You Know You Want To

You Know You Want To

Go 0n. Buy it. You know you want to try it out.

If you have recently discovered that there is a world of photography beyond the pixel, and braved the wonders of the film cabinet, you are ready to consider a revolutionary idea; rolling your own film.

Don’t imagine that I’m suggesting you manufacture it yourself. Unless you live in Rochester, New York and aren’t afraid of the dark, it is probably still best to let someone else actually coat the plastic strip, perforate it, and roll it up for packaging into a lightproof wrapping and a tin case. They’ve been doing it for a century and they are good at keeping the emulsion in and the insects out.

But at this point you can step in  – and save yourself some money by doing so. Lots of photographers have been loading their own 35mm cassettes from rolls of bulk film for the last 70 years. It was a standard practice for big users; newspapers, magazines, schools, etc. when pre-packed tin cassettes from the major makers – often delivered in screw-top tin cans – were sold at all camera stores. They had a price, and that could be a large part of the photo budget for an amateur shooter.

I remember buying Kodak Plus X and Tri X in rolls from a drug store in Utah at a price that meant I could either shoot photos for the school yearbook or treat girls to milkshakes. I have the negatives and the school yearbook to this day but I still regret missing out on the girls and the milkshakes…

Never mind. You can still get 100-foot rolls of Ilford emulsions and some Kodak ones as well. They come ready to go into a cassette loader and all you need is a darkroom to effect the initial transfer. After the 100-foot roll is in the A-P machine, you can do all your cassette loading in daylight.

You open a plastic box with a screw cover at the back – in goes the roll of film in dead darkness – and the tongue is led out through a light trap. The counter on the front is set to 100 ft. and your supply is ready.

The cassettes you use to hold each 24 or 36 load can be older metal ones that you’ve salvaged, but I’d pop for some fresh A-P plastic ones with ends that screw open. Their felt light traps are likely to be in far better condition than old metal relics. You open a cassette, cello tape the end of the film to the reel, and close it up. Then it sits in the trough next to the hole for the winding crank. Once you close the cover, the crank can be inserted.

The counter will let you know as you wind forward when you’ll get to the 24 or 36 point. Remember that there will be a little bit of exposed film at front and back of the good stuff and count accordingly. When you’ve spooled up the required number, remove the crank and take out your loaded cassette. At this point in time it is good practice to put a sticky label on it and write the kind of film it is for your own reference. Note that the main film dial will have registered the passage of a certain footage of the 100-foot reel.

It is wise not to wind too rapidly nor to do it on very dry days when there could be a lot of static electricity generated. If it is safe to pet the cat after shuffling through the carpet you should be okay to load film.

You still cannot be as profligate in your shooting as the digitalist, but the money saved using bulk film will add up and eventually you should be able to invite girls for milkshakes.


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