Film Review: FOMA Ortho 400

An emulsion with a unique look that really pops outdoors…but it’s prone to overexposure.


Film Review: FOMA Ortho 400

As I see it, there are two kinds of film: Predictable film for when reliability and repeatability are priorities, and character film for when you want to have some fun. Ilford HP5 plus and Kodak Tri-X are the canonical predictable films. FOMA Ortho 400 is highly emblematic of the character films. Tl;dr: It's quirky, it has tons of tonal separation, and it glows like a radioactive isotope.

What makes it fun is that, first of all, as the name suggests, it’s an orthochromatic emulsion. In practical terms, that means the film cannot see red. Photograph a red light with this film, you get a patch of black. Secondly, most orthochromatic emulsions are very low speed, usually ISO 50 or slower—but this is 400 speed, which makes it uniquely suitable for handheld shooting outdoors. Thirdly, where most film is sensitive up into the blues, FOMA Ortho 400 goes further, and has a strong sensitivity to ultraviolet. Which, again in practical terms, means the sky glows like it is on fire.

All of which make this film very fun, and very quirky.

One thing I found, shooting outdoors on a bright but overcast day, is that nearly every shot was overexposed. I strongly recommend under-exposing this film by a stop (set your meter to compensate by -1, or set the meter’s ISO to 800; do not change development to compensate). Thankfully, the highlights retain plenty of information, but they need a lot of massaging to avoid your photos looking like they were taken at the moment of a world-ending explosion.

I’ve heard that orthochromatic films are not good for portraits, but the one portrait I took turned out really lovely. This is my barber Luis.

Except for Luis above, which has been edited to taste, the remaining frames displayed here are have only some exposure compensation applied, but I haven’t messed with them beyond that (curves, shadows & highlights, etc.).

The grain is very fine, but this is medium format so grain really was never going to be an issue. The glow in particular is a special look, and I could see this working for very specific circumstances. I think this could be a cool effect for street photography in typically sun-drenched places (like Lisbon!), using the glow to emphasize that sunny nature. It offers kind of the reverse effect of shooting halating films like Cinestill 800T at night.

However, this film is only available in 120 format for medium format cameras, and I think that is going to limit its appeal for me—as shooting it requires me to lug my massive RB67 around!


Body: Mamiya RB67 ProSD
Lens: Mamiya Sekor K/L 90mm f/3.5
Film: FOMA Ortho 400
Development: Adox X-T3 diluted 1+1

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