View Full Version : 4x5 Film Loading. Handling film surfaces, and loading technique? Need your expertise.

17-Sep-2010, 01:41
I am a little bit confused when it comes to loading 4x5 film. I have been trying to load film by pinching the upper right hand corner of the film edges (not touching the emulsion or the backing face of the film). This relies on using the notch to get sufficient grip of the film, and totally avoids contact on either faces of the film. However this appeared to be somewhat clumsy, and a bit frustrating so I set out to research how other people load film. However, to my surprise, a lot of people appear to touch both surfaces of the film (emulsion and/or the backing surface) when loading. I am quite confused now on whether this is or is not appropriate?

1. What is the correct way to handle a film while loading?

2. Which surfaces are safe to touch?

3. What is your method of loading film?

17-Sep-2010, 02:25
I only try to touch the edges of the film but I wear gloves just in case, I don't think there is a problem with touching the emulsion as long as you don't have sweaty hands :D

Bruce Barlow
17-Sep-2010, 03:43
I wash my hands with soap prior to handling, and then try to be careful and avoid the emulsion as much as possible. It's not completely possible for my inherent clumsiness.

That said, I have NEVER seen an artifact (fingerprint) on a negative that I can attribute to clumsiness. Even if I'm sweaty.

Louie Powell
17-Sep-2010, 04:25
1. What is the correct way to handle a film while loading?

2. Which surfaces are safe to touch?

3. What is your method of loading film?

Ideally, you should only touch the edges. This is clumsey, and it's almost inevitable that you will touch the edge of the frame briefly. Just make sure that you hands are clean and dry. With practice you do get better.

Wearing latex gloves will protect the film from your fingers, but will also interfere with your ability to feel and manipulate the film.

My approach is to handle the stack of film to locate the notch. Then, with the holder on the table in front of me, I use my right forefinger to open the flap while touching the holder at the end of the metal strips that hold the film in place. That enables me to use the thumb and middle finger of the right hand to guide the sheet of film to the slots under those metal strips.

After sliding the film into the holder, I use a fingernail to flick the end of the sheet while feeling the end to see if it feels right. If the film is inserted properly, I can sense that it is restrained by those metal strips on both sides. But if the film has slipped over one of the strips (instead of under it), that side of the film will 'flip out' further indicating that I need to take the film out and repeat the insertion process.

eric black
17-Sep-2010, 06:35
Wash hands, dry them, touch as little as possible- I pinch the area of the film that is the last part to go into the holder between my thumb and middle finger to get a good grip and make the process less clumsy- never seen a fingerprint on a final piece of film related to doing this. When loading the holder, if there is the least bit of resistance, something is wrong- start the loading process over.

17-Sep-2010, 06:56
I wash my hands first and then it doesn't seem to matter if I touch the emulsion. The only time I have gotten fingerprints from touching the emulsion was when I used a changing bag and my hands were all sweaty.

Robert Fisher
17-Sep-2010, 06:56
l2oBiN, I wash my hands first and than spash alcohol on both hands and let air dry. No sweat or oil to worry about. Never had a problem.

Gem Singer
17-Sep-2010, 07:55
My method of loading sheet film:

Wash and dry hands completely.

Load on a clean dry surface in total darkness.

Grasp the film firmly by the notched corner, between the right thumb and forefinger, throughout the entire procedure.

Moisture, light, and dust are your enemies.

Bob McCarthy
17-Sep-2010, 08:05
I always assumed fat (fingerprints) and the alkalinity of the developer would take care of each other if the oils weren't too excess. Never had a fingerprint on a developed negative, but I do wash my hands first.

Dust is another issue.


Jack Dahlgren
17-Sep-2010, 08:52
There is absolutely no problem touching the back of the film. With a couple of fingers on the back side and one along each edge you should be able to get a reasonable grip. Also remember that the edge along the notches is typically covered for a couple of millimeters by the film holder so you can get your fingers on that without issue as well.

Samuli Haataja
17-Sep-2010, 12:52
I believe washing hands and drying them is the most important precaution. The surface of modern films from fuji, kodak and ilford seems to be really hard ( I don't know about rollei, adox etc wchich are said to be old style film).

I have never managed to damage the film surface during loading and I've stopped worrying about damaging the emulsion. Fingerprints don't seem to end up in developed negatives and emulsion is not easily damaged by pressing it with fingers. Well, long and sharp finger nails can do damage I guess...

Your real enemy is dust! Try to load in darkroom or if you have to use changing bag clean it often enough.

Dave Moeller
17-Sep-2010, 18:32
I pinch the end if the film between my thumb and either my index or middle finger to pick up a single sheet, and have never damaged a piece of film this way. (My experience includes commonly available major brands as well as the old-school, high silver content films that have a softer surface.) Whenever possible I restrict my handling to the area that's going to end up as the film rebate. When I need to help guide a sheet into a holder, I restrict myself to touching only the back of the sheet.

Like others, I wash my hands thoroughly before I start. I also use alcohol to dry my hands, to avoid picking up lint from a towel.

17-Sep-2010, 22:01
Like most of the folks above, I wash and dry my hands before loading or unloading. Since I am a "righty," I clasp the sheet in the right hand feeling along the edges that the notches are in the top right hand corner. Then feeling the ridges (groves) with the index and middle finger tips on the left hand on both sides of the holder where the sheet slides into, I slide the sheet into the groves using the index finger of the right hand until it is fully inserted. I use Toyo holders exclusively and the flap will not fully close if the film is not correctly inserted so I feel around the flap end and if it is not flush with the rest of the holder then I know the sheet is not correctly inserted on one or both sides.

So far I have not had a finger print appear but I avoid touching the emulsion side as much as possible. The main thing in my experience to be careful of is avoiding sharp flexing of the sheet as it will cause a spark of static electricity to develop on the sheet which will appear on the negative. So handling gently is the rule here.


David Karp
17-Sep-2010, 22:43
Don't worry about touching the emulsion side. I wash and dry my hands, and try to hold the film by the long side. I take my thumb and forefinger and touch one to rails that retain the film. I slide the film under my fingers and, therefore, under the rails. Once enough of the film is under the rails, I push it in with one finger. Sometimes I just leave the two fingers from the other hand over the end of the rails, and just slide the film under my fingers for the length of the film. That never caused a problem. It is almost inevitable that you will touch the emulsion side, either by accident, or something gets snagged, or whatever. Not a single problem so far.

Jerry Bodine
17-Sep-2010, 22:49
Thid video may be useful.


7-Dec-2010, 01:35
Maybe I am the first one, but i do see finger prints on my neg.
With fp4+ i did not see this, but with agfa apx100 and adox film, i do see fingerprints if I hit the surface.

7-Dec-2010, 11:33
When loading film, I open the film box and take all the film out, then turn it 90 degrees to the box and put it back in at an angle so that the short edge without the notch is resting on the bottom of the box and the edge with the notch is sticking up, resting on the top lip. This makes it much easier to pick the film up.
Haven't seen fingerprints on either portra 160 or the ilford b&w films/