If you could automate your film processing, would you?

Discussion in 'Darkroom Equipment' started by BHuij, Oct 25, 2017.

  1. BHuij

    BHuij Member

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    I posted this over on Reddit as well, but wanted to inquire here as well. The Reddit analog sub is a good place to get feedback from people who are shooting a lot of 35mm C-41, but I suspect APUG has a more mature user base, and probably a much higher percentage of photogs developing their own films at home rather than outsourcing to a lab. Without further ado, here goes:

    My brother and I are considering Kickstarting a unit similar to a Jobo, which does rotary processing for films from 35mm (or smaller) up to 8x10. The idea is that you can customize your steps by order of chemicals, time, and temperature. You load your film into the developing tank, fill up the chemical reservoirs in whatever order you want them to go, and then press go. Come back in 25 minutes or whatever and your film is ready to hang up to dry. Could be used for B&W, C-41, E-6, or even RA4 prints if you wanted.

    Personally I've been using rotary processing for my own 4x5 work (and a hand tank for roll films), and I'm very happy with the results. But since the process is manual, I get tired of standing around waiting for 12 minutes of dev time (or what have you) and then switching out the chemicals. It would be nice to be able to set it and forget it so I could use that time for something else (like darkroom printing) while the film goes on its own in the background. In my head I imagine being able to process an entire vacation worth of 4x5 sheets in the background while I work on darkroom printing, with a minimum of interruptions - just trading out the film for an undeveloped sheet about every half hour.

    We're aiming for the lowest possible price point to make this accessible to casual hobbyists, which I think is where we find our niche in the market - automatic film processing units exist already (i.e. Jobo), but they ain't cheap and usually they're quite large. So far, we're on track to be under the $300 mark, and the unit should fit on top of your average bathroom sink. I'm just wanting to do a little market research to gauge interest in the idea before we spend any more money on prototyping. We're in the early stages of design and prototyping, with very promising results so far (and a lot of work yet to do) Feedback would be welcome from my fellow film shooters.

    To the mods, hopefully this post doesn't violate the rules of the forum. The film community is one I love to be a part of, and I'm just wanting to get some feedback on our idea. If we do decide to take this to market, I hope to help spread the news about the Kickstarter here as well. Thanks all!

    TL;DR: My brother and I are designing a "set it and forget it" film processing unit for all formats up to 8x10, it should be under $300. Is this interesting to anyone besides me?
     
  2. barzune

    barzune Member

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    At a $300 price point, I'd be interested.
     
  3. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I would be interested if it could be used for colour film processing, and with Paterson reels.
     
  4. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    My Jobo is automated enough for me.
     
  5. OP
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    BHuij

    BHuij Member

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    My immediate thought when I first starting looking into how I could get this to work with roll films was to standardize around the Paterson style reel. They're they easiest kind to load (arguably), and pretty ubiquitous. If we can make it work without compromising our price point, we will standardize around the Paterson reels for non-sheet films. I personally use steel reels, so my goal is that the dev tank will work reliably regardless of what type of reel you put into it. We'll find out through prototyping if that's realistic or not.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2017
  6. Mr Bill

    Mr Bill Member

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    Just fyi, there was someone else looking into a similar thing fairly recently. I believe they were business students, or something of the sort, doing a school project. (I don't think there was an actual intention to build a unit, but rather doing research and making a business plan.) At any rate, I believe they did some surveys, which might be linked to in this thread.

    https://www.photrio.com/forum/threa...-new-film-processor-looking-for-stats.143662/

    Best of luck.
     
  7. jvo

    jvo Subscriber

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    hmmm - no small feat! Although i don't really dread loading and processing film, and i do see it as integral to the creative process,

    i'd be interested in hearing more. my concerns would certainly be cost, but more important would be reliability, flexibility, maintenance, and size of the unit.

    good luck!
     
  8. Svenedin

    Svenedin Subscriber

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    There are stainless steel reels that fit Paterson tanks and centre spool. Hewes make them and that's what I use.
     
  9. Andrew O'Neill

    Andrew O'Neill Subscriber

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  10. Anon Ymous

    Anon Ymous Member

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  11. OP
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    BHuij

    BHuij Member

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    Thanks for the heads up--

    I spent some time looking around for potential "competition" here early on. I was convinced I wasn't the only person to have this idea. While I did find a few other similar things, the two "standouts" were 1) a one-off custom built unit that a guy made for himself, and a few photoblogs like Petapixel wrote articles about it, but he had no intention of going to market, and 2) a unit that retailed for around $700 back in 2012, looked pretty great, and was not available to the US market; also out of stock everywhere (presumably the company folded).

