mt Diablo. At this time my Pentax 6x7 was new to me and I was still learning with it. I used a deep orange filter for this shot and ended up under exposing it by ~1.5 stops but saved the shadow detail digitally after scanning the frame. 

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.

 Godray over Elsah bar, Elsah IL 2012. A surprisingly mild Illinois winter  was leading into a wet spring causing constant tumultuous clouds to stroll across the Mississippi River. I setup this frame with my Pentax 6x7 and waited about half an hour for a godray to illuminate the lone bar in the river.

Godray over Elsah bar, Elsah IL 2012. A surprisingly mild Illinois winter  was leading into a wet spring causing constant tumultuous clouds to stroll across the Mississippi River. I setup this frame with my Pentax 6x7 and waited about half an hour for a godray to illuminate the lone bar in the river.

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

 This is hands down one of my favorite portraits I've ever taken. My best friend Nick and I were relaxing in the shade of my garage on a late July afternoon. I had just bought my Bronica a week or so before and was taking quick shots of him during lulls in our conversation. The indirect light combined with the tonality and grain of the film give his skin a metallic and timeless feel.

This is hands down one of my favorite portraits I've ever taken. My best friend Nick and I were relaxing in the shade of my garage on a late July afternoon. I had just bought my Bronica a week or so before and was taking quick shots of him during lulls in our conversation. The indirect light combined with the tonality and grain of the film give his skin a metallic and timeless feel.

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. 

 Sweet Feet. This is another shot from the same roll as above. It was this look that made me fall in love with this film.

Sweet Feet. This is another shot from the same roll as above. It was this look that made me fall in love with this film.

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.

Technical Factors

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. 

 Cropped 4x5 sheet of Beth. I had the luxury of using a nice Calumet Monorail camera and a modern 210mm lens for this frame, not to mention a full Jobo system to process the sheets in.

Cropped 4x5 sheet of Beth. I had the luxury of using a nice Calumet Monorail camera and a modern 210mm lens for this frame, not to mention a full Jobo system to process the sheets in.

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. 

Florida Coast near Flagler Beach, 2012. This was a roughly 2 minute exposure through an assortment of cheap ND's and a deep red filter, a reason why it looks a little soft. Metered exposure was something like ~20 seconds at f/11 but with reciprocity I was very generous with leaving the shutter open.

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.

Conclusion

4x5 Sheet of my Zach appeasing me again by letting me take his portrait, but this time with my Crown Graphic. Mind the light leaks and partially developed left side as I am still working out my large format workflow.

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?