You’ve just finished a roll full of perfect shots on a classic, manual film camera. Now what? If you’re new to film, this is an important moment, in which a misstep can ruin all the time and expense you’ve put into your photography. Learning proper film-handling technique is crucial to keeping the shots you worked so hard to get.
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Check your camera’s frame counter. Rewinding early wastes film, but trying to advance it too far can tear the film or damage the camera. Most rolls of film contain 24 or 36 frames, and knowing when to rewind is like Blackjack: You want to get as close to the end of the roll as possible without going over.
Advance the film with the film advance lever, found on the top right of the camera. If the lever stops in mind-crank, you’ve hit the end of the roll. Don’t force it!
Watch your film rewind knob, typically located on the top left of the camera when it's pointed away from you. The knob should turn when you advance the film, unless you've just started the roll. If it doesn’t turn, chances are your film isn’t loaded correctly, or you've forced the advance lever and torn the film. In either case, it's time to rewind.
Move to a dark area, if possible. If your camera has a light leak, rewinding it in bright light will fog the entire roll of film.
Press and hold the rewind button on the bottom of the camera. If you’re right-handed, use your left hand for this step; use your right if you’re left-handed.
With your free hand, pull the rewind crank out of the rewind knob on the top left of the camera. Don't pull the knob itself up, because this will open the film door and expose your film.
Turn the rewind crank clockwise to rewind the film. You should feel some resistance, and, when you put the camera up to your ear, you should be able to hear the film rewinding.
Keep going until you feel the resistance stop. Turn the knob few more times to be sure the film is completely rewound into the canister before opening the camera.
Don’t force it! Film can get stuck in a camera for a variety of reasons, and none of them respond well to blunt force on the rewind knob.
Take the camera into total darkness. A closet with a towel under the door will suffice.
Open the camera. You’ll be able to feel the film stretched between the canister and the take-up spool.
Remove the canister from the camera and gently turn its spool clockwise to manually retract the film from the camera.
Tips and warnings
- Have a backup plan. If your film doesn’t rewind, having a second camera handy will allow you to keep shooting.
- Rewind your film as soon as you can. Leaving film unwound in the camera increases the likelihood you'll forget it's in there and open the camera, only to find a ruined roll inside.
- In cold, dry weather, rewind your film slowly to avoid fogging the film from static discharge.
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