Analogue gems: The Rondinax 35U

The Agfa Rondinax 35U
The Agfa Rondinax 35U

Digital cameras are quick and easy to use, but sometimes film can be fun. These days you can pick up some pretty decent SLRs at bargain prices – my Nikon F90x body cost just £50.99 a few years back.

Developing your own black and white film is a pretty simple task, but usually involves a bit of tedious fiddling around to load the film into the developing tank. The first time, I did it teenage-style, pitch black under the duvet. Later I graduated to a changing bag, which is straightforward enough but does require a little dexterity.

There is an alternative though – the Daylight Developing Tank. No one seems to make these any more, but they were quite popular for a while, and can often be found on eBay. Step forward the Rondinax 35U, made by Agfa. No need for a darkened room, a changing bag, or a fumble under the duvet. Thanks to this ingenious “Tageslicht-Entwicklungsdose”, you can process a film while sitting at your garden table – at least, that’s what the instruction leaflet shows.

So, what is it? Essentially, a Bakelite box with a removable lid. There’s enough space inside for a film spiral and 200ml of fluid. The lid provides a light trap, and a flat tray with a lip for pouring chemicals in and out. A knob on the side allows you to rotate the spiral – at 200ml, the film in a Rondinax never gets completely covered.

Inside the RondinaxBeauty is on the inside
That doesn’t sound like anything really special, granted. It’s what’s on the side of the Rondinax that makes the difference. No, not the built in thermometer, though that’s handy – but check the accuracy before you rely on it to process a film.
The real cleverness is at the top left, where there’s a holder for a 35mm film cassette. (120 film users should hunt out the Rondinax 60). Make sure you don’t wind the film all the way back in, or use a retriever to pull the end out. The centre of the spiral has a strap with a clip on the end. Clip that to the trimmed end of the film, put the lid on, and start slowly turning the knob.

The film gets pulled into the spiral, loading from the centre outwards, and a small lever on the front of the box shows roughly how many exposures have been wound on. Then, when you can’t wind any more, you’ve reached the end of the film. Slip you finger or thumb round the left side of the Rondinax, and pull the guillotine blade sharply upwards, cutting the film just as it leaves the cassette.

Now all you have to do is wind the last bit of film on, and pour in your developer. Since the film’s not completely submerged, you need to rotate it during developing. Some instructions say to do it continuously, and the Agfa manual suggests a half turn every two seconds, but I’ve found that it works just as well if you give, say, a third of a revolution every 20 seconds or so. The more mechanically minded could perhaps rig up a small motor – but don’t turn too fast, or you may see weird patterns round sprocket holes.

A film ready to be wound inOnce the development time is up, pour the used chemicals out, and then do the next steps, stop bath and fixer, followed by a good rinse. When the job’s all done, just undo the knurled screw in the centre of the knob and pull it out to release the spiral, then hang your film up to dry.

There are some drawbacks, of course – you can’t stand develop with a Rondinax. But you can do colour processing in one, if you’re methodical; there are examples in the Rondinax pool on Flickr.

Though they fell out of fashion, probably as colour photography took off, the Rondinax and its kin – other manufacturers made similar devices, or rebadged the Agfa – do make it processing film even easier than you might have imagined. If the thought of changing bags and messing around with loading film has put you off, keep an eye out for one on eBay or in junk shops.

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