TL;DR: everything old is new again. 1974 or 2018?
I had a lone 35mm roll of Rollei Ortho film, and some Rodinal. The combination should result in some of the sharpest negatives available – may as well find out!
Rollei usually recommends another developer, but they do list Rodinal 1+50 at 10 minutes inside the box, so: that’s what I used. This also gave me a chance to do a quick shake of the new TTArtisans 50mm ƒ/1.4 ASPH lens. I’ll write more about that later on, but in the mean time here are just a couple of frames from the Rollei negatives, along with 100% scanner crops, and further down, a comparison (for the film, not the lens) shot with a Nikkor 55mm micro-Nikkor (on a Nikon, of course), and finallly a quick comparison to a recent shot made with the X-Pro2 & the Fuji 16mm ƒ/1.4 (a 24mm-equivalent lens).
It’s everybody versus everybody today.
TTArtisans 50mm ƒ/1.4 ASPH Lens, Rollei Ortho 25 Film
The closeup below is from the full-frame photo above. The camera was a Leitz/Minolta CL.
At 4800 dpi, Epson’s scan resolution for a 35mm frame is nearly identical with that of the Fuji X-Pro2 sensor: about 6000x4000. Rollei claims the film can resolve up to 330 lines per mm, or over 8000 lines per inch. Well above the scanner capability. And far above the resolution of any lens for a 35mm camera, at least one made during the film era – even the best ones will peak around 140 lpmm. Lower for SLR lenses.
Resolution’s not the whole story for either a film or a lens, but looking at this 100% crop I learned a couple of things about the film, about my scanner, and about this lens (I’ll write more about the lens in another post – including how it feels on both a regular-sized M body and the diminutive Leitz Minolta CL).
Leitz/Minolta 28mm M-Rokkor Lens, Rollei Ortho 25 Film
This second shot was made with the 28mm ƒ/2.8 M-Rokkor. That lens was made for the CLE, so I keep around an extra 28mm shoe-mounted viewfinder (the CL lacks a 28mm brightline, while the CLE has one – but the CLE lacks the CL’s 50mm lines…). In practice, the full view of the CL’s finder is pretty close to 28mm already, though if I’m prefocused or zone focused it’s a lot faster to just use the top-mounted finder or even just wing it, since I’ve developed a personal “internal viewfinder” too.
There are a lot of tonal gradients that I can appreciate in this image, and I was very pleased to discover some really small details in the far background. Again, the film is recording at the limit of the scanner and the lens. And yes, I would have done some dodge-and-burn but not for the purposes of today. This is presented “as scanned.”
Fujifilm Neopan 1600 Super Presto
Fuji doesn’t make this film any more. I bought in bulk, Way Back When, and about 15 rolls remain. I’ve been exposing it at around ISO 200 or 400, depending more on my mood than the demands of the scene. To match the Rollei film, I’ve also processed this roll in Rodinal 1+50, just like the Rollei film, this time for 13 minutes.
55mm ƒ/3.5 Pre-AI Micro-Nikkor Lens, Neopan 1600
The shot below doesn’t have a lot of sharp detail, but the edges it does have show off this 1960s Nikon lens pretty well, and the gradients reveal some of the grainy character in this film.
At web resolution, the old slow fast film still manages pretty well! At 100% the scan shows a lot more difference, as you might expect. But not as much, in truth, as I had expected.
A surprise, when reviewing on the computer: the strong grain is apparent even in the tiny thumbnail views that Photoshop presents showing “recent files” – while the thumbnails for the Rollei shots still look pretty clean.
Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/16mm ƒ/1.4 WR
At this late stage for film cameras, no one should be surprised that the digital Fuji has detail to rival even Rollei Ortho 25. What surprised me is by how much it excels! See for yourself. This is a six-year old X-Pro with a 24mm equivalent lens at ISO 400.
At 100% crop, the story’s even clearer.
What We Learned Today: B&W Film, B&W Digital
This is just a record of my personal testing for my own use. Reminders to myself and a few confirmations of things I thought I knew and have now verified with experience:
- Rollei's film is swell, but if I want the ultimate available sharpness and clarity in rendering, digital is the way to go.
- I need to remember to disable unsharp masking on my scanner, when using Epson's scanning software.
- Likewise, I need to double-check the Epson brightness ranges. Epson's default exposure clips a lot of the brighter pixels to a hard white -- to my eye, this destroys not only highlights, but grain structure too. It's easy to adjust, but must be checked on each frame.
- For coarser films like the Neopan 1600, edge details still come through from a great lens like the 55 Nikkor.
- The partly-Leica M-mount lenses I have are excellent performers for B&W film: I don't really see a strong need to go for pricier options as long as film is my target.
- I doubt I'll buy more Rollei Ortho, it doesn't solve any problems for me. Sure, it's nice to have ISOs less than the low-end limits of most digital cameras, which are typically ISO 200 or even higher. But there are less expensive panchromatic alternatives, like Acros or Pan F or adding an ND filter to push ISO 200 down to ISO 25.
More generally: shooting film and shooting digital are increasingly different. The Fuji X-cameras earn all their love, they’re super. On most every technical measure, they win. The charm of film and film processes is not in those metrics.