My New Photo-Therm Experience!
I have found some bits of information here and there of the Photo Therm, but thought I would put together an account of my past four days with my new Photo-Therm so others out there will have a good idea of what they are getting into, tricks to get one working and the oddities of these machines.
Where I got it and how?
First, I own a Sidekick 4, not a Super Sidekick. I purchased mine for roughly $900 on ebay after shipping charges. If you are looking for a photo therm, I've seen three on ebay in the last few months, but you must be diligent and check ebay, I'd say, two to three times a day. You can also check out http://footprintsequipment.com/index.html, they have offered to help me find a sidekick, now they are a broker, they will help get you in touch with a sidekick owner, so the process is not simple and will require patients.
I would suggest also offering to pay to have any extras including chemistry shipped, even if the chemistry is slightly expired, it is great to have for testing the machine. I'd also suggest starting with expired or cheap film to get your photo-therm going. Mine came with some new tubing, bottles and E-6 chemistry.
Day of arrival - When I opened the box, I was underwhelmed by the size. It's a pretty small package for what it does. Mine was dirty, so i cleaned mine which caused some issues later on, but I'll get to that. I did immediately open mine up to see what was inside and make sure it was clean. The unit opens after removing two screws on either side.
Hooking it up - I started simple, C-41. I used a 5 Gallon bottle of distilled water for my source water and a 5 gallon bucket for waste water. You'll need 1/4 ID tubing to hook up the phototherm, i hooked up the device on a cart, however, I'm not happy with the setup.
Turning it on - The first thing I noticed was the LCD was funky, the LCD was not displaying full characters, just gibberish. So I turned off the device and cleaned the inside, reseated all the IC chips and connectors and left it sit for the night to dry after I cleaned the unit. The next morning, the LCD was showing some characters, just not aligned correctly. I reseated the Microprocessor, this is not something I would do if you don't have experience with doing it. The processor is a 40 pin IC (68705 actually). I eventually had to reseat the processor twice and finally got the system up and running.
The drums - There are two drums with my unit, a 2 35mm (1 120mm) drum or a 4 35mm (2 120mm) drum. The drums use standard paterson reels. The drums come appart in half and have a core which extends out one side. metal wire clips on either end keep the drum together and they are light tight. I find it annoying to have just two drums as I would prefer to use dry drums when loading film in my dark box, but it hasn't been that big of an issue.
My first run & water all over the floor! - My first run greeted me with a flood. The instruction book is clear, the drain lines MUST go straight down into the container, I did not have this properly routed, so I ended up with the machine spilling out the spill over on the back. There is NO TUBE for the spill over output, so I'm planning on setting my Photo Therm in a container, like a washing machine pan, to catch the run off should it happen again. I'll also be getting some hose clamps for the drain lines. Now there is a drain and a flush. I'll be hooking up the flush output to my home's sewer, the drain, I'll capture and dispose of elsewhere as I have a septic system.
Recapturing bleach - there is a little save button on the back of the phototherm. If it's on, showing red, the bleach will be poured out the recycle port on the back of the device. This is for both c-41 and e-6 bleach, so you may want to turn it on / off for either or.
120 Film - I had no issues with 35mm film, but 120 film got runied. I'm use to putting two rolls of 120 on a spool, but the motion of the phototherm will unreel your film and ruin it. How to fix it? Well, Photo-Therm sells film clips, but the guy at Phototherm told me to get some cheap vinyl blinds and cut them into 2 1/4 inch strips and use those to secure the film in place.
The LCD - I've noticed the LCD is very sensitive to water, don't get it wet, if it gets wet, turn off the device and let it sit overnight, seems to work for me.
Push/Pull Processing - Once you select the process, before you hit start, you can push and hold minus for two seconds, then hit start, then you can use up and down buttons to control developer time.
The control buttons - they are sluggish. Be patient with them.
Support - The guy, Jerry, at Photo-Therm is amazing! He said if I needed anything changed, to just give them a call, they do custom programmed controllers for free for the device. Just send them your old one.
I'm planning on figuring out a better installation for my phototherm. likely on the counter in my dark room. And still have to get more bottles and tubes.
One last thing, the Phototherm SK4 (not the super sidekick) runs on just 1804 bytes of programming. It's amazing what that thing can do!
Have fun! Agree, Jerry is awesome...!
Replaced the flakey LCD today. Would have gone much better had my soldering skills been kept up in the past few years. But here it is, my photo therm LCD, even hooked up the back light. Blue does look good.
