Week 40: Rollei RPX 100 gets Cabin Fever - special guest blog

The idea was simple: the same roll of film, 2 different cameras, 2 different people, and 2 different houses. The theme: Cabin Fever. Here are our impressions of Rollei RPX 100.

Welcome to Week 40 of my 52 rolls of film project, we are in the final stretch!

This week I am delighted to have a special guest join the review: my good friend Conor. I've known Conor for going on 25 years, we go way back to the early days of high school. He has always had an active interest in photography and coupled with his Encylopedia type brain, he is an excellent source to ask any amount of crazy technical questions. Enough about Conor though, and back to the film and this week's theme: Cabin Fever.

About the film

I have tried quite a few Rollei films before (including Infrared), and have always had good results. I picked this one as its ISO 100 would be fine for use indoors with a tripod. According to Rollei:

Rollei RPX 100 is a traditional medium-speed black and white film. This is one of our most popular films and is suitable for a wide range of photographic and scientific applications. Particularly portrait and landscape photography, architecture and product photography. The popularity of this film confirms its high quality.

• suitable for indoor and outdoor shots
• fine grain
• excellent sharpness
• broad exposure latitude
• rich tonal range with good contrast
• compatible with most standard developers
• panchromatically sensitized
• sensitized from 380 to 660 nm at 2.850K

Special guest -  Conor Hughes: his writeup below

Most of my photographs are taken whilst on holiday or otherwise out of my day-to-day life.  I struggle with practicing photography in familiar places.  Frequently, contests and competitions have a theme and timescale as creative constraints to help hone your skills as a photographer. With this in mind, I suggested this challenge to Neil, to see what we could get out of a highly constrained and familiar setting. A side benefit for me was the chance to get used to a “new” camera, which had been in storage for over 2 decades. This was only the third roll I had put through the camera.

I primarily shoot digital, so having the limitations of film (Fixed ISO and primitive metering) was an additional constraint. The only film cameras I use are the Pentax 6x7 and the Minox BL. For those not familiar with either, The Pentax 6x7 is a fairly substantial camera, weighing the same as 6 African elephants, and being slightly smaller than Wales. The Minox BL on the other hand, is slightly larger than a lighter and appears designed to be swallowed by cold war spies if required.

There’s rarely anything large scale of interest in a typical house so I would need to focus on details, individual items, or normal things out of place.  There was an opportunity to set these up as I wanted and control artificial light to a greater degree. I used a tripod to give me some flexibility on aperture and shutter speeds, but being limited to 2 primes with restrictive focus distances would prove awkward for compositions. I also learned that I will need to set the base of the camera in concrete for slow exposure shots to correct for the noise and vibration of the shutter and mirror even with mirror lock up. To get a sense of the shaking and noise from the Pentax shutter, go into your kitchen and tip over your fridge.

Shot by shot

I had done this before in digital in colour and wanted to see MF take on it. It was quite tough to visualise the final shot in B+W. If I was taking this again, I would probably tilt the shot to one side and have a better defined transition between focus and out of focus areas. With an extension tube I could get closer for a more abstract shot.
I had one of these and noticed a sliver of sunlight coming though the curtains. With the sun moving across the partly cloudy sky recomposing It was a surprisingly challenging shot to get for such a static looking image. I’m fairly pleased with how this turned out
This old reel to reel seemed to almost match the 6x7 aspect ratio.  I was curious to see the motion blur to see what happens. On reflection this would have been stronger with a longer focal length for less distortion, but then there would have been fewer possibilties to control the light. I think it would also have benefitted from a faster shutter speed, so show some motion instead of having the features of the reels blurred into oblivion.
I thought of taking a shot with some books but the colours were tough to visualise in B+W and the text was distracting, I flipped a few so it was more of a “pattern” shot. As you can see it didn’t quite work out.
I enjoy abstracts so the shallow DoF with medium format gave me a chance to through most of this lamp and bulb out of focus. High shutter speed and no other light sources meant it stayed sharp and kept the background black.
Not much to this one just another archival photo of a retro audio thing. Unfortunately it’s massively underexposed though, the headphones are lost and the DOF is way too shallow. Possibly cursed.
I was experimenting with light sources which changed the composition and catchlights, not sure if this is the best variation, but it was worth a shot. A second light source for the acoustic guitar would probably have improved this.
Just a photo of stuff I tend to have on me every day. (LPT: Notice that my key’s covered by the pocket knife, this is deliberate. Making copies of keys from a photo is worryingly easy.)

