View Full Version : So just how hard can it be to make film?

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Dean Williams
05-05-2005, 12:21 AM
The thing is, if it "could" be done, it still "can" be done. How much and how fast is the thing. When this little hobby started out, everyone was an amateur. As far as shutters go, any watch maker worth his salt can make one. Even with as meager a machinists' background as mine, a person could make one. Could probably pump out as many as 6-8 per year. To keep it simple enough to make easily, it would only have a top speed of about 1/150 sec, but that's probably more than you'd need if you were making your own emulsion.

Donald Qualls
05-05-2005, 08:28 AM
I'm with Ole on shutters -- simple mechanical devices like these, that don't run continuously, can reasonably be expected to last centuries if cleaned and adjusted periodically. I have three from the late 1920s that are within 1/2 stop at all speeds from 1 to 1/200, and I expect them to be still usable after I'm long gone, unless they're destroyed by environmental insults. FWIW, I also own a mechanical clock from the same era, one that wasn't expensive when new, which does run continuously -- and which I've recently managed to adjust to the point of gaining or losing less than a minute a month, the same accuracy that used to be advertised for quartz watches. Same for glass -- American Civil War era lenses can still make fine images, 140 years later, and there's no reason to believe non-exotic glasses will deteriorate in normal storage and use for millennia; they'll be destroyed by rough cleaning or physically broken first.

I have an electronic copy of a 1920s book on making emulsions, which includes the (1920s style) chemical names of the sensitizing dyes and very detailed process information. I can't see this as being beyond the ability of the kind of people who used to perform the experiments that got written up in Scientific American's, "Amateur Scientist" features; it's certainly simpler in many ways to make a gelatin-halide emulsion and coat it on glass, acetate, or polyester than it is to, say, extract and amplify DNA from plant cells (as I recall being done in one such article) or build a basement fusion reactor (as has also been done -- no, the rate of fusion is well below break-even, but they're working on it). The modern ISO of the emulsions covered in the book I have would range up to 100, possibly even 400 with the right ripening process (though it would be as grainy as old Royal X or 4275 Recording Film -- might not matter, if it were coated on 8x10 plates).

What this won't be is cheap. Now, someone like me (with very limited disposable income) can pursue photography fairly seriously, as long as he's patient and mechanically astute, without spending a bunch of money (I probably spent less than $1000 in 2004 including all equipment purchases, film, and processing/chemistry). Once large volume manufacture of film ends, unless we have something akin to Star Trek replicators we'll be forced to spend lots of time and money just to create the medium to record the image. Our hobby will become somewhat akin to fireworks making -- dealing with chemicals that, though reasonably common on an industrial basis, are expensive and hard to get in small quantities, might be hazardous to handle, and will involve enough work for a single use that most won't bother. The difference is, you can still buy fireworks, most places (even if they're illegal) if you're not inclined to make your own. By the time most photographers are making their own materials, you'll only be able to buy them from someone who makes them by hand or in very small volume.

Look at what Bostick & Sullivan get for carbon printing tissue that's not even presensitized -- and think what that would cost if it incorporated five times as many manufacturing steps, in the dark, and included silver as an ingredient instead of soot. That's what film will cost once it's made in runs of 100 sheets of 8x10.

Kirk Keyes
05-05-2005, 03:18 PM
Donald - is that 1920's book available online somewhere? And how about the basement nuke reactor, I'd be interested in reading about it too! Do I need a basement as large as the University of Chicago's Stagg Field for that?

Jim Chinn
05-05-2005, 10:47 PM
I have a freind who is a physics professor and is working on making a bench top fusion reactor. I don't know all the details but it uses dueterium for the fuel and is contained in a stainless steel pressure vessel that most CNC equiped machine shops can make. It is basically used to demonstrate how fusion takes place. If you do some google searches about fusion reactors you will eventually find several sites dedicated to making such experimental devices.

Last year I helped him put together a cloud chamber that could be hooked up to a video camera or 35mm for time exposures. Pretty neat.

