View Full Version : Using Film Changing Bags

08-27-2007, 09:47 AM

I have been processing film at home and have a problem with using the black bag to load the film onto the reel (it's 120 film). I tend to do them in batches (say 5 or 6 rolls). I always manage the first two or three fine but invariably mess up number 4 or 5 because it seems to get progressively more difficult for me to get the film on the spool. It starts catching, jamming, kinking - I sometimes end up destroying the film and chucking it across the room in exasperation vowing to get it done professionally in future ...

But ... I think the problem has to do with moisture gradually building up inside the bag - this could be moisture transferred from the spool back into the bag after processing the previous reel (though I try to dry as thoroughly as I can), sweat from my hands and general humidity in the air. The moisture stops the film smoothly traveling along the reel hence the jams etc/

Anyone got any suggestions for combating this?


08-27-2007, 10:00 AM
... I think the problem has to do with moisture gradually building up inside the bag...

Hi Hugh,

I think you nailed it...it can get pretty muggy in there from the heat and moisture of your hands and arms. How about doing two rolls, let the bag air out a bit, then do a couple more...annoying for sure, but better than sticky film!

Oh, and welcome aboard APUG :)


Mike Richards
08-27-2007, 10:59 AM
Agree with Murray. I seldom do 120 more than one at a time, but have done multiple 35mm many times. The idea's the same. I've resorted to doing one roll at a time, adding each roll to the tank before opening the bag, and then dumping the waste and adding a new film and reel before re-closing. It definitely gets hot and sticky in the bag.

08-27-2007, 11:10 AM
Same here: Not only does it get hot and sweaty in there, but there's all that backing paper building up, too.
I don't do more than two 120's at a time, and then only if they're going on the same reel.

I prefer to load 120 standing up in a dark room (not necessarily darkroom). The rest of the rolls are in my pocket, and I pull out one at a time and load it. All that "extra material" just gets dropped on the floor to clean up when I'm done.

08-27-2007, 01:30 PM

I haven't yet processed any 120 film myself (having only just got into MF in July) but I too found that the changing bags did get very warm when working with 35mm film. I'm glad you raised this point as I plan to start processing 120 film next month.


08-27-2007, 01:40 PM
Hi Hugh,

I too had the same problem. I have thrown many rolls and reels across the darkroom in frustration.
I got so fed up that I bought a changing tent.

The ones made by calumet are pretty inexpensive.
The moisture problem is less of an issue since you have vertical space.
Heat rises...mostly. A small pencil holder type bin will help with the mess of backing paper and spools.


08-27-2007, 02:00 PM
Yep, I have the same problem. When my current nylon changing bag wears out I'm tempted to buy a cotton one. There's a fellow with a good reputation selling them on ebay. I've heard that they're just as light-tight but still allow enough air circulation inside to avoid sweaty hands.

In the meantime I wear light cotton film-handling gloves, sometimes just one on the hand I use to touch the film. That helps quite a bit. I also just started using a small plastic basin inside the changing bag. It traps some extra air inside the bag and keeps the fabric away from my hands. It also lets me keep the film, reels, and the tank (inside the basin) separate from the backing paper and empty spools. Not quite as nice as a real changing tent, but cheaper.

08-27-2007, 02:06 PM
You have my sympathy. Loading 120 is IMHO a much more difficult operation than 35mm. I'd want a break long before the 5th or 6th roll and I don't use a changing bag which compounds the problems.

You might want to take a look at Durst tanks. Durst tanks use plastic reels but ones which load from the centre like stainless steel ones. Durst supply a plastic feeder which attaches to the outside of the reel. You feed the film through this and under a clip in the centre of the reel then simply wind it on with a small handle which is also attached to the reel. So once you have pulled the film under the clip the rest is straightforward and avoids any further contact with the film.

This should avoid a lot of the sweatiness problems that a changing bag incurs. However my particular Durst tank is a one at a time tank not a multiple.

