Easy Reel Loading

Pictorial Planet

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Easy Reel Loading


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Warning: Only load film in total darkness. These pictures were taken as demonstrations.

I have always promoted plastic reels and tanks as the easiest way to load and process the film but I also recommend a small modification.
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Jammed film as I try to get it moving smoothly on the reel

All reels come with two ball bearings, one on each side within each groove. These ball bearings are there to grip the film when pulling it onto the reel with the twisting action. However, they can cause us problems when first starting the film off and in fact can damage the edge of the film, especially the first frame or two.  The film tends to jam against these bearings, some films more than others, especially those with a thicker plastic base. The bearings also get dirty and start to jam up as the reel gets older.
The way round this of course, is to remove these ball bearings and use our fingers to grip the film as we twist the reel. This efficiently pulls the film on without any fear of damaging it.
So, not only is this quicker, but it’s safer too! 
Follow these simple instructions.
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Ball bearing designed for pulling the film on to the reel

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Cover behind bearing, it's only glued

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I carefully cut this off with a modeling knife and remove the bearing from each side. Here it is with the ball bearing out

The cover does not need to be replaced as the reel does not require it to function. 
Now that we have removed the bearings the film will slip onto the reel very easily with no  fear of damaging the film edges.
To load the film (in the dark of course!)

Before you start, make sure that the reel is absolutely clean and dry. I use a toothbrush to clean the reel with warm soapy water between uses and a hair drier to warm and dry any slight dampness immediately before use - even if you think it is dry already! You can also wash reels in the dishwasher but beware, dishwashers can be abrasive and cause the reel to become stickier as the film tries to glide by course grooves. 

Push it into the slot as normal but continue to push (or pull it) at least half way round the reel. Now grip the film with your fingers placed lightly on the outer face as you twist the reel to pull the film on. Alternate which side grips the film as you twist. Don't worry, you will not scratch it.
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Pull the film half way round the reel when first inserted. It will pull on easily now

After pulling the film half way round on the reel, start the twisting action but pull the film on with your fingers, resting them alternately on the film. You will find the film easily loads now.

With 35mm, when you get to the end of the cassette, do not tear the film off but cut it carefully with safety scissors. With 120 medium format carefully tear it from the sticky tape that holds it to the backing paper and fold the tape over to stick to the other side of the film - it will not effect processing. Then finish off loading the reel a full turn to get the film away from the sides of the tank when inserted.

After removing the bearings it's a good idea to use an old film for practice.

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