from Lee O Alexander

This site has increased my interest in these “old school” daylight tanks. Back around 77-83, I had no knowledge of these tanks. Plus I did not have the Internet than either. I used a Beseler roll tank and Paterson tanks back then. I have acquired a Rondinax 35U in great shape for a reasonable price. Now I am attempting to get a Rondinax 60, but I have been outbid three times on eBay. The tank that is coming out from LAB-BOX will be my next purchase once I can get a price. I have others in our photo club that are very interested in it also.

Rondinax Agitation and Development Time

I am getting a fair number of emails on development time in a Rondinax because of the difference in agitation. I have nothing to add on my original post which can be found here. If anybody has information to add on particular film/developer combinations please let me know.

Film drying without dust

Dust on a negative is the bane of a film user’s life. The stage of processing when dust settles is the last—drying. All sorts of professional and amateur drying cabinets have been devised, some using warm, filtered air. Some years ago I needed urgently over a weekend a couple of slides. I photographed what I needed and processed the film in my lab. Looking for somewhere relatively dust free to dry the film, I realised that an alternative was lying right in front of me—a large desiccator. After washing, I left the film on the spiral and simply dropped the whole thing in the empty desiccator (with silica gel in the lower compartment), pumped the air out and left it overnight.

Recently I found an article in Amateur Photographer that described the writer’s experience of using the same method and of how extremely effective it was. Arthur R. Madle (AP 9 February 1955) actually went to the lengths of counting the number, size and nature of the particles on the negatives he produced. The main improvement he obtained was using a desiccator connected to a simple water-driven (filter) pump. He concluded:

The crystal clarity of a film or plate dried in this manner is a joy to behold and well worth the extra trouble involved, particularly as time is gained later in the omission of unnecessary spotting. Over 85 per cent of the spots are eliminated by this method.

Arthur Madle used anhydrous calcium chloride as desiccant. That has been superseded by silica gel. Obviously an identical set-up could be used today since all the components are readily available from laboratory suppliers. However, filter pumps are difficult to fit to modern household taps and care has to be taken that water is not sucked back into the desiccator.


Arthur Madle’s set-up for drying film on the spiral reel in a desiccator (left)

There is an alternative: plastic desiccators containing a manual air pump are available. I would be interested to know if anybody has experience of using these for drying films.

These are screenshots from the Fisher Scientific catalogue:




Partially flattened and respooled film: Results in the Rondinax 60

In the last post I reported that neither acetate or polyester film would load correctly in the Rondinax 60 if the end of the film that enters the film chamber in the tank was partially flattened by keeping it under a heavy book. The films were Rollei Infrared and Ilford FP4. After winding the films back on their spools I tried again. The result: no problem; both loaded perfectly into the tank.

So the failure to load I originally described with fresh Rollei Infrared and others have reported for some other polyester-based films does seem to be related to the longitudinal curliness of the film at the time of processing. How long fresh polyester-based film, cut from flat sheets, needs to be stored on a roll in order to take the curly, rolled form, I do not know. Several weeks or months possibly? What I do know is that the Rollei Infrared film I have had for several years now loads perfectly in the Rondinax 60, unlike when I first received it from the online retailer.

So, the problem of getting film flat for scanning or enlarging using a glassless carrier is reversed for the Rondinax 60 user. We want film with a curled ‘memory’ for processing. That’s not usually a problem but sometimes is.

The Problem of Loading Rollei Infrared 120 film into Rondinax 60 – NOT Solved but I know why!

I thought I had solved the problem of the film and backing paper failing to separate for certain types of film. As a reminder the film comes through the slit with the backing paper and does not enter the film chamber in the Rondinax 60.

I thought applying extra pressure from the metal spoon in the lid was the answer to this problem as it is Andrés Cuervo’s problem in which the film comes out of the slit on top of the backing paper.

When I tried a Rollei Infrared film with tighter pressure from the spoon, it loaded fine. However, I realised a week or so later that the spool of film had been stored for several years and that the film itself coiled easily whereas when I first used film from that batch the film did not curl easily. So was I testing like with like? The answer was no.

I took the Rollei infrared film and an Ilford FP4 film and placed the backing paper and the end of film that loads first into the tank into a heavy book for a few weeks in order to flatten the films. Today I wound them back onto their reels. There was still some degree of curl in both films but when I tried to load them into the tank, they both failed to load, either jamming as they hit the ridge after they should have gone into the film chamber or coming out with the backing paper. With an open tank no amount of pressure on the top of the spool made any difference.

The answer must be that this type of failure to load must be related to how long the film has been spooled and to the properties of the film base. I must have had factory fresh Rollei film that takes some time to maintain a curl when spooled for the first time. It would seem that polyester film base might be particularly prone to wanting to stay flat, for want of a better term. However, the fact that flattened acetate-backed FP4 also failed to load would suggest that there may be a problem if really fresh film of that type is used. However, acetate may be less prone to wanting to stay flat since I have never had any problem with Ilford films.