My Jobo reel on the other hand is hand fed and involves either holding the film edges and pushing it onto the reel or moving each side of the reel with one hand while holding the film with the other.No problem with 35mmn but with 120 it's slow and requires a lot of patience which tends to run out when things start to go wrong.


Roger Hicks
08-27-2007, 02:11 PM
My changing bag cotton (I didn't even know they made nylon ones -- eeeurgh), but your hands still get damp: if it's light tight, it's not going to let air through quickly enough to cool them down. I remember with particular unfondness trying to load 4x5 inch sheet film in Grafmatics in a hotel in Greece. Do not attempt more than one Grafmatic every half hour or so, at least on a hot night. It had never even occurred to me to try to load more than one spool (two films on a Jobo spiral) at a time, and I'd heartily recommend a break between each spool: even a couple of minutes should suffice.

08-27-2007, 03:26 PM
My old cotton bag is reasonable in humid conditions, but a larger nylon bag I use to reload 5x4 holders gets hot fast. Having your hands hot is surprisingly uncomfortable, too.

A collander or mesh basket inside the bag helps keep the air space. It can't be too large, as you need the flexibility of the bag to move around. The other thing that might help is a bag of activated silica gel. I also keep the bag in a plastic bag when it is not in use to reduce dust.

There are tricks to loading 120 film that are worth trying because it is flimsy compared to 35mm and sheet stock. An old* photographer suggested that I put a slight reverse bend in the start of the film before sliding it into the spiral. I unroll the backing paper until i get to the film, fold it back enough to put a slight crease in the end, and start loading. The fold stiffens the start of the film and makes it easier to keep it in the spiral initially. I do not unroll the whole length, just enough for a few winding cycles. I an also careful to keep my fingers at the guides so that I detect if the film is not feeding straight. I use a thumb nail to tear the tape at the end. The extra tape survives low temperature process fine, and helps separate the second roll if you are double loading the spiral.

This works with white nylon spirals and the old clear Jobo ones. The nylon ones do have to be clean and dry. I have enough spirals that I can swap working sets if I have a lot of development to do.

I also roll up the backing paper before starting on the next roll. I also have a scheme for where the various parts of the tank and film are placed in the bag.

* Old in this case was 24 years my senior 8-)

08-27-2007, 03:37 PM
Good suggestions. The most I can do with my small changing bag is two. The Calumet changing tent looks like a good alternative.

But a more inportant question (and possibly a future poll question):
Eyes open or closed using the changing bag?

08-27-2007, 03:57 PM
Ditto the sweat. Same problem here with my Harrison changing tent.

Eyes closed, now that you mention it. It's gotta be some kinda reflex--I think I do it eyes closed every time--load film on reels in a changing bag, that is....

08-28-2007, 04:38 AM
I have a no-brand changing bag and can manage 5 rolls now, at first I struggled with #4 and #5 but now I'm quicker and less nervous with the whole thing and it seems easier.

I'm far too impatient to do batches of 2 and 3 :D

08-28-2007, 11:28 AM
I'm far too impatient to do batches of 2 and 3 :D

Too impatient or have too much film to process ;)

There again is it possible to have too much film :confused:


08-28-2007, 03:48 PM
I learned to do this with my eyes closed, and for a long time after, even in a darkroom, I found it helps. With a changing bag it does help to keep the visual input down to help concentrate on the environment around your hands.

Dave Miller
08-28-2007, 04:00 PM
Good suggestions. The most I can do with my small changing bag is two. The Calumet changing tent looks like a good alternative.

But a more inportant question (and possibly a future poll question):
Eyes open or closed using the changing bag?

Always closed; same in the darkroom. ;)

08-28-2007, 04:07 PM
Thanks so much for all the helpful responses ... good to know I am not the only one who has this problem ...

I might have misled everyone a little though. I am not trying to do 5 rolls at a time within the bag. I'm doing one roll, taking it out, processing it, doing the next roll, taking it out ... etc. Still getting the sweat problem!

Anyway, will try airing the bag by turning it inside out between rolls as was suggested .... and maybe just doing 2 per session for the moment.

Thanks again all.