Fun with Film: Rollei Infrared 400

It has taken me a little while to really get back into shooting black and white film.  Between my fascination with old color Kodachrome slides and the wealth of color that was amid the landscapes during the Summer and Fall when I began to get back into shooting film, the premise of stripping that vibrance from my resulting images was not something I was initially ready to do.

That bias has since abated, with the rural landscapes largely having turned to a rather uniform palette that is the color of dull straw since November, the once rich green grasses now in a muted shade of sickly moss, and the colorful foliage on the trees now replaced by withering vines and branches.

However, even as I dove back into film, and was picking up a roll or two of whatever color films were still obtainable, a black and white film caught my eye that seemed particularly interesting to try. It took some time and effort to find a lab willing to process it, but finally, I have results in hand.  The film in question: Rollei Infrared 400.

First some clarification.  This film is able to see "near infrared" colors in the spectrum when using the proper filter, rather than detecting heat in the subject matter, as some specialized equipment is able to do.  As a result, it is able to create some high contrast images with a most unusual rendering.  Its primary use over the past 80 years has been for aerial photography, but during much of that time, it has garnered a following among photographers looking to create an unconventional look in their images.

Rollei Infrared 400 s one of the few films still available today for this market, and in many respects, it is the most capable. providing some rather striking results when used with an opaque infrared filter.  Interestingly, it can be used as a conventional black and white film as well as an infrared film on the very same roll, making it great for comparisons, a couple of which can be found in the samples below. 

Special Thanks to the Old School Photo Lab for gladly taking and developing this roll of film where the large commercial lab would not.  I will definitely be back with more orders!

Above, a sunlit scene with foliage with puffy clouds in the backdrop presents a great example of how Rollei looks both with and without the Infrared filter.  Above is the traditional image shot at ISO 400, while below is the filtered version shot at about ISO 12.  The foliage has turned a snowy white color while the bricks in the building and stripes in the flag have turned very light as well.  The contrast between clouds and sky is significantly greater in the filtered version. 

Another less sharp example with filter shows the foliage effect, to the point where summer trees look more like spring blossoms.

Another unfiltered versus filtered comparison illustrated here, shows some of the advantages of the filtered version.  The above version, unfiltered, is not particularly inspiring visually and has vague areas of darkness.  The below version makes much better use of contrast and shadow detail, pulling out the details in the stone wall readily, while also providing a much more pleasing image to the eye.

The infrared film is tricky to use and to get good meter readings.  The above shot was taken at about ISO 12, but still had to have its exposure boosted after scanning to provide even a usable image.  Still, the tonal curve is badly compromised, as evidenced in the odd gray tones of foliage in the backdrop.