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Wednesday, 07 December 2022


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Hewes reels! Anything else generates frustration and excessive cussing. I'll have to try your 3 reels plus a spacer method, though I've not had any problems with 4 reels in the tank. My reels dry quickly because I rinse them in very hot water after removing the developed film. This has the added benefit of getting rid of any residual photoflow, which can cause problems with the developer on the next round. Don't know if plastic reels tolerate hot water, which might be another reason to avoid them.

I could never, ever get the hang of stainless reels.

Much preferred Patterson. The only downside was that the tanks needed more developer.

My bugbear was always drying marks on the film. Could never use the right amount of Photo-flo, or whatever it was called, all those centuries ago.

[Distilled water with a few drops of Edwal LFN for the final rinse. Never any drying marks! --Mike]

I found developing film more fun than developing prints. Am I weird?

I haven't done that since the mid 1970s.

Been developing film for over thirty years, but not very much 135, maybe one roll a year; Paterson is my choice for roll film, and JOBO 3010 (also MOD 54) for 4x5. I had a few Hewes 120 reels, but I never got on with them.

As my plastic bowls and utensils washed in the dishwasher show, anything plastic takes time to dry. My answer to this problem was to purchase a small supply of plastic reels that were less than $10 each, and I have a bunch of them. Today with the cost of everything more expensive, I am glad to have the supply I have.

To anyone who wants to try their hand at b&w development, I recommend trying semi-stand first, as those I have helped get positive results on the first try. This enables you to stay in the game and experiment while learning about different films and developing chemicals & processes and motivates you to continue.

Once you develop b&w film a few times using the semi-stand method, you can learn more confidently and develop a roadmap to where you want to go. Developing film in 11 minutes (or less) after semi-stand seems like cheating, but easy.

Semi-stand is my choice for developing b&w film, not because it may appear easier but because it produces the results I prefer when used with my chosen chemistry.

Reading your post made me think, "Maybe I should shoot film again...". Then I came to my senses. I have had two separate "episodes" of returning to film since 2014. Enough is enough.

However... during the most recent return to film episode, I discovered the excellent tanks for 4x5 made by Stearman. I used the SP-445 Compact 4x5 Film Processing System. I used to develop my 4x5 sheets in open trays in a proper darkroom in my basement, but that was long gone when the last episode occurred, so I used the Stearman tank in a laundry sink. All you need is a change bag so you can you load the sheets.

Forgive me Father; for I have sinned… “It’s been 22 years since I last developed film regularly…”

Good post - I enjoyed it. Shows me how much of an amateur I was! - I’ve never heard of Hewes reels, despite a) living in the UK all my life, and b) being a voracious reader of Amateur Photographer during my film-developing days. I simply don’t recall ever seeing the name.

And just to cement my ‘casual amateur’ status, I never had any problems using Paterson reels. At most I’d only have two films to develop and they’d both go in the tank at the same time, of course. It might then be a few weeks before I did any more developing, by which time the tank and reels were bone dry, of course.

I've never had a problem with the Paterson reels. I always had extra ones that were dry. For 120 film, I could develop two rolls at a time, pushing one on the reel after the other. For 4x5 0r 8x10 cut film, I would develop them in a tray, shuffling up to 10 at a time.

I used Kindermann tanks long ago when I did professional theatrical photography. I had the usual two reel tank as well as a 4 reel tank.

It is true Hewes made the best reels and I have a couple, but the Kindermann reels could be loaded with a plastic add on feeder which made life much easier as once the film was fixed in the centre, you just rotated the reel to load the film. It was a godsend in a darkroom where speed of processing was essential.

I once photographed the first act of a Pavarotti recital and had the press release prints ready for the end of the show. I printed the film still wet. Happy days.

Like many who spent to many hours in smelly dark darkrooms, I do not miss the darkroom much. I do not miss developing film at all. Maybe I would still like to make a wet print. But the tools in Capture One mimic quite well those old dodging and burning routines.

