Infuriated by bad film holders! : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Editor's warning: decide for yourself whether to take this thread seriously or not. email sent to has returned "Unknown Recipient".


I bought myself a new 4x5 Ebony camera about a month ago. Since that time I have had nothing but completely black dense negatives. I took a photography class at the local junior college and out instructor told us how great large format photography is.

So I traded in my Cannon Rebel and bought the Ebony. It was in the local shop where I purcahsed the Rebel.

The store owner showed me how to load the film. I follow his directions perfectly. First I load the film into the holders late at night in my kitchen. Then I put in the plastic stopper thingy. Next I place each film holder is a zip lock bag.

I set up may camera, focus the picture, close the lens pull the plastic stopper and insert the film holder. I just can not understand why I am getting pure black negatives. The holder seems to fit perfectly and I am using a Minolta light meter that the store owner assured me was the best.

BTW, the film is Kodak Tri-X. I read that this is good film.

Please help.

Jonny Abernathy Bernardsville, NC

-- Jon Abernathy (, June 23, 2000


Your problem may be that you pull the plastic stopper before you insert the film holder. the plastic stopper thingy is designed to be pulled after you insert the film holder in the camera. Is this an online version of candid camera?

-- fred (, June 23, 2000.

I can understand how disappointed you are. If you will persevere, you will probably become a convert to large format photography.

A few possibilities that I can think of: How dark is your kitchen late at night? If you can see anything by reflected light (your hands, white paper) after your eyes are dark adapted (5 minutes or more), then there is too much light. You wrote that you pulled the plastic stopper (dark slide), then inserted the film holder. If this isn't mis-worded, then that order would cause the problem. One inserts the holder, then removes the dark slide, trips the shutter and reinserts the dark slide. There might be a light leak somewhere in your camera--try going through the motions in a very dark room (without doing a long exposure) and see whether your negative is still black.

Good luck!

-- Michael Briggs (, June 23, 2000.

I use real old film holders (normal and the ancient Graflex) which by rights should leak, and the most I ever get are ghosts in the corners (well ghosts on the print). If it is all black I'd say it was something else. Even if you have a light leak in the darkroom when you are filling the holders it will be some other kind of ghost.

Are there clear spots on the edges? How are you developing them? If you are tray developing yourself, try to develop a blank sheet -- if black it is a development thing.

Also, is your shutter shut when you pull the dark slide? If not you should still have clear spots on the edges.

Just some thoughts. Keep at it though -- It's worth it.


-- Dean Lastoria (, June 23, 2000.

Jon, you shouldnt load film holders in the kitchen. Theres a lot of loose radiation, light waves, Betty Crocker dust etc that bounce around even in a perfectly dark kitchen. I only load holders at night in my car in the garage with a tarp pulled over it. I've had perfectly white negatives ever since I started using this method.

-- Wayne (, June 23, 2000.

Suggest you get together with Richard Innamorato (see thread below), and see what you can work out. All he gets is black prints. You two should be made in heaven for each other.

-- Bill Mitchell (, June 23, 2000.

The collaboration between Jon and Richard should yield some pretty contrasty results!

-- fred (, June 24, 2000.

Hey now listen carefully,this is a serious problem that I have. I don't want to collaborate with "Richard" anyone.

My Kitchen is very dark. The only light in it is a small desk lamp that I use to see the film holders. I have placed a sheet of red plastic over it like in my darkroom (laundry room) so I don't expose the film.

And yes, I know that you slide out the plastic sheet holder before taking the picture. How else is the lens going to see the film. Sheesh!

I think that this stuff is just way to confusing. I think I may trade back in for my Rebel. At least Cannon knows how to make a "modern" camera. These turn of the century antiques with sheets that you have to put over your head should be outlawed.

At this point my father is so mad at me. He says that I am just pouring money down the drain. He thinks that a 13 year old should only have a cheap camera.


-- Jon Abernathy (, June 24, 2000.

Is this a put-on, (you certainly got me)? Just in case it isn't, however, you need to know that sheet film must be handled in TOTAL DARKNESS. Unlike printing paper it is sensitive to red light, and will be exposed. Incidentally, the plastic stopper thingy is called a "dark slide." If you really are 13 you are welcome to all the help you need on this forum. If this is a joke (13 year old with Ebony camera) you certainly got away with it.

-- Bill Mitchell (, June 24, 2000.

All the suggestions about not loading in the kitchen, etc. are certainly good but if you're doing as you say you're doing (pulling the plastic stopper and then inserting the film holder in the camera) it doesn't matter where you load the film, it's going to come out black every time. You need to put the film holder in the camera before you pull the plastic stopper (the plastic stopper is usually referred to as a dark slide).

-- Brian Ellis (, June 24, 2000.

Just about everyone makes mistakes when they get into large format, so don't be discouraged. It will all feel worth it when you print your first good negatives.

First, read the page on film loading, which gives very clear step-by-step instructions at:


As everyone is saying, the whole process must be done in total darkness--no safelight. Take some of your black sheets of film and practice before trying with fresh film. Be sure the emulsion side of the film is facing out.

Next, be sure you've got the sequence correct when you take your pictures:

1. Set up and compose the image, focus, determine exposure and set the aperture and shutter speed. 2. Close the shutter. 3. Insert the film holder. 4. If the shutter needs to be cocked manually before firing, cock the shutter. If you have a self-cocking shutter, move on to the next step. 5. NOW remove the darkslide. Be sure it's the one between the film and the lens. 6. Fire the shutter. 7. Put the darkslide back in. 8. Remove the filmholder.

