Loading Sheet Film

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Last night was my first attempt at loading my 4x5 film holders, and for the most part it was a failure. I practiced a "little" outside the "darkroom" and thought it would be a snap, but I was wrong. I wasn't prepared for the sticky backside of the film. It completely threw me off. At least now, I have a few more sheets of film to practice with.:-)

Basically, in my first attempt, I had a hard time "knowing" when the film was in the right slot. I've determined that perhaps the best way to load sheet film is to go above the slotted portion of the holder and slide the film slowly down. While sliding the film down, I listen for two clicks (i.e., the film has slide down into the bottom,wider portion of the holder. I then stop and start sliding the sheet forward. This technique should ensure the film is in the bottom slot. Right? How much can the film be bent without harm? I ask because it gets pretty tight near the end when the film is almost completely in the holder. What's the best technique in keeping your finger prints off the film? Should I wear one cotton glove and keep the other hand ungloved? I could then pick up the individual sheet with the ungloved hand because of the better "feel", and then transfer it over to the gloved hand? I noticed while practicing it's easier for me to have the palm of my hand below the film. However, this causes me to flip my hand after retrieving a sheet. I then hold the sides with my thumb and middle finger while pushing the top end with my index finger. Does this sound logical? or is there a better way? I don't even want to imagine how hard it is to load 8x10.

Once I get them loaded and take a few pictures I will then need help on removing them from the holders. Just looking at the film in the holder, it appears to be quite a purplexing dilemma. The sheet is completely against the back of the holder or at least it appears that way. How does one pry underneath the sheet and pull it out without "finger print city"?

Thanks in advance,


-- Thomas W. Earle (twade@bmi.net), October 17, 2001


ha!!!!! i remember my first attempts at sheet film loading. don't worry-- within a few months you'll be an expert.

here's my technique. place the filmholder in front of you oriented horizontally, with the film slot opening facing to the right. then place your left hand thumb and forefinger so that they're touching the ends of the edges of the two rails that the film has to go in. then, bring the film in with your right hand, and guide it into the rails with the other two fingers acting like funnels. once the film has made it into the two rails, then push it the rest of the way into the holder with your right hand. push SLOWLY just in case there's dust on the bottom of the holder-- that way the dust won't scratch the film on the way in.

try it a bunch of times with one sheet of film in the light.

other tips: --dust on film is a huge problem in LF photography. make sure your filmholders are well dusted every time you load them. --remember to check the film notch, to make sure that you're loading the film right side up. it's a pretty big bummer to go out on a shoot and take a bunch of great shots, only to find you loaded the film upside down and exposed through the wrong side (i.e., no image)! as you load the film horizontally from the right (as above), the notch should be at the lower right.

good luck!!

~chris jordan (Seattle)


-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), October 17, 2001.

Thomas don't make it difficult, first don't take the slide all the way out, if you slide it only a little to be able to unfold the flap all you need to do is hold the film flat against the edges and it will go right in. Since the dark slide is not out there is no danger of the film going into the slots for the slide which I found is the major cause of problems for beguinners. Do not use cotton gloves, they collect lint and it will show on your negs, the best thing is to wash your hands with hot water and dry them very good, if you don't like this, then use latex gloves without talcum. Good luck.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm@worldnet.att.net), October 17, 2001.

Something is wrong here, this shouldn't be difficult and "prying" and "bending" the film aren't necessary. Sounds to me like you've got a holder with something sticking in the slots or maybe on the middle of the holder which is snagging the film. The film should slide so easily in most holders that you can shake them back and forth and tell by sound if they're loaded. (True to Lisco's, Riteway's, Fidelity's, and Toyo's in my experience.) If the back under the slide is metal make sure there is nothing sticking on there, it should be clean and slippery. If it is plastic be careful using solvents on it. Clean down the slots and make sure the film slides in easily. Though everybody will have their own variation on doing this, I suggest: 1. Put the slide back in a clean and empty holder, make sure the white side of the tab is out. Stick it on the table with the slide tab pointing toward you 2. Put the box of film ready to go next to that. 3. Turn out the lights. 4. Open the film box and take out one sheet of film, position it so that the cut corner/grooves (id's the film) is in the top right corner with the sheet of film pointing away from you. In other words, don't have the long edge of the film going from side to side across your body, have it pointing at you with the id corner top right position. 5. Pull the slide back about 1/3 of the way to uncover the slots the film goes down into 6. Keeping the film as straight as you can slide it down into the slots and push it all the way into the holder so it isn't interfering with the hinge. If you put two fingers of your left hand right on top of the slots while you slide the film down and in with your right, you will feel the film go into the slots and help it go there. Again, it ought to slide right in there, if you're bending, forcing, prying, etc. then something is gumming up your holder and making this difficult when it shouldn't be 7. To make sure you didn't top sheet it and miss the openings for the slots, take the back of your fingernail or a finger and see if you can feel the slot with the film under it. If you can't, then the film is on top of the slots and you need to start over again. With a little practice, you'll be able to wiggle the sheet of film as you go and you will feel the slots and almost never miss. 8. Push the slide back in and turn the little locking bar to keep it closed. 9. Go on to the next one. If your fingers aren't laden with fixer or something touching the film isn't going to hurt anything. Clean dry fingers work fine. I'd be concerned that using cotton gloves might actually make this physically harder and increase the chance of dust, etc. When I started, I found it convenient to actually load them sitting down in a chair, in my lap. I put a terry cloth towel in my lap, dampened it with a mister to stop dust, and did it that way. I really think your main problem is something gumming up your holders, like somebody taped something in them once and the residue is grabbing the film or something along those lines.