    Did not see this thread. I wish this guy luck, but I also think I can beat his price point. I'm also not sure if this is an exercise for his business degree or an idea he's passionate about, since the last update was in early April. This is an idea I'm passionate about, whether it ends up being a fun DIY project for myself and nobody buys one, or I do a single production run on Kickstarter and make a little bit of money, or the market response is fantastic and I turn it into a longer-term business venture.

    Appreciate everyone's feedback thus far! Please feel free to ask any questions you may have, and I'll do my best to answer them.
     
  12. OP
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    BHuij

    BHuij Member

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    A similar reply came through on Reddit - reliability and repeatability. These two things are of course paramount. We spend so much time dialing in our processes for the Zone System or what have you, that without super tight tolerances on agitation consistency, temperature, and timing, the machine becomes useless. I totally get that.

    Flexibility is another thing that I'm paying very close attention to as we design. The goal is full customizability - without compromising on simplicity to the extent possible. I don't want the machine to be intimidating to the new shooter, and I don't want it to be limiting to the experienced darkroom veteran. Conceptually, you have 10 steps to work with. You put whatever chemicals you want in each step (or leave as many as you want empty), and set a time and agitation scheme for each step. That could be water presoak, developer, rinse water, photo-flo, blix, caffenol, selenium toner, or any other liquid with viscosity comparable to water. The temperature in the current design iteration is adjustable but universal per process, because I couldn't think of a use case where you needed different chems at different temps for the same film. But if all goes well, nobody will see the machine and say "I can't do my process in that machine."

    Size is far from nailed down at this point, but for numerous reasons, smaller is better. Currently I believe we will be able to get it to fit easily on the average bathroom sink. I have access to my father's darkroom in another city, but when I'm at home with my wife, my pop-up darkroom is a small bathroom, so I understand the value of compactness. I get by for darkroom printing in there, but only just barely :wink:
     
  13. Cholentpot

    Cholentpot Member

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    At $300 it's viable. Even if only for C-41. If there would be allowances for changing processing time for C-41 even better. I'm cheap so I use my kits way beyond recommended. I don't really enjoy home processing C-41 or E-6. Between the temp control and expensive chemicals I can do without it. However it does save quite a bit of money so I'll keep developing from kits.

    An automated machine would be nice though. Fill up and walk away, sounds like a dream.
     
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  15. Svenedin

    Svenedin Subscriber

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    In my case I don't see the need for a machine to process B&W roll films. It really is not much effort and I usually process multiple rolls in the same tank. For sheet film (which I do not use) I can see this could save time if the user can only process one sheet at a time manually. In such a case they could be getting on with something between sheets by automating the process. For colour, it is so cheap for me to send it out that it isn't worth my while developing at home for the few rolls of it I use each year. The lab I use charges £2.99 per C41 film but the Tetenal kit for 12 films is £30 and it would go off before I even used it to full capacity.
     
  16. OP
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    BHuij

    BHuij Member

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    I feel exactly the same way. Although I haven't experimented with pushing/pulling C-41 or E-6, I do develop both at home. I've gotten reasonably good results in my hand tank, but lack the patience to be really really careful about temperature control throughout the whole process (it's stressy enough compared to B&W as is), and as a result I usually end up with color casts. This machine should eliminate the human factor, but also be 100% flexible so you can define all your own times and agitation for each step if you want to push or pull.
     
  17. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Temperature control and automated process step timing, agitation and solution fill and empty would be enough for me. I would be happy to stand over the machine and pour the next needed solution into the fill reservoir when needed.
    It would be good if you could set it up to retain for re-use at least two and preferably three chemicals. That would be environmentally wise, economy wise, and well suited for us who like to use replenished developers and re-use fixer and bleach.
    A super gentle agitation mode and the ability to use the Mod 54 sheet film insert would be good too.
     
  18. OP
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    BHuij

    BHuij Member

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    Yeah, I don't think this is necessarily a machine that every single photographer would want. It comes down to how much time you personally want to spend on hand developing, what you shoot, how much volume you shoot, etc. I consider myself a fairly low volume shooter, but sheet film development is time consuming enough for me that I definitely want to automate it. YMMV. Wish I was lucky enough to have a lab that would develop C-41 for $3/roll haha. I used to work at a lab and even with my 'former employee' discount I'm at like $5/roll for C-41, more for E-6.
     
  19. OP
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    BHuij

    BHuij Member

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    Great ideas!