Now you're back in the darkroom. Again you need to remove the film from the holders and develop the film in total darkness (well, you could use a very dim blue-green safelight, but it is so dim, it's not really worth it). If you are using a daylight tank, you can turn on the lights when the film is loaded. If you are using trays, you need to do the whole process in the dark, without a safelight.

Be patient and check everything twice. You'll get the hang of it.

-- David Goldfarb (, June 24, 2000.

Well, I'll admit that it doesn't sound quite right, but I'd be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Heck, I started doing LF about 2 years ago at age 16 when I built a 4x5, and here I am today about to start restoring a Deardorff 8x10. Unlikely though it sounds, I suppose a 13 year old with an Ebony is entirely possible. You never know, we may soon have two teenagers posting here!

Just a thought...

-- Dave Munson (, June 25, 2000.

I started with LF when I was 14 (in those days of yesteryear it was much cheaper than 35mm). If he had said Cadet or Toyo none of us would have batted an eye, and (judging by the cars some of them drive) there are kids out there with the kind of money to buy an Ebony. Better to have egg on our faces than to slam the door on a struggling student. Now, let's see if he 'fesses up, or comes up with another story leaving us wondering...maybe yes, maybe no.

-- Bill Mitchell (, June 25, 2000.

This has got to be a wind-up. If it's not my sincere apologies Jonny and just pop in the 45 film holder, close lens shutter, set f-stop, shutter, pull dark slide, trip shutter, replace dark slide.

-- Trevor Crone (, June 25, 2000.

Wow, I ask for a little help and everyone thinks I am not really me.

Thanks for all teh advice. I forgot that my red lite would expose the films. Boy, can I be a dork! An yes, I know that the plastic pull out slide is taken out after the holder is in the back piece.

I took a picture this morning of my moms shoes. I loaded the film in my laundry room and guess what? It worked. I processed it in D76 and and I actually got a negative. Thanks all.

As far as Richard goes, I hope you guys were a bit easier on him. Oh, yeah, I did not go back to teh store because I do not drive, and my class was over in June. So I had no one to turn to except you guys here.

The Ebony was used and I bought it with money from birthdays, my lawn jobs, and my trade in. Is it a good camera? It came with 3 film holders and a lens. It is a bit scratched up but it works now that I know how to put the film in. I still can't believe I was that dumb.

Your friend, Jonny

-- Jon Abernathy (, June 25, 2000.


sometimes it is very difficult for some one new to the sport to trace a problem like this. My best advice would be to get in touch with some one who shots large format regularly. He will have this problem solved in a flash. Better yet, attend a workshop where your entire technique can be horned.

-- Pat Raymore (, June 25, 2000.


The Ebony will work fine for what you're using it for. If you stick with large format photography, your needs will develop with your style. Since I don't know what lens you bought, all I can say is that if you're getting what you want & you're happy with it, then it's a good buy. Don't fully give up on 35mm photography. I too started into large format & completely chucked the 35mm system. I bought another seveeral years later when I wanted the spontaniety that it provides. I started with an Arca Swiss basic B and a Congo 180mm lens. I still have that setup (and then some), but I also use 645 medilum format & 35mm.

Enjoy your "new" gear & learn what you can. You've started a great jorney.


-- Ted Brownlee (, June 25, 2000.

Get a film loading tent like a Harrison & Harrison or a Photoflex. With the Harrison you can load film in bright daylight. With the Photoflex you'll need subdued light. Also get a Polaroid 545i back and some Polaroid type 55 or Pro100 film.

-- Ellis Vener (, June 25, 2000.

Gee, Jonny, for a minute there I thought we'd all just been hoodwinked....bamboozled!

-- Sergio Ortega (, June 25, 2000.

hey Sergio, I understand but what doe bamboozled mean?

The lens that the camera came with is a Schnider 210 Symmar. The dealer said he did not know anything about large format cameras or lenses. Some other guy traded it in, but he thought it would be ok for me. Do you guys think it is ok?

Jonny A.

-- Jon Abernathy (, June 25, 2000.

Ebony makes excellent field cameras, and a 210mm Schneider Symmar is a perfectly fine lens to start out with. If the dealer doesn't know so much about view cameras, it might be the case that you got a good deal. Some of the folks here were surprised that you would start out with an Ebony, because they're normally quite expensive and not a common choice for a first camera.

See if you can take another course sometime in large format photography. Meanwhile, read through the information on the Large Format webpage at:


and you might take a look at Steve Simmons' _Using the View Camera_. Once you've got the basics under control, you might also subscribe to _View Camera_ magazine, which contains articles for large format photographers at every level.

-- David Goldfarb (, June 25, 2000.

Well, I'm glad you figured out where the trouble was. You can usually see the trouble by looking at the unexposed edges of the negative - clear? Something to do with the camera - fogged or ghosted? it's a light leek -- black like the rest of the neg ? it's developing something. The thing about Large Format photography is to laugh at the little things (or go crazy). I could list all the dumb things I have done, but you will probably do 1/3 of them anyhow. It isn't auto-everything so you'll get lots of great stories out of it -- Oh, you'll be telling the kitchen safe light story for years. I was frustrated with it, then one day I took a photo that made me go "wow". That was it. My advice to you would be to ignore the camera movements for a while and just focus it like a SLR. Get a few "wows" first as the movements (swing, tilt, etc.) will drive you crazy as well. And don't worry too much about buying tents or taking workshops (though I'm sure they are great) maybe it's better to just learn and use and make mistakes - it sounds like you'll have a good teacher when September rolls around.



-- Dean Lastoria (, June 26, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