Working as a professional photographer for about seven years now, I think it’s quite normal that there came a time when I got sick of taking photos. I felt like I am in autopilot mode, day after day for each of my shoots.
And then pandemic hit and I found a way to rekindle my love for photography. I bought my first ever film cameras, a Hasselblad 503cxi with Zeiss Planar 80mm f2.8 lens and a Rolleiflex MX EVS. I know, I dove straight to medium format cameras without trying first the 35mm. And on top of that, I wanted to develop my films by myself. I thought I might as well figure out the whole shebang.
One of the things I’ve learned is that choosing the right film reflects which developing chemicals to use. And also, what developing tools you’d need. As for me, I knew I wanted to shoot black and white. There is just a timeless look to it. Also, let’s face it, all those formulas and chemicals in developing colored films are way too intimidating for a newbie. So I rummaged a lot of forums and groups online for film enthusiasts and quickly found out about Ars Imago’s Lab Box. It’s a darkroom in itself; supposedly very easy to use anytime, anywhere. And since it also bypasses the need to load the film manually, I was immediately sold.
But then one comment mentioned something about the supposed inspiration behind the Lab Box– the Agfa Rondinax 60. Off I went to research about this daylight-loading developing tank. I found out that they were indeed very similar to Lab Box, except that the latter is modular; you can use it for 120 and 35mm via interchangeable reels and modules. In the end, I quickly decided to get the Rondinax 60 instead of the multi-format Lab Box since I have always valued time-tested devices. That, and I am also guilty of being in favor of vintage items.
The Agfa Rodinax 60 is all that a newbie could ever dream of– relatively easy to load the film without needing to touch the negatives, and it needs lesser chemicals to use (150ml is enough). All this, I can do even in daytime without having to resort to making a DIY darkroom out of my kitchen sink! One just needs to open the top part, insert the film (of course the adhesive should already be removed before loading), and let out a few inches of the backing paper to draw it out in the rear. Then from there, you can close the lid and start gently pulling all the backing paper out.
Once you reach the end, open the lid and cut off the backing paper, and remove the empty spool. I usually just fold the sticky end of the tape and clip the leader strap on the small visible part of the film that is exposed; the rest of the film should be rolled up snug and tight in the “cassette”. Then close back the lid, lock it well and start pouring the chemicals slowly on the right side part that looks like drainage, while you turn the side handle continuously for a few minutes depending on your film and developing chemicals. For every chemical change, you just need to pour the liquid out from the spout and gently pour the next one in. Once all is done, you can now open the lid and slowly unroll the film to let it dry. Sounds simple, right? Here’s a manual I found online on how to use it.
There is also a 35mm version called Rondinax 135, which I also hunted down and bought, though haven’t tried to use it yet as I am still in my honeymoon stage with medium formats.
In truth, I am forever grateful for my Rondinax 60. It has helped me take a step forward and learn the basics of film photography, in a sense that it gave me completion in my work, as I am able to develop and see my photos, albeit digitally scanned. I am not ready to self-print my negatives just yet. The low learning curve also gave me some confidence, compared to those tanks with spiral loaders, which were notoriously difficult to manipulate in the dark. I then decided to keep a journal about my film photography journey on my Instagram account, and that comprises my digitally scanned photos including my first few rolls (badly measured settings and all). I know that one day I would want to look back and hopefully from where I would be standing in the future, I am way better than when I first held my film camera.
The first few rolls were perfect and made me look forward to shooting more. Then I started to have loading issues – and that’s where the honeymoon ended. Since the whole process happens inside the tank, I wasn’t able to know if my film actually loaded well. A lot of times I had one that was not even loaded at all. I did found a few band-aid solutions to those nuisances but ultimately, it killed the momentum as you watch a number of your negatives get destroyed. And film is not cheap for me.
