There is certainly enough evidence about to make the conclusion that film is not dead. After a precipitous decline in the 2000's, the niche market that has resulted is seemingly stable by most accounts, and has by some measures seen some signs of growth.
While we may not see a new consumer film camera model released by a major film manufacturer for some time, if ever, there have been some recent introductions in the world of film stocks. One of these is Foma Retropan 320 Soft, a film promoted to have fine grain and wide tonal ranges in order to evoke a retro look.
Intrigued enough at the time I placed my last B&H order, I thought Retropan might be a nice film to have at my disposal when I wanted a softer and creamier look. Though I never quite stumbled upon a day or scene that made me think "It's time to break out the Retropan!," I did eventually just elect that I simply wanted to give this film a try, so it was loaded into my Konica I for a little bit of fun testing in some late winter conditions.
I exposed the film around box speed and developed using my typical process of stand developing in HC-110, something for which I can readily admit has only been modestly successful with Foma films. My results begin to follow below...
Rather than creamy, I was surprised at how sharp this film was. In addition, while I had read some issues regarding grain, I wasn't fully prepared for just how grainy these shots turned out.
Here, however, the film does an amazing job of rendering the light tones in this scene in an almost ethereal way that no other film can match. In this way, it does give off a very nostalgic quality that is hard to define.
Contrast of the film using the developing methods I chose is adequate, but a touch low. The nicest attribute of this film is how it handles highlights.
Taken at dusk, this scene renders a touch on the flat side, but still with enough contrast to make it render well.
As light fades over Carroll Creek, the Retropan still manages to eek out enough contrast to provide a pleasing if grainy image. The softer contrast is a bit less retro than many older shots which tend to have harder contrast.
Under a well lit daylight scene, the contrast tended towards a more muted degree and lacked the right amount of snap. The stand developing likely "helped" to flatten the curves.
The rather high speed compared to truly retro films of the previous decades makes it a challenge to get images with limited depth of field, but some degree of softening is evident here thanks to the distance of the subject.
The light at the time I took this shot was rather golden and soft, and Retropan flattened the profile a bit too much. Fortunately, there is enough snap and sharpness to make the tree stand out against the grey sky.
The sky was characterized by very distinctive late afternoon clouds, but these are somewhat obscured in the rendition by Retropan. I wish I'd have taken a color shot to depict how interesting this scene was, as it is largely lost here.
I can appreciate that Retropan does fairly well with taking a fairly ordinary scene and putting a little dose of snap into it.
Though I was generally pleased with my results with Retropan 320, there are three issues that will make it a very occasional film for me. The first is its lack of availability in 120 format, as this film seems to be well suited for older film lenses that are common on old medium folders, but such can't be given this film only comes in 135. In addition, the grain is just a bit too much for me in 135, which again leads me to be curious what images taken on 120 would look like. Finally, the availability of Retropan is somewhat limited. I was fortunate to get a roll while placing an order at B&H for other films, but on my last visit, saw that it was back ordered.
For nostalgic images with an excess of grain, but decent sharpness and tonality, Retropan 320 fills an interesting niche. I'm sure that some day I'll be trying it again, and hope to put it to good use in a setting which is well suited for its wistful renderings. If you can manage to score some of this film, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, but keep in mind some of its limitations before committing it to a project. Work within its reaches, and you could be nicely rewarded.