On dust (or other nasty things on your film!)

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Dear Contributors, about 8 months ago I posted a similar question and received many different scholarly answers, almost all of them seemed to assume, as I did myself, that the dust or hair-like specs on my film (which were there before of shooting the film, therefore resulting in a nasty-difficult to retouch black hair or spec on the film)came from the enviroment. The solutions offered varied from: "clean-your-room-and-don't-wear-a-woolen-sweater" to "buy-yourselves-a-decent-but-expensive-quickload-or-readyload-gizmo". The second option for many reasons, the first being the scarcely available film (qickload is not imported in the Netherlands and you have to order in England.. and last but not least the price!) made up my mind for me. So I set off to clean up my act although I have never had any problem before, for many years now. I could not get a spotlessy clean room so I bought a changing room from photoflex .I managed to buy an antistatic device from Simco to make my film-holders antistatic. I bought new film holders. All this to no avail at all! There were less but there still were hair-like or specs nasties. I then did what I should have done before and loaded some unexposed films in my holders and done the normal operations but with the light on! Blew any dust away from the film, put it trough the antistatic thing,put the holder through the antistatic machine, loaded several film holders, old and new, and opened them pulling the dark slide as if I had to shoot a film and yes, there they were, the hairs or dust particles on my film. Old and new holders had this. Repeating the procedure several times gave erratic results. My deductions are that the hairs come from the velvet stripe inside the chassis(film holders). Does anybody have any advice about this? Please do not tell me to use quickloads or readyloads or to clean my room or anything of this sort because my experiment clearly demonstrates that this factors aren't playing any role here. How is it possible that nobody else has this?Most Film Holders are manifatured by the same company in America and they should be the same. I tried Old and new fidelity and Lisco, same results.Please help, I am going nuts!

-- andrea milano (milandro@multiweb.nl), May 07, 1999


I have a similar problem with my OLD wood 8x10 holders. They have a velvet strip which generates mega-static every time the (non-plastic) slides are removed. My plastic holders (Fidelity) do not have this problem.

Question: Have you tried grounding the holders (i.e. running a wire clipped to the holder to your wrist or to the ground) when shooting? My guess is that the detritus on your film is not getting there when you load it; it's getting there when you remove/insert the dark slide at the time of exposure. Perhaps grounding the holder and/or slide will eliminate the static charge.

Bear in mind that I have no idea what I'm talking about... just thinking out loud.

-- Chad Jarvis (chad_jarvis@yahoo.com), May 07, 1999.

One article I read emphasized the importance of always cleaning the dark slide before removing. Otherwise the light trap cleans the dust from the slide as you remove it. Then when you reinsert the slide, some dust may be pushed into the holder. I have made it a practice to always clean the holders and slides before removing or inserting a slide. It seems to have helped. Also, insert or remove the slide slowly to lessen the chances of moving dust from the trap and generating static electricity.

-- Michael Briggs (MS.Briggs@cwix.com), May 07, 1999.

I routinely blow out the velvet light trap strips w compressed air..and/or vaccuum them woth a mini computer vac I bought. These work well. What I've found about dust is 1. It won't ever completely go away. 2. If you don't bother it..it won't bother you. I keep my darkroom as clean as possible..but when I load sheet film..I make sure that the air is still so no dust is circulating...so the ventilation fan is off (or on very low). I also set everything out before hand and give the air a minute to settle down before I start working. I also open up, and clean out the holders I'll be loading ..reverse the slides..and set them into the holders pulled out so I have a stack of holders ready to go before I start loading. If the air is dry..I'll use an anti-static brush to brush off each sheet before I close the slide..if the air is normal or humid, I'll generally use compressed air on each sheeet before I close the slide..(aim the blast away from the other holders, too. I have minimal dust problems

-- C MATTER (cmatter@riag.com), May 07, 1999.

Is your darkroom very dry? You might want to put a small humidifier in your loading room.(which could as simple as a hot plate with a simmering pot of water, just be sure to turn it off when not in use). Another trick is to clean and load your film holders and then holding them face down, open and close them a couple of times while lightly tapping to knock any dust off.