-- Kevin Crisp (KRCrisp@aol.com), October 17, 2001.

As a novice whose need to shoot B&W drove her from her Quickload to loading her first sheet film last week I have a thought. I have Fidelity Elite holders that I bought new this year. What I noticed during my "practice" load with a sheet of throwaway film was that I actually load from the BOTTOM of my holder. I slide the dark slide up (I pulled it out, but I don't think I would have to)and then part of the bottom of the holder folds out away at me and the sheet film very easily slides right in there. I tried like the dickens to get it in the top since that is how I was told to load it, but it was not going in there easily. Anyway, play again with your holders and see if there is something like this. Just a thought...

-- Jennifer Waak (jen.waak@visi.com), October 17, 2001.

Lots of good advice above on loading. Practice in the light with exposed film and it WILL come to you, I promise.

For unloading, I had trouble to at the start. The problem is getting a gap under the film so you can pull it out. I finally discovered that I could cut a short length of film about 4" long and about 1" wide. Then round over both ends. After you turn off the light and pull the slide, use the film described above to gently slide under the sheet in the holder. You'll easily tell when it raises up. Grab it gently, using as little grip as possible to start pulling it out. Once you go just a little ways, you can then grip the sheet on the sides, rather than the end you started with, and slide it on out.

-- Alec (alecj@bellsouth.net), October 17, 2001.

I really appreciate all the advice and suggestions. I think I've figured out what went wrong the first time. Basically, I pulled the darkslide out too far (it was still in the holder though) and this was the cause of my headache. Now, after advice from above, I just slide it up just enough to clear the wider portion of the holder; thereby, derailing the possibility of putting it in the wrong slot. I'll be going back to the "darkroom" soon and trying my second time. I'm very confident I'll be able to pull it off this time given all the excellent advise above. Again, all your expertise is greatly appreciated.

-- Thomas W. Earle (twade@bmi.net), October 17, 2001.

Update! Tonight was a success, thanks to everyone's suggestions. It sure made a big difference when I placed the darkslide just above the place where it narrows rather than extending it all the way up. I believe I found out what is causing the "sticky" film problem. The holders I use are brand new Riteway's. First, the tape that holds the thing you fold back to insert film is slightly exposed on some of the holders and the film tends to stick there. Hopefully, this shouldn't be a problem. Second, I turn the shower on to extreme heat for about 5 minutes before inserting the film into my holders. I believe all the humidity in the "darkroom" causes the film to become "sticky" as well.

Overall, it was a piece of cake. I only wasted one sheet this time and that was because of a stupid mistake. I tried inserting two sheets into one side of a holder. This is probably a semi-common mistake. It should have dawned on me when I thought to myself, "Now why is this holder closed already?" Oh well, you live and learn. Anyway, FP4+ is pretty cheap. I only wasted 3 sheets on my first and second attempt. Although, I'm sure a few sheets in the holders have several finger prints on them caused by a few fumbles.

-- Thomas W. Earle (twade@bmi.net), October 18, 2001.

Fingerprints at this stage, surprisingly, don't seem to be a problem. They wash off in the developer. While learning loading in a changing bag, I handled several sheets a lot, but saw no fingerprints. I did wash my hands before loading each group of holders. In the changing bag, my hands sweat, and everything gets sticky. I load about 6 holders in a group. Fingerprints on the finished negatives are a very different story.

-- James Galvin (jegalvin@lbl.gov), October 18, 2001.

While I always seem to get the job done, it aint pretty! I sort of fumble-finger the film into the holders.

I tried Jorge Gasteazoro's method, and it works great. I pulled the dark slides to leaving about a 1/2" opening, and leaving about 1/4" overlap with the film guides, and the film slides in beautifully.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), October 20, 2001.

Neil I tried answering to your e mail but I keep getting an error message. Anyway I am glad it worked for you.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm@worldnet.att.net), October 20, 2001.

to ALL at the LFF: Wonder why it is required for restaurant people making food to wear a hat? Yeah! the same stuff that can get into your food can also get into your film! The most basic requirement for loading film in MNSHO (my not so humble opinion) is to always wear a clean, dust-free hat.

-- Julio Fernandez (gluemax@sympatico.ca), October 26, 2001.

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