Developing a fully automatic film processor kit?
This is a project that I have been mulling over it for sometime, and I want to bounce the idea off you guys: making a fully automatic desktop, phototherm sidekick style film processor kit, open source manner.
What sparked off the idea was the fact that the only e6 lab in Singapore no longer processes 4x5 trans. This really sucks. As I began to think about how to do by myself, I faced the same challenge every hobbyist have with c41 and e6 processing : a multi step process that requires close temperature tolerances. Kits like job's cpe/cpa/cpp are very expensive, and it doesn't help to know that the jobo factory has closed down several years ago. Phototherm's Sidekick is a great, but it's expensive, and even if I get hold of a used unit, the shipping cost to Singapore would probably double the acquisition cost.
As I break down the problem in my head, I think it's totally possible to build a fully automatic desktop processor for a few hundred bucks. There are a few parts to the challenge:
1. An agitation system. Rolling the entire tank is one way, but the system can be made simpler if just the spindle rotates.
2. A set of fluid control system that pumps in the chemicals and drains them out. There are many automatic cocktail mixers built by hobbyists around the world that have solved this part.
3. A temperature bath. This is easy - a temperature sensor, an heating element, and you are pretty much set.
4. A microprocessor to orchestrate the whole set up. An Arduino UNO cost around $30. The Arduino appeals to me because of my software background. An competent electronics engineer can definitely use a cheaper alternative with a bit of self designed circuits.
I begin to think that a low cost, fully automatic, home use processor might just be the single most important key to extend the life of analog photography - especially color photography! With both professional and minilabs shutting their doors, there are people that are forced to give up, or feel intimidated, to continue shooting film.
Any of you interested to help the electronics novice here with the project? I'm thinking of putting the entire schematics, and codes on the Internet, to invite the more experienced hobbyists to refine the design. If there are sufficient interests, we can also put up preassembled kits for sale, to help people who do not have the time or skills to build the kits from the drawings. There might be some custom fabricated parts that can be made cheaper if there are more people that want this. Theres probably not much money to be made from this, and that's not the goal either - it's just to scratch an itch that I, and probably many of you, have.
What do you think? Or perhaps you have already made one of these? And how much would you be willing to pay for one such preassembled kits?