Foma Retropan 320 – Film Test

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I’m not sure why, but it caught my attention.  I think it’s because it is described as a “soft” film.  A Retro film and a Soft film.  A new film.  If you’ve read this blog or watched any of my videos you’re more than aware that I’m a keep it simple guy when it comes to photography and I constantly espouse exploring but at the same time I myself have settled into Alford FP4 and a PMK Pyro based development process.  Yes, I do not want the focus of my photographic efforts to be gear-headed flip-flopping obsessions on cameras, lenses, processes etc.  I want them it to be on art.  All that said, when I heard about this film, it caught my attention.

I did the research.  I went to Foma’s website, looked for reviews and scanned the internet for images and experiences.  There wasn’t much and there still isn’t.  It’s a pretty new film.  Some of the photographs I found peaked my interests further.  Of course, there was the compliment of geek-debates beginning to roll around the forums.  If I’ve not said it before, I’ll go on record now, these are huge annoying turnoffs for me.  Yes, at times you can get some insight, but in general these tend to concentrate people who I find quite annoying and the information is a cavalcade of opinion and the conversations themselves always devolve into some whining, arguing, bitchy-fest around nit-noid factoids that I could honestly give a black wharf rat’s hairy booty over.

I had to check this film out.  That’s where I found myself.  Before rushing out and buying it, I needed to cover down on the development process.  Could I use my standard PMK Pyro – TF4 process?  No idea.  Again, not much information out there.  Foma for their part have a data sheet on their website and they list 4 or 5 developers and associated process information.  Needless to say, Pyro is not one of them.  Plus, I suspect that a Pyro developer may work against the intended “softness” of the film in the first place.  What to do?  Well, as it turns out, Foma also produces a SPECIAL developer for this film.

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It’s not expensive.  I purchased it.  I integrated this into my otherwise standard development process.  I went into waiting mode with much anticipation.  The film finally arrived and a couple days later, on the weekend, I headed out.


The Film “Test”

I thought long and hard about what to do with this film.  I mean, yes, take photographs with it, I got that.  But how would I “assess” the film?  The meaningless babble burbling in the forums about the specific gravity of the film yields nothing and is almost as annoying as the endless debates over developers etc.  How would I determine if I liked it and what it’s potential was?

In the end, I decided I’d just take a roll of FP4 and a roll of Retropan 320, go to a location I know pretty well and just shoot.  I used my Leica M6 and a 50mm lens.  Ideally, I’d shoot a lot of similar stuff.  Then, I’d develop each roll using my standard PMK process for FP4 and the Special Developer for the Retropan 320.  Then, I’d just look at the photos.

I did just this.  Let me say that the special developer is EZ as pie to make the stock developer and use.  I split the difference in terms of the development time choosing 4mins 30 secs.  The recommendation was 4-5 mins.  I used a water stop and Tf4 fix.  Worked like a charm.

See my accompanying video for results from this comparison.



THE GOOD:   I like it.  There are times when it suits the subject and produces an absolutely stunning image.  I’ve though long and hard about what to compare it to.  Glass plate negatives?  Maybe.  There’s a real old look and feel to them.  There is without doubt a certain softness that is produced and when you get it right, it works.  There’s also a sense that you get a more pronounced and even greater dynamic range with this film.  It can be quite amazing.

THE BAD:   It’s not for every subject or composition.  In some instances you’re left with a “hard to see a difference” feeling.  In other instances you’re left with a “that looks horrible” feeling.   Let’s talk about the horrible for a minute.  This film can be unforgiving in the darks.  You will not recover any detail you do not capture in the darks without drawing out a ton of what I feel is ugly grain.  The film has a softening effect and this will, by design, greatly round off detail.  This can work for you but it can also sort of totally blah out a photo.

FINAL THOUGHTS?  The film is only available in sheets and 35mm.  This is a bit of a bummer as I’d love to have this in 120 and I think it’d shine.  You need to use this film with purpose and discipline to get what can be incredible and unique results.  Do not underexpose and expect to be able to pull detail out of shadows.  The film can offer up a very refined and “seemingly extended” dynamic range if used properly.  Should you try it?  Yes.  Yes you should and I’d recommend starting with the tailor-made special developer just to keep things simple.


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