Tips on loading 4x5 sheet film

Panos Voudouris
8 min readOct 9, 2020

As a new large format film user I spent a fair bit of time watching videos and reading how to load film. Coming from smaller formats the concept of having to load film is quite alien at first, simple when you are ready to try it and actually quite frustrating as you actually get to do it!

So far I have loaded 25 or so sheets and have picked up a few tricks that I didn’t find in the videos and articles I read. In this article I will attempt to put them all together so that you can have a checklist and walkthrough for your first attempts!

I bought 6 new Toyo double holders, ie I can load 12 sheets at a time.

What you’ll need

Before we start, here’s what you need to load sheet film:

  1. Loading tent. Get a tent, not a bag. It is invaluable not having a changing bag get in the way as you try to open the film box, get the film out of the little bag it is in, removing dark slides and all that!
  2. Film and holders (obviously!)
  3. Pencil and eraser. You will need these to write on the holders what film you have loaded.

Before your first attempt

The best thing you can do before you try loading film for real is to try it with a sheet of film. It is probably worth wasting those £5 (or less, depends on the film) on one sheet to see exactly how it goes in. I didn’t and thought I had it all sussed out after watching videos. But as in everything, seeing something and then trying to do it (without looking!) is another. The danger here is that you will end up loading all the sheets incorrectly so you will end up with a very expensive mistake a few weeks later (when the film arrives back from the lab).

At the very minimum you should try a dry run, layout everything on a table and pretend you’re loading, do all the movements except opening the film box. This will give you an idea where things will roughly be. Do that with your eyes open once, then with your eyes closed.

Let’s go!

Time to get started. First, either load film or unload film. Unless you’ve done this a thousand times (which means you don’t have to read this) the possibility of error and mix up (did I load this holder, was this the loaded or unloaded film, etc) raises significantly. If you have film holders loaded with…