Handling 4x5 Inch Sheet Film

Russel Kwan

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Important!!  With the exception of orthochromatic films (which are hard to find), you must handle unprocessed sheet films in Total Darkness.  Total is Total – you should not be able to see your hand in front of your face.

There’s not really all that much more to worry about – the big thing is knowing what’s in the box, and figuring out which side of the film the emulsion is on.  Let’s go!

Ilford and Kodak films are delivered in a little 3-part nested box system, which we will illustrate.  Fuji films are delivered in a more normal 2-part box with a light-tight plastic sleeve inside.

  1. Pull out your new box of film – don’t open it yet!
  2. Find a pair of scissors.
  3. Have your camera or film holder at the ready.
  4. Lights out!  Remember – all handling must take place in Total Darkness.
  5. Remove the top cover and set aside. 
  6. Flip the remaining 2-part box containing your film upside-down.
  7. Remove the next cover.
  8. You will find a plastic pouch inside, which contains your film.  Carefully cut open the pouch with the scissors, and remove the block of film.  You may throw the plastic liner away (don’t do this with Fuji film! You will need to put the film back into this liner with the 2-part Fuji box – a bit of a nuisance).
  9. The film block will have sheets of cardboard top and bottom.  I like to keep this cardboard with the film.
  10. Replace the film block into the inner box part.
  11. Remove one sheet of film.
  12. Determine the emulsion side of the film: 4x5 sheet film is notched on the 4 inch side near a corner to clue us in on which side is the emulsion side: hold the sheet upright (4 inch edge up) in front of your face (you, of course, can’t see a thing), and orient the sheet so you can feel notches on its upper edge near the right corner.  If you could see, you would now be looking at the emulsion side of the film.
  13. You are now ready to insert the film into whatever holder or camera you have at the ready, emulsion side facing the lens.
  14. Remember to close the box up the same way you found it!
  15. Lights on.

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A box of 4x5 inch film from Ilford.

The Ilford film box with its cover off. Note the nested box inside. To continue opening, just flip the nested box over.

The box, now completely open, with the film still inside its protective cardboard jacket.

The cardboard jacket flipped open to reveal the film block.

Orient the notches on the film in this way to find the emulsion side. You are now looking at the emulsion side of the film.