I agree witih the prevailing opinion that stainless steel tanks are superior to plastic. But life is a bit more complex that that.
There are three kinds of lids for stainless tanks - plastic lids, stainless lids with stainless caps, and stainless lids with plastic caps. Someone has pointed out that stainless lids with stainless caps tend to leak - yes, that's true, but as long as you have a sink to work it, that's more nuisance than fatal flaw. Plastic caps tend to not leak, but they are not without problems. They usually have a small plastic tab on one side - I had the experience of the plastic tab breaking off a cap a few months ago. Makes it very difficult to remove the cap.
Stainless reels are OK - and the Hewes brand is clearly the best available. But even the brand-X steel reels are better than the chintzy walking-in (ratchet style) plastic reels. There are really only two potential problems with steel reels. The first is that if they are bent, so that the two faces are no longer parallel, then it becomes difficult to load them. Fortunately, it's possible detect this problem visually, and it's usually possible to carefully bend the reels back to something approximating their original condition.
But all steel reels, even brand new ones, have the problem that the cross section of the wire making up the spiral is circular. That means that the cross section of the groove between wires (that the film must go into) has curved edges. Those curved edges tend to encourage film to pop out of the groove. With practice, you learn to compensate for this tendency.
About 27 years ago, I purchased a pair of plastic reels that were designed to function like steel reels - they load from the center out (they do NOT ratchet), and their diameter is the same as steel reels so they can be used in steel tanks. But the key difference is that the cross section of the spiral grooves is square - they don't have curved edges. So fillm goes in and stays in much easier than with steel reels. Unfortunately, the distributor (Durst) abandoned the product line and I haven't been able to find any of these in years.
I have used old jobo stuff. It's dated way back, bottom of the tank says "made in W.Germany". I like the tank. It can take 2 35mm reels. When I had it, there were only one reel. I bought new to accompany it, but the old one is definitely better. Much easier to load film in it. But for 120 I use the new one, because it can be loaded with two rolls of 120.
Have tried 3x35mm Paterson few times and it didn't do it job of keeping liquids inside. Maybe bit easier to load, but nothing big, at least anything I could remember.
I would prefer the Patterson reels for being easy to load; their ball-and-ramp system is unbeatable.
I use mostly JOBO 1500 and 2500 tanks - necessary for the CPP2 JOBO Processor. Difficult to load? Not especially - I don't even think of it much any more. The key is practice, the more it is done, the less burdensome it will be.
THe JOBO Plastic reels do not *not* absorb anything. Occasionally, I'll disassemble them and give them a good scrubbing, especially in the tracks, with dishwashing detergent and a high-tech instrument - an ordinary tooth brush.
It's a good idea to do that with any reel.
If you drop a plastic reel, it will not stay bent. I know - I know - you CAN straighten stainless steel reels. The point is: I don't have to.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
I'm a recent convert to the SS tanks. I was always put-off by stories of how difficult they were to load etc. For 120 though I find the SS reels way easier than dealing with my AP or old GAF reels... 35mm takes some getting used to, but it's not as bad as some of the talk you'll hear. Plus as it's been said, cleanup is a cinch and you can re-use the tank quickly.
I've only been doing my own film development for about half a year, but I've tried two types of both plastic and stainless steel reels in two tanks. Here's my ranking of reels (best at top):
- Hewes stainless steel reels -- The easiest to load by far (except for the several rolls I tried to load backwards, which loaded amazingly far given the extremity of my error).
- Patterson plastic reels -- Usually easy to load, but occasionally a roll just develops a lot of resistance partway through, which slows down the loading process a lot.
- AP plastic reels -- These are virtually clones of the Patterson reels, but the plastic feels a bit different. They seem to have resistance problems slightly more often; I've had to cut two rolls and develop them on two spools twice before I got a Patterson reel. The Patterson and AP reels seem to be interchangeable; certainly both can be used with my AP tank.
- Used non-Hewes stainless steel reel -- I got two of these with a used stainless steel tank, and I've only managed to load a roll without problems once. They may be slightly bent, so I don't think I'd say that all non-Hewes stainless reels are worse than the plastic reels I've used, but the ones I've got certainly are.
