A Fully Automatic Film Lab For Your Home

Film use is definitely on the rise. However, when you start to play around with this admittedly archaic technology, one fact of life rears its head very quickly: the film needs to be processed. Although you can go the lab route, I've always found a certain satisfaction in processing my film myself. For those of us with means, however, there may be another option: The Filmomat!

Coming to you from the gents over at Analog Insights, this awesome video is an in-depth interview with Lukas Fritz, the creator of the Filmomat automatic developing machine. In it, Fritz lays out his journey into making the machine, the costs involved, and the reasons why he attempted such an endeavor in the first place. Even if you're not interested in film, it's an interesting watch as it shows what can be accomplished by a person with a passion for something, even if they don't have any experience with product design and assembly. Once you get the film on the spool, the process is fully programmable and automatic. You can use E6, C41, or black and white chemicals. The machine even has cleaning and purging routines so that you can reuse your chemicals and safely prep for another processing cycle.

Admittedly, the price tag on such a machine is high at $3,500 euros, but considering the time and money that is required to hand-make a single unit, the price is understandable. Of course, there will be those that say, "well why not just use some Paterson tanks and be done with it?" They're not wrong. However, as with any endeavor, you can spend as much or as little as you want on your passion. You can get the same results out of a $75 Canon AE-1 as you can out of a $2,000 Leica M6, but if you've got the means and the passion, who am I to tell you how to spend your money? I'm just excited that film use is on the rise to the extent that someone actually took the time and energy to make such a machine.

If you had the cash is this something you'd be interested in? I'm not sure, honestly, but I'm happy it exists.

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28 Comments

Mark Wyatt's picture

Archaic? Are we talking modern photographic film that had $billions in research spent on it up to 20 years ago or colloidal wet plates here? I suspect you are being a little sarcastic, but photographic film is a very capable technology developed over 150+ years and still produces beautiful and usable images.

michaeljinphoto's picture

That's what paradigm shifts in technology will do. It can take the end result of hundreds of years of refinement and relegate them to the annals of history in short order.

Mark Wyatt's picture

True, but photography crosses in to art. People still paint. I guess you could call painting archaic I still see a lot of paintings hanging on walls. I still prefer wooden furniture. Wood for furniture is archaic. You have to cut down trees, transport them to mills, process, package, then machine, finish, etc. Injection molding plastics is a much more technologically proficient way to produce furniture, but when I go to furniture stores, I see mainly wood and cloth (Ikea may be an exception).

michaeljinphoto's picture

Oh yeah, definitely. Painting is a great example here where we've come to recognize it as just a different medium. It's never going to be as precise a computer-based illustration/painting, but you can love it for what it is. Just because technology creates more efficient or even superior options doesn't mean that personal preferences cease to exist. I still prefer film for personal projects because I enjoy the process, but it's not really viable for the paid work that I do.

Mark Wyatt's picture

Agreed, for some of professional work, digital makes sense. I also do like digital for artistic work. I just do not consider film "archaic" just yet. Digital was not even close until 15-20 years ago, and I think it really got to a comparable level of quality closer to 10 years ago. I think in the next 10 years we are going to see amazing things in the digital world for sure. I would say that film has largely been replaced with digital at a practical level, but archaic infers it is of lower quality, or just so far behind that it is not worth considering. I realize the author is likely trying to spur conversation with his wording, so in the case he got it. :)

michaeljinphoto's picture

Archaic doesn't really refer to quality. It just means that it's antiquated or an old way of doing things. In this case, it's not the quality of results that are antiquated, but the notion of using a chemical process on physical media in order to record and fix images.

Mark Wyatt's picture

Ok. I don't want to start arguing semantics, but archaic does have a negative connotation to it. Here is a Google result for synonyms for archaic: obsolete, obsolescent, out of date, anachronistic, old-fashioned, outmoded... Film is really none of those. It is quite alive, and usable with materials and processing services and supplies still readily available. That does not preclude some clear benefits to digital. Really, painting is not archaic either, but perhaps wood-cut printing is. Just an opinion. I think we are saying the same thing to some degree, I just wanted to stand up for film photography as a quite modern and capable medium fully exploitable today without significant barriers to use for those who want to use it (especially, but not strictly, when coupled with scanning technologies, etc., i.e., digital becomes complimentary in these cases).

michaeljinphoto's picture

Admittedly, it often does in popular use. It makes sense because the vast majority of archaic things do actually suck compared to modern things (hence, the notion that we are making progress—presumably toward a better future). I just wanted to point out that the misconception caused by the way it is popularly used ought not to exist (even though it does for all intents and purposes).

Yes, I do believe that most people shooting film are more in the "art" corner of photography. And with art, it's more about subject matter than technology. Going to Yosemite and taking photos just like Ansel Adams might be considered archaic. But using a similar 4x5 field camera to what he used and taking photos of the Yangtze and its people, on the other hand, is considered modern art (as Yan Wang Preston's project has shown). Same old equipment, much different results.

michaeljinphoto's picture

$3500? Is that a sick joke?

