View Full Version : 4x5 holder light leaks

Lon Overacker
27-Mar-2006, 16:07
I'm hoping someone here can identify the source of some light leaks I've recently had. Below are the 3 examples.

I've used the same Riteway 4x5 holders for more than 10 yrs and don't every recall dealing with any kind of light leaks - of course the major light leak when I forget to close the lens prior to pulling the dark slide... :-)

But some things have changed recently. I just got a Zone VI field camera. After a few outings with new camera I didn't like how tight the camera back was when loading the film holders, so I've loosened the springs a bit. But still the inserting and removal of the holders is still pretty stiff.

So, could the holder not be seated tight enough in the camera back? Was the film perhaps not loaded properly, by not being under the guide rail? Or could one or more film holders have a faulty flap? The leaks are at the top of the film where the notch is on either side, and also at the flap end of the holder.

Any advice or suggestions would be appreciated. BTW, I've got 13 holders and not looking forward to trying to figure out which one or two might be bad. I'm hoping it's the tightness of the camera back springs and I can just tighten it back down.



Malcolm Stewart
27-Mar-2006, 17:43
I've had light leak problems twice. Once was with a Polaroid 545 back which wasn't seating its ridge correctly in the camera's groove, and the other was with film holders. I cured the 545 problem by taking a file to the edges of the camera's ground-glass frame wings, and removed about 1/8" of metal which was preventing correct seating.

I assume you've numbered your film holders. I thought I had the same problem with some MPP holders from the 1950s. It turned out to be just the one holder, and keeping that out of circulation stopped the problem. My faulty holder feels identical to those which don't leak light.

Caroline Matthews
27-Mar-2006, 18:46
I this is only from one holder, it's likely it's the holder (assuming you've used several holders as well). If it's happening with several holders, it's probably the camera. If it's a single holder, I'd see if it could be repaired or throw it out. If it's the camera, have it repaired or return it to the seller. Good luck--it's unfortunate when you waste film and time.

Lon Overacker
27-Mar-2006, 18:49

Actually, I haven't numbered my holders. I guess I should. But this I assume, means I should be documenting a description of each shot along with the holder number. Perhaps this may be better as a separate topic, but what are others doing? I certainly understand that unless you know which image was in which holder, you'd have a difficult task in narrowing down which holder was the culprit.

I often wish I was recording information about the image, f/stops, shutter speeds, filters used, description of scene etc. Could anyone share any best practices, along with my light leak problem? Do you keep a log while in the field?


27-Mar-2006, 19:21
I found this page a while ago - it may helpful in identifying if it's a film holder or the camera:


Ralph Barker
27-Mar-2006, 19:42
Lon, if I'm interpreting your scans correctly, the leak appears to be happening at the loading end of the holder, just about at where the side guide rail starts. The fact that the leak starts at the edge of the film suggests that the holder might have a crack along the edge. The other possibility is that the leak is taking place post-exposure, either as a result of a pinhole in the plastic bag, or edge damage to the holding box. (Note that the leak appears to overlap the shadow of the film edge guide.)

To check the holders, I'd suggest placing a strong light below an opaque surface in which a small hole has been made. Placing the holders against the opaque surface with the dark slides pulled should show any side leaks when the edge is moved over the little light hole.

Brian Ellis
27-Mar-2006, 20:04
My guess is that you have one or two holders that have slightly different dimensions than the others or that in some other way are very slightly different and that after loosening your back this holder(s) no longer seats quite right. So before trying to trace the problem to a particular holder I'd first return the back to its original sprung tension and see if that fixes the problem. If you do end up having to test all 13 holders cut some enlarging paper into 4x5 or smaller sheets and use it rather than wasting 26 sheets of film. Enlarging paper has an EI of about 3-5 so you'll need long exposures to test for light leaks.

I don't think the problem is improper loading. When I've missed the correct guide rail I usually know it as soon as I expose the film and try to put the dark slide back in the holder. The dark slide doesn't want to go back in the holder because it's striking part of the top edge of the film. If I try to force it in then the film just buckles and flips out of the holder. So I think that if you weren't getting the film under the guide rail you'd know it.

John Brownlow
27-Mar-2006, 21:18
All three leaks are from exactly the same spot in the middle of the holder along one of the long sides. It's not a *subtle* leak by any means.

A simple way to check for this which has worked on much more subtle leaks for me is to go into the darkroom and set up the camera. Close the shutter, and put a flashlight inside the camera body -- a maglite in 'candle' mode (ie with he lens off) is good but remember the bulb gets hot. Mount the Riteways one by one, turn out the light and wait for your eyes to adapt. You should see the problem eventually.

I doubt if it's the spring back tension but you never know. My bet is one of the Riteways, or the back itself, has a chip or protrusion.

