Last Monday I was lucky enough to grab some time with ars-imago‘s Giorgio Di Noto to talk about their new daylight film development system, the LAB-BOX, which has just this minute opened doors on Kickstarter (12pm EST, 21st Feb 2017).
The idea is simple, a self-contained, modular daylight-loading and film development system with not a single dark room or film changing bag in sight. Perhaps this video will help describe it a bit better:
I was one of the lucky ones outside of the company to get a bit more detail ahead of the Kickstarter campaign launch and I’m here to share what I learned with you.
Here we go:
EMULSIVE: So, Giorgio…what is this all about?
Giorgio: We started this project two years ago. For people not familiar with ars-imago, we are an analogue photography company with stores in Switzerland and Italy and also have an online store where people can purchase film, darkroom supplies and accessories. We are passionate about film.
Through our physical stores we are in contact with people who shoot film every day. Every day we hear what film photographers want, do, buy. We hear their stories and learn what they’re interested in. We have a feeling of the analogue world.
Many young people are starting to shoot film for the first time and so in this moment, with analogue photography growing again, we fee that to produce something, a tool that simplifies the process and allows anybody to try…to shoot film…this could be interesting.
EMULSIVE: There have been and still are many daylight film processing tanks. What makes the Lab Box different?
Giorgio: We analysed several film development products and systems from both the past and present to understand what does and doesn’t work in practice. So you could say that LAB-BOX started with that idea: redesigning a system of daylight-loading and developing film in multiple formats.
We combined this research, our ideas for refinements and what we’ve learned in our labs to create what you see here today; something which allows anyone to load and develop their own film.
No dark room or dark bags or extra things to buy. We wanted to create something which could make the process of starting and discovering film photography easy.
EMULSIVE: Your Kickstarter is here. How close are you to being able to start production from a product design perspective?
Giorgio: We finished the prototype that you see in the videos and images three or four months ago. At this point we had completed our necessary design steps, ensuring that the finished design could be scaled up and manufactured on a large scale without major changes to its underlying design and usability. Most recently, we presented at Photokina and had some great feedback from the film photography community there.
I guess you can say that we learned a lot trying to build a robust and reliable system that didn’t rely on too many complications during the production process.
We’re ready to start production and need the help of the Kickstarter campaign in order to make the large investments we need in molds and other parts of the mass production step.
EMULSIVE: What about the product? Right now it’s hand-driven and supports 135 and 120 film. Is it too early to ask you what will be in version 2.0?
Giorgio: Evolution will happen. We’re really lucky because the designers were working with have already designed and produced a number of products for the mass market. It’s easy to design something in isolation without realising what’s possible in manufacture, so having that support and advice is incredibly valuable to us.
Our aim with LAB-BOX is to enter the market. Enhancements and upgrades will come and if you promise not to hold me to a timescale I will tell you that we are already planning and designing adding for the LAB-BOX. It’s modular, and we want customers to be able to use a system that grows with them. Motor systems are planned, as are timers, and we are also working on a method of heating and controlling the temperature of the tank. It’s a continuous evolution.
For the first version we wanted to make the product simple and robust. We studied different ways to work our tank during development but it comes down to trying to make something that will last – the less there is to go wrong, the less will.
EMULSIVE: Who is this aimed at?
Giorgio: We really wanted to create something to help those people coming to film photography for the first time and make it easy for them to get involved with the whole process, from shooting film to developing it and beyond.
I said we meet and talk to film photographers every day and this means people with experience as well as people coming to film for the first time.
The idea that you can offer something which removes an uncertain aspect new film photographers are worried about: loading and developing film, we believe that we will help to encourage more people to shoot film.
It’s easy enough that anyone can do it!
My two cents
There you are! Thank you Giorgio.
Please note: although the final image above may suggest that LAB-BOX is aimed at cats, that is not the case. You should keep your cats and other pets away from your chemicals – don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Back to the matter at hand and it’s cards on the table time: I love the idea of this system.
Yes, I develop my own film and yes, I look for efficiencies in that process, especially when developing many roll in one batch. At the same time, I often don’t want to go to the trouble of getting out my dark bag and fiddling around, especially when I know the film might be troublesome to load in a film changing bag – Rollei and Maco, I’m looking at you 😉
I know that this product won’t appeal to a decent chunk of established film photographers but it’s my opinion that for those who are starting out, the LAB-BOX isn’t only a simple route to developing film at home, it’s also one which is potentially less painful.
ars-imago are also planning on launching a range of chemicals (including a monobath) alongside the LAB-BOX and when it comes down to it, that’s innovation in film photography.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 2017 is looking bright for film photographers everywhere.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget to head on over to the Kickstarter campaign to read up on the LAB-BOX and consider giving it your support. If it’s not for you, that’s ok but you can still help to spread the word and help bring this innovation into reality.
Thanks for reading.
PS. I should extend a warm thanks to friend of EMULSIVE Massimiliano Acanfora for helping make contact with ars-imago. Massimiliano, thank you for your support and help!
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