Rollei Retro 400S 35mm Film Review

rollei retro 400s film

One thing you’re never going to be short of in your analogue endeavours, from timeless names like Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 to the more new world offerings such as JCH Street Pan and Street Candy, is ISO 400 monochrome film.

In between the two classics and the two upstarts mentioned above, you have all the others. The black and white ISO 400 films that perhaps don’t get talked about as much. Films like the Rollei Retro 400S we’re reviewing here.

Having shot a couple of rolls of it now, I can say with certainty that’s it’s a film I really like. A film that deserves more love and a film that more people should try if they haven’t yet.

The whys and wherefores of all that will be covered in this review, along with what Rollei Retro 400S even is and where it comes from. If it makes you want to pick some up for yourself, you can do from B&H Photo, from Amazon, or from Analogue Wonderland.

Rollei Retro Black & White 400S 500 ISO, 35mm, 36 Exposure
  • Retro 400S is a completely reliable partner in changing light conditions
  • It can be used as both an all-round film and as a film for the grey areas - photography in available light and dim lighting conditions
  • Rollei RETRO 400S is coated onto a modern synthetic film base

What is Rollei Retro 400S?

If you’re a fan of classic cameras, you might be looking at this and thinking it’s cool that the creator of the Rolleiflex and the Rollei 35 are making film now. In which case, I’ve got something to tell you.

Rollei Retro 400S is actually a repurposed Agfa-Gevaert Aviphot aerial film, made by Agfa at their factory in Belgium. It’s then distributed by Maco in Germany who license the Rollei name from its current owners.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from researching for the film reviews on this site, it’s that it’s a tangled web they often weave behind the scenes in the production of them.

That’s the case here, and in most places you’ll see the word Agfa. Its erstwhile Vista Plus films were most likely repackaged Fujifilm stock, and the current AgfaPhoto APX films are said to be repackaged Rollei films too. But I digress.

The Agfa-Gevaert Aviphot Pan 400S aerial film that Rollei Retro 400S is based on was produced for mapping terrain from on high, which means it needs to be good at cutting through any low cloud that may be present.

That’s probably why they made it super-panchromatic, as opposed to merely panchromatic. This means it has an increased sensitivity to red light, which in turn means shooting Rollei Retro 400S with a red or infrared filter can result in infrared images.

If you shoot it without a filter like I did, you still get deeper blacks and brighter whites than you would with most of the un-super-panchromatic monochrome films on the market today.

As an aside, JCH Street Pan 400 is also made with an Agfa aerial film. I’ve enjoyed the results I’ve gotten from that too, and this Rollei Retro 400S gave my work a similar look. And for a bit less money per roll too.

rollei retro 400s

Rollei Retro 400S image qualities

With Rollei having such a rich history in the photography world, it’d be a shame if the film bearing the name today was tarnishing that legacy by being substandard. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Rollei Retro 400S. For me at least.

What people look for in a film is down to personal taste and is going to vary from person to person. Different people will have different views on how much grain, sharpness, and contrast they like.

As you’ll see in the example images below, Retro 400S brings low grain with good sharpness and high contrast. And for me and how I would like my photographs to look, that’s a great combination.

I presume these attributes are down to the clarity brought by the increased infrared capabilities and the need for it to cut through the haze in the aerial work it was designed to do. And I think they’ve translated well to give very good results on the streets.

As said, any aversion to the image qualities would be down to that aforementioned personal taste rather than the quality of the film. Fortunately for me though, the low grain, good sharpness and high contrast give a look that I really, really enjoy.

underrated film rollei retro 400s

Street photography with Retro 400S

As Rollei Retro 400S is derived from a film designed to map terrain, I wonder how good it would be for doing some landscape photography.

I’ll have to keep wondering for the time being though, as I shot my couple of rolls out and about in the streets of Shanghai. And both of them in a cheap old Canon Sure Shot AF-7 I’d picked up from a charity shop not long beforehand.

The reason I did this with my first roll of Retro 400S was for an occasional Twitter thing called the Shitty Camera Challenge. Perhaps that gives the film a little more credit still as it means the results it gave were taken in such a camera.

As an ISO 400 film, I had no worries with the light changing as I wandered around shooting. Because it’s not an expensive film and I was using a thoroughly uncomplicated point ‘n’ shoot, it was a whole lot of carefree fun just walking, pointing and shooting.

