Rollei Blackbird and it’s Representation of Colour

Messing around with some favourite Rollei Blackbird this week led to a rather unpleasant surprise. I know there’s speculation on various sites that it’s an orthochromatic film, but I’d never done any testing as I just liked the results. If you’ve ever used it you’ll know it produces dark, moody results unlike most modern film.

If it is true orthochromatic film it ‘has too high sensitivity to blue, generally correct sensitivity to green and bright yellow, but has too low sensitivity to orange and is practically insensitive to red’ (a quite from the above link).

Forgetting the ‘ortho’ nature of the film I shot a few frames with a red R25 filter and what resulted was – absolutely nothing. A completely empty  frame. I haven’t found any detailed data on how sensitive this film is to different colours so I thought I’d better do a quick test…..

Rollei Blackbird

Here’s a selection of my wife’s cotton reels in a wide if incomplete range from reds and oranges to a sort of purple (I put them all back in the right place before you ask). Shot on an Oly EPL5.

Rollei Blackbird

And here’s how Blackbird captured the scene (no filter, Oly OM2N, Zuiko 50mm f1.8).

Apart from the much higher contrast, it’s obvious that the film isn’t sensitive to red or orange. greens look fine and blue seems a little lighter – so just as per the definition.

Developed in ID11, 10 minutes at 20 degrees centigrade, scanned with a neutral profile.

If you already know this was an ortho film, here’s the proof (which you didn’t need), if you didn’t know (or you’ve forgotten as I did) this info should prove useful when using it (without a red R25 filter!).

Thanks for looking!

A Few More Rollei Blackbirds

Bruce Robbins on his blog theonlinedarkroom recently raised some interesting ideas about one of my favourite films – Rollei Blackbird. Having been concentrating far too much on digital (especially video) lately it seemed a good excuse to get out the OM2N and shoot off a few rolls. It was pure heaven!

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

OM2N, Zuiko 85mm F2, closed down to f16 to give a shutter speed of 1/30th, plus some panning.

All shots at 100 ISO (25 ISO is too contrasty for me), developed in ID11 stock (identical to D76) for 10 minutes.

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

OM2N, Vivitar Series One 70-210mm F3.5 Series One

Interestingly these two rolls seemed a little less contrasty than normal, and the developer didn’t turn end up with a dark fine sludge after use – in fact it turned yellow. This may be due to old developer (4 months old) or possibly the formulation of the film has been changed. Whether this confirms the speculation on Bruce’s blog that Rollei Blackbird is re-branded Rollei Retro 100 is open to debate, though it does muddy the water (if not the developer).

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

OM2N, Vivitar Series One 70-210mm F3.5 Series One

There was a mixture of lenses used here. The Vivitar Series One 70-210 performed wonderfully as it always has, but I’d forgotten how heavy it was. The day became increasingly overcast which made focussing at F2 with the 85mm easier than the 70-210mm at f3.5.

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

OM2N, Vivitar 70-210mm F3.5 Series One

All of these were taken on one day at a local fair, the vintage cars and carousel horses being the best subjects around.

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

There’s something very attractive about some of the lines of old cars. New ones seem bland by comparison. 85mm F2.

Thanks for the link Bruce. I’m not sure I’ve answered the Blackbird/Retro question, but to me at least it doesn’t matter. Blackbird is still a favorite (along with Ilford PAN F) which produces results which are difficult to accurately ‘fake’ in digital, making its continued use worthwhile.

A few more examples of Rollei Blackbird shots are here and here.

Hope you like these – thanks for looking.


Something a Bit Different

For me anyway…. The Wimborne Folk Festival (Dorset, UK) has been on this weekend and I’ve been wandering with a canon 60D and an EF 70-300mm lens trying to get a flavour of the event, which can be distinctly eccentric – and very enjoyable….

This isn’t my normal choice of subject so this is as close to street photography as I’ll probably ever get!

This one took some serious post processing due to the low contrast of the phone LCD. A few layers and lots of messing around seemed to do the trick.


There’s a range of troupe (oops – ‘side’) outfits varying from bright summer colours, through lightly decorated whites to very dark rags, so lots of variety. The light and dark outfits can make a real mess of the exposure on a bright day so there’s lots of exposure compensation required.



And some performers are, well, I’ll let you decide (the one on the right is a proper Police Community Support Officer by the way)….


There are lots of stages set up, but the main problem is trying to get a clean background. This set was quite good but a really fast telephoto would have blurred away the background even better.


There are loads of shops selling everything imaginable really – this one’s name caught my eye…


One from last year on Rollei Blackbird on an Olympus OM2N and a Zuiko 85mm f2 lens. This one might well be my favourite.


It was good to try a some subject matter – not a single infrared or Lensbaby shot was taken!

All good fun and not very serious – thanks for looking, hope you like them.

Spooky Monuments Part 2

(Four Images). This is the second of a short series about very odd, some might say macabre, monuments which attract the ‘odd eye’ of a book cover photographer. The first part is here.

Poking around some old places usually yields some good results – the best shots are hardly taken in the most obvious locations or from the easiest viewpoints.