My purpose built darkroom is still up in the loft along with all the gear.

I took detailed notes 50+ years ago with temperatures, times, developer, dilution, film type, label ASA or pushed/pulled, film format, etc. I could easily duplicate a film/developer, if I could find that notebook! BTW, those days were exciting, particularly when pulling film off a reel and examining the wet negatives with so much anticipation :)

I preferred the Paterson reels and tanks for a reason not mentioned: Temperature consistency. The stainless steal tanks act as a conductor, as you agitate and handle the tank your hands and the ambient temp are potentially changing the temperature of the chemistry. The plastic tanks insulate the chemistry so you get better temp constancy during the process.

I learned loading film on stainless steel reels when I was 14 years old. While in college I assisted in a summer photography course for middle-school-aged kids. The darkroom had plastic reels, and not enough of them for the crowd of kids we had. I was trying to get the kids to load the plastic reels (I had to learn it, too.) and get their film developed. The first group of kids hung up their wet film and the second group would be in the darkroom in 20 minutes. So I stuffed a film dryer full of the plastic reels and flipped the switch. 15 minutes later those reels had melted and were way out of true. "Oh my." said the instructor when I showed him the carnage. He sent me to the camera store in town for replacements. Luckily the university had an account there so I did not have to pay for my sins. I still have a half-dozen Hewes reels, although I no longer shoot 35mm.

I often see bw film images where the edges of the film near the sprocket holes is lighter than the center of the image. I had this problem when I first started processing film. My biggest breakthrough in film processing came when I read about a technique described by Bill Pierce (not sure which photo magazine) back in the seventies. I was having problems getting even agitation by the old inversion method. The edges near the sprocket holes were always denser on the negative than the center. It was even more of a problem with 120 film.

I tried many techniques and processing systems, both plastic and stainless steel. Pierce used stainless steel reels and tanks. If the tank was a quart tank for 4 35 mm reels, he put two loaded reels on the bottom and two unloaded reels on top. He would put half the developer the tank would hold, or half a quart in this case. For agitation, he rolled the tank gently on the bottom of the sink or on the table for the prescribed time. This would move the film out of the chemistry and back into it, giving the most even agitation. It worked out to one revolution back and forth (lasting about five seconds) every minute or half-minute. You then tap the tank to make sure there are no air bubbles. After a water rinse, do the same quantities for fixer.

I have found that really old Honeywell Nikor reels and Hewes reels are well worth the money. Mine are now old like me, but they'll still be around longer than I will.

Before you got to the part about the Hewes reels, I was thinking you should mention them. I love them for all the same reasons you do. I teach at a university where we still do lots of film based photography and we have piles of the Hewes reels (and lots of the cheap ones too), some that we bought when they were much cheaper and many that were donated. I had no idea they were so expensive now! A few years back we got a couple refurbished Jobo CPP2s, while it uses the less desirable plastic reels (I don't like them for the same reasons as you) it is very efficient on chemistry saving us lots of money, especially when developing 4x5 or 8x10 using the expert tanks. The agitation is also absolutely consistent, I miss using the Hewes reels though.

Never share your reels!

The stainless steel tops fill plenty fast if you tilt the tank to the side when you fill it.

Or develop in the dark with no lid on the tank. That’s what I did with 70mm and sheet film.

The way to deal with the clip in the center of the real is to take a pair of needle nose, pliers, and rip them off the reel. Then load the film, pushing oh so gently as you wind it onto the reel, once you get the feel of it it’s much easier than using the damn clip.

I can load reels in a changing bag on a motel bed, but an actual darkroom to load in and better yet a series of tanks full of chemistry in a sink in the dark is better.

Those oversized 36 exposure 35mm reels that used the same gauge wire as a 120 reel were nice, who made those? I never used them more than once or twice because you couldn’t develop eight at a time unless you had a nitrogen burst system and I never got one of those. But those were nice.

