The Bulk Loading FAQ

Version 1.1b, Last Modified October 14, 1997

By Josh Wand

Hypertext version is here (and working (finally))!


I. General Information

1.0 What is bulk loading?

Bulk loading is the process of buying film in (approximately) 100 foot rolls and loading it into canisters manually, or via a loader.

1.1 Why bulk load?

1.2 Just how much money can I save by bulk loading?

Quite a bit. For example, to buy Tmax 400 (TMY) in bulk, it costs $29.50 for 100'. You get appx. 18 rolls (36 exp.) from that 100'. To buy 18 rolls separately, at $3.84 a piece, that comes out to $69.12, for the same amount of film.

Bulk film: $1.64 per 36 exp roll Bought film: $3.84 per 36 exp roll

Savings: ~57.3% $39.62 per 100' roll

II. Equipment and Procedure

2.0 What do I need to get started?

You will need the following things:
Bulk film loader
This is usually a plastic apparatus which holds the bulk film, and the cassete being loaded. A small crank pulls the film from the film chamber into the cassete.
Sometimes called cassetes. This is the little yellow thing you get from Kodak-- it hold the film and protects it from light. Most canisters of the reusable type are black. It consists of three parts: The canister housing itself, the spool around which the film is wound, and a cap to hold it all together.
To hold the film to the spool. Any good quality masking tape will do nicely.
Darkroom or changing bag
To load film into the loader. You only need to do this once per 100' roll.
To cut with.

Some people prefer to load their cassetes in a darkroom, by hand, instead of using a loader. They do this because they are particularly worried about scratches on the film. This is not really neccesary, so long as you keep all your equipment dust free, and check your cassetes frequently (especially the light traps).

2.1Which types of loaders should I avoid?

You should definitely avoid any loader that loads film through a felt light trap. Not only can this wear and leak light, but if a piece of grit gets stuck in there, you will have scratches running along the entire length of every roll you load.

2.2 What type of canister should I get?

The canister is the single most important part of the bulk loading setup. It is also probably the cheapest. Three types are available, to my knowledge:

I have tried the two former, and I like the plastic type the best. The "snap" type have a few problems. One, they seem to leak light a lot, and two, the cap seems to, well, "snap" off at the least convenient times.

2.3 Just how much does all of this stuff cost?

These prices are from B+H Photo-Video in NYC, as of Mar, '97.

Watson 35mm Bulk Loader			$14.95
Plastic Cassete				$0.47 ea.
Snap Cassete				$0.34 ea.
Kodak Snap Caps 			$0.99 ea.
Changing Bag 17"x16" (smaller than it
			looks...)	$12.95
	     27"x30"			$21.95

No, you don't need special scissors.

2.4 How exactly DO I do it?

Well assuming you have all the neccesary items, here are the steps to follow:

2.4.1. Insert bulk roll into loader.

This step must be done in complete darkness, either in a darkroom or in a changing bag. Instructions for loading will vary from model to model. These are instructions for the Watson model listed above.

a. Dissasemble light-trap assembly. Do this by unscrewing the knob over the film chamber entirely and pulling out the assembly entirely.

b. Insert both halves of the loader into the change bag (n/a if in darkroom), along with metal film can. It is helpful to remove the adhesive strip before inserting into change bag. Seal the bag.

c. Unwrap film. Take the cover of the can, and extract the bag. Pull the film out of the bag, handling it only by the edges. Make sure to support the core of the reel with your other hand, so it doesn't fall out. Feel around the outside of the film roll for the piece of masking tape holding the roll together. Peel it off, but hold the loose and of the film down so it doesn't unravel. Flip the roll so that the loose end of the film points in a counter clockwise direction:

			       /  -  \
       			      |   o   |
			       \  _  /

d. Now insert the film into the chamber in the loader. Make sure the core is impaled on the rod in the chamber. Often, if the roll is not inserted precisely, the core can be pushed up and out, which is a pain in the butt. Push the loose end of the fim into the slot at the upper left of the chamber.

e. Reassemble the loader. Feel along the outside of the light trap (the part you took out in step a.) for the space in the piece. Line up this space with where you just pushed the film through at the end of step d.

f. Now, hold the core of the roll and pull the loose end of the film so it is taut. This is to insure when you push the light trap back in, the film is on the inside of the light trap. Push the light trap in, and tighten the knob on the outside.

g. The final step is to turn the light trap assembly clockwise until you hear/feel a click. This closes the gate and seals the film chamber from all light.