What I do when I have to resort to holders is to vacuum them (Hoover makes a USD 20.00 accessory low pressure wand and brush option to fit most standard size cannister vacuum cleaner hoses) and then store them in ziplock bags to carry them into the field.

I am surprised to read that there are no Fuji Pro stock houses in Holland as Fuji has a plant near Amsterdam I believe.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), May 07, 1999.

In addition to vacuuming the holders, tap them and push the darkslide in and out few times while cleaning before loading. Another option that works for me is to wash the holders, plastic one, a few times and vacuum with a good amount of power when wet. This has cleaned up the problem for me very well.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), May 07, 1999.

There is no simple answer. Dust comes from everywhere and unfortunately homes in on film because it will hold a static charge BECAUSE it is plastic. Grounding might just help, dryness contributes and humidity can help, dust from the velvet is definitely a problem and all of the cleaning recommendations are good. I live in the Northeast USA and humidity is high. I have very little dust problem even with VERY casual quality control. I got a lot from all of these responses and will use some, just to avoid the occasional problems I have. Most of mine come from travel. I might add that flying with loaded holders is a no-no because the rarified air and dryness cause the film in holders to suck in dust. I fly with factory-packaged film only. Driving with unprotected film (ZipLocks are great) drags dust in too. Especially trucks with tailgates that aren't air tight. The vortex behind the vehicle pulls dust inside. Don't forget about the inside of your camera. Drawing out the slide creates a charge that attracts dust from the bellows back to the film surface. This has to be cleaned also. Expansion and contraction of bellows like an accordion pulls dust inside. The inside of an accordion gets pretty dirty. Bellows create a mini-environment between the film and the lens. Related but different subject, if you load in a dryer or wetter place than you are shooting the sudden humidity change can warp film too! Let it set for a while for the film to flatten again. Carrying the camera opened with no lens can introduce dust and humidity. It's amazing we get any good negs.

-- Rob Tucher (rtphotodoc@juno.com), May 07, 1999.

Dear contributors, Thanks for the most helpful advice. However I have to come back to the fact that as I said in my original posting, the hairs and specs are most definitely produced by the velvet strip of modern, new!!! and old(er), Lisco or Fidelity film holders, both in 4"x5" and 8"x10. Of all the suggestions the one to wash the holder and vaccum clean while wet seems a promising one and I would like to know more about the method. Again the dust, specs or Hairs doesn't come from outside the holder. This was my original thought and I spend lots of time and money to no avail in this direction (new camera,new film holders, antistatic ionizating machine, Changing room from photoflex). Probably the best is to vacuum clean the strip before loading but results aren't entirely satisfactory. Thanks and regards.

-- andrea milano (milandro@multiweb.nl), May 07, 1999.

The velvet stips inside the holders most likely is not the cause. I had a similar problem until I got mean and really used some real serious air to clean out the holders both ways. That air can you use just doesn't have enough power to do an adequate job getting out all the dust. I use an air hose at work and really give the holder a good going over. First blowing into the trap one direction and then another. I mean I really clean them. And the holders immediately go into a freezer size zipper lock bag. I shoot out in the boondocks alot where there is an awful lot of dust and dander. I also take my dog with me most of the time. Before I started using this method I had lots of dust and hair. Now I have maybe 1 holder out of ten with any contaminants at all. As soon as I clean them they go into a bag and when I load them I only take out 4 or 5 at a time and they go right back into the bag. And before I put them into the camera I pat them on my hand to dislodge any dust or debris that got onto them between taking them from the bag and the camera. I also clean out the inside of my camera before every shoot. If I'm out in the dirt I clean the camera inside and out every morning and afternoon. If you still have the problem after this I'll be surprised. Also Ellis is right on about the humidifier. I use a hot plate in the darkroom when the santa anas blow in the fall. Humidity drops like a rock. 8-10 percent's not uncommon. Good shooting. james

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), May 08, 1999.

I thought I was going to be home free by using roll film holders on my Horseman 980--WRONG. I was dismayed finding black marks on my prints. I never got them from my Rollie! My solution has been to thoroughly clean out the film holders particularly the trap, not remove the slide all the way, but to it's marked clearance line, and I don't advance the film until I'm ready to shoot. This takes great discipline!