I've standardized on Paterson tanks because I can use the same tanks for up to four 35mm, two 120s, or six 4x5, using Mod 54 reels, varying the volume of chemicals for the number of rolls, of course. In reusing the same Paterson reel, a hand-held hairdryer is your friend.

I bet the steel ones are nice when you get everything right and get totally used to them. I really tried, and I just don’t get on with them at all. The Patersons leak all over the place in my experience. No, the Jobo 1520 is where it’s at. I have a bunch of them and can totally do it in the dark (which is kinda useful here :D )

It’s one of the things I love best about “analog” craft, how tools just work for your hands (and maybe not for others), how specific everything is, and how you build a relationship and muscle memory with your tools.

"Mike replies: I hear you. Digital is so much easier it's impossible not to go that way. And yet, it has never been remotely as satisfying."

Could there be a lesson here somewhere, Mike?

I have been using Hewes 35mm reels in Kindermann tanks for a number of years. I never develop more than one reel at a time. I use a one-reel tank most of the time, with no issues. It's all about the agitation technique. When I develop with Rodinal at a 1:100 dilution I have to use a two reel tank to have enough of the developer solution for a single roll.

I have two Kindermann tank lids. One looks like the one you show with the horizontal ribs. The other one, also clearly marked "Kindermann" looks like the other lid you show with the vertical flutes but it has a yellow cap on the black lid. I also have a Samigon lid that looks like the one you show and have had no issues with it in 10+ years of regular use.

The other Kindermann item I use regularly is their Filter Funnel. It's a snug fit in the opening of both of the Kindermann lids and the Samigon lid. It lets me tip the tank at about 30º from vertical and fill the tank as quickly as I can pour the liquid out of the graduate. (The funnels are even harder to find than the OEM Kindermann lids.)

For the past five years I have been doing "street" photography in Phoenix. I use mostly 135 but some 120, about half B&W and half C41 developed in 2-bath CineStill chemistry. I digitize the negatives with high-resolution camera scans, and edit in Lightroom. I think I have the best of both worlds: a digital file, and strips of film in binders (which I hope will survive into a future when Phoenix has finally run out of water). I call it the "Phoenix Pompei" project, alluding to the ashes of Mt Etna, and what lies underneath.

Street photography without people? Summers keep almost everybody inside, but I manage to get images of a few humanoids on the footpaths. So, lots of historic houses, old cars, murals, etc. I've been using the Nikor tanks and reels I bought in the 1970s; now thanks to you I shall switch to Hewes.

I have been shooting more film lately - 120 in a Super Ikonta and a Rolleicord - and I've found the best way to handle the issue is to pay the local lab $10.99/roll of C41 processing & scanning. For the occasional roll of Kodak Gold or Ilford XP2 that's fine. I don't have enough nostalgia for Diafine or D76 to bother with that anymore. But I can get something from those old MF cameras that I can't from my digital cameras so that makes it worth the price of admission to the labs machines.

Daily shooting is, naturally, my Leica M 240 or my Nikon D7100.

You tanked today's column.

Articles on the “wet-side soups” must surely follow!

Meanwhile, I lament the apparent passing of Diafine for Tri-X, and Tetenal’s Drysonal, a rapid film dryer - it always produced clean bright negs, with no drying marks, for me.

Might be an appropriate time, too, to spread the old nose grease trick! It has a similar refractive index to the film base, and is useful for filling in scratches.

Ah! Happy days!

As a fairly regular film developer (50 rolls this year) I only use the Paterson tanks. Yes you’re right, you can’t load the reels when they are damp or wet, so buy some extra reels! They are $11.99 at B&H. I have five reels and so never have to use a hair dryer to get them ready to develop film. I never was able to load the metal reels, even when new, so the Paterson setup was my darkroom salvation.

