5 Frames… With Rollei Retro 400S (EI 400 / 35mm format / Olympus XA4) – by Charles Mutter

I’d shot this film a few times earlier in 2019, with some very pleasing results in 120 format from my Minolta Autocord, and some less pleasing ones from my Nikon F75 and 24mm f/1.8G. The latter was shot in midsummer Maltese sunshine, but did come out basically black OR white! This made me wonder if the film might be better served by older lenses…so I put a roll in my beloved Olympus XA4.

I regard The XA4 as one of the supreme achievements of compact camera design, even more so than its more well-known XA and XA2 sisters. OK, you don’t have any control over exposure bar the +1.5 stop backlight lever, but the camera usually gets it right. It’s scale focus, but the wrist strap gives you (precisely) 0.3m and 0.5m, and your arm probably gives you 0.7m.

Is the lens sharp? Just look at the tropical leaves. Can it do bokeh? Hardly the strong point of most 28mm lenses, but see the photo of my niece below for your answer. I think of it as my Leica Q, except that with most films it has better dynamic range… and it fits in a cycling jersey pocket!

I’ve read criticism of the Rollei 400S film for blacks that lose detail. I think it’s quite possible to avoid this – the shot of the fallen tree did initially look a bit like that but a very quick adjustment of levels was able to recover shadow detail without it looking artificial. In my opinion.

For the rest, I find it has plenty of character/contrast, pleasing mid-tones, grain is present but unobtrusive. I like the way it rendered the famous Fox Talbot window at Lacock Abbey: the contrast evokes Victorian photography but there’s a nice amount of detail in the window surrounds, for instance.

I haven’t tried pushing it, and results on other cameras using yellow or red filters have been mixed. But I’ll certainly be using it again in my little Olympus. Especially for less than £4/roll!

The film was developed in XTOL and scanned by the excellent Duncan at Silverpan Lab.

~ Charles

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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.

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Charles Mutter
Charles Mutter
I'm a professional musician and amateur photographer. I live in Hertfordshire with my wife (also a musician) and Siamese cat (not a musician). I've become (even) more passionate about photography since rediscovering film in 2014.

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