The quest for a cheaper alternative for Kodak Tri-x and Ilford HP5

It was about time to finally try out the Rollei RPX 400 black and white film. Today I pulled my first roll out of the developing tank and now I’t like to share my first impressions. 

This is not going to be a comprehensive review, because I don’t yet have a great deal of experience with this film. Shooting one roll doesn’t quite give the required amount of experience to say anything meaningful. I thought the results were interesting enough to share the results though. 

Rollei RPX 400 is a very affordable film compared to your old Ilfords and Kodaks. Now that Kodak is increasing their prices and who knows what will happen to Ilford’s pricing after brexit, I thought I’d take a stab at something new. A roll of RPX 400 was only 5,90€, which is slightly cheaper than most pro black and white films. 

To make a long story short, I’m inclined to say I’ll be spending my pennies on Ilford and Kodak in the future as well. I wasn’t completely satisfied with Rollei RPX 400. It definitely isn’t bad, but you can definitely see where the cheaper price tag comes from. Allow me to elucidate…

The good and the bad

The only bad (but critical) thing I can say about this film is it’s tendency to blow out the highlights very easily. it is hard to say after just one roll, but the results were pretty consistent throughout the entire roll. It is the middle of the so called winter, which means the lighting conditions have been pretty low key. I was surprised to notice that you could actually blow out the highlights in these conditions, but little did I know. I took a few strolls around the forest, under the canopy. A thick coniferous forest during the short days of January isn’t exactly when you’d expect to blow out the highlights. But it did happen. Over and over again. I suppose user error can’t be excluded though.

Otherwise a pretty nice exposure, but take a look at the lightest parts, that are almost completely blown out. I’ve taken enough photos of my dog to say how much detail to expect.

This shot is metered from the trunk of the tree, that resulted in surprisingly over-exposed look elsewhere, even though this was a very low contrast scene in reality.

This scene was under heavy canopy and I decided to over-expose one stop, which obviously was a huge mistake. I can say with confidence that T-max 400 would’ve taken this scene with no problems.

A mix between Fomapan 400 and HP5

The tendency of messing the highlights kind of reminded me the brief moments I’ve spend with Fomapan 400, that also doesn’t seem to hold the highlight details very well. 

Otherwise the film was actually very nice! It is a medium contrast and medium sharp film. The grain structure is pleasing that doesn’t render as clinical images as, for example Kodak T-max 400 or Ilford Delta 400. It has more resemblance with Ilford HP5 and Kodak Tri-x. If I’d have to describe it in one sentence, it would be like Fomapan 400 and HP5 having a baby together. When exposed correctly (e.g. without blowing out the highlights) Rollei RPX is no worse than any other high quality film. On a side by side blind test, I couldn’t tell it apart from HP5 or Tri-x. On the other hand, if this turns out to be re-rolled Fomapan 400, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit either.

One of the nicest shots from this roll. This film loves rough textures and shines in scenes with plenty of middle tones.

Indoor sample with very low light. Shot handheld at f2, 1/15. Pretty impressive range of tones considering how demanding lighting the film has to handle.

The strength of Rollei RPX 400 is it’s ability to capture shadow detail. It is very good in low light. I was very impressed how well it performed indoors in very dim light. If it would hold up highlights better, it would quite possibly be a great film for pushing. Based on this test how ever, I wouldn’t perhaps push it at all. An increase in contrast, that pushing would result in, would most likely give even worse highlight performance. 

But like I said, this was just the first roll. Luckily I bough another roll that I plan to shoot as soon the spring rolls in, providing better lighting conditions.  

I developed these images in Kodak D-76 which is my go-to developer. I’ve had great and consistent results with it with most films I’ve ever used, but it might be possible that this just wasn’t a good combo for optimal results. I used 1:1 dilution and 14min development time, that Massive Dev chart recommended. I’m very intrigued by Rollei films. (spoiler alert, articles on RPX 25 and 100 also coming most likely up, as I also purchased few rolls of each.) I’m not completely given up based on these results. There is something very nice about the image quality of Rollei RPX 400 and I’m definitely planning to keep exploring it’s possibilities.