A Podcast Supplement: Bulk Loading

Thanks to a post on the Flickr group, I realise I should have really mentioned actual statistics and figures regarding bulk loading in the podcast. I just made a statement and assumed everyone either already knew I was correct or that people would just believe me. It’s bad academic/journalistic form, and this is my attempt to atone for my sins.

Okay, first, let’s start with an important fact: 100ft of film will supposedly produce about 18 rolls of 36exp (with a bit left over, I tend to find; you could probably use that bit as a short roll at the start to check developing/metering methods). Secondly, I apologise, but I’m British. This means the entirety of this post will be in the British “£”, or Pound Sterling. Yes, the American Dollar might be more universal, but this is how it is, okay? We have nothing else anymore. Leave us our £.

Anyway. Using thedarkroom.co.uk as a reference point (because they not only have such a good range of fresh films, but they also stock a fair few emulsions in bulk):

Richard Edwards, Tailstop fingerflip, July 2012.

Why am I using HP5+ as an example? Because it’s bloody great, that’s why.

In order to buy the same amount of film commercially loaded as you’d get in a bulk loader, you’d have to pay at least £84.08 (although really you’d have to pay £93.44 for two packs of ten and ignore two rolls). If you were buying individual rolls, 18 rolls would cost you £85.32. Either way you’re saving about £25 by buying the bulk roll. Admittedly, that’s money which you’d probably spend on the loader and cassettes first time around, but if this was a process that (like me) you’re 100% committed to, those savings rack up over time.

Delta 100 is even more cost-efficient: the 100ft roll is a high £70.16, but when the 36exp roll is £5.74, you’re still saving £33.16.

That said, if you want to go the eBay route, you can occasionally find some real bargains. I just picked up two 100ft rolls of HP5+ from a guy in Spain for £59 shipped. That’s £170.64 worth of HP5+ (going off the individual roll price) – a total saving of £111.64!

Unfortunately, bulk loading isn’t perfect. The amount of emulsions available in 100ft cans is dwindling, and companies that supply 100ft cans are few and far between. But if you like an emulsion that is available – and you find a place that is convenient for you to buy it from – it’s well worth stocking your fridge up for economic reasons alone. Most black and white films are available in bulk if you know where to look. Colour film is generally harder to find, but some stocks are out there; Fuji list both Velvia 100 and Provia 100F in 100ft rolls on their website, and while Kodak appear to have scrapped the 100ft rolls of Portra since they swapped to their new emulsions, the older ones still crop up in 100ft form on eBay sometimes.

Low Tide.

If I could afford E6 processing, I’d buy tonnes of Velvia 100 in bulk and never shoot anything else.
(This shot is from Velvia 50 – and not even 35mm – but it counts, right?)

However, the flip side of this is that there are some emulsions that are only normally available in bulk rolls. For example, various movie stocks – both negative film such as Double-X and print/duplicating film, such as Eastman Fine Grain 5302 (which I am personally a big fan of) – are never commercially put into standard 35mm canisters for still usage by their manufacturers. While some people are respooling films like these and the “mysterious” Polypan F and selling them on at a profit, having a bulk loader enables you to skip the middleman and buy it straight from the source (or from eBay).

E.I.: 6 ISO

I’m fairly certain this has appeared on these pages before.
However, I love it so much it’s getting another airing.

Eastman Fine Grain 5302, shot at 6ISO in a Leica IIIf.

Of course, there are other reasons you might want to do it; ease of film or camera testing without any sense of loss/waste, guaranteed consistency between rolls, the ability to use non-standard cartridges (like those oh-so-beautiful labyrinthine cassettes we mentioned in the podcast), convenience of changing film lengths to fit your particular need, and so on and so forth. I’m sure there are as many reasons as there are people who do it. For example, one reason I like bulk loading is that I have to cut longer leaders for bottom-loading Leicas anyway, so I might as well roll my own instead of recutting commercially rolled leaders.

At any rate, I hope that clarifies the benefits of bulk loading beyond my initial “BECAUSE IT’S WELL GOOD, YEAH” statements. As much fun as it is doing the podcast – and as good as the feedback we get from it is – it can be hard to coherently convey all the information you intend to. I have the same problem with Youtube demonstrations, documentaries and TV shows. Sometimes nothing replaces writing for clarity, and I expect there will be many occasions in the future where I may step in and do something like this to elucidate a point we touch on in the podcast. I just hope the two mediums can sit side by side and support each other instead of detracting from each other in any way.

And, as always, feel free to comment below or in the Flickr group if you have any questions or anything to add. Remember that while the podcast is a “show” of sorts, without an enriching two-way discourse it will most likely only devolve into Nate and I trying to encourage Simon to buy a Leica, and no one wants that!

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