One day, I just totally gave up on it and I bought myself a Nikor stainless steel tank with a Hewes spiral reel. Why these brands? I just happen to read a LOT of forums on which tanks are foolproof and these names keep on coming up and so I gave in. Also, I opted for the stainless steel ones because I don’t like plastic and I think it’s easier to clean and dry.
And I have to say, the first time I developed with these tanks, I was extremely nervous. But turns out, I loaded the film perfectly on my first try! Life could have been easier earlier, who would have thought. I followed the instructions on the agitation and didn’t have any issues about air bubbles on my film or anything like that. My negatives came out clean and clear. I even tried to develop two films at the same time, since I also got a second bigger tank. Once, I had a bit of difficulty loading the film as it got really hot that day and I have very sweaty hands. Fumbling in the dark doesn’t help too. Other than that, I haven’t looked back.
But, I don’t regret starting with the Rondinax 60. I think the (false) sense of ease of use helped me a lot in terms of confidence to keep shooting and developing. The thrill of what would it look like, once my photos get developed. Did I get a good combination of ISO and shutter speed? Did I get the framing right? I wonder if I executed well my ideas. These are the things that should matter most to you, as a film newbie, right? And not the “did-my-film-loaded-well-inside-my-tank?”
Your turn. Which tanks did you use during your first stages as a film newbie? Did you change it ever since?
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48 thoughts on “My Search for the Right Developing Tank – By Ciela Guenne”
I started out using the Paterson System 4 tanks that were current in the late 1970s. The school I was at shared a darkroom with an adult education course and the available equipment was quite good.
When I got back into photography in a big way about 15 years ago, I got myself a dark-bag and a Kaiser knock-off of the Paterson tank, which works well enough, although the spirals were not as smooth loading as their Patterson equivalents – often requiring manual feed.
I now use the two spiral version of the Paterson Super system 4 developing tank, which I find to be a very good design – easy to fill, empty and open.
I’m a big fan of the Paterson automatic reels, but I wish they made a version that would cope with 16 mm film.
I note that there seems to be quite a difference between tanks that are available in North America and Europe.
You would be the 3rd person (at least for today) to swear by Paterson tanks! 🙂
This is really getting me curious as I haven’t had the pleasure of trying one out (yet). I remember seeing an article about these automatic reels and almost got one myself.
Also saw some Kaiser tanks on ebay. When I started developing films, there were already a lot of established names in this category and it was really overwhelming.
I guess in the end, one is inclined to try out of curiosity.
Well, I’m a keen proponent of ‘if it ain’t broke..’ if the stainless steel stuff works for you, I’d be inclined to stick with it.
I feel The Paterson stuff is more common in the UK, I know that North America has its own tanks we don’t tend to see here (Yankee Clipper was recommended to me for 16mm/110).
Yes, indeed agree with you. I plan to stick to my nikor tanks as it gives me consistent results. If for whatever reason I had to get another one maybe I’d try out those with self-loading reels, regardless of the brand 🙂
Similar experience here. Just getting back into film developing I thought the lab box would be the best way in. The thought of fiddling with reels in a changing bag was very off putting. Bought the lab-box and really didn’t have good results. And it also feels so flimsy. Finally bought a changing bag and a AP compact tank for 1/3 price if a lab-box. Really easy to use. I can develop two rolls or 120 all in the same tank. Have had consistently good results as well. I wound recommend anyone to go straight to traditional tanks. Much more economical. And not at all difficult to learn.
“Very off-putting” is a very accurate description of what I felt when I was just starting my film photography journey. Also, I agree with having consistent results using a regular tank. What I love about it, is that we can develop 2 120 films in one go. This is something I couldn’t do with my Rondinax. I really want to love it, but I need a consistent result.
I would like to get my hands on the Lab box, if only to try and compare with the Rondinax…
Have a great day,
I had some problems with stainless steel reels in 35mm size and a complete inability to use them for medium format. I switched years ago to the Paterson system of plastic tanks and plastic reels and could not be happier. I do admit that during the summer months, when the relative humidity in my area is high, the medium format reels can be a bit finicky to load, but the vast majority of the time they are a pleasure to work with.
