Dark Room In-A-Box

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on the blog, but a lot has been happening since this summer. We’re still in the pandemic, but I’ve been making the most of it by editing my next novel and working on a system to develop my own film at home.

For all the upsides of film photography, the main drawback for me (and many others I’m sure) is the cost.

Film is expensive, and prices are only going up. The few remaining labs near me charge roughly what a major mail-away provider does, and the cost of developing color film has turned it into a periodic luxury. This has sent me back in the direction of black & white photography, which I’m totally OK with. I originally started on black & white with my father’s Canon FTb way back in a high school photography class. I enjoy the look and the challenges inherent in black & white photography, so I’m alright with that being my main film output.

I also recently acquired a Canon Rebel EOS T7 DSLR, but that’s a story for another post.

I do not have a lot of free space or the budget to create a home darkroom, so I wanted to try and put together a “dark room in-a-box” for under $100. I managed to accomplish that goal and I’ll outline what I purchased here for any of you that might want to start developing film in your own home.

Step 1: Put Your Film in The Box

That’s not actually step 1.

As I mentioned before, I wanted to do this on a budget of $100 and ensure it didn’t take up a lot of space, so here’s what I came up with.

  • Sterilite Locking box ($7 at Walmart)
  • Clothes pins ($2 at Walmart)
  • Distilled water ($1 at Walmart)
  • Can opener ($1 at Walmart)
  • Scissors ($3 at Walmart)
  • Measuring cup & funnels ($4 at Walmart)
  • Thermometer ($9 on Amazon)
  • Changing Bag ($18 on Amazon)
  • Cinestill B&W develop-at-home kit ($35 on sale from Cinestill)
  • Kodak Photo-Flo ($8 from B&H Photo)
  • Coat hangar (salvaged)

Total Cost: $88 (enough left to buy some rolls of film!)

The big break I got when it came to building this kit was the Cinestill “DF-96 monobath Develop-At-Home kit”. This kit came with the Cinestill monobath, a two-reel Patterson tank, and a couple rolls of their BWXX black and white film. Thirty five bucks is a steal considering every Patterson or Jobo tank I saw online was around $30 or more just by itself.


This is a very simple workflow. The Cinestill monobath is a one-step developer and fixer, and quite easy to use. It has a somewhat short shelf life, but it gave me the confidence to start developing again after having been out of the game for over twenty years.

I load all my equipment and film into the Patterson tank, and then developed some Kentmere 400 (also going budget on film) in the tank. Unfortunately, my negatives came out a bit thin since my monobath had been punctured during delivery and was somewhat spoiled.

Luckily, the fine folks at Cinestill provided me a replacement and sent it in powdered form, which is the form I’ll purchase it in going forward.

Once I had developed the negatives, I tried out my Pixl Latr. It’s a nifty device (review is forthcoming) but didn’t deliver the exact results I wanted, so I’m looking to get a flatbed scanner sometime soon.

Thoughts on Home Development

I enjoy the process of home development. I’m happy to continue building out a little “home lab” as I find deals on equipment, since I’m still a bit nervous about the long-term sustainability of film. Black and white is simple, which I assume means it will be around for quite a while even if it’s produced by smaller companies. Plus, COVID has put a lot of strain on film labs, and I like having the piece of mind that my beloved film cameras won’t become paperweights as long as I can get my hands on some cheap B&W film and have the skills to develop and scan it myself. I consider this “Dark room in-a-box” and investment as this should all pay for itself in under twenty rolls of film shot.

Do you develop you own film at home? Let me know down in the comments I’d love to hear from you about your setup and any mishaps or triumphs you’ve had with this always intriguing process!


Yashica Electro 35 GSN

Happy New Year! I hope your 2020 is off to a great start.

I recently added a new member to the camera collection. I stumbled across this Yashica Electro 35 GSN at a thrift shop and purchased it for a very fair price (< $35) considering its condition.

I’m excited to add this classic rangefinder to my arsenal.

Poor Man’s Leica

I’ve seen the words “poor man’s Leica” more than a few times while researching this camera. I wanted a budget rangefinder, and had narrowed my search to either a Canonet Giii QL17 or some form of the Yashica Electro 35. Both garnered favorable reviews and create beautiful images despite their individual quirks & flaws.

Not My First Electro 35

In fact, I found an ORIGINAL Electro 35 (there are numerous iterations) last year at an estate sale in pristine cosmetic condition. I was extremely excited and bought it, only to discover it was marginally functional and beyond my capability to repair. Sadly, I sold it for parts or hopefully to someone more savvy than myself to resurrect.

After that disappointing venture, I was happy to run across this GSN which by most measures is the superior model. It has a hot shoe and higher max ISO rating among other things. Plus its prior owner had included a snap-on lens cap, the original hot shoe cover, and a nifty Vivitar UV filter.

While not pristine this GSN is still in excellent cosmetic condition for its age, and the fixed lens is flawless. Looks can be deceiving however, and it suffered from a common issue called the “Pad of Death” that eventually afflicts nearly every Yashica Electro. Luckily the Electro 35 is mostly mechanical with some old school electronics and is repairable.

Fixer Upper

After a night of research on YouTube, I resigned myself to the fact that it needed a CLA. I wasn’t willing to sell ANOTHER Electro 35, and I obtained this one for such a bargain that fixing this common problem was still within my budget. Plus, when you’re dealing with vintage equipment, cosmetics count. Internals can be replaced/repaired but sometimes body restoration is impractical. This particular GSN is still pretty at over five decades old.

I sent the camera to Mark David Horn who specializes in Yashica repairs (great guy!) and he performed a full CLA overhaul, plus sent me a battery adapter which is a bonus since the old mercury battery these took is no longer legally available (yet another endearing quality).

