I have been using Kentmere 400 for years now, primarily because its comes in at the cheaper end of the spectrum compared to Ilford and Kodak offerings, but also because I think it performs better than its price point. I guess that having used it for so long is also a factor, but I have a lot of confidence in Kentmere 400 that I don’t have with HP-5, especially when shooting in lower light conditions.
I decided to give Fomapan 400 a try after discovering that it is exactly the same price as Kentmere 400. Why experiment with something new when I am comfortable with Kentmere? Well because as Neil deGrasse Tyson says, ‘Exploration is what you do when you don’t know what you are doing”. Also because in Rodinol Fomapan 400 takes two minutes less to develop than Kentmere 400, that two minutes could change my life…somehow.
The experiment started by shooting a roll of Kentmere 400 and a roll of Fomapan 400. The only concession I made to scientific method was shooting them both on the same day, so there were similar lighting conditions. But, as might have become evident at this point, my film choices are not exactly highly informed, I wasn’t about to shoot test targets or anything ridiculous like that – I just used both films as I usually would, then developed them according to the manufacturer’s instructions. What is really important to me is that the film isn’t expensive, is easy to use, and gives me the images I want.
Lets talk grain. I shoot 400 films and I use rodinol on everything. I have not just accepted that a certain amount of grain is inevitable, especially with a cheaper 400 film, but I actually like the grain. It is what says it’s a photo shot on film, it is the personality everyone is looking for with their Instagram filters.
I have pulled two similar photos from each roll to compare – I chose these specifically because they have some big chunks of sky, and because both were shot with the same camera, lens and aperture. I have not done any post-processing on the images.
There is perhaps a very small difference in the darker areas of the sky, but this is marginal, so marginal in fact that I am not really sure you can call a winner. Even if there was a huge difference, what is a winner in this situation? More grain, less grain? What else should we look at to call this epic battle of the films?
Well one thing I noticed with the Fomapan film is that it performs well in lower light conditions, and that the resolution in shadows seems particularly good. To test this out I selected another two images from the same rolls, both of which have particularly dark areas. For both I have pushed the contrast right down, and the brightness way up. As you can see, whilst we still have some detail in the shadows on the Kentmere image, our Fomapan has some pretty fine detail right across the image. It is nice to know that detail is there, especially if I was thinking of taking this negative to the dark room and might want to pull it out in some of those areas:
This sort of latitude falls within my ease of use criteria – I take most of my photos outside in standard British weather, and I need a film that can be under or over exposed occasionally and still give results that I can get acceptable images from. In this regard Kentmere 400 has always served me well, however straight out of the camera, I think Fomapan performed better than the Kentmere.
Now we have a dilemma, my one roll experiment seems to be telling me that the Fomapan 400 is not a bad film for my taste – the issue comes that reviews of this film are absolutely all over the place. Some people love it, some hate it. This really seems to centre around people getting very variable results in different developers, the sense that you’ll get excessive grain (especially in Rodinol), and that the film doesn’t shoot well at box speed – a lot of people commenting that you’ll need to shoot at a far lower ISO to get the best results.
So which is the better film? I can definitely see that whereas the Kentmere 400 is tried and tested, seems to give consistent results, as I have personally found, and is generally quite well respected as a cheaper 400 film, the Fomapan 400 is divisive. It is a bit of a marmite film that gives some very different results depending on the use case.
I absolutely understand that for someone looking for a lower grain and more of a modern look the Fomapan emulsion isn’t going to work, but then, I am not really sure that the Kentmere 400 would meet this requirement either – neither of these films wins in that department. Personally though, as someone who accepts, even likes grain, and isn’t averse to the look that you’ll get out of both of these films in Rodinol I am definitely thinking that the Fomapan offering will get a few more chances to impress.Follow twhittlesea.com on WordPress.com