Don't be too hard on the plastic lids for stainless steel tanks. They're a godsend because they're easily available, and will fix any leaking tank at least 95% of the time.

Most stainless tanks, like the Nikor (please, just one "k"!) you can find around leak because they've been banged beyond measure over years of use and abuse. In contrast, my Brooks tank is perfectly leak-proof, because I got it almost new from my dad who didn't really use it.

I prefer Paterson reels for 35 mm, but steel reels for 120. That way, I can buy cheap reels for each format, even though I have Hewes envy about once a year.

I agree the Hewes reels are swell. But my other reels and developing tanks are the equally excellent Honeywell Nikor. Mine are over 50 years old and still working as well as the day I bought them from a long-closed camera shop.

Mike wrote: “Digital is so much easier it's impossible not to go that way. And yet, it has never been remotely as satisfying.”

That’s partly due to the fact that, until now, you have not enjoyed the process of an all-monochrome workflow, including your own comfortable and satisfying final print stage. The print is the reward. No fun baking a cake if you never get to see it come out of the oven or eat it.

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be. I get misty-eyed sometimes when I recall the darkroom (it was actually a semi-darkroom the last years I did film at home--couldn't really keep out the light unless I waited for the dark of night). I find myself looking wistfully at old film cameras on KEH and sometimes I wander into the room I once used and I open a drawer where I still have a couple of stainless tanks and a few reels. Fixer stains still on the walls. Oh, memories.

But then I come to the conclusion I like the IDEA of shooting film more than actually doing it. I still love looking at old cameras and wonder why someone doesn't make a digital Rolleiflex ('cause no one cares but me and six other penniless bastards scattered all over the world).

Closest I can get to the old days is using old manual focus Nikkors on my D700 Nikons and fiddling around with files in Silver Efex. And that's close enough....

Yes Hewes reels please and I confess to using the stainless tank with the cheap top. Hint the Hewes 120 reel has a spring clip which is frustrating to use. Instead insert the film’s edge under the bar that anchors the spring clip. Fast and easy. BTW 120 is the Goldilocks of formats. Not too small, not too clumsy. Just right.

In the late 1960s I learned photo developing and printing from my father Del, who commandeered my parents' walk-in closet for his darkroom.


For a few years, I spent a lot of time in there before I gradually started to rely on commercial developing and printing services and then of course switching to digital.

Decades later, all of my late father's darkroom equipment was still in boxes on a shelf in my basement. When the time came to clear some space, I couldn't bring myself to dispose of it all.

Finally I had a brainstorm. I set up a ministudio and photographed all of it, now preserved forever in (ironically) digital format. Then I gave it all away via Craig's list.


So I can still pull up that portfolio to gaze upon the Paterson-style developing tank. It brings up such strong memories of loading that thing in the changing bag (which I also photographed, of course).

I still remember the look of absolute horror on my dad's face when I came home from my first semester at college and we were in the darkroom together - I had learned that just ripping the film canisters open was far faster than bobbing around with a leader retriever or can opener( we reloaded used canisters we got fro free from the one-hour photo places in town). He acted like he was in the room with a savage wolf, and I gotta say, it was kinda fun:)I'm horribly wasteful, as I still rip the the cans open, and the flatten out the metal and keep them in an old sheet film box for no discernible reason.

I use JOBO reels now, in a JOBO 1510 processor, because I am LAZY. Still have steel reels but honestly, for hobbyists a good set of plastic reels that can resize for 35 or 120 is a great way to start, but, as you say, it's definitely easier if they are dry - the Jobo reels are a little better in that regard as the diameter is much wider.

Currently - I think 120 is more fun to develop and work with, and easier to scan with a camera, with 35mm really showing how much I love my Z6. Still want to run a Photography merit badge by the off requirements and have the kids shoot and develop film, but it was cheaper to buy beater digital cameras than get all the consumables together for such a feat!