His work was excellent, and the camera returned flawless, looking and working like it was built yesterday.

Ready to Rangefind

I’m pumped to get out and start using my shiny “new” Yashica. The pics I’ve seen online from other Electro 35’s online are pin sharp with a pleasant bokeh effect at open apertures. Also, I wanted a film camera that has more control than a point&shoot but is a bit “quicker” than my SLR’s. I hope the Electro fits that bill and I plan to post a review once I’ve run a few rolls through it.

Thanks for reading!


Point And Shoot Film Camera Hype

Contax T2 35mm film camera

I was discussing film cameras with a photography friend this weekend, and the conversation of Point n’ Shoot cameras came up. While I love Point & Shoot Cameras, I think there is some serious hype going on that should be avoided, or that film photographers (especially new ones) need to be aware of.

The Hype Bubble

I won’t go into the details of Kendall Jenner’s Contax T2 and her effect on film photography, but I’ll start this post with a nod to it.

I harbor no resentment. In fact, I think it’s great when more people get into film because demand keeps production going and anything that keeps film alive is OK in my book.

My problem isn’t even with the prices of PnS cameras skyrocketing either. Because the Contax T2 is in fact, an excellent camera. My issue is with the overall value of the tool versus what people are now willing to pay for it.

A Camera By Any Other Name

Contax’s and Olympus MJU’s are excellent cameras. No doubt.

However, I came across a Youtube “influencer” yesterday who was using a Contax G-series in a video for FILM BEGINNERS. That is a problem in my mind.

I think beginners shouldn’t be given the impression that they need a $900 camera from the early 1990’s, or that those are the only option. It seems more and more people are grabbing them as status symbols. And that’s fine, if that is all you are looking for.

For someone who is just starting out with 35mm film and wants the simplicity of a Point and Shoot (though I’d argue an SLR like a Pentax or Minolta will teach you more) there are so many inexpensive alternatives that will produce nearly-as-good photos as something like a Contax. They might not look as cool, but they will work.

Mechanical Animals

I still firmly believe mechanical is the way to go with old cameras. They are sturdy and can be repaired in many cases.

Point and Shoot Cameras are often electronic, and if something malfunctions on them, you’ll have a hell of a time trying to find parts and a repair/service shop. This makes investing in an high-priced PnS camera a risky proposition.

The other thing to consider is that Point and Shoots are by their nature limited. Their convenience comes with trade offs. You can stuff them in your pocket, but they’ll never give you the control and flexibility of an SLR or even a rangefinder. Often that’s fine, but I think there is a kind of intangible “value cap” on what they are capable of. I personally go digital when it comes to PnS. I stick with SLR and Rangefinder for film.

If you want to get into film photography, $1000 could buy you multiple SLR’s, lenses, a rangefinder, and a couple of decent point and shoots. Plus lots of film!

It is What It is

This post may sound a bit rant-ish, and perhaps it is, but I’m not complaining for the sake of it. I feel the same way about beginners being exposed to Leica’s on the internet as teh defacto rangefinder.

To round things out, Here’s a quick list of questions to mull over before you purchase ANY camera:

  • What functions do I need it to perform?
  • Can it be easily repaired?
  • Is it within my budget?
  • Are there comparable cameras that provide the same quality at a lower cost?
  • Do a lot of people on Youtube and Instagram hype this camera up?

Those questions along with twenty minutes of research should set up anyone looking for a 35mm Point and Shoot Camera for success. Honestly, there are probably quite a few well-loved ones waiting at your local thrift store for $15 right now.



Kodak Gold 200 Film Discontinued?


I got a hot tip yesterday from the /r/analogcommunity on Reddit┬áthat Kodak Gold 200 film was on a serious discount at Walgreen’s pharmacies across the U.S.A.

Averaging between $4.79-$12 for a 3-pack of 24 exposure rolls, the clearance price varies from decent to “gotta grab it” levels of bargain basement insanity. I spent an hour yesterday afternoon driving to my area Walgreen’s and while some had already sold out, I managed to find five packs. Only one was expired.

Walgreen’s clearance has everyone speculating that Kodak could be discontinuing the Gold 200 line of film stock, perhaps leaving only ColorPlus 200 and Ultramax 400 for user-grade films?

I’ve never shot Gold 200 before. I’ve seen some nice work with it online, but honestly for a 200 ISO film it was simply too expensive compared to the ColorPlus 200 and Fujifilm C200 I was able to snag online. C200 seems to be getting rarer, and if Gold will truly be discontinued then I’m glad I’ll have a little stockpile in my fridge.

My hope is that Kodak is simply discontinuing 3-Packs of it. Inexpensive film is a good gateway to photographers who are either discovering or returning to film photography, and at least where I am it’s near impossible to find Kodak ColorPlus 200 anywhere but online. I hear it’s more of a European product? I’m sure there are business reasons behind it, but I hope they maintain at least one cheapo stock alongside the Portas and Ektars for higher-end use.

If you’re reading this and dig on Gold, go check out your local Walgreens. Kodak Gold 200 apparently produces very rich reds and yellows, so I’m anticipating some nice Autumn foliage shots when I load it up.


Vintage 35mm Film Cameras

image of film camera and 35mm film

I wanted to change things up a little for my first post of 2019.

I recently acquired two different 35mm cameras and wanted to talk about them here, since I plan to periodically post film photography stuff on the blog mixed in with the regular writing and book-related content.

The first is a Pentax KM (~1975) and the other is a Canon FTb (~1971).

Here’s a photo of them taken with a modern digital camera, ironically.


Read more details about these cameras after the jump.

Continue reading “Vintage 35mm Film Cameras”