The results you see here speak for themselves. I really like the clarity they have and much prefer it over some of the more grainy films I’ve shot like Ilford Pan 400, for example.

If you also like the look, with that price and versatile ISO 400 speed, I can only recommend Rollei Retro as a very good film for some monochrome street photography of your own.

Rollei Retro 400S specs and development

Rollei Retro 400S is a super-panchromatic black and white negative film which is not made by the same people who made your Rolleiflex or Rollei 35.

As we’ve already explained, it’s a repurposed aerial film called Aviphot Pan 400S and is made by Agfa-Gevaert. It’s available in 120 format and the 35mm version we’re reviewing here, with the latter DX-coded with the number 854011.

While I can show you the real world photographs I’ve shot with this film, I can’t bring you any first-hand experience of developing it, as I’m yet to develop any film of my own.

Instead, here’s a round-up of information I’ve found elsewhere online and collated here for you.

The emulsion of Rollei Retro 400S is coated onto a transparent polyester base, which can show up dust and other flaws more than other films. A protective layer on top of the emulsion can help keep the latter to a minimum, however.

There is also supposed to be a non-curling layer, but there have been mixed reports on how well this works. Some report no curling while others talk of it suffering amongst the worst they’ve seen. Watch your humidity, I guess.

That’s all I’ve got. If you need actual technical data and specifications, you can find the original Aviphot datasheet here and the Retro 400S entry on the massive dev chart here.

Where to buy Retro 400S

There are some stocks, like Kodak Gold 200 for example, that you’ll sometimes stumble across in grocery stores when you’re not even looking for film. Then there are the likes of Fujicolor Industrial 100, that you can likely only find online unless you live in east Asia.

Rollei Retro 400S sits somewhere in the middle. If you’re to see it in an actual shop, that shop will probably have to be an actual photography shop. So if you have one of those nearby, they may well have some Retro 400S.

If not, or if you want to compare prices or just take advantage of the convenience, there are always some online vendors who will be happy to meet your needs.

You can check the current prices and availability through the links below.

rollei retro 400s

Final thoughts on Rollei Retro 400S

Back when I picked up my first roll of Retro 400S, I didn’t know anything about it. I was browsing in a photography shop and just chose a selection of different films to try.

When I later decided to shoot it for the aforementioned Shitty Camera Challenge, the results of which you can see here, I’d still not really read up on it. So when I got the results back from the lab, I was very pleasantly surprised.

While I’m currently trying to shoot as many different films as I can so I can review them on here, there was something that compelled me to buy a second roll of this one.

So I did, and then I put that through the same Canon Sure Shot camera and was again mightily impressed with what it gave me.

In fact, I was so impressed with it that I did something I haven’t done before. I put together a collection of the photographs into something physical that can be shared. In other words, I made my first zine.

Called Shanghai Streets, it features 52 photographs from those two rolls of Rollei Retro 400S, all shot in the same Canon point ‘n’ shoot.

You can check it out – if you want to – right here on MagCloud.

So there you go. Final thoughts on Retro 400S? I hope me using what it gave me to make my first printed project is a high enough endorsement for it.

If not, perhaps everything I’ve already said about it will be.

That low grain, good sharpness, high contrast look may not be for you. But if it is, I highly recommend you try some of this film if you haven’t already.

It’s not as budget-friendly as your Kentmeres and Agfa APXs, but it does come in cheaper than your T-MAXs and Ilford Deltas. When compared to some of those films and how much they go for, I think Retro 400S outperforms its price.

It’s undervalued, underrated, and one of my favourite films of the ones I’ve shot so far.

So why not get yourself a couple of rolls from B&H Photo, from Amazon, or from Analogue Wonderland and see what you can make with it too. 😀

Rollei Retro Black & White 400S 500 ISO, 35mm, 36 Exposure
  • Retro 400S is a completely reliable partner in changing light conditions
  • It can be used as both an all-round film and as a film for the grey areas - photography in available light and dim lighting conditions
  • Rollei RETRO 400S is coated onto a modern synthetic film base

If you found this Rollei Retro 400S review useful, why not take a look at these other fantastic films too:

  1. Review of another great value ISO 400 monochrome film
  2. A review of arguably the best film available right now
  3. Check every single film review on My Favourite Lens

And if you think others will also enjoy or benefit from this film review, help them find it by sharing or pinning.  😀

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