Donald Qualls
05-09-2005, 08:16 AM
The link where I got the book has been gone for some time -- as I recall, it was the U. Mich. library, and they had a project going to digitize a bunch of old, out of print books, that was likely scotched by changes in the copyright laws such that they can't be certain a work published in 1925 is in public domain (and on their level, if they're not certain enough for their legal staff to bet their jobs, it's pulled). It's a very large HTML file with accompanying JPG images (charts and drawings, not photographs for the most part); the title is "PHOTOGRAPHIC EMULSIONS: THEIR PREPARATION AND COATING ON GLASS, CELLULOID AND PAPER, EXPERIMENTALLY AND ON THE LARGE SCALE" by either E. E. Wall or E. S. Wall (the scan is bad, shows as E. 3. Wall -- could also be E. G. Wall, I suppose).

The basement fusion reactors were of the "fusor" design (on which you can find a number of web pages with a Google search) -- electrostatic confinement, deuterium fuel (though their plasma formation and confinement can be demonstrated without the risk of neutron irradiation using plain hydrogen), and in theory the possibility to extract fusion energy as a direct current between the core and the vacuum chamber shell. The biggest one I've heard of, anywhere, was in the range of a 24" vacuum chamber diameter; they're theorized to have a break even at around one meter confinement core diameter (which would be about a 2 m chamber) -- assuming one can make the direct current extraction work, find a way to trap the fusion neutrons (to avoid killing all organisms within a few hundred meters), keep the 3He cleared from the core and inject fresh deuterium, etc. The equipment is on the same order of cost and difficulty to build as an astronomical mirror aluminizing machine, but potentially lethal to operate...

05-10-2005, 07:23 AM
I once coated myself some wet collodion plates for our scientific work - and they worked quite well, being 60x75 centimeters big! Both continuous tone and line plates were made in our lab without much effort, so it's not a problem :) I got notes about it somewhere in my workbooks, so I can post it here if someone is interested :)

Cheers from Moscow,

06-03-2005, 02:45 PM
In the old times they just laid a huge sheet of acetate on the table and poured the emulsion on it. Making multiple layer films this way is impossible but a single layer is not too bad. Super xx was the last single layer film, which is what many of us LF people want anyway.

I dont see any pollutant 'side streams' from this process either.
EK probably made most of their raw materials and this would explain the pollutants. Somebody doing this in their garage would be buying all their starting materials.
The dyes used to sensitize the emulsion are well known.

Dave Wooten
06-03-2005, 03:15 PM
Question to the mentioned topic if Kodak ceased all production and kept their formulas "secret"

1. Are the formulas protected by patent?

2. Isn't one of the requirements for patent protection that the patent be used? That is you can not be awarded a patent and just sit on it......

3. It shouldn't be that difficult for formulas to be duplicated?

4. Would it be cost effective and would other companies step up to the plate even if the most popular formulas were available....

06-03-2005, 03:17 PM
Patents are only good for 17 years.

06-03-2005, 03:18 PM
The dyes used to sensitize the emulsion are well known

Do you know where I can find this information? If you have checked it out, do you know if they are terribly expensive?

06-03-2005, 03:33 PM
Here might be a place to start... you will find tons of stuff in the patent literature.

Just type the patent numbers in the quick search...


