Friday, October 16, 2009

Shoot Through The Sprockets! Or, Using 35mm Film in a Holga.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to play with the Holga-brand 35mm film adapter for the 120 format camera. I'm going to describe how I hacked it to shoot clear out to the sprocket holes and widened the frame to 2 1/4". The second half of the post touches on another way to cram a 35mm film reel into the Holga, using bits of foam to hold the spool in place.

First method using Holga 35mm Kit:
So, here's what the kit consists of. A camera back with no red viewing window, to replace the one the camera comes with, and a film mask that holds the 35mm spool in place and helps guide the film onto a 120 reel. It's pretty basic, and I'm not sure if it's really worth the $11, but the film mask does do a great job of holding the 35mm reel, and it's more elegant than the second method I'll be covering.

So, you'll notice that the film mask is cropped to a normal 35mm image size. Lame. That's not at all why I want to shoot 35mm film in the Holga. We're gonna cut into this mask and open it up to not only shoot out into the sprocket holes (totally rad looking), BUT we're also going to widen it up to take advantage of the Holga's 2 1/4" width. That way we get negatives that are panorama-wide and get the characteristic blurring and falloff towards the edges that Holgas are known for.

Get a new blade on your utility knife, and patiently and gently score along the raised inside edge of the film guide on the 35mm mask. Keep doing this, a couple dozen times, until you've cut through to the back side. Don't hurry this part, just apply enough pressure to go a little deeper with each cut.
When you've done the horizontal edges, flip the mask over and cut along the inside edge, opening the mask up to the full width.
When you've cut away all four sides, you'll hopefully wind up with this:

If you're cuts were a little messy, just smooth the edges with a nail file or some fine sandpaper. Film emulsion scratches very easily, so be sure there's no pokey bits.
Okay. Super. Now we get to toss some film in this bad boy.

Cut off the film leader at a 90° angle.

Put the spool of 35mm film into the camera, and draw out enough film to touch the 120 spool on the other side. Using tape, attach the film to the empty spool.

Here's the new camera back supplied with the kit. Mine does not fit all that well on the back of my Holga, and I suspect that it leaks light quite a bit, so you might want to use black electrical tape to cover up the seams.
So there's the first method for loading 35mm film into the Holga. If you don't have the 35mm film adapter kit, read on:
Second Method without kit:

You'll need a bit of upholstery foam or any kind of squishy, springy foam.

Depending on the density of the foam, cut out 1" cubes of foam, and place on the top and bottom of the left film reel chamber.

Cram your 35mm roll of film between the two cubes of foam, and pull out enough film to touch the 120 film spool on the other side. As in the first method, square off your film leader, and tape to the empty 120 film spool.
Cut another bit of foam, this time about 2 1/2" long, a little less than an inch or so wide, and a half-inch deep. Place this on top of the two cubes and the roll of 35mm film. Next, using black electrical tape, cover both the front and the back of the viewing window. 35mm film does not have a paper backing like 120 film, so light can and will enter the red viewing window and expose your 35mm film unless it is totally light-tight.
Now put the back on the camera, smooshing the film a bit, and everything should be held together pretty firmly. Now tape up the sides to seal out any errant light leaks. Or not, if that's the effect you're after.
Advancing the film in the camera:
There is a very helpful list over at the Photon Detector website that gives the correct number of clicks to advance the film in the camera, and since there's no frame numbers that we can see, counting clicks is the best way to ensure that we don't have overlapping frames. Again, unless that's the effect you're after!
Basically, I advance 45 clicks after loading the film to get to the first frame, then about 37 clicks between the next few frames, then 36 for a couple, then 34 for a couple, then 33 for one or two, then 32, 30 and then 29 once I start to get to the very end. I've never followed the spreadsheet all that carefully, I just know that as more film is taken up onto the take-up reel, the more film is moved with each click.
It works pretty well as long as I know approximately where I am in the roll.
Unloading the film from the camera:
The Holga has no way of rewinding film back onto the original spool. That's because 120 film does not need to be rewound, it just moves from one reel to another and the paper backing blocks out light. But we're going to have to get all that film back into the 35mm spool, and that has to be done in the dark.

So, get out your trusty changing-bag, or head into your darkroom, or get under the covers in your bed, and peel the tape off your camera. Once you're in the dark, pull off the back of the camera, pop out the 120 and the 35mm spools. Hold onto the knob on the top of the 35mm spool and wind the film from the 120 reel back into the 35mm spool. Go slowly and steadily, and try not to scratch the emulsion or twist it about.
Once you've wound the film back into the 35mm spool, you can turn on the lights, open the changing bag, or climb out from under the covers. Clip the film off the 120 spool, or just take the tape off. Congrats!
If you have your processing done at a lab, tell them not to cut your negatives. The machines are not set up to read an exposure with the dimensions we've created here, and can't automatically make very good prints, either. Tell the photo lab tech to just develop and sleeve the negatives, and then cut it yourself when you get home. If you're using an hour photo lab, they're probably going to look at you like a nut when you bring these in. Whatever. It keeps them on their toes.

This is what you should get back. One nice big strip of film, with super-wide exposures that go clear out to the sprocket holes! Now all that's left is to scan your images!
Happy Snapping!
Flickr 35mm Sprocket Holes Pool (not limited to Holga)

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