-- George Nedleman (gnln@thegrid.net), May 08, 1999.

James... I like your concept of blowing the trap with highly compressed air.. tell me what air compressor do you reccomend and where do you buy them for this purpose. Thank you.

-- Bill Glickman (Bglick@pclv.com), May 10, 1999.

I have written to all of the film holder manufactures at one time or another begging them to produce an all metal film holder. The film holder should be made of titanium because it is extremely light and extremely durable material. More importantly, it is not plastic and it is very conductive to removing static charges. Plastic is not conductive and builds static charges quickly. Plastic draws dust like fly paper draws flys and there an`t mush you can do about it. Each time you pull the film slide to expose your film it sticks out like an antenna collecting dust at alarming rates.

To solve your dust problem I recommend you go metal. More specifically, I recommend that you replace the plastic film slides with home made metal ones and add a snap on ground. In more detail do the following:

1. Using aluminum roofing sheet metal cut out a slide that is 1/2 inch larger in size than the plastic slide. Fold the edges of the metal slide over and hammer them so the edges of the slide is the same thickness of the plastic ones. The folded edges will add rigidity to the metal slide. The folded width of the metal slide should be the same width as the plastic ones and about 1/2 inch longer in length. On one end of the slide make a 1/2 inch 90 degree bend to form a curd handle. When the handle face away from the center of the film holder it means who have unexposed loaded film. When the handle faces into the center of the film holder you have exposed loaded film.

2. Go to a camping store and buy snap together buttons that can be be installed in the same manner as gromets can. Dill a hole near the handle for a bolt to attach the male part of snape together button.

3. Steel wool the entire slide and and spay paint it with a durable flat black paint.

4. Attach the male snap together button to the slide near the handle in the hole you drilled.

5. Attach a long wire or conductive cloth lace material to the female part of the snap together button using the gromet tools. This will allow you snap on a ground wire to the slide to ground the film holer when necessary. The ground wire should be long enough to touch the ground. When using the wire stand on the end that touches the ground to make sure it has good contact.

6. Bitch loud and clear to film holder manufactures for the need of all metal film holders.

Good Luck.

-- Stephen Willard (willard@lvld.hp.com), May 12, 1999.

Stephen wrote: "I have written to all of the film holder manufactures at one time or another begging them to produce an all metal film holder... Plastic is not conductive and builds static charges quickly."

Conductive plastic is widely used in the electronics industry for bags and rigid objects. Graphite mixed in is one way to do it. I wonder if conductive plastic could be adapted to film holders?

-- Tim Brown (brownt@ase.com), May 12, 1999.

Doesn't Hoffman produce all-metal holders in 4X5 through 8X10.

-- Rob Tucher (rtphotodoc@juno.com), May 14, 1999.

I know i'm little late with my opinion on dust (seeing as you posted in may and it is now October), but if you are still having dust problems, have you considered using an electric ionizer in your darkroom? (they electrically charge the impuritied in the air attracting them to earth) you buy them at home depot for a reasonable price. if you run it for a while before loading your film, it should solve the darkroom dust problem. then again, as you said, it could be dirty light seals.


-- Dave Anton (daveanton@home.com), October 19, 1999.

Are these hairs you speak of the size of lint (practically invisible to the naked eye) or the size of human hair? If the latter, are you the source of hair? I know this sounds strange and I certainly mean no disrespect, but perhaps the source is your arms. I would recommend trying to load while wearing one of those spandex cyclists shirts, one with long sleeves. I would caution against using any kind of a changing tent except in emergencies. These things, no matter how good, eventually become dust bags. Also, check the camera again carefully. If your bellows interior is dusty, you will attract that dust when you pull the slide. Also, the dryness factor another respondent mentioned is really important. I generally run the shower in my bathroom for a minute or two and let the room get a bit humid. This also serves to wash down the dust to the floor. Also. Try sitting down and letting everything settle for a minute or two before unboxing anything. Then, invert the pile of film and overturn only a sheet at a time when you are ready to insert in the holder. I hope some or any of this helps you.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (razeichner@ameritech.net), October 19, 1999.

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