Bulk Loading Film

Like so many people who still shoot film, I am now mostly rolling my own. Bulk loading, once you have the equipment, is really easy. I mostly buy bulk rolls of film stock that I can’t get off the shelf, so that’s a lot of Kodak 5222, Ektachrome, and also motion picture film.

You can get bulk rolls of many black and white film stocks easily; none for color, except for motion picture color film (I will write another post about how I learned to shoot and process this later on).

All of this has to be done in the dark.

At home, I use a dark changing bag. You really don’t need a darkroom for most things unless you want to do prints.

a photo of the front view of a film bulk loader with an arrow over the spindle

I pop the back of the quick loader open, leaving the crank in. You won’t be able to load the film unless you have this crank in. I learned the hard way.

a photo of the back of a film loader, with a red arrow showing the direction in which to unwind and load the film

Then, I remove the film from the packaging. If you buy bulk film, only do this in the dark. Shiny side up, I move the film into the recess very slightly, then use my left hand to tighten up the rest of the roll and make it fit in the back. The center of the bulk film roll sits on the spindle, like a roll of tape. Note that film will not advance past the recess unless you have the crank installed in the front.

Shut the back of the loader, screw it tight.

a photo of a film bulk loader showing the film coming out of the loader, with a red arrow showing the direction of the film cassette

Take the loader out of the dark bag. You can use the bulk loader in daylight now. (It only needs to be in the dark when you are loading the bulk roll)

Remove the film advancer crank. Remove the spool part of a reusable film cassette (I use Kalt, but you can also use these). Cut some adhesive tape, and wrap around the spool. The pointy end of the spool should point towards the back of the film loader.

a photo of a film loader with a cassette in it and a red arrow pointing at where the spool should be pointed

Pull out some film and stick the tape on the film to secure it. Grab the film cassette casing and gently slide it so that it encases the film and the spool. Note that this takes some practice: you essentially want to gently twist the film and spool to fit the slit of the casing. Sometimes this can be tough, but keep trying (gently). Screw in the cap to close the cassette.

Use the small film winder knob (next to crank) to move the spool into the bulk loader so it sits securely. Close the cover.

Set the counter to 0. Insert the crank. Holding the loader in one hand (I like to tilt it backwards with my left hand), turn the crank until it reaches the arrow. You want to add 4 or 5 extra frames from 36 (or however many frames of film you want per roll). Remove the crank. Open the cover. Use a pair of scissors to cut the film, pulling out enough to make a film leader.


You can get around 18 rolls per 100 ft roll, which brings the cost of Ilford HP5 down to $6.67. Retail price for that film is $9.49, so you can save almost $3 per roll of film. If you’re shooting 20 rolls of film in a month like I sometimes do, you save $60.

I have one Bobinquick loader that always has black and white film, and I’ve got another Watson type loader that has some other film, usually color motion picture film or bulk slide film. I get these from a friend who orders in bulk from Kodak in 400ft, then respools into 100 ft and sends me a few; so that can be even cheaper than buying 100ft rolls directly from a photography retailer.

Hope this helps! In case you prefer manuals, I’ve also got scans:

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Adrianna Tan @skinnylatte
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