Saturday, September 4, 2010

Changing Bag vs Darkroom

Guest Blog by Julie Spaulding

You’re out on the field, and for whatever reason, you decide that you need to develop some film. It’s time to enter the darkroom and fumble about with some chemicals – that is, unless you’ve got a changing bag handy. Google ‘changing bag’ and you’ll probably be invited to test out the latest in diaper changing technology. Search for ‘film changing bag’ and prepare to be amazed by the most useful recent invention for the film developing process.

Film Changing Bag vs Darkroom

A changing bag allows a budding film developer to transfer film from canister to developing tank without exposing the film to light. However, the darkroom performs the same function, but with more ‘room to maneuver’, as there is no bag to restrict movement. So, why should you invest in a changing bag when a darkroom is all that is required?

Firstly, changing bags do not require the same level of preparation as a darkroom. A darkroom requires the use of blackout material, ventilation equipment and other expensive items, whilst a small changing bag may be purchased for as little as $13.

Secondly, changing bags allow photographers to develop film ‘on the go’, as well as change over jammed or partially-exposed film without searching for a darkroom or exposing the film to light. Darkrooms are not common in the middle of the Sahara or on the steppes of Mongolia, so photographers inclined to remote expeditions should always have a changing bag on hand.

Finally, I like changing bags because of their portability. I know this sounds suspiciously similar to point number two, but a darkroom can be impractical even in your own house. If you’ve only got one or two sinks, setting up a darkroom with foul-smelling chemicals in your kitchen might not be a good idea. A changing bag is the perfect way around this.

So, next time you’re at your favourite photography store, see if a film changing bag is in stock. If you haven’t already got one, pick one up! You’ll wonder how you ever managed without one.

Julie Spaulding is the owner of How to Develop Film, what she likes to consider the web’s premier source on film developing.

Film Changing Bags on e-bay

Film Changing Bag at Freestyle Photographic

Polaroid 300 Images © 2010 Michael Raso

Check out The Film Photography Podcast


  1. AND, you need a changing bag to respool your 120 film to those uber-valuable 620 spools. See...I benefit from the podcast. I actually practiced on respooling some old exposed film out of the bag, and I'm ready to hit the to speak.

  2. I love the podcast, and appreciate what you guys are doing. However, this blog post doesn't really make any sense to me. A changing bag is an alternative to a darkroom, yes. But once you get the film into the tank, you're still going to have to develop that film, and that's still going to stink (well, only the fixer, in my experience, and that's short-lived). So, I don't see how a changing bag is an advantage over a darkroom in that sense.

    If all you're doing is moving film around, a darkroom doesn't have to be a highly specialized place with special ventilation and blacked-out paint. I just work in my basement bathroom. I do use a changing bag, but only to block the light out from the bottom of the door if it's daytime :-). I *hate* my changing bag. I always start sweating in it, and once had to throw away the film I was trying to load due to it getting sticky in the humid environment. But, if I turn out the lights in my bathroom, I can practically throw the film at the reel and it's loaded.

  3. I say the changing bag is great. I can't set up a darkroom, and if I did, it would be primarily to do print developing. The changing bag is perfect for quickly loading a daylight developing tank for film. I've never experienced excessive stink except when working in a darkroom, and even then it was because of open chemical trays, not daylight tanks.

    The portability aspect is something to think about, especially since I shoot a lot whenever I travel. Then again, I'm not sure I want to try bringing chemicals with me on an airplane, or even think about developing while I'm in someplace as exotic and potentially hazardous to film as the Sahara.