Note that my experience is only with 35mm film. In addition to the reels, the tanks have plusses and minuses. Aside from the wider mouth of the plastic AP tank I've got, my used stainless steel tank with plastic cap wins hands down. It requires less chemistry (so it's cheaper to use), is easier to agitate one-handed (so I can grab for a funnel or whatever while agitating), and is less leak-prone than my plastic AP tank. Some people cite the fact that many plastic tanks let you take the temperature of the solution while processing, but I've not found this to be practical. Maybe if my thermometer registered more quickly it'd be a plus, though.
Just for kicks, you might want to check out this site, which describes a Russian tank and reel. The reel has grooves on only one side and must be loaded emulsion side out. The tank must be agitated by turning a knob counterclockwise (clockwise causes the film to unspool), and has a ~2-minute fill and drain time. Personally, I'd be interested in having one just for the novelty value, but it doesn't sound very practical.
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The tanks and reels are like children...Don't have a favorite (the others might get a complex, you know)...
Seriously, have never used anything but SS tanks and reels. Learned to use em in 1974, stopped processing film in 1977, started back in 2002..just like I never missed a beat. Only changes have made, is retired the SS lids and replaced with plastic ones and those Hewes reels....oh, yeah..they are the best. But don't tell my Nikor reels..don't want to have to take them to therapy!!
I have used the old metal top Nikor tanks, an old cheap Yankee plastic tank, Paterson tanks, Jobo tanks, the spanish made AP/Samigon tank, Kindermann tanks, and the generic SS tanks that you see around with a scalloped edge plastic lid.
I have used plastic reels from Yankee, the Jobo 2501 reels, Paterson, and AP/Samigon. I have used SS reels from older Nikor, Kindermann, generics, and Hewes.
For plastic, I could live with the AP/Samigon and Paterson about equally. I quit using Jobo for film when I got the worst conceivable agitation pattern with the 2501 reels and dilute Rodinal on a CPE-2. It generated standing waves that went nearly halfway across the 35mm frame and caused major differences in development. I believe the 2501 reels were abandoned, and newer ones have a completely different film holding arrangement. Jobo told me the 2501's were not a defective design, so I quit buying film equipment from them. I only use that system for color prints now. The Jobos (IMO) also take too much chemistry for hand inversion. If you use a wetting agent like Photoflo after development, it sticks to plastic reels and makes them hard to load even after drying.
For SS, I like the Kindermann tanks and plastic lids with Hewes reels. The Kindermann lids seal well enough that I can agitate fixer and wash water on a Beseler motor base (horizontal) with no leaking. They also have a continuous lip around the cap that eliminates the problem with broken tabs that Monophoto mentions. The Hewes reels are heavier guage, so don't bend nearly as easily as lesser reels, and that also makes them easier to load. Two prongs on the Hewes 35mm reels catch sprocket holes in the film and square it up for loading. Kinderman reels are OK, but I don't like the plastic film "catch" they use nearly as much as the Hewes method. I can start a Hewes reel a lot faster, and the film almost self-feeds on the larger diameter guide wires.
Kindermann reels have a small diameter hole in the center plastic core, and don't work on the older SS stacking rods with a loop on the end.
Calumet (APUG sponsor) has a deal on a generic SS tank (2x35mm roll size) with lid (with the breakable tab mentioned earlier), two Hewes 35mm reels, and a package of 25 archival negative pages for 35mm, all for about $50. Not a bad deal, and I think it's billed as a student special package. Calumet also has better prices on individual Hewes reels than
I can get the AP/Samigon 2 reel + tank kit locally for about $15 as a house brand.
Overall, I do prefer the SS, but I've been loading them for over 30 years, so that's not an issue for me.
Ha ha ha! My lips are sealed
Originally Posted by photomc
Thank you for your insights, everyone! You've been most helpful
I've used stainless and plastic but haven't experienced that revelatory moment in which one is better than the other. I mostly reach for the funky Kustom plastic tank, just because its reel adjusts from 16mm to 120.
If I could just piggyback a related question: what tanks fill and empty fast? I have yet to get a rhythm that gets my times between solutions under control. I pour out with one hand and have the next solution ready in the other, but from cap off to cap on it's still a lot more than a minute. I don't want to blame my frustrations on my tank, but I'd sure like to try a faster-pouring one while I get the engrams together.
Tilt tank to a 45 degree angle, helps a lot. Search for previous thread (about 2 weeks ago) with quite a lot of other ideas and tank/lid preferences for pouring speed.
Originally Posted by derevaun