2.4.2 Loading cassetes

Again the steps below may very from loader to loader, but the concept is the same. This[A can all be done in normal light. (though I would not try it in direct sunlight...)

a. Make sure the light trap is closed: i.e., the assembly is turned all the way clockwise as far as it will go.

b. Open the cover on the flat part of the loader. This is done by pulling up on the lever on the left side of the loader.

c. Take the spool out of the cassete, and turn it so the "male" end is fakcing left.

d. Attach the end of the film with masking tape. Make sure the tape touched both sides of th film and the spool. This will prevent:

e. Slide the cassete housing, very carefully, over the film and the spool. It helps to hold it at an angle to get the film to enter the felt.

f. Attach the lid of the cassete, either by screwing of snapping. If the cassete is the screw in plastic type, make sure that the pointy part of the lid matched up with the felt trap on the cassete.

g. Pull the cassete towards the crank end of the loader. Insert it into the hole/depression at the end, and rotate the crank until it catches on the female end of the spool.

h. Make sure the notches on the rollers align with the perforations on the film. Holding the dial-like thing at the far left on the outside of the loader and pressing it in, make one test rotation until you hear a click.

i. Close the top of the loader, and make sure it is fully closed. Then turn the light trap counterclockwise until the pointy thing on it is parallel with the top of the loader. This opens the light trap. Do NOT open the lid at this stage, or you will be out a large amount of money.

j. Turn the crank, and count the number of clicks. Each click = appx. one frame.

[note: Sometimes the film skips off the sprockets in the loader. Some people will simply count the number of crank revolutions to get their desired roll length. For 36 frames, about 31-32 revolutions is adequate, including leader. (Thanks to Gary Hunt!)]

k. When you are done, turn the light trap clockwise until it locks. Open the lid, cut the film, and close the lid.

l. Cut your desired style of leader, depending on your camera. Most use a standard leader. Holding the cassete with the film coming towards you, cut like you are making an 'r'.
Just examine another roll of film, and copy it.

Note: Now I know this looks rather complicated and time consuming. But it's really not. I used a great amount of detail to avoid the reader from making any mistakes that could happen. I provided steps that were just to insure that certain things didn't go wrong. One you get the hang of it, it goes like a flash.

2.5 How many frames should I leave for a leader?

Generally, you should leave 4 frames for the leader. For example, If I wanted 36 frames, count off 40 clicks on the loader.

2.6 Don't I lose frames at the end of the roll?

Yes. You can lose anywhere up to five frames at the end of the roll, even when you're being extemely careful. This is because of when the film was exposed to light when you were attaching it the the spool. To avoid this, do all steps in a darkroom or change bag.

III. Processing

3.0 Will my camera set the film speed for me?

No. DX coding does not work with bulk loaded canisters. There are DX stickers available, but I haven't tried them, nor have I any information as to how well they work. Next revision, perhaps.

3.1 Will my camera's motor drive rip the end of the film off the spool?

Yes, if you don't tape the film securely enough. See 2.4.2, step d.

3.2 Can I take my bulk loaded film to my local 1-hour lab?

Well, some minilabs have no problem with the stuff. But many won't accept it, because either the tape gums up their machines, or they don't trust the information about the film that you give them. When in doubt, ASK.

3.3 Can I take it to a pro lab?

Yes. If you don't process your film yourself, you should take it to a pro lab. It is really the only way to get reliable processing of bulk film.

3.4 Should I expect my canisters back?

If you take it to a minilab, pray.
If you take it to Kodalux or Qualex, don't even bother asking.
If you take it to a pro lab, they should bring them back to you in good condition.

3.5 Can I do my own processing?

Yes. This is the best way to get your bulk film processed. If you intend to reuse your cassetes, though, don't use a can opener.

3.6 Can I reuse my canisters?

Yes. The most important thing about bulk loading is cleanliness. You must keep everything dust free. If scratches start showing up on your film, then throw out the canister it was in. Cassetes are cheap. Keep your loader free of dust, too.

IV. Acknowledgments

Special thanks to:

This FAQ has been accessed times since10/12/97.


Josh Wand / / Newton, MA

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