5 frames with...

5 Frames with Ilford HP5+ developed in the Ars Imago Lab-Box – by Andrea Armando

June 2, 2020

I live in northwest Italy, a region that has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Just like millions of people all over the world, I have been socially distancing for the past weeks, staying home and going out just to buy food and other necessities. However, even during this grim period, my love of photography has not died down. On the contrary, I feel now more than ever the need to document my life in this unthinkable moment in modern history. And, while I’m at it, I may as well use the extra free time for some experimenting!

Thus, I decided to buy a Lab-Box, the daylight-loading film tank designed by Ars Imago, together with a 135 module. I loaded a roll of Ilford HP5+ in my Leica M4 equipped with the lovely 7Artisans 35mm f/2 lens, and proceeded to shoot my daily home routine. I developed the film inside the Lab-Box using Ars Imago’s Monobath film developer, following verbatim the manufacturer’s instructions (300 ml of developer at 20°C / 68 °F, under continuous agitation for 8 minutes). Below you can see the results.

Smart working

"Haven't you got work to do?"

These are just boring snapshots, but I guess they will always hold a particular “meaning” to me. They’ll remind me how much time I spent in front of multiple screens at once when smart-working, or how me and my wife had to use separate dishes to eat (she is a doctor and continues to work in a hospital). I will remember the look of puzzlement my kitty would have when seeing me at home all the damn time. I will remember all the canned food I ate, being an extremely lazy cook.

As for the Lab-Box: it’s simple enough to use IF you have the patience to go through the instruction manual BEFORE doing anything. When assembled and used properly, it’s a joy. Not having to spend ten minutes in total darkness cursing the wretched spiral while loading film is liberating. I’ll let you judge the quality of the results. In my opinion, it’s fairly good: the negatives have good contrast and developed quite evenly. I did notice a slightly coarser grain than I’m used to with HP5+, however I’m not sure if this is due to the agitation or to the Monobath developer.

All in all, I would recommend getting a Lab-Box if you want to streamline your film development process!

Thank you for reading, and please visit my Instagram account dedicated to instant photography (@brickwall_photo).

Stay safe, and keep shooting!

You can find more articles about Ilford Hp5+ film on 35mmc here

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  • Reply
    Andrea Bevacqua
    June 2, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    Well done Andrea,
    I always wondered if the Lab Box was worth it or not.
    Can you use it only with monobath or can you also develop with the “classic” method? (2/2 baths, depending if you do the stop bath or not).


    • Reply
      June 3, 2020 at 7:17 pm

      For what I’m seeing, it’s definitely worth it! You can use it also with “classic” developers requiring successive baths, no worries there. All in all, I do recommend to buy one.

  • Reply
    Khürt Louis Williams
    June 2, 2020 at 7:47 pm

    I have not developed film in decades but it seems that your good results from the lab box. Did you scan the negatives yourself?

    • Reply
      June 3, 2020 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks Khurt. For scanning I always use my Epson V550 photo, I typically like the output. You gotta try film again sometimes 🙂

  • Reply
    June 2, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    Andrea, nice images and completely agree with you. I have the ‘original’ Rondinax 35 tank and really enjoy the speed and ease with which it is possible to develop B&W films without the need for a darkroom. Haven’t tried the ARS monobath developer but have had nice results using the Cinestill Df96, a similar developer and fix ‘monobath’ formula….maybe we both need to do a comparison with our next rolls 🙂

    • Reply
      June 3, 2020 at 7:14 pm

      Thanks! Yes, I definitely want to try the Df96 next! So far I like what I get with the ARS monobath, even if as I mentioned I do see a slightly coarser grain than the one I get with “standard” developers. If you try it, tag me in your results, I’d be very curious! 🙂

  • Reply
    Paul Tither
    June 3, 2020 at 7:15 am

    I have used the lab-box (for medium format C-41 and B&W) and you are correct, it does make developing much less, erm… annoying at times.
    A word of warning though, as with Patterson type reels, the mechanism MUST be completely dry or medium format film sticks against itself and ends up outside of the dark chamber and ruined when the lid is lifted. The above doesn’t apply to the 35mm loading method but I haven’t put any of that format through yet.
    I’ve also had some bad scratches where (I assume) the film has been dragged over the guide while loading onto the reel.
    Must check the guide before my next roll!

    • Reply
      June 3, 2020 at 7:11 pm

      Thanks for the tip Paul, I’ll make sure everything is nice and dry if I ever use it for 120 film! I’ve checked particularly hard for scratches and so far in 35mm I did not find any. Maybe I’ve been lucky 🙂

  • Reply
    Ananta Mulyono
    June 3, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    Thank you for sharing the results Andrea! You’ve lit up my G.A.S.-flame again. I’m not sure if you’ve tried it, but I’ve been looking at the Agfa Rondinax daylight tanks for 35mm myself. They can be relatively cheap compared to the Lab Box, and I was curious as to what motivated you to choose the Lab Box over something like the Rondinax?

    • Reply
      June 3, 2020 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks! No, I did not try the Rondinax tank and went straight to the LabBox, mainly because it’s way easier to find here in Italy, and because I’m a huge fan of Ars Imago’s work. Anyhow – I’ve read several reviews of the Rondinax and I’m sure it’s also great!

  • Reply
    June 6, 2020 at 8:12 am

    I think you’re right, you’ll always remember this time thanks to those images. Thanks for the background, hope you and yours are doing well. Oh, and cute cat!

    I really like the idea of the Lab Box, but I develop 5 films at a time using a big Paterson tank. It only takes me 10 mins to load all 5 spools, and usually that’s because I’m being lazy and watching something on TV. Going back to developing one roll of film at a time seems like a giant pain in the ass!

    • Reply
      June 6, 2020 at 9:26 am

      Thanks! Totally agree with you, if you are developing a lot of film like you do, the Lab-Box is definitely not the most effective solution. However I only develop 1-2 rolls per month (I know, shame on me) so it works pretty well for this kind of numbers.

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    June 7, 2020 at 3:56 am

    Thanks for the user review. The tank system is intriguing; I can see this as the piece of equipment that helps to bridge the analog/digital divide. Shoot film, develop sitting at a table, scan & post. Get a good quality inkjet printer, and you’ve got a table top lab. I’m still using my darkroom, but I can see this having great potential. Thanks. And, thanks to your wife (and everyone in medical profession) fighting for our health.

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