The following is from something I found on google just now....
Further, various chemical sensitization methods which are commonly applied to usual emulsions, may be applied to the emulsions of the present invention. Namely, chemical sensitization agents, for instance, active gelatin; noble metal sensitizing agents such as a water-soluble gold salt, a water-soluble platinum salt, a water-soluble palladium salt, a water-soluble rhodium salt and a water-soluble iridium salt; sulfur sensitizing agents; selenium sensitizing agent; or reduction sensitizing agents such as polyamines and stannous chloride, may be used alone or in combination for the chemical sensitization. Further, the silver halide can optically be sensitized to have a desired wave length. There is no particular restriction to the method for optical sensitization of the emulsion of the present invention. For instance, optical sensitization agents, e.g. cyanine dyes or merocyanine dyes such as a zeromethine dye, a mono-methine dye, a dimethine dye, and trimethine dye, may be used alone or in combination (e.g. for super dye sensitization) for the optical sensitization. Techniques for such optical sensitization are also disclosed, for instance, in U.S. Pat. Nos. 2,688,545, 2,912,329, 3,397,060, 3,615,639, 3,397,060, 3,615,635, and 3,628,964, British Pat. Nos. 1,195,302, 1,242,588 and 1,293,862, German Patent (OLS) Nos. 20 30 326 and 21 21 780 and Japanese Patent Publication Nos. 4936/1968 and 14030/1969. The selection may be optionally made depending upon the particular application or purpose of the light-sensitive material, such as the desired wave length for sensitization, or the desired sensitivity........

Sourcing speciality chemicals is a tricky business. If you follow the M&P forum you will see that a bunch of people bought a bunch of amidol really cheap from china. You can start with google.

Feel free to contact me via private message, I used to work in the chemical industry and sourced stuff all the time.

I would make film but I only have enough time for taking pictures.

06-03-2005, 03:40 PM

06-03-2005, 03:49 PM
Thanks Aaron, I am glad all the info is out there, just a matter of wading through the theory... :)

06-03-2005, 03:58 PM
The wiley book will help you the most. It tells you exactly what is used by the industry and also a chapter on manufacturers.
Patent literature is much more vague, and unless you have a chemistry background, incomprehensable.

06-03-2005, 04:09 PM
The wiley book will help you the most. It tells you exactly what is used by the industry and also a chapter on manufacturers.
Patent literature is much more vague, and unless you have a chemistry background, incomprehensable.
I might just get the book to keep just in case. It has been a looooong time since I did any organic chemistry and as you say what I saw of the patent lit was though reading.. :)

06-03-2005, 04:12 PM
LOL...well on second thought at $285 a pop I think the book is going to have to wait.... :(

Ian Grant
06-03-2005, 04:26 PM
Actually as someone who patented a photographic process / emulsion there is not much you can really do in practice as very small differances would get around it.

For easons of commercial secrecy companies don't publish their formulae.

The best (and only) source of good published emulsion formulae was made available after WW11 by the Allies when they translated all the Agfa Gevaert formulae. The books are quite difficult to get hold of, I employed a consultant in the 70's who happened to be related to the Lumiere family, (of Autochrome fame) and had acquired their copies.

These books went into great detail of all the manufacturing and coating techniques, I copied what I needed at the time.


1. Are the formulas protected by patent?

06-03-2005, 04:29 PM
Can film be produced with sufficiently affordable equipment
that one could start with a small operation and then grow
it over time if demand required? Where would one start?

I think that world wide there must be scores of small
producers, nitch producers, of silver gelatin films. IIRC, films
for our purposes began to be manufactured and offered to the
public around about the 1880s. Kodak then marketed their first
send it all in the for processing and reload, camera and film.

For starters do a search for historical information on the
manufacture of film. Now, 125 years after those beginnings,
much research has been done, much equipment invented,
and much of that, I dare say, is available in today's form
at huge discount. Now days there is no having to coal
the boilers. A snap to do, don't you think? Dan

Ian Grant
06-03-2005, 04:35 PM
If you had to you could try these for starters :-)

1, 1'-diethylcarbocyanine chloride (was marketed as sensitol red in the 1930's)

or 2-p-dimethylaminostyryl-pyridine methiodide

Both found in 1930's publication and with referance to Eastman Kodak Research laboratories.

Do you know where I can find this information? If you have checked it out, do you know if they are terribly expensive?

06-03-2005, 04:51 PM
apugpan -

can be pushed 14 stops - can capture details on the sun and moon during a partial eclipse - 35mm version can be blown up to 48 x 60 INCHs without grain. Very high accutance. Good red sensitivity. Available in ALL formats from 16mm to 16x20.

$1 per roll
100 sht box of 8x10 - $25

What do you think???