Lots of my friends swear by Paterson tanks. I haven’t had the pleasure of trying one but would like to do so. I am a very curious creature and loves to compare different methods of developing films. I am almost sure, I’d get one myself, one day when I get really curious enough 🙂
I enjoyed your post.
I have always use the Patterson tanks.
They are very easy to use with 35mm film, but with 120 film it is sometimes tricky to load the film under the lips of the reel…I know the “sweaty fingertips in the changing bag” problem 😉
I shoot medium format with a Fuji GW690 and have 8 photos on one roll.
2 weeks ago, I decided to give the Lab-Box a try for my 120 films.
It works fine and loading the film is very easy with it.
BUT…the Lab-Box is expensive, it takes more time to clean and to dry than a spiral tank and (due to the price) I have only one Lab-Box and usually has 2 or 3 films to process.
So I still have to use a mix of spiral tanks and Lab-Box when developing my films.
Your post triggerd my curiosity.
I looked on Ebay an saw a pristine Rondinax in Holland…but this is as expensive as the Lab-Box.
Bien à toi (kindest regards)
Happy to know you enjoyed the article 🙂
I haven’t tried the Patterson tanks but heard they are easy to use too. One day I would like to try them, even the Lab Box as I am very curious what are the differences on theses developing tanks. If I ever get one (Lab box), will probably share the experience here.
And yes, the Rondinax is quite expensive. Could be the rareness of it now as it isn’t made anymore, or could also be the status of owning such a vintage item (eg. those who collect). Either way, I am surprised that its popularity still survives, at least to some of us.
I bought a Patterson System 4 tank in the 1970s and it’s still working fine. I don’t develop often, which may be why, as this particular model is known to have the lid glue fail sometimes. My tank has been fine, and the current Patterson tanks are a newer version.
Regarding the tanks you’re using, if they work for you, let it be! Why spend more money if you don’t need to?
I agree, if it works well then all is well 🙂 I only did the move from Rondinax to stainless steels because the Rondinax wasn’t working anymore for me. But it was a good starting experience for a newbie– trial and error. I am just curious with how some other tanks work. If I can get my hands on another type of developing tank (borrowing would be preferable), I would try it out of curiosity 🙂
I don’t think that the Lab-Box is worth the investment.
It is a good starter, like your Rodinax, but the workflow is very limited.
Every company stopped making them until Lab-Box re-invented them.
Once you will get used to feed the spirals, you’ll see that it’s easier to develop more films with different tanks (if needed)
The pastic Patterson:
I still use one of my tanks I had when I was in filmschool…it’s now 46 years old.
As Ken Rowin says “the medium format reels can be a bit finicky to load, but the vast majority of the time they are a pleasure to work with”
I hope for you that the guys at Patterson read all this positive feedback on their tanks in the replies on your post…and send you one for free 😉
I was thinking along those lines too, that they must’ve stopped making bakelite developing tanks for a good reason.
And wow, your Paterson tanks are still with you! You must also be maintaining them well. I am quite careful with my stainless steel reels as I heard that if you let them fall and they get bumped, there could be a sort of deformation and it wouldn’t load well the films anymore. I don’t wanna be the one to validate this haha
— As Ken Rowin says “the medium format reels can be a bit finicky to load, but the vast majority of the time they are a pleasure to work with” — True! Lucky I have a wasted roll from Rondinax to play with. I tried loading it first on my reel in the dark. It worked well. And when I tried with a real undeveloped film, it also didn’t disappoint. On some days when it gets a bit finicky to load and you still somehow manage to load it, there’s a certain pride and joy that comes with it. Sometimes little successes like these are exactly what we needed at the end of the day 🙂
– “I hope for you that the guys at Patterson read all this positive feedback on their tanks in the replies on your post…and send you one for free ???? ” — That would indeed be awesome! 🙂
Way back in the late 1960’s, I started off with a Yankee plastic tank that took single rolls of film from 16mm to 135, to 127, and 120. It was a “walk-in” loader, had a thermometer built into the agitation rod, and could NOT be inverted.
