It's so easy I thought I did it wrong.
Developing film can be a daunting task. But, honestly, the most difficult part for me is loading the film into the reel in a dark bag without being able to see it. It can be so finicky when using a dark bag that I have spent upwards of half an hour trying to load the film onto the reel before I got the knack for it. Thankfully, Ars-Imago is here to fix that. The Ars-Imago Lab Box is a darkroom in a box, more or less, allowing you to load film onto the reel, use your chemicals, and develop film without any hassle.
The process is simple, you place the film into the tank, clip it to the reel, cutting the film if you're using 135 and pulling off the paper if you're using 120 film, pour in your chemicals, agitate, switch chemicals, rinse, and you're done! There are a couple of extra steps when using the 120 module, since you have to remove the backing paper they have a handy lightproof knob so you can pull the paper off, make it lightproof, and then open the box up and clip the film to the reel, and then re-shut it — the film auto magically spools into the lightproof area as you unspool the paper. But, this isn't a tutorial; the Lab-Box comes with very detailed instructions that make things so simple I honestly thought I did it wrong when I first developed a roll.
One of the best features of the Lab-Box is that the clip to the film reel can also be used as a weight while you let things dry! However, I find that if you do this with 120 film, it is so wide you get some curl along the long edge of the film so this technique is best saved for 135 film.
Similar to a Paterson tank, the device is light proof but not waterproof, allowing you to pour in your water, chemicals, and fixer to your hearts content without worrying about ruining your film. Unlike a Paterson tank, however, the Ars-Imago Lab-Box can only develop one roll of film at a time. Great for hobbyists but if you want to develop in bulk, it's going to take awhile especially since if there is any moisture in the tank itself your film can get stuck so when washing be extra sure to dry every nook and cranny!
Overall, the Lab-Box is a fantastic piece of kit for those wanting to dip their toes into film photography or, if you're like me, you shoot film every so often and want to save some money on lab costs. At $199 it on;y take a handful of rolls of film to make the Lab-Box pay itself off.
What I Liked
- Ease of Use
- It's extremely compact
- If you mess up, and that's a big if, it's pretty easy to tell, so it is all still salvageable if you have a dark bag.
- It's extremely compact and easy to store
What I Didn't Like
- If there is almost any moisture, it can cause the film to jam
- there isn't a "120" option, only "135 and 120" which feels like I'm paying more for an extra module I won't use much.
- I wish the spot you poured chemicals from was more spout-like.
- Only one roll at a time