    Each "step" in the process has the option of returning to the original reservoir for re-use, or going down the sink if it's one-shot developer, or something like presoak water. So you can keep your chemistry for multiple uses or not, your choice. For B&W I use HC-110 and Rodinal one shot, so I'd dump that after use. But for C-41/E-6 obviously you'd want to keep it. Same goes for people running replenished Xtol, D-76, etc.

    Agitation will probably have "presets" for slow, standard, fast, but there's no reason for us not to include a continuously variable setting for those who want it, where you can set your own RPMs (or even none at all if you're stand developing, for example).

    I hadn't considered making the Mod54 insert an option, but with the tube design as it currently stands, you're good for up to 4 sheets of 4x5 in the tube anyway, and it should be no more difficult to load the tube directly than it is to load a Mod54.
     
  20. Cholentpot

    Cholentpot Member

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    I horde all my exposed C-41 in the freezer until I have enough to justify buying a kit and then I develop it all in a matter of a few days. So once a year just about I develop all my C-41 that I accumulate. I get about 24 rolls out of a standard kit before weird things start to happen. At around 24 rolls I switch over to junk expired stuff and can get about another 10 rolls out of the kit.
     
  21. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    the closest thing to automation i would do and have done
    is put the film in containers and pour developer in there and leave the room for 1/2 hour ...
    its nore really automation
     
  22. EdSawyer

    EdSawyer Member

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    I am not a customer as I've already got a Phototherm SSK-4, which it sounds like you are trying to emulate somewhat. Allow me to be skeptical:

    $300? no. just not happening. Maybe multiply by 5 to 10 and you might be in the ballpark of what it should cost to do right, considering development costs and everything related to starting up something like this. Temp sensors, motors, pump, custom(?) programming and electronics, custom(?) plastic molded pieces - just the parts alone will be well over $300, even in quantity.

    Competition: the entire used market of Jobo ATL1000/1500, Phototherms, other Jobos, the new Filmomat from europe, and other solutions. Some of which are not much more money (a used Jobo or Phototherm can be had for < $1k if careful about shopping), and are a known quantity vs. a home-brew kickstarter thing on an (unrealistic) budget.

    Do you have a history of well-run kickstarter projects? If not, expect serious skepticism and potentially not meeting your goal. Manufacturing is hard.

    Not to rain on your parade too much but I just don't see this as realistic, at least given the parameters outlined above.

    FWIW, using the SSK4 for C41, and all chemistry as 1-shot except for bleach, I am at under $1/roll for chemistry costs. It's way more economical and better quality than a lab.

    good luck
    -Ed
     
  23. Michael Firstlight

    Michael Firstlight Member

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    It wold be great if someone could make a reasonably priced system with the capability of a Photh-Therm Sidekick SSK-4V (http://www.phototherm.com/sk8rh.html) for up to two reels of 120/220 or 4 reels of 35mm and and option for 4x5 sheets. Many of us have Jobo CPAs/CPPs, and would love a Sidekick, but new they run $7K USD (somewhere between $1200-$3000 for older used models in online auctions), its beyond reach of most. Maybe something like the Jobo ATL-500 (which seem to be very rare) at an affordable price. The Filmomat (https://www.filmomat.eu) is really nifty and coming to the USA soon with 110V power support, but at nearly $3K USD is also a financial stretch. Film is undergoing a growing resurgence, but many are enthusiasts doing only low volume. Pro lab cost by mail is around $11 for a 120/.220 roll and includes scanning ($6 with 48hr turn-around develop only for me locally), so its hard to justify an expensive automated film processor - hence why I own a CPP2 for low volume film and prints over 11x14" (for 11x14" and below I have an Fujomoto CP32 dry-to-dry processor). So, someone is going to get a clue sooner or later and serve the (relatively) low volume analog enthusiast. Many people seem to have no problem shelling out $800-$1500 for CPAs/CPPs, so an automatic processor in the $1000-$2000 USD range would likely sell like hotcakes.

    MFL
     
  24. BMbikerider

    BMbikerider Member

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    NO! It would take the fun out of darkroom work
     
  25. adelorenzo

    adelorenzo Subscriber

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    The automated Filmomat processor is 2600 EUR so over $3000 US dollars. A Jobo CPP-3 that is not fully automated goes for even more than that, and that is before you buy film tanks.

    If you can do a fully automated processor for 10% of those prices I'll be astounded, and definitely would buy one.
     
  26. CMoore

    CMoore Subscriber

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    Just a knee-jerk reaction on my part, but I cannot imagine making this machine fro anywhere near 300 bux.....much less selling it for 300.
    Am i way off base.?
     
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