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Loading sheet film holders in 9 easy steps (4×5″)

Large format photography means working on sheet film, nowadays the common initial size is 4×5″. Beyond that even bigger dimensions are available: 13×18 cm, 5×7″, 18×24 cm, 8×10″ and further sizes. All of them are usually sold in lightproof boxes. Instead of loading a camera with ready for use 35 mm or roll film you first need to insert sheet film into an appropriate sheet film holder. A sheet film holder looks like a flat black cartridge and has two dark slides (each on one side) which are separated by a centered partition. Thus it can comprise two sheets of film.
The crucial factor is to load the film holders in absolute darkness in order to avoid an unexpected exposure. Therefore a darkroom (without any lighting), a mobile changing room or changing bag can be used. Handling the film material in the dark is facilitated by specific notches that are cut off one short side. On the one hand these notches mark the precise film type on the other hand they indicate on which side the emulsion is affixed.

Loading sheet film holders tutorial

Step 1: Release the dark slide halfway from the film holder. Clean if fuzzy. – © Überlicht

Loading sheet film holders tutorial

Step 2: The flap at the film holder bottom is movable by now. – © Überlicht

Loading sheet film holders tutorial

Step 3: Open the flap backwards. – © Überlicht

Loading sheet film holders tutorial

Step 4: Make sure the sheet film notches always point to the upper right corner. – © Überlicht

Loading sheet film holders tutorial

Step 5: Place the sheet film into the lowest guide rail of the film holder. Be careful not to touch the emulsion. – © Überlicht

Loading sheet film holders tutorial

Step 6: Film should fit into the rail without getting stuck. – © Überlicht

Loading sheet film holders tutorial

Step 7: Close the flap, when film is slid in completely. – © Überlicht

Loading sheet film holders tutorial

Step 8: Push the dark slide back in order to fix the flap and close the sheet film holder. – © Überlicht

Loading sheet film holders tutorial

Step 9: Lock the dark slide so as to avoid accidental opening. – © Überlicht

Remember to accomplish the loading in entire darkness. The procedure is the same with larger formats than 4×5″. When having inserted the film holder into the camera, don’t forget to remove the dark slide before exposing and to replace it again afterwards.

Now, have fun shooting large format film!


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