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rollei retro 400S     panchromatic sensitized black & white film

Wolfgang Bleier
Austria, Autumn 2009



The Rollei Retro 400S is a panchromatic sensitized Black & White film with a speed of ISO 400/27°. The film can be used as a general purpose photographic film suitable for all professional tasks. It has excellent contrast, high edge sharpness as well as good tonal range. The emulsion coats a clear polyester base.

For those who prefer to take photographs on black & white film it is almost impossible to ignore the Rollei Retro 400S. After reading the above advertising text I had to check it out and bath this film in the classic Agfa Rodinal standard developer.
In 2004, Agfa-Gevaert N.V., a European multinational corporation that develops, manufactures, and distributes analogue and digital products for processing and reproduction of images has sold the consumer imaging division to a company founded via management buyout. AgfaPhoto GmbH, as the new company was called, filed for bankruptcy after just one year of operation. The brands are now licensed to other companies by AgfaPhoto Holding GmbH, a holding firm.
Rollei Retro 400S black and white film
After the bankruptcy of AgfaPhoto and the discontinuance of the original Agfa APX black & white films, some confusion has spread concerning correct development of its successors that followed on the market, like the quite popular Rollei Retro films of Maco Photo Products. The information posted in Internet forums regarding the development of the Retro 400S in Agfa Rodinal developer varies a lot. Some try to compare these films with the former Agfa APX coating, which adds to the confusion.


The times for developing the Rollei Retro 400S in popular film developers, including the widely appreciated Agfa Rodinal, are listed in the Technical Specification published by Maco Photo Products.
Film developers not listed in the Rollei Retro 400S Technical Specifications you may want to search in the Digitaltruth development charts.

Please note that published development times should always be treated as a guideline because of the tremendous number of variables involved. One combination might work well in flat lighting, but be unsuitable for high-contrast scenes. Therefore use the development times as starting points only and run some tests of your own before developing important work.

Even if most black & white films are quite forgiving in respect of development times, I have tested the Retro 400S by trial and error in order to find out my own reference values for development in Agfa Rodinal. I have exposed the film in rather unfavorable flat lighting. The outcome was that 10 to 11 minutes in a 1+25 dilution and 20 to 22 minutes in a 1+50 dilution are safe starting points.


ISO 400   20°C   1+25   9.0 min
 
ISO 400   20°C   1+25   9.0 min
 
ISO 400   20°C   1+25   9.0 min          enlarge                         ISO 400   20°C   1+25   10.0 min
 
ISO 400   20°C   1+50   22.0 min

The film was exposed in diffuse light conditions with an orange b & w filter mounted on the lens. Scans were made straight with a Nikon Coolscan V ED by using standard settings without any image enhancement or pre-scan manipulation. Except for a more warm tone, no further image editing in Photoshop was made.


On the light box the test negatives developed in a 1+50 dilution for 18, 20 and 22 minutes show only slight differences in density, which the scans can't even render on a computer monitor. Generally all test negatives appeared a bit thin, thus underexposed. Well, as most people, I learn how to expose film through my own mistakes (or was it my new camera?). Exposure times can vary not only because of the kind of film, but also due to the camera in which the film is loaded. The good advice in black & white photography to expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights usually works fine. However, most of us do not use sheet film but roll film, and therefore cannot develop each negative individually for optimum density and contrast. Since development control of a roll film is applied to the entire film, it is necessary to shoot some rolls in order to find out the latitude for correct exposure of a new emulsion.

The Rollei Retro 400S has got a fixed place in my camera bag when I take out one of my analog cameras. It shows excellent tonal values and good contrast, even in diffuse light, and is easy to process and to scan. It is a well balanced black & white film with excellent reproduction across the whole tonal range when developed in Agfa Rodinal. Nevertheless, to understand exposure and development of a certain film emulsion there is nothing better than taking photographs in varying light and scenery and develop the film in several developers. This is what I will do with the Rollei Retro 400S and should I have to add anything to the above, I will do it here.

Till then ...



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