Rollei RPX 400 Film Review
A Versatile, Affordable Medium-Speed Monochrome Film of Mysterious Origins7 min read by
Rollei RPX 400 (available in 35mm, medium format, and bulk rolls) is a medium-speed black and white film distributed by Maco — a German brand many photographers know as Maco Direct. It features a medium-low contrast with decent grain size and resolution — all of which can be altered slightly by your developer and darkroom technique.
In this review, I’ll try to uncover the origins of this versatile and relatively affordable film and outline its key properties with high-res scans and tips for better results.
A brief history of the modern Rollei-branded films.
Photographic equipment manufacturing is a cut-throat business. Few brands have survived the market grinder since the birth of photography in the 1830s. And the ones that did, like Kodak, Ilford, and Voigtländer, have seen numerous restructurings, bankruptcies, break-ups and asset sales.
Rollei is best remembered for its iconic TLR cameras and the incredible miniature Rollei 35s. Today, the best-known Rollei-branded products are photographic films — but the name on the packages is licensed from a low-key photographic retailer run by DW Photo. That retailer (which now owns and licenses the Rollei name) doesn’t make the film — nor does the company that prints the name on the rolls and distributes the emulsions: Maco.
Maco does not say who makes their film. My laborious research reveals that it’s likely either Agfa-Gevaert — one of the off-shoots of the original Agfa company that, amongst other things, manufactures X-Ray film for medical applications — or Lupus Imaging (another descendent of the defunct Agfa), which is rumoured to make certain Lomography emulsions.
✪ Note: Shortly after this article got published, a friend noted that today’s RPX 400 may be manufactured by Kentmere, a film-producing business owned by Ilford after an acquisition some years ago. I will update this article or link a follow-up if I find that the new emulsion differs significantly.
Unfortunately, there’s no official confirmation about the actual maker of this or any Rollei emulsion. And I don’t think it ultimately matters who makes it, though I can’t help but feel curious.
This curiosity and fascination with the brand and its products have incidentally led me to fall prey to a trap laid by a student researching misinformation on Twitter. A few days ago, Josh Knox created an account (which has since been renamed from @rolleiofficial), posing as Rollei and promising a release of a “DTLR.” I wasn’t the only one fooled: many prominent photography blogs picked up the story and ran with it.
But that’s not what this review is about.
Grain structure, resolution, sharpness, and tonality.
Rollei RPX 400 is a relatively fine-grained film with plenty of micro-contrast, characteristic of traditional films (i.e. no T-Grain). It is sometimes compared to Ilford HP5+.
Indeed, this film can render a good amount of detail; it does very well at reproducing things like fine print for an ISO 400 emulsion. Its datasheet lists a diffuse granularity index of RMS 14, which places it on par with Fujichrome Provia 400F (discontinued) slide film. Although this method of measuring grain size has been shown to be flawed.
The quality of the contrast that you’ll get with this film depends on the lighting and your development chemicals/methods. In this article, all images have been washed in Ilford DD-X, which gives it medium contrast, though some bloggers suggest Pyrocat-HD for finer grain or Rodinal for a bit more contrast and even pushing it to EI 800.
This film does exactly what it says it will do and more when treated correctly. Though I still wouldn’t mind spending a little more on HP5+, Tri-X, or Delta 400 for a bit of consistency across developers and a more nuanced tonal curve.
RPX 400, though easy to shoot, may sometimes create images that seem a little “flat” if you aren’t picking your light, developing, and scanning techniques carefully.
Though the datasheet lists no film characteristic curves, Rollei RPX 400 has a very apparent wide dynamic range. As is the case with most negative films, it can still lose details in under-exposed areas, but the highlights will remain solid even in very strong light.
The sample below is a great illustration of this property: there are at least ten stops of light variance that this film is rendering without any loss.
Scanning and post-processing Rollei RPX 400 films.
RPX 400 is easy to scan. Even mediocre scanners can get good results out of this emulsion, thanks to its “Very good maximum blackness (D-Max)” — a quote from the datasheet.
I think this means that the negative spreads its minimum and maximum density over a wide enough range to not require drastic equalization adjustments (which would cause loss of data after scanning) while maintaining a moderate black point that most scanners can read.
Not all films play well with post-processing. The disadvantage of having a nuanced contrast curve is more apparent, coarser grain that shows up after making changes in Photoshop (or any image-editing software). Fujifilm Neopan Acros is a good example of a film with such a downside. RPX 400, though it can also show coarser grain after a significant contrast change, does not lose much of its integrity. It’s quite easy to tame a shot over-exposed by two to three stops.
How much does Rollei RPX 400 cost, and where to buy it.
Rollei RPX 400 is a great value buy. If you’re looking to shoot a lot of medium or high-speed black-and-white film and aren’t looking for anything specific or particularly unique, this is the one. As of this writing, a single roll of 35mm 36exp will set you back around $8-12, or as little as $6 if you bulk-load. On top of that, you may alter the look of this film with various techniques to get a variety of contrast profiles and grain sizes. This film is relatively easy to find and should be available in most places.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Rollei RPX 400 film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!