(What is “walk-in” loading? The top of the reel was twisted as you fed the roll of film onto the absolutely-dry-or-the-film-will-stick reel.)
Paterson plastic reels weren’t a thing yet, so the Agfa Rodinax or Nikor/Kindermann metal tanks and reels were the alternatives. As a poor college student, I opted for Nikor developing tanks and reels. These could be completely dried easily, and once film loading mastered. took out another variable in the photographic process.
Paterson developing tanks and reels did become available, but Kindermann made more interesting tanks and reels, so I never used that system. The metal reels and Plastic Kindermann tanks took me from black-and-white to color (C-22, E4, Unicolor) until I was forced to give up film photography just before the turn of the century.
The tanks and reels have been unused for decades, because digital electronic photography was faster and one didn’t have expiration dates to bother with. Ye Olde darkroom has likewise been unused since I processed my last rolls of Tri-X and Plus-X Pan in D-76. Oh well, chemical-based photography had it’s day, though nothing digital can beat watching a print appear in a Dektol 1:2 solution.
I haven’t heard of the Yankee plastic tank before but I searched it quickly and it is the same material as the Rondinax I think? The Rondinax 135 has a thermometer built with it too.
Developing in color is a bit intimidating. But I know I will eventually try it, since mostly, curiosity gets the best of me. Would just need to figure out if there is a less toxic (more enviromentally friendly) type of developing chemicals that I can use.
— “nothing digital can beat watching a print appear in a Dektol 1:2 solution.” — this I can only imagine! I would consider myself a graduate from being a film newbie once I am able to self print my photos. Even just watching the photos appear on the film after opening the tanks to hang the negatives dry, is already immensely satisying for me. Makes my heart skip a beat. It’s like magic 🙂
I have two 5 roll paterson tanks, so 10 rolls of 35mm per session. They only con to them is that they take a fair bit of time to fill up, compared to a 3 roll tank. The bottom roll sees the developer maybe 20-30 seconds before the top one does. I wouldn’t use a short developer like HC-110 dil. B with them.
I will also add that Paterson do have some quality control issues, like plastic parts having rough edges from the molding still on them. Sometimes you have to file down here and there to make everything smooth. Also those lids – never store with the lids on tight, they’ll lose their elasticity. And finally, when you pour in the developer and put the lid on, briefly lift one corner up to ‘burp’ the tank. I’ve never had a leak this way.
Wow a 5 roll paterson tank! I cannot imagine how I would do the agitation or if it is heavy. But I guess one can easily get used to it. The number of rolls you can develop is also another factor. If you need to frequently develop a more than a couple of films in one go, this is absolutely game changing!
The “burping” technique, I think I may have read it somewhere or someone may have told me about this. And it makes sense, especially for making sure there are no air bubbles on the negatives.
And yes, every developing tank has its quirks. I suppose it goes down to how much you can tolerate it 🙂
I started with a Nikor tank and Nikor reel because that was what everyone else was using in 1968.
When I started developing film again in 2010 I got out the old tank and reel and found the Nikor reel hard to load and the Nikor tank hard to fill with my essential tremor much worse than 30+ years ago. So I bought a Paterson tank and reel. I found the tank very easy to use and the reel easy to load – most of the time. But sometimes I just couldn’t get it to load.
Then at a photo swap meet I saw a Kindermann funnel to use with their stainless tanks with plastic tops. I bought the funnel, a one-reel Kindermann tank and a Hewes 35mm reel and I haven’t looked back. Easy to load the reel, easy to fill the tank, and none of the leaking I had with the old Nikor tank.
NB The Kindermann funnels are not easy to find.
