One thing you’re never going to be short of in your analogue endeavours is monochrome ISO 400 film.
Timeless names like Kodak Tri-X and the Ilford HP range are (hopefully) going nowhere while more new world offerings such as JCH Street Pan and Silberra U400 are only giving us even more options.
And then you have all the others. The black and white ISO 400 films that perhaps don’t get talked about as much. Films like Rollei Retro 400S, which you can find on eBay here.
So having shot a roll, I thought it’d be nice to give this stock a bit of a shout out and also give you my thoughts on it in the form of a review.
What is Rollei Retro 400S?
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.
Being super-panchromatic, as opposed to merely panchromatic, means having an increased sensitivity to red light. This in turn means shooting Rollei Retro 400S with a red or infrared filter can result in infrared images.
It’s available in 120 and 35mm formats with the latter being DX-encoded.
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 was tarnishing that legacy by being substandard.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with Rollei Retro 400S.
The results it gives may not be to everyone’s liking – especially those who don’t like too much contrast – but I imagine any aversion to them would be down to personal taste rather than the quality and qualities of the film.
It typically brings fine grain, good sharpness, and high contrast.
The aforementioned extended infrared sensitivity means an increased sensitivity to any red tones in your photography, and also the greens.
It can also cut somewhat through any haze in the air, which can help with clarity if you’re shooting in misty landscape conditions or in cities with less than optimal air quality.
Street photography with Rollei Retro 400S
While I don’t tend to do much landscape photography, I did shoot a roll of Rollei Retro 400S in Shanghai, where the air often is less than optimal.
As this was for a Twitter community event called the #shittycamerachallenge, my example shots here were not taken with anything remotely high-end. I think it’s fair to describe a Canon Sure Shot AF-7 that way.
Despite this, I think the film gave some pretty good results. Everything promised earlier – the fine grain, good sharpness, and high contrast were all there.
Again, this is down to personal taste, but I think all three of those attributes helped make that #shittycamerachallenge set one that I was pretty pleased to get back from the lab.
If you’re looking for a monochrome film to try for your own street photography, I’m happy to recommend this one.
As well as the image quality already spoken of, its ISO 400 rating is fast enough to capture most, if not all, of the daytime scenes you’ll throw at it.
Rollei Retro 400S specs and development
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 never develop film.
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.
Finally, there is a red anti-halation layer which will turn the developer (the chemical, not you) the colour of a cheap cabernet when it’s poured out.
Final thoughts on Rollei Retro 400S
I picked up this Rollei Retro 400S without knowing anything about it. I was in a film shop and just choose a selection of different films to try.
When I later chose to shoot it for the aforementioned Shitty Camera Challenge, I’d still not really read up on it. So when I got the results back from the lab, I was very pleasantly surprised.
I’d shot a few rolls of Ilford Pan 400 in the same Canon Sure Shot AF-7 and had found them to be pretty grainy, so suspected the Rollei to turn out similar. It didn’t, and I really like the clarity it has instead.
If you’re yet to try this film for yourself, I’d recommend that you give it a go – especially if you’re into your ISO 400 monochrome stocks.
It’s not as budget-friendly as your Kentmere and Agfa APX, but it does come in cheaper than your Tri-X and Ilford Delta. For the price, I was very happy with the shots it gave me.
… p.s. if you’ve shot Rollei Retro 400S yourself and have anything to add, especially with regards developing it, let us know in the comments below
… p.p.s. if you found this film review useful and think others will too, why not share or pin it?