LAB-BOX daylight-loading film tank and Visit to Ars-Imago in Rome
LAB-BOX by Ars-Imago was in the news early this year as the new daylight-loading film development tank for 35mm (135) and 120mm film which made me fairly excited about piece of kit. I was in Rome this spring and noticed that Ars-Imago the company behind LAB-BOX design and development is Italian and is right next to Vatican Museums in Rome. I decided to pop in to Rome's store and see if they can show me the prototype in the flesh.
Store is open Monday to Saturday so I popped in on weekend when it wasn't going to be busy to have a look at LAB-BOX.
Chiara who works in the shop was happy to show the current prototype, they bring it over to the store to get feedback from people who work there and visitors. Ars-Imago team uses 3D printing to create the physical prototype and visualise their product. This creates a fully functional product although you have to bare in mind its not made from final material and is not designed for prolonged use. Nevertheless it's perfect way to test their tool. The prototype they had was the latest version which has an improved crank leaver (outer knob) for winding film. Ars-Imago team clearly put it through a few test rolls so prototype was showing signs of wear.
Overall feel of LAB-BOX is of high quality product and I can foresee the final product being robust and hardwearing. It is also designed in a way that makes it simple to assemble and use as well as repair. It terms of size, it's not small, the tank needs to take 120 Film and chemicals which makes it large, bigger than a Rollieflex camera. They mention it can be carried with you for development of film even outdoors, yes it's possible but not likely to be of practical use. Apart from the box, you need chemicals and water so it becomes a weighty enterprise. I can foresee it's use in the studio shoots where you have access to water.
The project itself is interesting, some people think it's a revolution or next step in analog film development. I think it's just an evolution of need. Daylight-loading tank is not a new idea. LAB-BOX itself is a reworking of an old post World War I technology. Back then, there might have been little need to develop film "instantly" for most users but in today's Instagram world this is more of a "need". There was also no Internet back in the 1930s and no Kickstarter to gauge the interest in the product. With Kickstarter project reaching over €650K well over their modest goal of €70K it seems like there is a real need for this kind of product.
Chiara also told me that a lot of interest in the LAB-BOX Kickstarter project came from UK, where I am from and I can imagine why. The cost of film development in London is high, and there are few good local labs that give you flexibility. London's crazy property market effects us all, not only Labs have to pay excessive rents, photographers who want to develop their own film also don't have a luxury of having a dedicated space for film development. And more often than not, our bathrooms are tiny too!
Getting excited about gear is one thing I don't do often anymore as my friend photographer James Gifford Mead and visual artist Nuno Correro can vouch for. In recent years the plethora of new photographic equipment has taught me one lesson. Getting excite about gear 99% of the time leads to disappointment and waste of money. A lot of gear is made in a rush to grab money and without taking advise from real users and understanding their passion.
That said. I'm excited for LAB-BOX as it will bring a useful level of intuitiveness to the "darkroom" film development process and allow new and old photographers alike to experiment and play with their film photograph's. This is great for creativity.
LAB-BOX is scheduled for shipping in September 2017 so hopefully we all get to try it out and see more user reviews in October.