Sometimes it can seem that by law, photographers in southeast England, with a few days holiday, have to make a pilgrimage to Dungeness. You’re so likely to bump into another photographer it’s very difficult to make images that feel original and I didn’t achieve that here. However, it’s always worth trying, which is how I found myself in, probably, the most COVID-safe environment in this crowded corner of the country on one of the windiest days in early May. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to have a change of scene.
It also gave me an excellent opportunity to test a new-to-me, black and white film, Fomapan 400. I’ve been shooting film on and off for over 40 years (I started young, honestly), but for the image rather than experimentation, so I’ve been relatively unadventurous in what film stocks I’ve used. I tend to find a combination I like and stick to it.
At first, that was Ilford films combined with a Paterson developer, I think; I can’t remember how I settled on that combination; it was probably whatever was recommended in the local camera shop. Then there was my Neopan period, a film loved and one I’d still be shooting today if Fuji hadn’t discontinued it in 2013. I still have five rolls in my fridge I just can’t bring myself to use. Since then it’s been Kodak Tri-X or T-Max 400 developed in Kodak’s HC-110.
However, the price of Kodak stock seems to be increasing weekly. So I was interested to see how Fomapan, which is at less than half the cost of Tri-X, performed. I’d read that Fomapan 400 is thought more of a 200, or iso 320 film than 400, so I rated this at iso 200 which seemed to work well. The sky was fairly close to 18% grey most of the day, so there was little chance of blowing any highlights. I was using my Nikon F2 and the film was developed at home using HC-110 dilution B.
The Fomapan is certainly grainier than Tri-X but not excessively so and still sharp. I’ve seen it can exhibit a strange haloing effect on some highlights, although that was never going to be much of a concern on this particular day.
The landscape of Dungeness seems to suit that gritty-grainier look well; I like it more than I expected. Kodak prices, in particular, vary from one supplier to another, but as I write this Analogue Wonderland are selling Fomapan 400 for £4, Tri-X is £9.75 and T-Max 400 is £10.50. With that difference, it seems crazy not to give it a further test. I’ve ordered another five rolls and I’ll see how it fits with the other shots on an ongoing project.
I would be interested in hearing your recommendations on cheaper black & white stocks? Have you used Fomapan 400? Did you like it? Is there something else I should be considering?
As always, stay safe out there.