Kosmo Foto Mono 100 Film Review
A Medium-Contrast Black and White Film in a Pretty Box7 min read by
Kosmo Foto Mono 100 is a rebranded emulsion that rivals its OM’s reach and affordability. But the first thing everyone notices is always the box.
Mono 100 easily looks the best on a shelf garnished with indescriptive colours and shapes slapped on the classic Kodak, Ilford, and Fuji film rolls. It’s so pretty I can hardly bring myself to recycle the box after loading the film.
The images Kosmo Foto delivers are rendered in classic fine grain (pre-1980s technology, like FP4+) and medium contrast.
I’ll review the results and share tips on how to get the best out of this film below. The samples are scanned with PrimeFilm XAs and developed in Ilford DD-X.
A brief history of Kosmo Foto film brand.
Kosmo Foto Mono is the creation of Stephen Dowling, a film photography OG who’s been running the Kosmo Foto blog since 2012, garnished with designs by Martin Duncan.
Stephen launched Kosmo Foto in November 2017, shortly after Analog.Cafe became a thing. But in contrast to Analog.Cafe’s slow readership growth as I searched for my role in the film community, Stephen’s film exploded with 10,000 rolls sold in the first nine months since the announcement.
I remember seeing rolls of Kosmo Foto sold all over camera stores in Tokyo as I travelled across Asia around the time of its launch.
Speaking of distribution: Mono is easier (even cheaper) to get where I live than Fomapan Classic 100, which is the same film, according to Stephen.
Stephen’s first customers may remember the film branded as Zorki Photo Mono with similar graphics. That was the name of his blog, which he started eleven years ago, marking his love for cheap but sometimes excellent Soviet camera designs. But by the time he launched his film, Stephen learned that Zorki is still a registered trademark in Russia. Consequently, he decided to respect by changing his enterprise’s name (even though he technically didn’t have to).
Rebranded films, like Mono 100, are an auxiliary stream of income for film manufacturers that may be struggling to attract the growing ranks of young film photographers. And in my case, a way to get the same film cheaper than the OM version thanks to the alternate logistics.
✪ Note 1: Mono isn’t the only film within Stephen’s range of emulsions. His new product, Agent Shadow, has been on sale since mid-2022, and I will be reviewing it shortly, along with the book that came with it in the premium backers’ package.
✪ Note 2: This review of Kosmo Foto Mono uses Fomapan 100 Classic datasheet for technical insights. I assume Stephen still uses this emulsion, as no official Mono datasheet exists. I am linking mentions of Foma 100 on this website here for the same reason.
Grain structure, resolution, sharpness, and tonality.
The datasheet lists a fairly chunky RMS value of 13.5, similar to Kodak’s Tri-X — a much faster ISO 400 emulsion. It’s worth noting, however, that RMS is an imperfect system that isn’t always representative of how grainy your images may appear. I was certainly able to get results that look smoother than my Tri-X shots (though still relatively grainy when compared to some modern ISO 100 emulsions).
The granules that show up on enlargements appear to have strong micro-contrast when developed in Ilford DD-X. In other words, images look sharp on Kosmo Foto and carry lots of detail (especially when taken at your lens’ optimal aperture).
When exposed optimally, this film can render your scenes beautifully with medium/realistic contrast. However, due to its gated dynamic range, Kosmo Foto Mono does not tolerate exposure mistakes well.
Kosmo Foto Mono/Fomapan Classic 100 boasts a decent dynamic range of about 8 stops. This is evident from the characteristic curves listed in Fomapan film’s datasheet that illustrates about 𝚫2.5 lux-seconds — which may be converted to stops using this equation: log2(10^2.5), which resolves to ~8.
Photochemistry typically does not have sharply defined edges for its dynamic ranges. The usable range of light intensities the film can effectively render is within the straight sloping line that stops being useful after plateauing horizontally on either end. The curves on each end of the dynamic range’s linear slope mean extended latitude that allow some over- and under-exposure beyond the optimal dynamic range estimates.
Unfortunately, my experience with Kosmo Foto Mono shows that while this film is fully capable of rendering scenes with medium contrast within its eight stops of dynamic range, over- and under-exposures are not tolerated. As you can see in the samples, a decently-wide range of tonalities are rendered in medium contrast on all scans, but deep shadows and bright highlights quickly become pure black or bleached white.
If you’ve gotten better exposure latitude with another developer or developing method, please share your advice in the comments. The samples here were developed in a dip and dunk tank at The Lab.
Scanning and post-processing Kosmo Foto Mono 100.
Unlike some pricy fine-grained black-and-white films that become noticeably coarse after slight contrast adjustments, Kosmo Foto Mono 100 scans are easy to post-process.
I was able to alter the brightness of my over-exposed images in Photoshop by up to three stops down without noticeable degradation of the picture. Seeing how this film is better at preserving data in the highlights, I would advise you err on the side of (slight) over-exposure as well as it will be much easier to fix that after scanning or in print than to try and bring the non-existent detail in the shadows.
If you’re using a cheap scanner or sub-optimal backlighting for your DSLR, you may want to stick to medium-contrast scenes, as I found recovering highlights to be a delicate work even with a great scanner capable of interpreting DMax of 4.2.
How much does Kosmo Foto Mono cost, and where to buy it.
The emulsion that Kosmo Foto Mono uses is one of the most affordable films on the market. However, Fomapan films aren’t available worldwide, and their costs can easily swell up in places like Canada, where local stores sell Mono for a much better price. But in stores where both can be found at the same store, Mono currently goes for about $9, and Foma is about $5.63.
If you’re interested in film prices and would like to stay on top of them, the best way is to subscribe to the free semi-annual reports on film costs. I do all the hard work surveying a curated variety of film stores across the world on this and many other film stocks.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Kosmo Foto Mono 100 film and Ilford DD-X developer purchases using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!