When digital cameras first started to gain momentum in the early 21st century, they came with many conveniences over film, one of which was eliminating the recurring cost of buying film and having it developed. With a digital camera, once you pay for the camera, every photo you ever take from that day forward has no additional cost.
Shooting film is, and has always been expensive, and in some cases is even more expensive today as the few remaining film stocks carry premium prices, and lab development costs have skyrocketed, so for someone who still regularly shoots film, you need to find ways to minimize the cost factor. Developing your own film at home is a great way, but beyond that, bulk loading is another great option.
Of course, saving money through bulk loading is hardly a secret. Photographers have been doing this since the very first cameras were built, yet it surprises me how many people have never tried it. Bulk film is still easily available today through places like the Film Photography Project, Adorama, and other film supply stores for between $50 – $100 depending on stock. As an alternative, expired rolls of film stocks that are no longer being made are widely available on eBay and etsy for purchase. Although expired, this film almost always is still usable, albeit with a slight change of exposure.
In this week’s edition of Keppler’s Vault, we take a look at an article from the August 1964 issue of Popular Photography written by Cora Wright, who covers the basics of how it’s done. Cora covers three different loaders, the Watson 66B, Lloyd Bulk Loader, and the pre-loaded ANSCO Easy Loader. Coincidentally, of those three, I have a Watson and Lloyd loader, along with an Alden 74 loader.
Between the 3 types of bulk loaders I’ve used, I much prefer the Watson and Alden designs as they not only have an easy to use exposure counter so you can measure how much film you are loading into the cassette, but they also don’t rely on a felt lined film trap like the Lloyd which can very easily scratch your film. I bought each of these 3 loaders on eBay for no more than $10 – $20 each, and if you’re lucky, sometimes you can even find them with a partial roll of film still inside!
The article also covers which types of film cassettes are reloadable. The earliest 35mm cassettes were of the “Leica” style in which the entire thing was made of metal and it had door that was opened and closed via a lock in the bottom plate of the camera it was installed into. In the mid 20th century, many manufacturers sold reloadable cartridges with screw or snap on tops that could easily be opened for installing film, but many commercially available cassettes could be used as well. In the previous image to the right, I have both a Nikon branded metal cassette, along with two commercial Kodak cassettes that can be easily opened.
The article closes with a handy checklist of things to do before, during, and after loading, along with a price list at the very end of what bulk film cost back in 1964. Boy, would I love to buy 100 feet of Panatomic-X for $8.25! Aside from the price list, nearly all of the information in this article is still relevant today. Cora Right wrote this article in the hope of convincing more people to give bulk loading a try, and I hopefully my efforts of republishing it here can do the same thing!
All scans used with permission by Marc Bergman, 2019.