Retro 400s


Links and Data:
  1. High speed, super-panchromatic sensitised B&W.

  2. Extended red sensitivity to 750nm

  3. Fine Grain

  4. High Sharpness

  5. Average exposure latitude

  6. Tear proof clear polyester film base, with a protective layer and

    non-curling coating

  1. Excellent for scanning due to clear film base

  1. Development Data by

  1. Sample Images: Flickr Set

  1. Manufacturer’s Datasheet

The Rollei Retro 400s makes a great everyday ASA 400 film, be it with higher contrast than the average film. This aside, it has great tonality, offering not only a high level of sharpness, but also very fine and tightly packed grain. All around, it’s a favourite ASA 400 film of mine, with only a few little drawbacks.

The Retro 400s is a super-panchromatic sensitised film, offering high red sensitivity extending all the way up to 715nm. Shooting with the appropriate infrared filter, such as the Heliopan RG715 filter, the wood effect can be achieved fairly easily. The film’s approximate speed rating under infrared conditions would be between ASA12 and 25. Shooting with a dark yellow, and especially with a red/dark-red filter, can result in a small bit of infrared light infiltratation. It’s definitely not a bad thing, and it’s often very flattering - Foliage becomes a little shade lighter with a red filter, and sometimes an overall glow can be seen. The infrared or strong red sensitivity can be quite nice for skin tones.

The film works incredibly well developed in Rodinal. One would just need to remember it’s high contrast nature which would often necessitate using a dilution of 1:50 or 1:100, and perhaps even 1:200 for a stand or semi-stand develop. The above shot was developed in Rodinal with a dilution of 1:100, using a stand develop technique for 60min. While the negs were a tad too dense, the results were still very good. I wouldn’t hesitate developing this film in Rodinal 1:200, using a semi-stand technique. With the initial agitation of one minute, I would replace the old solution with a fresh one at the 30 min mark, and then continue the develop up to the 60 min mark. Bare in mind, the above shot was taken with a B+W 090 Red filter, so shadow detail is therefore darker than normal.  Also, a warning against stand developing 120 film, is that on several occasions my negatives had uneven density along their width (top to bottom in the tank). For this reason, I would highly suggest to explore a semi-stand develop rather than a stand.

If contrast is not your thing, pull this film. I haven’t explored pulling this past further than ISO 100. Beyond this, it depends on how much faith you have in the anti-halation layer of this film, since light scatter from intense highlights can soften detail in that area. This was a definitely noticeable with EFKE films. Also, pulling Retro 400s to ISO 100 will also allow you to develop in Rodinal 1:25 in a short time. Want more compensating affect, then agitate every other minute and increase dev time by about 30%. And yes, 1:25 does have compensating affect if agitation intervals are lengthened. I could see this with notable edge affects on EFKE IR820c film, which I often developed in 1:25 with lengthened agitation intervals.

The mouse-over image, on the top right, shows two 1600dpi crops of the 6x7cm negative. The first crop shows the level of detail and sharpness of the film, and on mouse-over, a second crop shows the amount and structure of the grain. I would say that it’s an impressive result for an ASA 400 film! The film is also relatively tough, and the emulsion doesn’t damage easily, unlike the Efke or Foma films. Besides having a protective layer, the film also has a non curling layer, which makes life easy when hanging the film to dry, or while scanning the negative. PET base films have a propensity to curl, but with this film, the curl is very well controlled.

On the topic of the PET base, I need to mention that it is more susceptible to light leaks than triacetate base films, and this counts for both 35mm and 120 formats. I recommend that the film gets loaded in subdued light in order to avoid these light leaks. On the 35mm film, the light leaks can affect the first two or three exposures of the roll, while on the 120 film, it can influence the edges of almost every frame. With the 120 film, and especially in South Africa’s harsh light, this light leaking is almost inevitable, but precautions can be taken to avoid it affecting the images. At all times try and load and unload in subdued light. Even if the loading is done in the shade, make sure there are not large reflective or bright objects near by.

Having mentioned the draw back of light leaking, I will lead to the other negative aspects of this film. The film is unfortunately quite contrasty compared to films like Tri-X 400 or T-Max 400. It’s not as crippled in the lower zones as Rollei Retro 80s, but it may not be ideal for some people. I actually don’t mind this, and pulling this film opens the shadows up a little bit more. There is a point of diminishing returns, and at some point you’ll have to consider the fact that you might be using the wrong film. Another annoying thing is the developing time that is required for this film... Well, speaking with regards to using Rodinal, this film does need what feels like an unearthly long developing time - for ISO 400, 22min at 20ºC in Rodinal 1:50. It’s off putting.

I haven’t had much success with Diafine or ACU-1 developers. I think the emulsion is simply too thin for Diafine to develop it with sufficiently. Faster developers, such as Studional, Rodinal 1:25, HC-110, etc can be used, but I recommend pulling the film. I would recommend Beutler and FX-1 developers, both easy DIY home developers, which are also commercially available (A Beutler derivative is sold as Neofin Blau).

As a on/off infrared film, Retro 400s can be quite practical and fun to use. It is, however, not the same as Infrared 400 (also sold as Infrared 400s) which feels to me very misleading. I can’t vouch for the differences on 35mm, but on 120 roll film, the films are different. Photographing both films on the same subject with the same lighting and exposure, then developing them together, will show that they different. My impression of Rollei IR400 is that it has a slightly less steep gradation, with better shadow detail. Please note that I did only one such test. I have experienced changes across some of Maco’s film lines that were undocumented and denied when queried, so it’s probably best not to make assumptions and test it for yourself.

To end off, I just want to reiterate that this film is inherently high contrast, and pulling this film will only improve this a little. It’s a great film, but its not as versatile as TRI-X. Not everything is about fine grain, maximum sharpness, and huge dynamic range. While Retro 400s is sharp and fine grained, it’s high contrast should rather be seen as a positive attribute. It’s super-panchromatic sensitivity makes it unique, especially when photographing in the red spectrum, making it perfect for fine art high contrast photography.

Click the image to see it large

Personal Review:

All images remain the copyright of Martin Zimelka