If you accidentally rewind the filmtip into the canister, there is a small plastic gizmo that you can use to get it out again. It is called filmtip extractor, or something like that. I remember I used to tear off the narrow end of the filmtip instead of folding it. That was a sure way to know a film had been exposed. Eventually I cut the film end a bit round to make it easier to go into the Paterson spirals that I used. It is also supposed to be good form to remove the entire film from the cassette when loading it into the spiral, instead of pulling it out through the metal lips another time. Just to prevent possible scratches.

I only ever had access to Patterson tanks, so when I bought my own that’s what I bought. My only concern was my fear that the plastic would crack when I did the “rap.” (Rapping the tank onto a tabletop to shake loose any bubbles that might be clinging to the film inside. That’s what I learned in the beginning and I never got out of the habit.)

Fortunately I discovered that the metal can from a 100 foot roll of film makes a perfect base for a Patterson tank. Remove the can’s lid, slide on the Patterson tank (it goes part way in, leaving a gap). Apply a bit of tape. Boom, rap to your heart’s content with no worry of cracking your tank!

I used Jobo tanks and rotary processor. 5 rolls at a time. Had a lot of extra reels. Never had a problem. I never let photoflo touch the reels. Film would go, after washing in the tank, directly to a plastic container only used for photoflo. Always did a water only pre wettting of the film and my stop bath was also only water. Next day was printing day, and that was the fun part.

First I ever heard that the conventional metal lids were slow to empty and fill. I found them faster than the plastic lids, and in any case plenty fast enough. The fancy plastic lids you mention didn't exist when I was doing this, I think. I hated the regular plastic lids ever since one split on me.

And -- clips in the center of the reels? NO NO NO! The best reels just have a slot in the center, and you end up holding the sides of the film with your finger while you get the reel started. Honeywell reels maybe? Not sure about brands at this point, nothing flat big enough to put branding on in a reel!

I was careful and precise about some things (temperature of all the solutions, and I used a water bath too), and carefully followed the agitation recommendations of the developer in question (usually different at the start from for the rest of the time), and knocked the tank to dislodge bubbles, but never felt that fill and drain times were especially relevant. Never seemed slow, plus with a full tank, if the fill and drain times are about equal, then it averages out.

Don't think I've developed film since 1986, maybe 1985.

Its been a long time bit istr the Patterson reels I used had a small ball bearing in the socket area at the entrance of the reel. To load one just engaged the first short tip and then wound the film in by rotating the two reels against each other. It wasn't perfect but I found it ok

When developed film I used Nikon tanks and reels . Never a problem.
That’s being said I am a big fan of digital photography…no darkroom needed.

Your post made me want to dig out my (almost never used) stainless steel - I think and hope it's the old Kindermann tank - and soup a roll through.

Can you do an article on film developers and fixers, please?

I taught Photo 101 film at the local community college for a couple decades. We’d spend time sitting around the classroom, practicing loading film onto steel reels. First in the light, then with the lights off. Finally, they’d go practice in those little closets we had for film processing. My job was teaching of course, but also cheerleading and encouraging. Eventually, like birds learning to fly, they had to enter their closets on their own, film in hand, and trepidation in their eyes. The door would close, lock, and the lights would go off. Many were, of course, successful. But there’d always be the moans, curses, and other demonstrations of frustration that would be heard. But perhaps nothing was more heartbreaking than a misaligned roll of film, processed, with two pieces of film touching. And inevitably it was the best shot on the roll.

I always told my students at the semester’s start, “Photography ain’t cheap, ain’t easy, and ain’t for the faint of heart.”

"For further reading: "Classic Printmaking for Fun, Part I" (June 2011.) (There was never a Part II. . . ."

That last part of the blurb above was good for a laugh. It reminds me of something you might see in a comedy.

darlene has it right, ". . . anything plastic takes time to dry."

I found that Q-Tips can soak up the residual water in the nooks where the ball bearings reside in the Paterson reels. A blast of canned air also helps when the water somehow evades the Q-tip.

