Part of the fun of shooting black and white film is experimenting. Once you develop your film yourself, there are numerous developers to try. Also the number of films available in the market is solid. Actually, the situation has gotten better in the last years. There is plenty to choose from.
It’s not all roses and sweetness, though. As mentioned before, things are getting more expensive. As in my last recipe, this recipe is another one that came out of a quest to lower cost a bit.
But most of all, it was curiosity that drove it. And the fun part is, I’m still a bit curious. Because the main star for today’s story is a touch enigmatic. That’s not a negative as such, but it also doesn’t quite help putting it in perspective.
The developer is one that I talked about before: Beutler. I’ll be brief on it this time. In that linked post, I listed how to make it and what you’d need. The requirements I listed way back with my first recipe: it hits those targets. So that’s about all to say about the developer this time.
The film of choice is Fomapan 200 Creative. I’ll call it Fomapan 200 from here on, since the Creative moniker fails to make sense to me. Apart from the silly marketing name, though, it’s all good. A bit particular, but good.
Not here, nor there, yet home
Well, a bit particular? Or just weird? It is a rather different film from all other films on the market. First of all, it’s rather at ISO 200. Like many colour negative films, but unlike other black and white films. It’s also not a classical cubic grain film (like Fomapan 100), not a T-Grain film (like Delta 100). It is both.
It’s the only film I know of that has this hybrid approach. Naturally, the question comes up: does it show the grain of a classical emulsion, or the smooth sharpness of a T-grain film? Well, guess what? It’s all hybrid, a bit of both. It ends up looking morelike T-grain films (like Delta 100, Acros 100) to me.
And that ISO200? Again, it falls somewhere in between slow and medium-fast. It’s not very grainy, has plenty details and sharpness. The sharpness looks more like cubic grain films (like Fomapan 100, FP4) to me.
Sounds like a proper Goldilocks film then. And partially it is. It is a bit more slanted towards the slower films. With the right developer, it isn’t very grainy at all and the level of detail it captures reminds me more of Delta 100 than it does HP5. In fact, to me, this film does actually often remind me of Delta 100 in the way it turns out. Except for one thing, and that’s contrast.
With regards to contrast, it’s a bit less Goldilocks. It is pretty low contrast (not that Delta 100 is very contrasty, but still more than this). Which is a blessing and a curse – it depends on the weather.
In good sunlight, it sings. The light will generate enough contrast, and the film has loads of midtone and good shadow detail. Result is a great overall balance, in my view. Suitable for a wide variety of subjects, not in the least landscapes. It’s subtle, plenty shadow detail, plenty tones. It can be utterly lovely.
In flat or subdued light, it easily gets a bit muddy and lacking in bite and definition. And for me, being in the Netherlands where clouds and rain are all too common, that’s a pity. It’s not horrible or useless, but results will not quite put the same smile on your face.
The bigger issue there is: if the weather is sunny with nice light… I’ll be using Fomapan 100 probably. And if it isn’t, HP5 is so very nice.
Where does it fit?
This is ultimately for me the issue with this film: it is best in conditions where Fomapan 100 is at least as good, probably better. On the other end of the scale, it doesn’t quite have this bomb-proof quality that HP5 has. Not that this film has quality issues – none that I ever noticed in fact – but that fine line between lovely contrast and muddy midtones can be a nuisance.
On the positive side, the slightly higher speed does give a bit more flexibility than ISO100 films, and it has plenty latitude to cover some over- or underexposure too. The lower contrast does give a lot of midtones, which gives it subtly different results from others. Smoother, less in-your-face.
It costs fractionally more than Fomapan 100, which means it is still substantially cheaper than films such as Acros 100, Delta 100 and the likes. Combined with Beutler, which is also not terribly expensive to make, it is very cost effective. Without any big sacrifice.
More on the developer
Before landing on Beutler, I did try Fomapan 200 with other developers. First one was HC110. And as expected, HC110 does a fine job. It’s a dependable workhorse after all. Fine, but the lack of contrast was more obvious with it. Good, but a bit flat and lifeless.
Caffenol was not a big success. Scans looked reasonable, but with more grain than HC110 or Beutler pull out. The key problem was fog. The filmbase remained quite dense. Attempts to print those negatives were quite frustrating.
I wanted to try Rodinal, but found out the bottle had gone bad when the roll came out all blank from the tank. Since I tried Beutler straight after that, and liked the outcome, I didn’t get back to trying Rodinal. That’s still on the agenda.
For this recipe, I tend to expose at ISO160, rather than 200. In terms of actually developing, it’s easy: 1 part Beutler A (Metol/Sodium Sulphite), 1 part Beutler B (Sodium Carbonate), 10 parts of water. For 300ml in my Patterson tank, that is 25ml, 25ml and 250ml. Mix it together, and develop for 9 min. 30 sec. at 20 degrees Celsius. Normal agitation, normal stop and fix, all normal.
With the usual caveat that I am anything but an expert darkroom printer: these negatives print just fine. They’re not particularly complicated.
It is a Goldilocks story all over. As a film, it sits in the middle of other great options. Mostly taking the best of both worlds, but ending up as a middle of the road solution that maybe lacks a bit in outspoken-ness. Its strength as a versatile solution for outdoor photos is maybe also its weakness.
Do I love this combination? Sometimes, but often also not. It’s touchy when it comes to contrast, and that is a make-or-break thing. When it’s right, the glorious wide range of greys is just great. When it’s not, it’s all very dull.
Do I like this combination? Yes, I think it is a very solid combination with the caveats mentioned earlier. Will I continue to buy Fomapan 200? Probably. It’s priced very right, and it works well. It’s more likely to be that film I always bring as backup, but even like that, it’ll see plenty usage. And it won’t disappoint as long as I remember when to use it, and when not.