Film Leader Retriever

AP Film Extractor
AP Film Extractor

What is a film leader retriever?

A film leader retriever, also called film picker or extractor is a film processing tool. It is used to retrieve the end of a rewound 35mm film from the casette without opening it. The tool is equipped with thin metal blades that slip inside the casette felt trap to do this.

How is a film leader retriever used?

There are a few film picker manufacturers, but pretty much all models on the market use the same design. Using a film extractor for the first time can be a frustrating experience, but it quickly becomes second nature. There are a few basic steps:

  1. Make sure the film is completely wound inside the casette, by turning the spool in the winding direction a couple of times. This prevents jamming and makes the retrieval process easier.
  2. Ensure both sliding buttons of the film retriever are in the rightmost position. On some models the buttons have to click in position to ensure proper operation.
  3. Hold the film casette with your left hand with the spool protrusion ponting down. Carefully insert the tips of the metal plates inside the casette’s felt trap. Make sure all of the layers go in.
  4. Slide the middle button of the film leader extractor to the left until the metal tongue is completely extended inside the casette. If the button is hard to slide, turn the film spool in the winding direction. Most models will snap locked once the button is in the leftmost position.
  5. Holding the casette and film extractor securely, start turning the film spool in the winding direction slowly. As the edge of the film reaches the film extractor blade, you will hear a faint click. Stop winding immediately after the click. If you pass it, do another revolution until you hear it again.
  6. Holding the film core so that it does not rotate, slide the second button of the film retriever to the leftmost position.
  7. Release the film core and carefully pull the casette away from the film picker. The leader of the film should come out with it.

Do you need a film leader retriever?

A film extractor is a useful tool to have if you shoot a lot of 35mm film. Often viewed as a strictly processing tool, it has a place in your bag regardless of whether you do your own processing or not. Maybe you just messed up the loading of you camera and want to pull out film out of the canister again. There’s a number of situations in which you might need to extract a film leader out of a casette.

For example, a film leader extractor gives you the chance to swap films mid roll and then come back to a partially shot roll. To do this, you will have to rewind film back in the casette, noting the current frame count. Most cameras with automatic rewind mechanisms will pull the leader right in, so when you come back to the partially shot roll you will need to use a film retriever to get the it out. When you place the roll back in the camera, advance it to the correct shot by taking blank frames with the lens cap on.

If you develop your own film, you will find a film picker even more useful. For starters, it’s simply a less violent way of getting film out of a 35mm casette as opposed to an opener. It requires a bit more patience but can be done wil a lot less force. In addition, the film picker will reduce your time in the dark as it can be used in daylight. Once you have the leader out, you can go in the dark (or the changing bag) to load the film onto the processing reel. Many users find that film is easier to load if it’s still in the casette.

A film leader retriever is particularly useful if you roll your own film, manually or with a bulk loader. Using the film picker instead of opening the casette with an opener will allow you to reuse the casette even if it’s not constructed for this. If you want to do this, take care not to damage the casette’s felt light trap when inserting the film picker blades.

Film leader retriever Q&A

Can a film leader retriever scratch my film?

Jamming a piece of metal inside a film cartridge does have a weird vibe, so it’s not an unusual concern. However, while not impossible, scratching your film while using a film leader retriever is highly unlikely. The blades that slide inside the casette have no sharp corners, being designed specifically for this task. Just make sure to keep them clean and dry.

What’s more, film picker blades only ever contact the first couple of inches of the roll where there’s normally no images. So even if you do mess up and somehow scratch them up, it’s no big deal since that part of the roll is discarded after processing.

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