Doremus Scudder
28-Mar-2006, 01:21
I agree that it seems to be a single light leak from one holder only, and in the same place in each of the three scans.

If I remember correctly, I had a similar problem some time ago. The offending holder was one with a joint in the housing (where two parts abut) at this position on the holder. I fixed it by filling/gluing the loose joint with jet-black PVC pipe cement. This is opaque, so it cemented and filled the leak at the same time.

On the related subject of numbering film holders. Do get in the habit of numbering your holders and keeping good field notes. I also make a note of every light leak that happens by holder number. Some of them are the fault of the holder, some mine, some from unexplainable sources. But, if a holder number shows up consistently, and the leak has the same configuration, you can try to repair it or discard the guilty holder.

I file a notch code into the flap of every holder that shows up on the film, making every negative easy to identify by holder number. In the field, every set up gets a sheet in the exposure record, along with holder number(s), exposure info, development info, reciprocity corrections, filtration, etc. This has been invaluable not only for keeping track of things, but in identifying and correcting problems like light leaks, etc. as well.

Good luck

28-Mar-2006, 10:21

I'm actually new to LF, but I've started from the beginning to take notes about everything that seems relevant to me for each shot. I found that I did not leave enough space initially to add further information. The information (curently) includes: date/time, exposure AND metering(s), subject, number of the (numbered) film holder, film type, any problems, development (currently only the lab, but if developed myself, I'd add the chemicals and times), file name of the scan (if scanned), further observations. This allows me to track down any mistakes I've made (and there's enough room to make them in LF, especially if beginning). I have also observed very similar light leaks on more than one of my used film holders, but I'd like to retest them before deciding wether it's my own fault or the film holder.

Best regards, Remigius.

Lon Overacker
28-Mar-2006, 12:01
I want to thank everyone for their comments and suggestions.

I will now be numbering my holders and have actually taken one of them and modified the inside of the flap with a notch as mentioned by a couple of people. Thanks for the web link Phil (http://www.jbhphoto.com/articles/filmholder1.htm) what an ingenious idea! I've just marked the one now to make sure my file work didn't screw up the holder and create more light leaks.

I also developed a method for recording information in the field. In years past, I had taken field notes, exposure, lens, film, etc. etc., but got frustrated because in the end I had no idea which slide, went with which holder and with what notes... especially after longer shoots like a trip to the eastern sierra for fall color. I didn't know of a way to track film to holder and all the relevant info, so I eventually didn't bother.

So, while certainly not a perfect system, I created a simple spreadsheet with columns for all the relevant data - date, holder#,film,lens,shuttersp,aperture,filters,location, notes etc. The size is such that I pasted these to some thin matt board and cut out in to 4x6 inch sizes. There's enough lines for 13 entries. Double-side it and I can make entries for 26 shots.... conveniently on purpose because I have 13 holders. The matt base provides a hard surface to write on and the card fits nicely in to one of my vest pockets. So when I've finished exposing the 26 and it's time to unload and load, this info-card goes with this batch. I made up about 20 of these cards, so I'm good for a while. So with numbering the holders and using the notch system, I can now have a reliable system for tracking information about each image that I had previously not been able to do.

Getting back to the leak... I also took several of your suggestions. I set up the camera with lens attached (closed). Took a small maglight, removed the lens, and used a soft piece of foam about 3" square, cut a slit in the middle to hold the flashlight - this way it's not rolling around inside the bellows. With the flashlight inside, I loaded and tested every holder I had and each and every one is light-tight. Oh yeah, I also re-tighted the spring back to original tension, which may solve my problem since I could see no light outside the camera. Of course I did this in the dark...

I'm thinking more and more this was a film holder seating problem caused by lack of tension on the back. Actually, the light leak has to be on more than one holder, because all 3 images were taken on the same day, and I did not reload any film. Also, the location of the leak is NOT in the exact position on each one. If you notice, 2 of them are in the same location where there is no notch at the top of the film. The third image shown, with the sky, has the light leak on the opposite side as the other 2; the film code notch shows in this image.

So, it's time to load some for film and do some testing. With a system for recording information in the field, I will at least have the ability to troubleshoot a holder problem, if I have one.

Thank you again for your help and suggestions!

James E Galvin
30-Mar-2006, 10:32
I note that the leak crosses over the shadow of the holder film guide rail. I think the leak was not done while the film was in the holder. If the problem was a leak between the holder and the camera, then the guide rail would have cast its shadow. Look rather to film box leak, or some other film handling problem, not the camera or holders.

John Brownlow
30-Mar-2006, 10:46
One of the many advantages of Grafmatic backs is that (in my experience anyway) they are immune to light leaks, as well as holding the film extremely flat, and being very quick to use.