Duane Klipping's picture

My thoughts also. And a tank is 300 euros. Wow must be gold lined?

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Black and white, C41, okay E6? E6 requires volume to avoid color of the day.

Interesting idea... but I could process and print both b/w (up to 16x20) and e6 (up to 8x10) in my darkroom which cost a lot less that $3,800 (that's the conversion at the moment). The only reason I was limited on the direct positive (e6) printing was the bigger roller and drum was unbelievably expensive and I didn't do enough big color stuff to justify the cost.

This would have been a nice article if you hadn't used the word, "archaic". Film may be a past technology but it is not redundant. It is an alternative.

Like most industries, there are the more efficiently made but shit looking and cheap products i.e. digital in the world of photography or lovingly handmade and crafted and vastly more valuable as a result alternative i.e. plate or film photography.

What's nicer in your house? A billion made £10 drab plastic tables and chairs that took hardly any time to make or a gorgeous polished oak table and chairs made by a master carpenter?

Ideology is the same for photography. Art is art. Commercial is commercial.

I have seen plenty of shit looking photos shot on both film and digital. Just because something is shot on large format or roll film or digital does not make the final image better or worse. Some folks think that since they exposed a piece of film they have created art..not always. I used to shoot a lot film. It's not magic.

I'm aware of that. I'm careful with my exposures and make sure that the majority are keepers. I prefer the process and look of film so I use it.

michaeljinphoto's picture

Film doesn't make photography not suck. I've seen more than my share of shitty film photos.

On Instagram today I saw a photo by Harley Weir (a young, popular, well-paid film shooter today) of an actual butt-hole. Talk about shitty!

I'm aware of that. I'm careful with my exposures and make sure that the majority are keepers. I prefer the process and look of film so I use it.

michaeljinphoto's picture

"Like most industries, there are the more efficiently made but shit looking and cheap products i.e. digital in the world of photography or lovingly handmade and crafted and vastly more valuable as a result alternative i.e. plate or film photography."

Your words, not mine. You're drawing a false dichotomy in which you equate digital photography to "shit looking and cheap products" while you equate film (and plate) photography to "lovingly handmade", "crafted", and "vastly more valuable" and it's a choice between one or the other.

The medium determines nothing about whether a photograph is "shit looking" or "lovingly handmade". There a great digital photographs and horrible digital photographs. There are great film photographs and horrible film photographs. There are digital photographs that require massive amounts of work to create and there are digital snapshots just like there are film photographs that take massive amounts of work to create and there a film snapshots.

Also this film processing machine is cool but a JOBO is so much cheaper. I might get a Filmomat eventually

Rob Mitchell's picture

You can get a whole lot of film processed for € 3.5k
Film, been there done that. Not going back thanks.

Digital is cold and horrible looking. I started in digital and switched as soon as I saw the superior results of film. It's personal taste for the look. If you're choosing digital purely because you believe it's cheaper, then you're no artist.

I know! £3.5k is around the equivalent in cost to 3000 C41 rolls developed at home with a Paterson tank.

Matt Barr's picture

Cool. Kinda like the Dyson of home processors.

Kim Bentsen's picture

This is exactly what I needed - 40 years ago.

Roberto Serrini's picture

I am currently (foolishly) doing the Vintage Camera Quest (www.vintagecameraquest.com) ... And while pushing film through 52 vintage cameras one a week is super labor intensive, developing in the sink is never that much of a chore. I mean I love the idea of this beautiful machine and would proudly display it front and center in my life. . . But that's a serious pricetag for what a plastic container and a bathroom at night could do.

The impression that you can process E6 film in the same room you make and consume coffee is misleading. Unless there have been advances in reducing the toxicity of chemistry, the very thought of darkroom fixers and bleaches makes me queasy. Yum, orange chromate bleach and arabica ground beans in the same space. Sorry but that is rather unhealthy. I come from a background where I used to selenium tone my prints in my galley kitchen. It was only after Kodak was forced to include dire warnings packaged with their chemistry because of new laws in California, that I learned that any reversal process contains a bleach that is highly carcinogenic. I watched the state of university darkrooms evolve from toxic spaces to safety-first spaces where the health of the users became paramount. It was only in the late 1980’s that in Canada, WHMIS or Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System was created. It provides a document for the handling of pretty much every chemical that can be found in a school or workplace. The fine arts, especially painting, has a history of hidden toxicity. It is not just breathing the vapours of these chemicals, but spillage, contamination on clothing and skin.

I did not watch the entire video because I would never purchase this product. But I do admire the inventor. I also can see a niche for relatively wealthy photographers who already own a properly ventilated darkroom.