A problem with film that had been in a camera for some time or had been wound backwards in some film backs was known about by Agfa and the instructions for using the tank (see Manual download for the Rondinax 60) include warnings like this one on page 21:

Partly exposed films which are in the camera for more than two weeks lose their curling quality. To regain this quality which is necessary for threading, the film must lie rolled up tightly for at least one day. Films from cassettes [film backs] with opposite winding must be rewound before (see p. 11)

p. 11:

In some roll film cameras the film is wound up in the opposite direction to the original winding. If these films are to be developed in the Rondinax 60 tank they must be rewound twice and kept tightly rolled up for at least a day. Caution! The film must be rewound twice so that the end of the film showing the word “exposed” points outwards again.

These instructions would have applied to acetate film. The question is: how long does it take for polyester film to gain or curliness its curliness?  If my experience with Rollei film is anything to go back, some time in excess in several weeks for new film could be the answer. For the time taken to regain its curliness when spooled after partial flattening, I shall do further tests and report them here.

Clearly though, the physical property of ‘curliness’ and the maintenance of ‘curliness’ and ‘flatness’ when flattened or when spooled, respectively, is important for trouble-free use of a Rondinax 60.

More users of Rondinax tanks in the 1950s

A regular feature in Amateur Photographer magazine in the 1950s was ‘How I Make My Exhibition Pictures’. In some bound copies from 1954 and 1955 I found several contributors to the series mentioned Rondinax tanks.

Thus W.A. Fleet ARPS in the 2 June 1954 issue wrote:

Since the advent of FP3 film most of my work has been done with that, developed in Microdol in a Rondinax tank. The necessity of having to throw away the used developer has always been a good point with this tank, which I have used continuously since 1933 and would use no other.

Fleet 1

Titled ‘Light and its source’ By W.A. Fleet ARPS

The date 1933 is interesting since the date present written evidence (shown in a number of previous posts) suggests the Rondinax 60 was introduced in 1937. Was this a misprint, failing memory or did some people get hold of one before 1937?

Ruth Handley FRPS (1899-1957) recognised for her portraits of actors (2 November 1955) was another user of the Rondinax 60:

Handley 1

I use Plus-X rollfilm and P1200 plates. I develop my rollfilm in a Rondinax tank…I use D76 for negative development…

Handley 2

Titled: ‘Witchcraft’ by Ruth Handley FRPS

A big name in photography used a Rondinax daylight-loading developing tank in the 1950s


Lancelot Vining FRPS FIBP

I have mentioned in this blog that a daylight-loading Rondinax was seen as the Rolls-Royce of developing tanks in the 1950s and 60s. A Rondinax was much more expensive than the tanks that had to be loaded in the darkroom. They were, therefore, objects of envy but also of the kind of inverted snobbery that can still be seen in the letters pages of British photographic magazines.

They did though receive endorsement by celebrities in the photographic world. Here is one from Lancelot Vining FRPS FIBP from his near-weekly column, Miniature Camera Gossip, in Amateur Photographer (3 November 1954), then processing his own films after a lifetime as a professional pressman:

On the bench when ready to develop are a minute time clock, pencil and pad, thermometer, Rondinax tank, the two solutions, funnel and filter paper and the cassette of film.

v8Willoughby Lancelot Vining was immensely influential in amateur photography particularly for his advocacy, as a professional photographer, of the 35 mm camera—the ‘miniature’. From 1941 until 1961 he wrote a column for the magazine Amateur Photographer (there is an excellent history of the magazine here). He wrote My Way with the Miniature, a book in which the Rondinax also gets a mention. First published in 1941 it ran to the 14th edition published in 1961. He also wrote All About Daylight Indoors and Your Camera in 1946 and All About Sports and Games and Your Camera in 1948, both for Focal Press. There were various translations of his books for the overseas market.

Lancelot Vining was born on 10 April 1880 in West Derby, a suburb of Liverpool in Lancashire, the son of a civil engineer; he had four brothers and a sister. The family was obviously fairly affluent; two servants are shown in the 1891 Census. By 1901 the family had moved to Brentford, Middlesex; his father is listed as a mechanical engineer and Lancelot was an ‘engineer’s draughtsman’.