First one – taken with a Canon 60D and an ordinary kit zoom, toned in Photoshop. That eye is oddly mesmerising!


Next a subject made for Rollei Blackbird film and a 17mm lens on an OM1N  – spooky, what more can I say?


Next one of those gruesome 18th century monuments involving flying skulls – vignetted and converted to mono after shooting on a Canon G9.


This final one seems to have been squeezed in by 1/2 cm – the laurel wreath is particularly odd. Extensively layered, taken on a 60D.


All shots taken for the book market, hope you like them and thanks for looking.

Rollei Blackbird Film

This is a mini test of  Rollei Blackbird film following a short post on this film back in October which seemed to get some interest.


Rollei Blackbird is a really unusual film and produces unique results. However if it’s underexposed it will be a disaster – there will be no shadow detail at all, so it’s always best to expose for the shadows and let the highlights sort themselves out.  What makes it special is it’s treatment of shadows – if correctly exposed and developed it cuts to a deep black at just the right point in the midtones giving a dark, moody image.


A side effect of exposing for the shadows is that the highlights often wash out. Not that good if it’s sky, but for other subjects the results can be interesting.


It’s a very fine grained, sharp film and can be rated at 25 or 100 ISO. Its even more contrasty at 25 ISO so 100 ISO is the most flexible rating. The development times are 10 minutes for 100 ISO or 6 minutes for 25 ISO in D76/ID11 stock at 20 degrees C with no prewash. It makes and a fine mess of the stock developer but I’ve reused the same stuff 5 or 6 times without any problems. If you need to tame the contrast a little, cut the development time by 10% and only agitate the tank every 1.5 minutes.

I’ve used in 35mm format, and the Big Dev Chart lists D76/ID11 and Rollei RHS High Speed development times only, so no Rodinal unfortunately – unless you’re feeling experimental! It should be loaded in subdued light which hasn’t been a problem even on bright days.


This beach at Plement Bay in Jersey has some deep shadows cast by the surrounding cliffs and rocks – good for contrasting with the sunlight on the sand and water, all enhanced by Blackbird.


Can’t have a post without some peeling paint!


Finally a repost of this shot from the first post back in October – it’s worth re-showing as for me it’s the definitive ‘Rollei Blackbird’ shot.


All pics shot on an Olympus OM1N or OM2N with 28mm, 50mm or 85mm lens scanned on a Plustek 7500.

So definitely a film worth trying – or even getting hooked on as I have! In the UK it’s about £4.50 per roll if bought as a twin pack so around the same price as PAN F or Tri X.

Thanks for looking and hope you like them.

Shooting Funfairs

I was never really interested in funfairs or carnivals until I read ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes‘ by Ray Bradbury – which made all the difference. Now they seemed a bit more dark, mysterious and intriguing rather than just a noisy place to eat burgers, chips and candy floss.

Anyway, on with the pics – a shot of  the artwork on a modern ride with split frame to show the grass underneath and not make it a ‘straight shot’ of the artwork. Rollei Blackbird film in an Olympus OM1.

Another bit of artwork from one of the ‘horror’ type rides, rendered nicely dark by Rollei Blackbird again.

More funfair artwork but less horror this time! This is an odd composition, and I’m not sure if I like it or not. Agfa APX100 film for this one.

This was an empty children’s ride – only a small child could get into these seats, they’re that small. I must have been in a ‘leave the bottom half of the frame empty’ mood judging by this and the first one. Good ‘copy space’ is always an excuse if you’re a book cover photographer! APX100 film again.

More Rollei Blackbird and a narrow depth of field of this empty ride. without the blue tone it doesn’t work s well for some reason.

A subject I’m always trying to get that ‘killer shot’ of horse carousels. They’re fickle subjects though – you think you’ve got the shot on the day but they’re never as good in Photoshop. There is something scary about those horse faces. APX100 again.

Finally – a digital one. Close up of some traditional funfair decoration – though not very mysterious!

For ‘film people’ interested in such things, the Rollei Blackbird shots were developed in ID11 stock, the APX100 in Rodinal 1+50.

As always these are taken for the book cover market, and all comments, critiques and questions are welcome.

Rollei Blackbird – A favourite film

Door in an Abandoned Building

A post to illustrate the qualities of Rollei Blackbird. This is available in 36 exposure 35mm format, and can be exposed at 25 or 100 ASA (I prefer 100).

Rollei Blackbird Shot 2

I’ve only be developed as per instructions in Kodak D76 developer or it’s Ilford equivalent ID11, using stock dilutions. If you’re going process this, make sure you keep a litre or two of separate as it makes a bit of a mess of the developer if reused.

Funfair Ride

Exposure is best biased towards shadows – there are a lot of these with this film! It cuts to black very quickly in the grey scale, and has a fine grained, soft look about it. If you allow a bright sky to dominate the exposure reading you’ll end up with an unuseable negative.

It scans as 24 bit colour with a nice blue cast, which emphasises the dark effect. This is probably because no matter how long I fix it for it keeps a pink tinge on the negative. Still, nice effect.

Best suited to a dark or mysterious mood, it’s not the best choice for everyday use, but matched to the right subject it produces images unlike any other film I know.