Foma 200 vs Ilford FP4

November 8, 2013


Recently I’ve been trying out Foma 200 in 4×5. I like the Foma B&W papers but haven’t used much of their film; just a few rolls of 120 in a pinhole camera. The reason for testing the 4×5 film was because I’ve been considering buying the 8×10 version as it is available at a better price than Ilford HP5 which is the film I mostly use in 8×10. I’ve paid about $100 for a box of 25 sheets of HP5 (I think it’s more expensive now) whereas I could get 50 sheets of Foma 200 for $140, buying from Freestyle under their Arista label. So that is $4 per sheet vs $2.80 per sheet. I’ve seen some nice results online from 8×10 Foma 200 but it made sense to test it first in 4×5, and I was able to pick up a box of fifty sheets in Sydney for $50.

My first testing was to find the effective ISO of the film in Rodinal which is the dev I use at home. General opinion seems to be that the film should be rated around 160 or 125, even as low as 100. I found that I had to expose at 100 to get decent shadow detail in Rodinal (bearing in mind that most films need a bit more light when being used in Rodinal.) Around the time I was making these first exposures it seemed like a good idea to compare it to a similar ISO film and Ilford FP4 125 ISO was the obvious choice. I was able to get a box from Freestlye at a reasonable price using their FIMS shipping option. FIMS is a delivery service that uses a mix of courier and local post – it generally takes two to three weeks from LA to Sydney. It cost close enough to $50 for 25 sheets, so double the cost of the Foma, but still cheaper than any local sources for FP4. FIMS can be a good option if you are not in a hurry for the items.

fp4 vs foma 4x5

Above are the results of the first comparison – you can click on the image for a larger view. Ilford FP4 on the left and Foma 200 on the right. Both were rated at 100, exposed one after the other in a Chamonix 4×5 camera with a Rodenstock Apo Sironar N 150mm lens. Light conditions were classic sunny 16 and the exposure was f/22 at 1/60 for both. Both films were processed a few hours later in Rodinal 1+50 at 20 degrees. The FP4 I processed for 15 minutes – I haven’t used this film for years so took the time from the massive dev chart. The Foma was processed for 9.5 minutes which is the time I have arrived at but seems close to the dev chart recommendation. I process the 4×5 film in the standard two reel Paterson tanks, one sheet at a time with the film sitting against the inner wall of the tank, emulsion facing in. (I tried the taco method once but found the film gets scratched easily where the sharp corner of a sheet can be rubbing against the emulsion). There is 800ml of water to cover the film plus 16ml of Rodinal. I agitate for the first 30 seconds then for 10 seconds at the start of every minute. In 10 seconds I will get through four inversion cycles.

On removing the films from the wash it was obvious that the Ilford result was better than the Foma. With my eyes I could see more shadow detail and a longer but correct looking tonal range. The Foma looked a bit thin and flat by comparison. To have a more detailed look I scanned both sheets on an Epson V700. I adjusted the histograms to be pretty much the same which had the effect of evening out the contrast range of the negatives somewhat. The FP4 has more density in the highlights so without adjustment the Foma would have greyer highlights – making the highlight points on the histogram the same was similar to printing the Foma at a higher contrast filter.

fp4 vs foma detail resolution

Looking at the films at 100% it was obvious that the Ilford has superior resolution. The area above was where I first noticed this, again you can click on the image for a larger version. There is more detail and sharpness in the branch on the roof as well as in the grooves of the tiles.

fp4 vs foma 200 shadows

The above detail shows the increased shadow detail of the FP4 vs the Foma, quite surprising considering the Ilford was exposed 1/3 over it’s box ISO whereas the Foma was one stop over. I would probably have to expose the Foma at 80 to get the shadow detail of the Ilford.

foma damage detail

I also noticed this area of damage on one corner of the Foma. I’ve noticed things like this on a few of the sheets I’ve exposed. I don’t think this is from my handling as I use a lot of HP5 and Tri-X in 4×5 and have never seen these marks with those films. Obviously this is just a rough, unscientific study for my own purposes, but I do suspect these marks of being factory quality control lapses.

Based on these first results I plan to do some more comparisons between the two films. I’ll be looking for subjects with fine detail and wide contrast range and will be trying things like rating the Foma at EI 80 and increasing the development. However I have gone off the idea of buying any more Foma. Apart from the obvious quality differences, I like how easy it is to make FP4 work the way it is meant to, without having to do a lot of speed and development tests. It’ll be interesting to see if further testing shows similar results. I also think that FP4 might be a good film for alternative processes such as salt and platinum printing that require negatives with good shadow detail and long tonal ranges.


2 Responses to “Foma 200 vs Ilford FP4”

  1. robineva Says:

    Nice write up i have the same quality issues with foma in 120 also, There Paper Foma 111 is Beautiful One of the Best,

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