I did a quick look around to see what the Kindermann funnel is. They are indeed hard to find. You are lucky to have found one, especially as it works well with the rest of your developing tools.
At the moment, I have no worries with my nikor tank and hewes reel. And coming from Rondinax, this combination is just perfect and wields consistent results. There’s just the occassional finicky loading when it gets really hot and humid, as I have hands that get sweaty easily.
Other than that, I am quite happy I can concentrate on another aspect which is shooting more 🙂
Well I have only used one type (plastic AP Compact tank, similar to Paterson, which I am happy with) so I have nothing much to contribute, but I am just here to say that I am thoroughly enjoying this nerding out over dev tanks in the comments thread ????
Hey Sroyon! AP compact tank is one of the tanks I considered to get when I wanted to switch from Rondinax 🙂 Heard they are also good. Loving the vibe in the thread. I have already discovered a few more developing tanks and accessories I haven’t seen/ known before. I keep discovering new things through other people’s developing experiences/ techniques 🙂
I started out using Patterson tanks in 1970. I ‘graduated’ to s/steel tanks & reels when I was hired as a photo lab dog while in college. The lab used Nikors & Kindermann reels. We had an eight reel tank, and we had to roll a 36 exp. roll in under 30 seconds – from cracking open the film to dropping the reel in the tank…
I taught B&W photography for 35 years. We used s/steel reels & tanks. Try teaching a high school class of 15 students how to load those tanks. It took about a week of daily practice for the kids to get the hang of it.
We kept a couple of Paterson tanks on hand just in case. I still use s/steel tanks for my personal work now I’ve retired.
A couple of points:
1. Paterson reels must be totally dry to load.
2. Film damaged? In total darkness, fill a large pan with water. Submerge the Patterson reel & the film under water. The water will make the film pliable, it will load on the reel with little difficulty. This is sort of a doomsday exercise; you may save the film, but be prepared for some damage.
3. A s/steel reel can be loaded when wet.
4. Less chemistry for s/rainless steel vs. plastic.
5. Plastic breaks. Steel dents.
6. Temperature control is more precise w/steel than plastic.
7. Reels from Hewes are the best, but cost $$$. Checkout online auction sites.
8. Don’t drop s/steel reels. See #5.
9. All tanks leak.
I once had a student ‘develop’ the backing paper from her 120 roll. I once had a student load his film emulsion-side out. Almost impossible to do. He did it. Ruined his film.
Clean the s/steel tank really carefully: you can use it as an emergency mug for drinking a Moscow Mule. But only for an emergency! Copper mugs are preferred and have handles. (Joking about this…)
Wow thank you for sharing these! Load the film into the reel in under 30 seconds. This will be my benchmark from now on! It’s been a few weeks since I last touched my developing tanks. I still have a few rolls to develop. Haven’t thought of timing myself when I roll the films into the reel, now I am actually curious. Some days when it’s not hot and humid I can do it faster but I don’t think it’s under 30 seconds!
I can agree that the Hewes loads well, at least so far so good for me. And it also costs a bit much too…
“All tanks leak.” — this is true, I guess in the end it is a question of how much is it leaking. I always wear gloves when I agitate, in case it leaks.
Will keep in mind your tips, especially your “doomsday exercise”, hoping I’ll never need to resort to that 🙂
I have a Paterson System 4 tank which takes either three 35mm reels or two 120. I have found the later (nylon?) reels to be much better than the earlier plastic versions. They are also quite deep and I can load two 120 films onto one reel which, of course, allows me to develop four 120 films at one go – very useful.
I have heard about this kind of reels that can load 2 120 films in one reel. I imagine it is very economical! Are they difficult to load? I mean the 2nd roll, once the first ones are already loaded?
I would very much love to try this kind of reel. I shoot only 120, at the moment.
You have to ensure the first film is wound fully to the centre of the reel and the end of the second just past the reel opening ball bearings. Sounds difficult, but isn’t in practice.
