Retropan 320 Gravestone
Film

Fomapan Retropan 320 Soft 35mm – In Memoriam – By Yorgo Douramacos

March 21, 2021

I don’t know exactly when it happened but it seems that Fomapan’s Retropan 320 has been discontinued in its 35mm variety. I hope I am wrong but I can find no store that has it in stock, B&H lists it as discontinued and the Fomapan website no longer lists it among their products. The 120 and large format varieties remain but the 35 seems to have been silently pulled.

I am often asked why I shoot film. It took me a while to come up with an answer that wasn’t just a vague rework of the old, “I just like the feel of it.” It wasn’t until I tried Fomapan’s Retro Soft 320 in 35mm that I was really able to nail it down: Film helps me see the world differently. A photograph on film is a product of more than just those photons in that moment. It’s a refraction of those photons through all the choices made in material and mechanics.

Fomapan introduced Retropan Soft 320 in 2015. It is a grainy, low contrast film. It embraces characteristics that most film photographers run from screaming. In a world of sharpness obsessives this film slams you in the face with insistent and belligerent grain. And if you’re looking for your subject to pop, you might at best get a low slow fizzle.

Its qualities seem to become more attractive to larger numbers of photographers the larger the format, which is likely why the 35mm version got the axe. The more space its obtrusive grain structure has, the smoother its effect.

Retropan 320 was originally released in 35mm and 4×5 formats. 120 arrived a couple of years later. I have taken some of my favorite photographs of the last five years on this film, particularly the 35mm version. I don’t shoot film so I can have an accurate hyper-real record of the world around me. My phone manages that just fine. A film like Retropan 35mm does what I’m looking for from film, it creates an alternate reality, an artistic product with the real world as a base and the medium of film as its filter.

The first place I used Retropan 320 was in a cemetery near my home here in Indiana. There’s a locally iconic tombstone from 19th century built as statues of the two young people who were buried there. She was a young girl and he, her brother, was a teenager. The monument is haunting on its own and every so often someone in town replaces the flowers the girl holds. I took a shot of it from behind on my Sears K2 with a 135mm f2.8 lens. I developed it at home with Fomapan’s recommended Retro Soft Developer. The result felt like a revelation to me, casting something I had seen my entire life in an entirely new and emotionally affecting light.

I shot a second roll of Retropan 320 in my Pentax k1000 with the 50mm f2 kit lens, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art again photographing statues. Once I had developed this roll I knew Retropan had a permanent place in my bag. It made me feel like I was peeking through a keyhole in on another dimension.

Retropan 320 statues

Statues in the collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Any time I expect to shoot scenes that seem misplaced in time, Retropan 320 has been my go-to. At the Indiana State Fair I got a picture I greatly admire of a young woman in period dress writing out the menu for a meal on a chalkboard. Captured in Retro Pan she appears otherworldly yet charmingly mundane.

Retropan 320 Young woman

Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair

In 2018 a friend was getting married in New Orleans. He and I went out early one morning to walk around and get pictures of the French Quarter as the sun came up. It was misty and empty, only fit for photographers and ghosts. I had my Canon AE1 Program, Canon 20mm f2.8 lens and a roll of Retropan 320. The pictures I took that morning could not have been achieved with any other film I know of.

Retropan 320 buildings

Jackson Street, New Orleans

I am trying not to be overly melodramatic about the loss of Retropan 320 in 35mm… I still have the other varieties and maybe I’ll try pull processing something like Ilford Delta 3200 to see how it compares. But in the meantime I think I’m going to stare at some of my old scans and sigh despondently.

If you’re interested in keeping tabs as I try and move on you can visit my website or follow me on social media.
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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Ivan
    March 21, 2021 at 10:46 am

    Great results, Yorgo! For me, film is also about rendering things differently. I tried two rolls last summer and liked it a lot. Combined with the lens on my Lomo Voskhod I got some dreamy pictures of my daughter. Thinking now of getting some more Retropan in 9×12 for my plate camera.

    • Reply
      Yorgo Douramacos
      March 21, 2021 at 1:47 pm

      Hello Ivan,
      Thanks for reading. I would love to see Retropan shot with such a cool vintage camera!
      I’ll soon be adapting some 120 to a Kodak 3a which should give some interesting wide aspect results.

  • Reply
    Katie
    March 21, 2021 at 11:07 am

    “I don’t shoot film so I can have an accurate hyper-real record of the world around me. My phone manages that just fine. A film like Retropan 35mm does what I’m looking for from film, it creates an alternate reality, an artistic product with the real world as a base and the medium of film as its filter.”

    Exactly this. 🙂

  • Reply
    Bruce P Parker
    March 21, 2021 at 3:49 pm

    As of this moment (11:45, EDT, USA) this film is available in 100′ rolls from Adorama. FYI.

    • Reply
      Yorgo Douramacos
      March 21, 2021 at 6:09 pm

      Hello Bruce,
      thanks for the heads up. When I look it says, “on back order” and given that the Fomapan site doesn’t list it at all I’m not optimistic their back order will be filled.

  • Reply
    Bruce P Parker
    March 21, 2021 at 11:35 pm

    Oh, missed that, and I even looked really closely to be sure. But I was eating a muffun…it split my attention.

  • Reply
    Lee
    March 22, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    I like shooting with film in old cameras through unique lenses because they have the ability to make a scene photographed in 2021 look like it was taking place in a different time. If the Retro Soft 320 is getting impossible to find in 35mm format, perhaps it’s time to get a medium format camera so you can still use it readily.

    • Reply
      Yorgo Douramacos
      March 25, 2021 at 2:18 pm

      Fortunately I do have a range of 120 cameras and I will certainly keep shooting it. The 35 has particular qualities that are lost in the 120 sadly.

  • Reply
    John
    May 3, 2021 at 4:31 am

    I was forwarded a 120 roll by a darkroom technician friend, and am looking forward to seeing how the low contrast plays out under the midday Australian sun (admittedly, it’s Winter soon – but it can still get super bright here). Some people seem to forget that interesting stuff happens at all hours of the clock. Thanks for your photos – I particularly liked the one of the lady writing on the chalkboard – even though they’re 35mm, and I’ll be shooting 6/7, they still give me some valuable info.

    • Reply
      Yorgo Douramacos
      May 3, 2021 at 4:46 am

      Hey John,
      I’m so glad you found the article useful!
      I’d be really interested to see how the film does for you in bright light. I’ve had the 35mm go positively loco in really bright situations. Here’s a link to one shot around midday, https://imgur.com/a/kL0Zdz9
      But unpredictability is part of the fun of trying new film sometimes and who knows you might get something you like.

  • Reply
    Paul F
    May 31, 2021 at 2:44 pm

    Great article. I emailed Foma asking about the film being discontinued in 35mm. The rep responded and said they will be processing their remaining stock for release in 120 and large format. He also mentioned that management may do another coating down the road based on demand, and if so 35mm could possibly have another run.

  • Reply
    Donald
    June 23, 2021 at 8:05 pm

    I bought and tried some of this in 35mm because of this article. You are so right about it – it’s such a beautiful film.

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