I firmly believe the problem you are dealing with is not related to your materials, or not as much as to stop you from getting the results you want. FP4+ is a popular emulsion, for good reason and both ID-11 (D76) and Rodinal has helped quite a few photographers to get great prints, whatever expression they were after.
I have little experience with scanning, but aiming for a lower contrast negative than is needed for darkroom printing usually takes care of most problems.
So, here's my recommendation: ditch the spot meter for a while, find the incident meter you used to have and go out on a "normal contrast" day, bracket your exposures from EI 25 to EI 200 on your chosen film, develop it and find the frames that give you enough shadow detail. After that, adjust development time to get the desired highlight detail.
With Fomapan 100 overdevelopment can happen rather easily.
You have to decide what is behind your "blocked highlights". Is overdevelopment, a high brightness range or an upswept curve the reason you can't put tone in your highlights easily?
This is my personal opinion, but I think a scanner/its software does so much work in the background to make the picture look good no matter what, that little can be learned by using it.
Only after you can repeatedly get good images (desired tonality) using an incident meter and normal development, would I recommend using the spot meter and the zone system.
+1 also for FP4+. I use it in 120 roll film and 4x5, 5x7 and whole-plate film sizes and find consistent quality control and I get excellent, consistent results. You might pay more for products from Ilford, Kodak, and Fuji, but cutting corners on cheap film is foolish economy. Film is the least expensive expendable item on any shoot. Why take a risk with a product you yourself said shows quality control issues?
I like my FP4+ in Pyrocat HD, or PMK if there's snow or ice in the scene, or Rodinal semi stand for near box speed. I tend to rate it 60-80 in Pyrocat, 40-50 in PMK and 100 Rodinal semi-stand for rollfilm. I recently accidentally shot a few sheets of 4x5 at 400-800 handheld (sunny 16 screwup, no time to meter until afterwards) and used Microphen stock-strength developed by inspection, saved much of the shadow detail and got good mid tones and highlights, I'd be comfortable rating it at 240-320 this way if I needed the speed.
I used to like Plus-x. I like FP4+ better and even though money is very tight for me I would not use Foma etc, its a false economy for my purposes... my film is less than my gas to drive even a few miles.
Process was more the issue than the film. I just developed a roll at N-1. I used 6:45 instead of the standard 7:30. The negatives look great. I was using around 9:00 for N+1 which was far too much.
have you tried non destructive dodging and burning? much simpler, much safer and much easier.
Technique is everything, and final negative contrast is a combination of:
Originally Posted by Darkroom317
1. Lighting conditions
2. Film exposure (based on your meter and metering technique)
3. Developer choice
4. Developing time
5. Developer temperature
6. Developer concentration/dilution
Some like to add film contrast into that equation, but that is a constant, not a variable, meaning you have to compensate for it with technique. Which is exactly what you found out by shortening your developing time.
If negative contrast is too high, you can mitigate that by exposing more to get the shadows off the toe of the curve, and then shorten your development time in order to give you highlights that print/scan well. Total negative contrast is always about the differential between the highest printable tones and the lowest. If they're too far apart, tonality is compromised by either blocked up highlights, or shadows that did not get enough exposure. Technique. Not materials.
I feel FP4+ is great quality film that performs just "OK".
Of course it's a great portrait film because of the way it minimizes skin blemishes in the upper tones of caucasian skin. But it doesn't subtly differentiate as well the darker midtones and dark tones - which to me is what really makes black and white photos interesting to look at.
You can see it a litte in the scans above - compare to the luscious darktones of the Foma 100 to FP4+.
I feel the Kodak films excell at this. I recently purchased some 40 different 6x6cm Kodak and Ilford negatives shot in the late 60's and early 70's - the difference in the rendition of darker tones (kodak's being better in my view) is apparent even when printing another photographers negatives from 45 years ago.
I just have to say: I agree with those who say that it is a matter of getting to know your materials. Some easy tests in the beginning (like the one Aron suggested for example - just pick one and go) and then keeping track of what you are doing and you'll be on your way to good, consistent results, provided you stick to the same material over a period of time. All too often I hear of people disparaging a film after running two rolls and then looking at the negatives.
I know it's already been said, but I'll repeat it again- the problem isn't materials, it's technique. Both FP4+ and Fomapan are great films. The only reason I can see to switch to FP4+ is the quality control. This becomes less an issue when working in large format, as any pinholes generally disappear as a matter of size. If you're finding your skies are consistently blown out with Foma, I'd shorten your development time. Also, if you're planning on making a change to your regime, change one variable at a time, to control for the change. Otherwise you can't tell what the effect of the change is. I used to develop with Rodinal, and I used it at 1:50. Having moved to large format and contact printing in alternative processes, I've changed to Pyrocat HD. I do go back and forth between Fomapan 200 and FP4+ in part because only certain sizes are available in the Fomapan 200. But it's a lovely film for what I use it for and I have no real complaints. Ditto with FP4+.