Trying to imagine it. I’ll let you know how it goes when I get to try it 🙂
Regarding your damaged negatives – did you ever work out what went wrong?
It looks like fogging from not being properly fixed – it might not be too late to try bathing one of them in a small amount of fixer to see if that clears the spots (apologies if you have already tried this…)
… actually I think I may have worked it out. I think the Rodinax holds the film horizontally (rather than vertically like your spiral)
I think the development went fine, but in adding the fixer, air bubbles have got caught under the film – this is why the marks go across the film from one side to the other in bands. I think this has stopped fixer getting to those parts of the negative which has fogged the negative when exposed to light.
I think if you re-fix the whole roll, you might get something printable/scanable.
One way around a repeat if you wanted to use to Rodinax again would be to tip the tank slightly to allow any bubbles to escape either side of the film.
I remember once after development when I opened the lid and unroll the film to hang dry, some got stuck together. I think it didn’t load as smoothly and there is no way to check this as everything happens under the lid. It uses a compartment type that they call a “cassette” which holds the film tight in the dark while you pull out the backing paper. From there you just need to pull a tiny part to be clipped to the leader strap before closing the lid again.
Maybe also there are air bubbles, adding up with the badly loaded films. I haven’t tried the tilting method, maybe I’ll dedicate a roll to test this on my Rondinax. Thank you for this suggestion 🙂
For developing 35mm films I started with AP tanks, then Paterson, experimented with vintage nikor tanks, to modern kinderman tanks before moving back to Paterson tanks. I was still getting air bells with the Paterson plastic reels. I eventually settled with a Jobo 1510 and the stainless steel Hewes reel made for it. You get the best of both worlds with the fast pouring of chemicals and less leaks with the plastic tank and better development or less processing error with the Hewes reel. Also the Jobo is more economical requiring only 250ml of developer. I hand agitate the Jobo tank.
I was looking into this Jobo tank too. I don’t remember why I didn’t get one in the end, but I do remember almost getting it. I saw that it has a Hewes reel with it too. Maybe this is the charm for me when I first saw it, as I was mostly apprehensive with loading the film and wanted to be sure I’d get an almost foolproof reels for the job. And I knew that Hewes does this job well 🙂
I started in 35mm with an Essex 35 daylight loading tank made by Johnsons of Hendon. I was probably 10 or 11 years old when I got it. These tanks (including the 120 film version, the Kent 20) were made in the UK between about 1951 to 1954 and are almost exact copies of the Agfa Rondinax 35 and 60. In my opinion they are better made of thicker material. However at that time the Agfa tanks could not be imported into the UK and these British patented versions arose. From 1954 onwards the embargo was lifted and Agfa Rondinax tanks were available in the UK, killing off the Essex and Kent tanks. When I forayed into medium format a few years ago I purchased a Rondinax 60 – it mangled every film I loaded into it! I subsequently got a Kent 20 which has, so far worked perfectly.
As I also shoot 16mm, 9.5mm and 110 film. I have Jobo reels and tanks for those and 35mm and 120 film sizes along with a CPE2 and a CPE2+ processor for processing colour film. The water bath requirements for temperature control mean the Essex / Kent /Rondinax tanks cannot be used.
Oh I have read about these tanks! And the fact that some are actually working much better than the Rondinax.
“it mangled every film I loaded into it!” — Yes! This was exactly what happened to my films. After the long continuous rotation/agitation, when I finally opened the lid to hang dry the negatives, they were all stuck together. I tried all sorts of techniques to see if it will make a difference, like loading it ever so slowly when you first rotate/agitate it with the developing chemical. It didn’t worked well. Then I read somewhere it has got to be the spool on the lid, as this one gives the pressure on the film that will go to the cassette, when you remove the backing paper. So I made sure the spool is a bit protruded. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. In the end, I just want to have a consistent result and so I dove into the world of stainless steels and reels and never looked back. Well, too early to tell, but yeah, I am happy and having consistent results, so far 🙂
I learned (in the 1970’s) on Nikor stainless tanks and reels, and still prefer them. I tried Patterson and other plastic reels but their need to be absolutely dry to load didn’t work well with the volume of film in a high school darkroom so plastic simply proved frustrating. I admit to my share of screwups with stainless — and have learned that a bent reel is a loss. Just throw it out .. you lose more by screwing up a roll of film. Today I use stainless reels loaded in a dark bag (my home darkroom being less than light right).