Overall impressions

I have not provided any commentary on the film used, I’ll leave that to Neil. Seems decent I guess. Grain is what I would expect at this ISO and there’s plenty of sharpness/detail.  BUT……. I am conscious of the fact that before these digital images got to me, someone else was making decisions on developing the film which was then passed through a film scanner of indeterminate type and then got displayed on a few different but nonetheless non-calibrated monitors. So who knows.

A couple of my shots are weak and fail as photographs, but that’s the nature of the beast. Comments welcome of course.

You could follow me on Instagram and Flickr but I don’t bother updating those much, you could also follow my blog if I had one, but I don’t.

Thanks to Neil for getting this project going – keep up the good work; you spend money testing and reviewing films so I don’t have to.

Neil's view

Great writeup and shots above.

So my shots are below, totally different in both composition and overall look. The fact that I shot them during the day with natural light will have some effect also.

The bulb of my Dad's Speed Graphic camera. Not as contrasty as I would have liked, but then again this was shot in the middle of the day. Very good sharpness overall though.
Espresso in action. Not as sharp as I would have liked, but likely due to how I focused the Hasselblad, the depth of field doesn't look quite right either. Pretty cool reflection in the bottom of the espresso machine though.
Spargel season - another benefit of living in Germany.
"Escaping the pub, slowly and quietly". At least that is what I think of when I see this. A great wedding present from my Uncle, currently hanging in my kitchen.
Really strong sharpness in this shot with minimal or no grain at all - great results overall from this Rollei film.
Statue of a Tapir - you may need to look that animal up. This is the inside of a really cool frame a good Armenian friend gave to me. This shot is cropped and still retains strong sharpness and detail.
The one and only Ararat Armenian brandy.

Overall impressions

As with all other Rollei films I have used, some really good results here. This film in particular is extremely sharp! Also, little or no grain visible. I remember that from when I used Rollei RPX 400, with the blackness of some of the night shots reminding me of Conor's shots above. I must say I do prefer Conor's shots, and I think he was a bit more creative than I was with the shots and composition. He also chose some artificial light, which helps with contrast in black and white photography.

However, what I do find interesting when looking at the above two sets of shots, is how different they are. Some of this is down to composition and time of day, but if you told me they were from two different films I would believe you. Obviously this is far from a scientific test and different labs (with different development methods I am sure) were used in this experiment. Add to that the notion of "broad exposure latitude" (simply speaking you can under or overexpose and the shot will still be OK), and we see quite different results.

That is encouraging though, as film is not about producing perfect shots, rather it is in its imperfections that it shines. And for me part of that comes down to the same film producing different results. That's not to discount the fact that each photographer has a different view of the world and this is evident in their composition but also their choice of shutter speed and overall exposure.

I must say I would highly recommend this film and the rest of the Rollei range I have tried. It reminds me a bit of Ilford's FP4+ actually. With its wide exposure latitude and strong sharpness with consistent results from two different photographers (and labs), this film is a keeper.

So there's Week 40 done! Many thanks again to Conor for his time and effort in getting some really cool indoor shots. And if we can get some inspiration from dull everyday indoor objects, imagine what you can do?! Now get back out there and take some more photographs!

More fun coming in the next week fews, including redscale film, more portraits, and a blast to the past - all shall be revealed!


Neil (and Conor).