He describes his early life in My Way… He bought his first camera in 1897 and by 1902 he was taking pictures of football matches from the public stand on a ¼-plate camera and selling ½-plate enlargements to the Daily Graphic, the Daily Mirror and the News Chronicle by hawking them down Fleet Street on a Sunday morning. In 1904 he was headhunted by a photographic agency at three times his pay as a draughtsman. From there he joined the Daily Graphic and by the 1911 Census he is shown as ‘Journalist. Photographer on staff of Daily Graphic’. From there he joined the Daily Mirror, first as a photographer but then as an assistant to the art editor. It was as ‘Head of Photographic Staff of Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial’ that he appears in the records of the Royal Air Force, the successor to the Royal Flying Corps into which he was called up in 1916. He was Wing Photographic Officer at a flying school and then taught aerial photography as an Education Officer (3rd class) 2nd Lieutenant (acting unpaid Lieutenant) at a flying school in Canada.

Demobbed in January 1919, he became art editor of the Sunday Pictorial and then, on a two-year contract from 1921, worked as an art editor in the U.S.A. He returned as a night and then day art editor to the Daily Mirror. He bought a Zeiss Contax I in 1934 and was able, in the evenings, to use it for photographing live theatre with the aid of the free first or second night tickets he received as picture editor on a national daily newspaper. He sold the photographs to weekly magazines and had virtually covered the cost of the Contax by the end of 1935.

In 1936 (by which time he was 56) the editor of the Mirror ‘proposed I should give up Art Editing and devote my time to miniature photography for the paper…The majority of my subjects would be ones requiring to be taken with a miniature camera…’. It seems to me that the editor was putting Vining out to grass but from this sideways or downwards move, Vining launched a new career, as columnist, author and lecturer to amateur photographic societies for Ilford, the photographic materials manufacturer.

He married in 1902 and is shown as having two sons in the 1911 Census. However, records indicate that he was living apart from his wife in later decades and in 1957, after the death of his wife in 1956, he married, at the age of 77, Yvonne M. Baker.

In his weekly column, which had become rather ‘tired’ by the mid-1950s when he was in his mid-70s, he often detailed the vicissitudes of lecturing to camera clubs throughout the country (he was away from home every other working week). He was forthright in his opinions, often decrying the use of cameras other than the ‘first-class’ Contax and Leica (which, because of currency restrictions, put in place to protect the £ Sterling in post-war real austerity, were actually not available new to amateur photographers in U.K). He is described as ‘defending’ the use of 35 mm cameras in his talks to camera clubs (aka photographic societies). I will return to this topic in another post but there was enormous opposition from the old guard in amateur photography who were using large plates as were professionals. Even the three sizes provided by 120 film (9 x 6, 6 x 6 and 6 x 4.5 cm) were regarded and derided as ‘miniature’.


Personalities at the Photo-Fair. AP 15 June 1955

Lancelot Vining devoted a great deal of his columns to advising readers how to photograph attractions in London like circuses and ice shows—both incredibly popular in the 1950s. He spent some time and effort in testing and using flash synchronisers for his Contax and it was frustration with the Contax—a camera system to which he had shown utter devotion and on which he had showered constant praise—that led him to deliver a bombshell to his readers on 26 October 1955. He sold the Contax and bought a Voigtländer Prominent. He did so because his unsynchronised Contax needed a bulky accessory synchroniser in order to use flash and because of the limited flash synchronisation speed of cameras with a focal-plane shutter. Each lens of the Prominent (he bought a 35, 50 and 135 mm—the latter then considered a really long lens) had a Compur leaf shutter then, and still, far more versatile and convenient for flash photography.


From Cabaret and Ice Shows by Lancelot Vining. AP 5 January 1955. Captioned: Ice Capade Margaret Field at Empress Hall. 5 cm. 1/125 sec. HP3. Promicrol


From the same article*. Captioned: Fan Dance. Denise Vane at London Cabaret Club. W.A. Biogon. Burvin gun, PF25 [flashbulb], 1/125 sec at f/4

An internet search shows a few of his excellent photographs that are in national or local collections. It is worth looking at one in the National Portrait Gallery which shows the ‘old guard’ in 1944 in process of choosing prints for the London Salon of Photography.

Lancelot Vining died on 18 January 1968, aged 87; he had given up writing for Amateur Photography at the age of 80.

*Vining wrote:

I remember an occasion at the Cabaret Club when I was about to photograph Denise Vane in the Fan Dance. A Press Club friend sitting at a table on my extreme left—and a lady friend—asked if he was in; I assured him he was not. By the time the exposure was made (using my W.A.) lens I must have altered direction as my friend was in. The picture was hung in the Salon and published in Photograms of the Year. Was my friend angry? He was—but his anger was nothing compared with that of his wife.


LAB-BOX by ars-imago Kickstarter Campaign Success

Many readers of this blog will have noted that the Kickstarter Campaign for the new LAB-BOX daylight-loading tanks reached its initial target in under two hours. Looks like there will be new Rondinax style tanks for 35 mm and 120 on the market later in the year.

This is how the Kickstarter funding was going this morning:


A lot of people out there really do want daylight-loading tanks.