I know we’ve covered a Rollei 400 speed B&W before, but I swear this is different! That one was RPX 400, which is a panchromatic film made by Harman in jolly good England, while Retro 400s, which we will be talking about today is a bit more special.
Its a super-panchromatic film that can cut through fog due to its increased sensitivity to red light. This also means it has near infrared capabilities. So you can shoot it with a red filter if you so desire. Considering this isn’t necessarily advertised or made obvious by any marketing materials, you might be wondering where this unique film comes from and what is its origins.
The first clue is the fact that it says made in Belgium on the packaging. There is only one company making films in Belgium these days, and that is Agfa-Gevaert. But AgfaPhoto went defunct back in 2005, so who is this Agfa-Gevaert? They were the original parent company of AgfaPhoto who sold off the photo division back in 2004. But their Belgian industrial operations is still functional, producing aerial film for industrial and military applications.
This is the reason for its super panchromatic, near infrared capabilities. Aviphot Pan 400S, as it’s actually called, is capable of “penetrating haze, fog and other atmospheric conditions” as stated on its datasheet. Made for mapping terrain, it’s designed to be able to cut through low clouds. Not only that, due to its military applications, it can be processed differently for different results depending on what purpose you’re using the film for just through development temperatures. It also dries quickly and is also equipped with an anti scratch and anti static coating to help with scanning. This is all great properties to have for longevity and archival purposes, too.
It’s basically the almost perfect modern day film. I personally have been loving it more and more with every roll I’ve been shooting due to the medium-high contrast and the low grain characteristic that isn’t overly gritty. I’ve used two different developers with it, Blazinal and HC-110, and the latter, by far, offers that slightly smooth painterly look while maintaining that film aesthetic that really does it for me. It’s great for those gritty, old school street or documentary style photos.
Of course, its hard to tell B&W films apart. What makes this different from say, Ilford HP5+ or Kodak Tri-X? The first thing of course is the fact that it offers really fine grain and more contrast at 400 speed than other comparable film stocks. The second most noticeable trait is the negative itself. It’s a lot thinner and more slippery than most other films. This is not an indicator of the quality, this is simply due to the features I mentioned above in regards to its archival properties.
So when would you use this film? Of course, you could replace your daily dose of HP5+ or Tri-x with this. It’s not as expensive as you’d think (regular price $9.94 for 35mm and $10.70 for 120, making it cheaper than any of Kodak’s B&W films). You could also definitely use it for those big B&W landscapes. With its fine grain and various developing possibilities you can expect spectacular results with highlight and shadow detail retention. It was made for mapping terrain after all.
Like usual, it will be 10% off online and in store this Friday and Saturday only! In the meantime, here’s some sample shots courtesy of me.