Process slides in motel rooms? Why not? During a trip to Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon my son and I did just that each evening. We were going separate ways after the Grand Canyon and that was the only way we could share each others’ slides.
Many people assume slide processing is difficult, that a darkroom is required, or that the results are of lesser quality than lab processing. If you believe any of these, then I have a bargain buy for you – a mint-condition Argus that accepts Nikkor lenses.
On our trip, we processed our film strips within the hour before going to dinner. They were dry upon our return and, in another few minutes, we had them cut and mounted. A table-top viewer enable us to “ah” or “oh-oh” over the day’s shooting. And as you can imagine, more than once during the viewing we determined to go back out the next day and take the same shot with better composition, lighting, or whatever. How many times, after you’ve had vacation slides processed, have you realized certain shots should have been taken differently? We had the chance to do that.
Even when you’re home, wouldn’t you like to see late afternoon slides that same evening? Wouldn’t you like to fight back at soaring film costs by reducing your processing costs? Substantially? My cost for a 36-exposure roll is around 60 cents. You can bet my MacAncestors are resting with wide, wide smiles in that knowledge.
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I’ve been doing my own slides for years and, because frugality has been ingrained into me, I’ve come up with equipment and methods that are simple, and inexpensive – so simple that, when I flew west to meet my son at Las Vegas for the start of our trip, all of the processing paraphernalia easily fit into a small carton which stowed under my seat. That carton would serve an additional purpose, if necessary.
Complete darkness is required for the very short time it takes to transfer the film strip jewelry photography tips from the cassette to the developing tank reel. We anticipated, and were correct, that all our motels would have windowless bathrooms which would provide adequate darkness. Had we encountered one otherwise, the carton would come into play.
At home I have no darkroom, merely a small carton, tape around all edges fpr light-tightness and an access in the front vertical face just large enough to accommodate my wrists and hands – a rigid changing bag, you might say. We were prepared to convert the carton I had brought in the way in case of an uncooperative bathroom.
Once the film is transferred and the reel(s) is in the developing tank, the balance of the processing is done in full light – in about 26 minutes. In the motels, this is done at the vanity counters with wrist watches as timers; at home, I use the kitchen counter and the microwave timer.
The best stroke of luck I’ve had was the discovery of GEPE’s two-reel developing tank. First of all, it has a film loading guide which makes the oft-frustrating transferring operation in darkness easy, quick and foolproof. Buy a cheap black-and-white roll of film to practice with, and in one evening, while listening to your local newscaster enthrall you with the latest murders and arsons, you’ll have acquired the confidence to do the “reel” thing.
Secondly, and this is a time-saver, particularly when you have a number of rolls to do, each reel can take two rolls of film. You can process four rolls in the same 26 minutes by using the same film loading guide and placing the strips back to back, emulsion sides out. This is ascertained in the dark by feel, curl sides out. Again, get two rolls of black-and-white film, tune in that same boring newscaster, and before he’s through you’ll have the knack of double-loading.
However, GEPE’s two-reel tank does have a negative – almost, that is. It requires 26 ounces of liquid chemistry to cover both reels. The most commonly used chemistry kits come in a 16-ounce size, and if you buy 32-ounce kits in order to have enough, you’re wasting the remaining six ounces. Or so I thought until I realized that the cap which comes with the tank makes it spillproof. Since the tank is round, turn it on its side and you now have a manual film drum by rolling it slowly back and forth on the kitchen counter. A 16-ounce kit is all that’s needed after all.
Can’t you just hear my MacAncestors slapping their thighs in frugal glee? Try the GEPE, you’ll like it.
Chemistry kits are offered by Unicolor, Kodak, Beseler and JOBO, that I know of. They all come in liquid form to which you add water for the working solutions. I use Unicolor’s Rapid 3-step kit. It’s difficult to state how many rolls can be processed from a kit because it depends mostly on how many will be done in a certain time period. I have done 12 rolls from a 16-ounce kit.
Beyond the developing tank and the chemistry, you’ll need three bottles, a thermometer, a funnel, scissors, a few spring-loaded clothes-pins, a white cotton glove, slide mounts and a “church key” (can opener) to open your cassettes. My bottles were once 16-ounce hydrogen peroxide brown plastic containers sitting on a pharmacist’s shelf.
I haven’t bought plastic slide mounts for a long time. I realized that club members were discarding many, so I asked if they would save them for me. Of course, I flattered their photography first and then followed by asking for the one or two mounts they might occasionally throw away. It worked. One member brought me a four-pound bag after he called his many slide trays.
Everything with processing isn’t strawberries and cream, though. If you’re a die-hard Kodachrome user, you’re out. It can’t be home processed. Just the Ektachromes, the Fujichromes, the Agfachromes, etc. – films that are labeled, “for E-6 processing” – can be done. You can mix those films together, as well as ASAs, in one developing batch. If you push your exposure, you compensate when the film is in the first developer.
Also, if you just shoot a roll every now and then, it won’t pay to process at home because the chemistry deteriorates with age. If you’re in doubt, why not visit your local photographic emporium and ask to peruse the instruction sheets in the chemistry kits, then determine your situation. I’ve found manufacturers’ cautions to be quite conservative.
Well, that’s it. Processing isn’t difficult and little equipment is needed. It serves money and there’s a certain amount of pride in saying, “I processed these slides myself – an hour ago.” And if you load your own cassettes from bulk film, as I do, you’ll save even more money to spend at windowless-bathroom motels. Slap. Slap. Slap.
Robert Burn is a 10-year member of the Cleveland Photographic Society, which recently celebrated its 100th year. He is the Director, and one of the instructors, of a 10-week course on “Fundamentals of Photography” which the Cleveland Society offers to the public. Robert joined PSA in July 1981.