I always thought the steel reels looked harder to load than the plastic ones.

My aunt and uncle started doing photography before I did, so I just did as they did. Paterson tank and reels, Microdol X, etc.

I've still got a folded sheet of yellow paper with DIY instructions for making a developer for Tech Pan.

Paterson Auto Load Reels, qty. 6:


Well, this was fun to read the comments with tidbits of helpful advice that I haven't thought about for years. Good post, Mike!

@ Joe Holmes: A brilliant and beautiful commemoration to your father’s photo hobby legacy!

I had a filmextractor -- but I made a *point* of always rewinding the film all the way into the cartridge. That way there was no possible confusion between exposed and unexposed rolls. (Since I was bulk-loading my own, there weren't sealed boxes to make the difference clear.)

I wouldn't pull the film out through the light trap again, even if I could. More than doubles the risk of scratches along the whole length of the film. Pop the top off the cartridge! With a bottle opener for commercial cartridges, or just by rapping on a hard surface for reloadable cartridges. (Or I think there was an off-brand of reloadable where the end screwed off.)

Honestly, I always found the metal tanks kinda intimidating for loading but after processing film for over 30 years with a Patterson plastic tank I made the switch. In photo school we all learned on The Patterson tanks; they are pretty much ubiquitous being easier to load with the ratchet action for loading and the centre post for agitation (which is I think useless ). But I ended up converting to the metal tank a few years ago, as was getting uneven negs when photographing still life on a white background. I did some research and made some interesting discoveries around agitation and type tanks. Firstly, agitation is key to processing film. If you don’t get good balance of replenishment of the developer you are not going to get even negative development . There is something called bromide drag which are streaks that happens when certain areas don’t get enough agitation. I think this is the reason I was getting uneven areas. I changed my inversion agitation to torus agitation ( method which agitates the film on two axis - inverting and twisting the tank at the same time) . But I also switched to a metal tank because when you compare the metal reels to the plastic reels, the film is clearly more exposed to flow of the surrounding chemicals with a wider spacing between the rolled film and just less there to get in the way. So with metal tank and better agitation, I am getting much more even development. All this to say that it is my opinion that there is a difference between the metal and plastic tanks.

For 35mm film, Hewes spirals in later model Paterson tanks (with the flexible pop-on lids, which don't leak unlike the earlier screw on version.) The spirals must also have a sufficiently large core diameter to fit the Paterson tank tube.

The Paterson light-trap funnel is excellent for a fast and even pour in of developer, at least up to the five reel version - the largest I use.

The two prongs of the Hewes spiral engage with sprocket holes making loading as close to fool proof as possible, even in a small changing bag.

Hewes also make beautiful little clips, perfect for hanging sheet film.

I have some leaky lids and really appreciate the tip for the Seki tanks and lids.

For 4x5 I use the Stearman tank (they make one for 8x10 & 5x7 as well) which uses a modest amount of chemistry for up to 4 sheets.

If I’m in the community darkroom at Flower City Arts here and have a lot of 4x5, I use their Kodak hard rubber tanks and hangers. If I were to establish a real home darkroom again, that’s what I would be using for sheet film and probably roll film as well.

BTW, I’ve found the Hewes reels for 120 to be harder to load than other brands with the clips. That’s probably just me and I should practice with a trash roll.

As someone with a hand injury that precludes loading onto any kind of (normal) film reel, I was very pleased to find an Agfa Rondinax 35 tank. Loading is started in daylight, the lid goes on, and you wind it in, then when it stops, cut with the in-built guillotine, and finish winding in. It uses about half the chemicals, too, although you do have to keep slowly winding throughout your dev session. No problems with re-using straight afterwards.

These tanks are getting a bit old, so I was pleased to support the Italian Lab-box, which does the same thing. I use my Lab-box for 120 film.

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