I agree that a bent reel is a loss. That is why I am really careful with them, hopefully I won’t drop one!
Dark bag, I was contemplating on getting one. I wonder if it gets a little hot for the hands inside? I have a serious problem sweaty palms…
Usually, I load the film inside my toilet, without the lights and I put a towel under the door to really seal out the lights. I was a bit worried dark bag would be too airtight and therefore make my palms sweat and then it would be harder to load…
Like many I started out with an AP tank (the one that will take two 35mm or one 120 or 127 film, as part of the basic developing kit from AG. And I still use that for 35mm, but some while back I found my mother’s old Bakelite Paterson Major from the 1950’s which like the Yankee described above cannot be inverted but has a good twizzler. The reel is a “self-loading” mechanism very similar to the modern Paterson & AP reels (except that the slots line up in the middle of the twist not at one end), it is adjustable for 127, 120 and 116 film sizes. I find it preferable to the AP for 120 and 127, and is uses quite a bit less chemistry.
I did a quick search for Bakelite Paterson Major and saw that indeed it has the adjustable reel and it is self-loading. I hesitated to take a self-loading reel before but I would like to try one, given the opportunity. I like developing tanks that doesn’t need too much chemicals. Unless if it is a multi reel tank and I am developing multiple rolls in one go 🙂
Thank you for sharing this, I got to know one more kind of developing tank!
Many interesting comments here. My first tank, which I still have (not used in decades, but kept for sentimental reasons) was a Poly-Min plastic tank, nominally for a single 120, 127, or 20 exposure 35mm film, but was so readily adaptable for 16mm film as well, as I dabbled with sub-miniature cameras for a while. It was given to me by a school classmate in 1960 and started me off on photography. Very easy to load, but it’s not designed for inversion agitation at all. It came with a two-piece stirring rod that could house a thermometer.
The 20 exposure limit for 35mm film ultimately became an issue and as inversion agitation was becoming popular with acutance developers, I bought a Paterson 35mm Model II tank. Both co-existed for a while before getting the early version single film Paterson System 4 tank. (This has a much easier to screw-on lid.) My final tank, which I never got to use a lot as I’d transitioned to digital, was the Jobo Model 2400 daylight loading tank.
I’ve noticed many on-line comments commenting in a negative manner about loading a Paterson tank with 120 film. For film newbies, it isn’t quite as easy as with the stiffer 35mm films, but shouldn’t present any problem with just a little practise. It is necessary, as with any make plastic reel, to ensure the reel is completely dry and free from any emulsion that may have been rubbed off the wet film emulsion and stuck to the reel. I developed my own way of loading 120 film which alleviated, for me at least, the issue with the film’s inherently less torsional strength compared to 35mm. I’d unwind the backing paper until the end of the film appeared and then I’d introduce this into the reel. As the reel was loaded the backing paper was left free to fall away of its own accord, loading proceeded until the adhesive tape was reached and then the paper was simply pulled away. This method, whilst it may at first seem odd, and requires a little practise, helped a lot in maintaining structural integrity of the film itself as it was being loaded.
Thanks for sharing. I do not know the Poly-Min plastic tank so I ran a quick look on the internet. Always happy to discover another type of developing tank 🙂
I am trying to imagine your loading method. If I got it right, you feed first on the reel the top of the roll and not the one with adhesive? And you just let the backing paper fall off once you reach the last end to load? It is very interesting, might try it next time and let you know 🙂
There was also a Poly-Max that accommodated 36 exposure film.