How'd you replace the LCD like that?
I love my ssk8. Try xtol straight or 1:1 it works so much better than anything I get back from the pro labs. Also I find xtol not to fiddly for timing when throwing different films at it.
turn down rotational speed to minimum. Have yet to lose a 120 roll so far
4 to 4:30 works great for most bw films in xtol 1:1
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The LCD used in the Photo Therm SK4 (not the super) is a standard 2 line by 16 character LCD. They are pretty standard devices. I bought one on ebay for like $7 then soldered it to the cable. I also hooked up the LED Back light which required a 330 ohm resister (available at Radio Shack).
Originally Posted by sage
If your LCD is flakey though, I'd re-seat the connector on the main board. The biggest reason I replaced my LCD instead of fixing the one in the machine is that I wanted a back lit LCD which is far easier to read.
I will have to try XTOL. You have a Super, I have the old non-super with a motor without rotational speed control, although, I'm suspecting I could add a simple motor controller to reduce the speed.
Originally Posted by ianstamatic
Agreed, great machines and easy enough to work on. good to know about LCD replacement, should it ever need to be done. I have an SSK4. I do doubled-up rolls of 120 on a single reel. I tape the rolls together end-to-end. I don't use the film clips as mine didn't come with any. The rotation goes more in one direction than the other, so if you orient the reels so the face away from the direction of most rotation, that seems to help. Mine rotates mostly clockwise when viewed from the tank end of the machine, I believe. So I have the entry of the reels pointing away from that direction. (e.g. if entry point on reel is at 12 oclock, the opening points left when looking at the machine from the tank end.) That will tend to not push the film off the reel if it encounters resistance. Good tip about the vinyl blinds though! might try that just to be safe.
on the SSK-4 at least, any of the chemistry can be run through the "save" function. I only do it for C41 bleach, and use the others one-shot.
I use mine with flat vertical 5L containers/bottles I got from Walmart. I use polyethelene tubing I found at the hardware store. Works great, stays cleaner than the vinyl tubing that others use. (Teflon would be even better but more $ and not as easy to find). I use zip-ties to clamp the tube ends onto the valve body, though they are a snug enough fit that it doesn't seem to be required really.
I use 5 gal water bottle for supply and a 5 gal bucket for waste also. I can run about 3 runs (12 rolls) of C-41 before the bucket fills.
The 120 film clips are made from short pieces of plastic window blinds. Phototherm is extremely clever at making things from "stuff laying around" for raw material.
Just trim to fit, and use two per reel.
You probably have half a dozen extra blades stacked at the bottom of the blind when it is fully down. Steal one of those.
I made some sized for 127 as well. But the smaller edge of the 127 presents less danger of pulling out from the rotational dynamics.
Only the Super Sidekick (SSK) models have adjustable rotation speed. The older Sidekick and FP models are fixed speed, and thinner based film will spill out. Or at least it does on my FP-1.
EDIT: Below is extremely disjointed, so pick through it with that caveat. It's my side of the conversations with a guy who got one some months ago. I wasn't comfortable posting all his email to the world, and I don't have time right now to write this into a coherent essay. Maybe someone can get some use out of this. Or if someone has time to write a guide and more info about the Phototherms take this and add it to your stuff. I don't care. I do think that there are enough of us showing up that a quick users guide would be a "good thing" if we could pull it together.
Disjointed info about Phototherms.
The 8 reel tanks are for the SSK8R, which is the newest machine, not the one you bought.
You will be able to process two rolls or four rolls of 35mm film. Or you can also process one roll or two rolls of 120/220. The unit uses regular Paterson style plastic reels. The four roll tank holds four reels set at the 35mm spacing, three reels set at the 127 spacing, and two reels set at the 120 spacing. (I have successfully loaded two rolls of 120 onto a single reel and processed 4 rolls of 120 film on two reels in the four roll tank.)
The machine you have is the transition era, newer than the old FP-1 which had the straight selector valve, and older than the new body style sidekicks which have the rotary valve like yours.
My best guess looking at the back of the unit in the eBay listing pictures is that it is a Sidekick 4, so look at http://www.phototherm.com/support.html#manuals and download the SK4G manual to read while you're waiting for it to arrive. Even if that is not the correct manual it will give you insight into how Phototherms operate.
You will see that the manual has the new style plastic shell, but the unit on eBay has the older style plastic shell. There should be little difference between them other than the plastic skin. Once you get the unit you can power it up to see what ROMs it has installed. You can tell much more about it then.
