Agfa Rondinax 60 daylight developing tank.
What it is and how to use it.
The Rondinax is an ingenious German Agfa Camera-Werk AG invention enabling the photographer to develop their own black & white or color film. Different chemicals and methodology of course. These first appeared in the 1950s and, in good condition are still 100% usable today. One of their great benefits is the film is not touched by your fingers during loading or processing. Also, no requirement for darkness except inside the tank. Everything needing to be done by the photographer can be done in daylight.
There are 2 Rondinax tanks – the 35U for 35mm film and the 60 for 120 film. One does not work for the other, they are quite specific. We are only concerned with the 60 for 120 film here as I have no experience with the 35U. I use a Patterson System 4 tank and reels for 35mm developing.
The Rondinax 120 tanks are only available on the 2nd hand market now and are quite rare. If you do find one which is in good condition expect to pay NZ$250 + with plenty of competition. An important point here to note is every component of the Rondinax has it’s part to play and is important. Without all it’s parts the Rondinax will fail it’s task. There are 2 pieces to the actual tank – the tank itself and the lid. Neither should be cracked or broken in any way. It is made from Bakelite, a hard durable plastic which resists heat and chemical action. But it is brittle so your Rondinax will definitely break or split if dropped however it’s durability is well proven by the examples in use today. Inside the lid is fixed a spoon shaped stainless steel spring which holds the 120 film roll in place as the backing paper is being removed. These spoons are often missing and without it the film roll will tend to move vertically with the actual film curling outside the Rondinax instead of being rolled into the light tight film spooling chamber. There are 2 small right angle shaped metal clips attached to the tank body. These hold the film roll in a parallel position. The Cylindrical rotating film spooling chamber – also Bakelite has an opening which when in position #2 with the lid locked down accepts the exposed, but as yet undeveloped film as the backing paper is being pulled slowly away. In position #2 with the lid on the film chamber is in complete darkness. Of course if the spoon spring is missing and the film unfurls to the outside instead of into the film chamber then your film is ruined. The film chamber has a selector type knob to the outside with position #1 and position #2. In position #2 the film is furled inside the film chamber and then on position #1 the lid can be opened with the film protected inside the light tight film chamber while the backing paper is finally removed and the strap clip is attached. Next is the reel with it’s attached strap and film clip. The strap being a rubberized fabric can deteriorate over time but generally, if the tank has been moderately used and well cleaned after each use, the strap should be in an acceptable flexible condition. The metal clip attached to the end of the strap has a small sharp tooth in the centre which needs to penetrate the end of the film as it is attached. The film guide is a small plastic slide which slots in between the film chamber and rests on top of the reel. These often get lost and if not used the film will not wind onto the reel properly thereby ruining the following developing process. With the lid back on, film guide in it's place and the selector knob to position #2 the film can be slowly wound onto the spiral reel ready for developing. The reel itself usually seems to survive well and if looked after the film spirals will be in good condition. The final piece is the reel winder which consists of a 25mm bolt with a specially shaped sealing washer and a knob to the outside of the tank enabling continuous turning of the spiral during developing. Another advantage of the Rondinax is it’s chemical economy. 150mls of diluted chemical is all that is needed of each developer, stop and fixer. Now you know what the Rondinax is we will take a look on how to use it.
First remove the lid by turning the selector knob to position #1. Drape the film leader strap over the front edge. Remove the film guide and lay to one side. Now take your exposed film roll, carefully cut the seal paper and place the roll in between the 2 clips, with the film roll end oriented towards you, drawing just enough of the backing paper out so it can be gripped when the lid is replaced.
Put the lid on, turn the selector to position 2 locking the lid down and readying the film chamber to accept the unfurling film.
Now slowly pull the backing paper away from the tank in about a 45 degree angle (not to critical). Don’t pull fast. Take care to notice that the film IS NOT unfurling outside the tank. This is critical as the exposed film will now be ruined with exposure to light. If the tank is complete with all it’s parts this will most certainly not happen but I always feel comfortable to check as I start to pull away the backing paper. Carry on until #1 appears on the backing paper, continuing slightly until resistance is felt. Stop pulling because you have arrived at the point where the backing paper is attached to the actual film. Bear in mind the format you shot; 645 will = 16 frames, 6x6 will = 12 frames. Move the selector back to position #1, remove the lid and carefully detach the backing from the actual film. These are joined by a narrow strip of sticky tape. Be careful not to unfurl film out of the film chamber as it is, as yet, undeveloped and will be ruined. The narrow strip where the backing paper was attached is now where the film leader strap will be clipped to the film.
Bring the leader strap across the top of the reel and attach to the end of the film using the centre cutout in the tank edge as a centre guide as it is important for the strap to be attached to the film in it’s centre otherwise as the film is wound onto the reel it may jam on one side. Also ensure that the sharp tooth in the centre of the strap clip properly penetrates and positively attaches to the film. Now the film guide must be replaced under the strap and located into slots either side of the tank just below the 2 metal clips which hold the film roll with the end of the film guide chute resting on top of the reel. It is easy to forget the film guide at this point as it is a separate piece – don’t, because the film will not wind to the reel correctly and the developing process will fail. You can’t go backwards either as you now have the exposed, yet undeveloped film in the tank. To retrieve this situation the whole process would need to be undone inside a changing bag in complete darkness. Possible but extremely frustrating.
Time to start developing. Pour in the 150ml of diluted developer you have pre prepared ensuring it is up to 21C / 68F. A little warmer is not a problem but the time in the developer is reduced. Ambient tap water where we live in Auckland is around 20c so a slightly warm water bath for a few minutes is all that is needed at this time of the year (June). Start the timer straight away – 8 minutes and start slowly rotating the outer knob which completes the film loading onto the reel then keeps the reel holding the film slowly turning through the developer. As soon as the timer signals 8 minutes is up, pour off the developer and pour in 150mls of diluted stop bath. 30 seconds is all that is needed. Pour off the stop and pour in the 150 ml of fixer. This needs minimum 3 minutes so start the timer again turning the reel all the time. Pour off the fixer and pour in the wash aid, agitating for about 20 – 30 secs. Pour off then do 5 full tank washes with clean water, filling the tank to overflow each time, agitating all the while. Time now to lift the lid and wind out your beautiful developed 6x6 or 645 medium format images. Clip each end, squeegee excess water away and hang to dry. Good job.