As for my “technique” for loading 120 film, you’ve basically got it. As you probably know, 120 film is only attached to the backing paper shortly before the first exposure, but is not attached after the last exposure, so when it comes to unwinding the backing paper to get at the film you will naturally come to the unattached end of the film. At this pont, I suspect many will simply continue to unroll the film and detach it from the backing paper. The issue then is that the adhesive strip has to be removed before the film can be introduced to the reel for loading and there remains the faint possibility that there could be microscopic adhesive particles left on the film and which could, but will not necessarily, affect the loading onto the reel.
The other factor to consider if the film is removed entirely from the backing paper, is that what is effectively the beginning of the film will be subjected to a smaller radius and thus more tightly curled than the other end and could be dependent upon how long the film has been stored. So, taken all in, is why I adopted my method of loading 120. There was also the added advantage as there was less handling of the film, leading to possible scratching, as loading was direct to the reel. I’m not saying that this is a universal problem at all, but I set out to minimise handling risks as much as possible.
I see that you intend giving it a try. It’s likely to feel strange at first, so do let me know what you think, especially if you did find that loading the film was any easier due to less curvature.
Thanks for getting back to me. I am already playing it in my head while reading your instructions, which were very clear and vividly decsribed. 🙂
I will definitely try this and let you know how it goes.
I too have a complete set of Patterson 4 tanks for 35mm and 120 ever since 1975. I also have a a Nikor tank with 35mm and 120 reels. I know how to reel film onto a Nikon reel because that is how we did it back in the college Photography course. Yet tonight I spent an hour trying to load a 120 roll of Ilford film onto the Nikon reel. Yes, one hour as the last 6 inches of the roll wound up so tight I was losing my patience in the dark closet. I don’t recall that issue with Kodak as I use that most of the time. Once done I immediately went into the garage digging for the Patterson 120 tank, the 35mm was in the house, and I can tell you I am not spending another hour threading on another roll of 120 film onto anything other than my Patterson.
Oh wow, an hour! That is long indeed. I wonder if it’s the film type or was it sitting for a while before you developed the roll? I heard the longer you leave it without developing, the curlier it gets and there could be more difficult to load. I wouldn’t know as at the moment I always develop immediately after the shoot.
I am a little late to the game here and would like to thank everyone for their very informative comments. I just purchased a Russian Sputnik medium format Agfa Rodinax 60 type loading tank. I have good luck with cameras from there so we will see if their loading tank is as good. I am planning on using Cinestill DF 96 to develop, we’ll see how that goes
I am not familiar with the Russian Sputnik, I quickly googled it and saw that it is a twin-lens reflex camera. Looks cool! 🙂
Update us on this setup, hopefully, your luck is still up 😉
I still have my Agfa Rondinax 60 and 135. Maybe one day I’ll give it again another try. Is the Cinestill DF 96 any good? I haven’t used this one. At the moment, I am still familiarizing myself with Fomadon Excel and it works well with Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (used with either Rolleiflex or Hasselblad).
What an interesting read. I just bought a steel tank and spools and intend to give it a go. I always struggle with loading 36exposure films on to plastic spools as they always seem to stick, no matter how dry they are. Hopefully stainless steel will be more conducive. Regarding plastic spools and 120 film, Paterson spools are a challenge, however, AP spools have a wide guide at the beginning of the spiral, making it really easy to line up and start your film. I also start loading 120 at the end of the film. As you peel off the backing paper you eventually feel the loose end of the film. I feed this into the spool first for several reasons. If there is a strong curl it will be inside the spool rather than at the end, touching your film. If you unroll your film and separate it from the paper prior to loading you are increasing the risk of finger marks, dust and damage from the inside of the dark bag, and, its just easier. Now, wish me luck with the stainless steel tank!