The tanks and spindles are somewhat expensive, and Phototherm is the only supplier. They never show up on eBay. Usually if a Phototherm is listed on eBay it is either complete, or the tanks and spindles are lost. I never see only the tanks and spindles, and I watch religiously.
You need to see what generation your unit is before trying to buy a new tank and spindle from Phototherm. The old units do not have a temperature sensor mounted in the tank, only in the internal heating chamber, while the newer units have an additional thermistor in the tank itself. Likewise, the old style tanks have a magnet encased in the plastic housing that keys the fluid volume for the processor using a sensor inside the processor, and this magnet is absent from the new tanks. Your unit is in the transition, so you need to examine it to determine which style to purchase.
Do not waste money on the Phototherm plastic chemical bottles unless you can get them with the eBay auction inexpensively. They are merely plastic 2L bottles with a hole in top for a suction line. Any plastic/glass bottles will work. You will need a large bottle for a water supply, probably 10L. It must not be pressurized, therefore you cannot hook the machine directly to a water main. The same pump draws the wash water and the chemicals, so everything must be in an atmospherically equalized bottle.
If you do not have a drain close by you will also need a drain bucket, also about 10L.
One more item!
I don't know where you're located, but if you are in the south and everything is warm, keep in mind that the Phototherm has heating capacity but no cooling capacity. The developer solution temperature is the only critical variable if you are doing B&W, so I usually mix developer immediately before using using water that I keep chilled.
For example, if your developer is 80F you need to adjust development time. If you mix developer with chilled water immediately before use the processor will heat it to 75F, but it cannot chill it if you have it in a bottle that is at room temp.
If you are doing color work the working temperatures are above room temperature (100F), so the processor will heat them regardless.
When you power up you can get the ROM revision. The tech support folks can tell a lot from that.
You'll need a plug, which is probably with the machine, but since it's detachable it can get lost. I'll measure mine tomorrow morning, and in case you don't have one you can make a replacement using PVC pipe. It is merely a round piece of plastic with an o-ring in a groove.
When you have a suitable plug you can put the machine through all of the test routines without a tank. Things like the clean lines operation and temperature calibration do not use the film tank (but require the plug). In the test mode all of the solenoids and pumps can be tested without mounting a tank.
If yours uses the old style tanks, then the larger and smaller tanks are mechanically the same size, but the two reel tank has an internal divider to make the process chamber smaller and the remainder is empty during use. With the old style tanks there are two magnetic reed switches to detect which tank is loaded on the bed, large or small, and the machine pumps the volume required for the detected tank.
For the new style there is no two reel tank, only a four reel tank. To process two reels a plastic displacer is inserted into the four reel tank along with the two loaded reels. The displacer occupies the volume of missing two reels reducing the chemistry required by raising the liquid level so the film wets properly. At process start the operator indicates if the tank has two reels or four reels.
Tank presence is detected by the magnetic reed switches in the old version. Tank presence is detected in the new style by the electrical contacts for the thermistor. In either case, if the machine does not detect a tank present, it will not start a development cycle.
Without a tank you could fashion a reservoir to hold the process water and trick the machine into running development cycles. If your machine uses the old style tanks, you can trick it with a magnet. If you need new style tanks with the embedded temperature element you can trick the machine with a resistor.
But you can do everything necessary to make sure you've got it working properly before you buy a tank, and it's not hard or expensive to get going. The tank and spindle is the expensive part.
The dump sensor and floating fill valve are nice but unnecessary.
Here is the exact same valve that you would have to put in your own plastic bottle.
For the dump sensor, just watch your waste dump bucket and don't let it overflow. My setup is in an old laundry room, so I let the machine drain out the pipe for the washing machine. I have no dump bucket. But so long as you pay attention you don't need these.
US Plastics has more bottles than you can decide. I suggest you use 2L soda bottles until you get your process flow figured out.
Last edited by michaelbsc; 07-15-2011 at 10:29 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Reason: Add old info for reference. Hope it helps.
Most excellent information. LOL, my Phototherm came with a cork as a plug, but it works well. i need to pick up another as I tend to miss place it from time to time.
I did get 2L bottles from Dollar General and use 5L bottles for my developer. I got 1/4 inch PEX pipe and a 1/4 inch double sided white plastic connector at Lowes, a little heat on the pex and the connector fits in well, and just put a hole in the top of the bottle and it works like a champ. I also found a nice container to put under the phototherm to put the chemical bottles in just in case.