Quick tip for loading 35mm on a Paterson reel

Quick tip for loading 35mm on a Paterson reel

Martin Wilmsen

With a bit of practice, loading 120 or 135 film onto a Paterson (or other) reel isn't that hard. You will have to do this in complete darkness obviously. The advantage of loading 35mm film onto a reel in comparison to 120 film, is that you can do the first part in the light.

Retrieving the film leader

For this to work, the film leader has to be out of its canister. If you've wound your film all the way back into its canister, then you can retrieve the leader with a special tool. I use a Kaiser film leader retriever myself. There are ways of retrieving the film leader without the use of any specialized tools, but considering how inexpensive these things are, I recommend getting one. Here's a link to a YouTube video showing you how it's done: How to use a Kaiser film leader retriever.

Kaiser film leader retriever
Kaiser film leader retriever

Trimming the film's edges

The first thing I do is trimming the film's edges to make them rounded (see photo). Plastic reels - I use Paterson "auto load" reels - can be a bit finicky and occasionally film can get stuck. Cutting the edges does help to reduce the changes of this happening. Further down are a few tips that may be useful in case you run into problems while loading your film onto the reel in the dark.

Cutting the edges
The film's edges cut off

Loading it on the reel

Now you can simply pull out just enough film so that you can insert it into the reel and then pull it past its ball bearings (photo below). The first part of your film has no exposures on it and the canister itself is light tight, so you won't ruin your film doing it this way. Now that the most nerve wrecking part of loading your film is done, you can move on to the next step.

Cutting the edges
Film on the reel and pulled past the ball bearings
Cutting the edges
You can see the ball bearings at the top

Winding your film

Actual winding the rest of your film has to be done in the dark of course. I use a dark bag to do this. In the dark, I pull out about 10cm of the film, and gently wind it onto the reel until the canister almost touches the reel. Simply repeat this until you reach the end of the film.

Put a pair of scissors in your dark bag

Note that although you can tear of the end the film with a bit of force, I recommend putting a pair of scissors into your darkbag to cut it from the canister. This is lot easier, but more importantly, the last bit of the film has tape on it and it curls inward. Either the tape or the last part of your film can touch an exposed part of your film on the reel. So cutting it off is one less thing to worry about.

Trouble shooting

If you have to use force to wind your film onto the reel, then it's best to stop before the film will get completely stuck or gets damaged. You can't wind the film backward so to start over, your only option is to pull the reel apart and to then remove your film from it. To take the reel apart, firmly hold the left part and then turn the right part clockwise (away from yourself). After you've removed the film, you'll have to put the reel back together in the dark - so it is recommended to practice doing this in the light. However, if you can't put the reel back together in your dark bag or dark room, then carefully put your film into your tank and firmly close the lid. You can then take the reel out of the bag to put it back together in the light.

Cutting the edges
Paterson "auto load" reel taken apart

One last trouble shooting tip

Perhaps reading this tip may save your day some time. I once simply couldn't get a roll of HP5 onto the reel, no matter how often I tried. I finally pulled out all of the film from its canister, and cut it at the end. I then started over again using that side of the film. And it would load instantly. Another argument in favour of putting a pair of scissors in your dark bag (or to keep one nearby if you use a darkroom).


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