Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DIY Film Retriever

Been buying up a whole bunch of new film gear recently, and I'll eventually get to them all in future posts. What I want to talk about today is a DIY solution for retrieving film.

Because not only am I buying film gear, I'm also selling it (I ain't made of money and have to fund all this stuff somehow). In my enthusiasm, when I get a 'new' camera, one of the first things I do is load it with film. Problem is, sometimes I never actually shoot that film, and I need to get it out of one camera and into another. If the film rewind process is all manual, then you have a good chance of 'guessing' when to stop rewinding and still have some film leader left. But if the camera is completely automated, then you're less likely to have any 'tongue' remaining after the camera does its rewind - even if you anticipate and open the door towards the end of the rewind.

Anyway - for whatever reason, if you shoot with film, you're more than likely going to have to pull it out of a canister every once in a while. You can buy a proper Film Retriever, and they are pretty cheap (about $5 if you can find one). But, if you're stuck and need to get the film out without one of these handy gadgets, then you can make your own. All you need is a strip of film negative that you can sacrifice for the job, together with some small scissors, and you can save yourself 5 bucks!

 I call it the Sharks Tooth Film Retriever and 'Yes', it does actually work! Simply cut the edges of the film negative as you see here, for about two frames. I also round the end off slightly. What you are looking to do is make tiny teeth that will catch (hook) onto the film sprocket holes inside the canister.

Then it's simply a matter of inserting the retriever most of the way into the film canister through the felt opening, and turning the reel counterclockwise so that the film starts rotating against the teeth. Eventually you should feel it 'catch' and actually winding the retriever into the canister. When that happens, slowly pull the retriever out, and your film tongue should appear with it! How cool is that!? And as mentioned, it does work - I've just retrieved two black and white films with it.

One final tip. I inserted the Sharks Tooth Film Retriever so that the natural curl of the film was going against the curl of the film inside the canister. Probably doesn't matter. I just assumed that the two curls working against each other would give me a greater chance of the teeth catching some of the holes? And it seemed to work.

Of course once the job is completed, keep the Sharks Tooth Film Retriever handy at home somewhere - and maybe even make another that goes with you in your camera bag. Happy retrieving!


  1. Thanks Rick. Yeah, it is pretty cool. And although it might only save $5, that depends where you live. Here in a small town in New Zealand I can't get a 'real' film retriever at all - and to ship one from Adorama was going to cost about $60! So really, I saved myself $65NZ!

  2. This did not work for me and actually folded my leader in half. Had to recut the leader, losing 2-3 exposures.


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