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Snip It Good: A DIY Film Leader Trimmer

Using a classic camera can test the nerves of any photographer: shutter speeds, apertures, focusing; ugh that's a lot of work. Well, one “extra” little thing that you DON'T want to worry about is getting your film to fit inside the camera. For less than one USD you can make your own template sleeve for quickly and easily trimming film to fit your classic camera.

After you’ve shot a couple of rolls of film through a vintage camera, one thing is bound to annoy you: constantly having to trim your 35mm film leader prior to loading the camera. There’s no getting around this annoyance, either. If you bullishly elect to ignore all instruction manual warnings and throw caution to the wind, you will almost certainly jam your priceless classic camera. There’s got to be an easier way to cut this leader habit.

Yes, there is an easier way, but you are going to have to make one more painful trim before the easy part begins.

Before we start this project, there are two historical products that can be used for trimming your 35mm film leader:

The grand-daddy classic film leader trimmer is the Leica ABLON Film Trimmer Template. This hinged metal template came equipped with a knife for scoring/cutting the film leader along the metal edge of the template. You can find used templates priced from $90 USD to $125 USD

The Prinz Film Cutting Guide (Cat. No. 260-50) is a reasonable alternative to the Leica product and is usually priced, when available, from $9 USD to $64 USD.

While both of these historical templates are durable and useful for shaping your classic camera’s film leader, they are ridiculously exorbitant for the simple action that they perform. This DIY film leader trimmer template project will cost less than one dollar, it is durable, and it is portable.

DIY Leader Trimmer


  • Notebook Pouch (aka Binder Pouch or Pencil Holder, etc.; ideally your pouch should be made from transparent and flexible plastic with at least two fused or welded sides)
  • Binder Clip


  • 15 Minutes


  • Easy


  • $1 USD


Step 1. Measure the film hold-down clip on the camera’s take-up spool. On the Zorki 1, this clip is 20mm long. Additionally, Russian vintage cameras require a trimmed film leader to be 10cm in length. Therefore, in this example, you would make a template that is 20mm x 12cm x ~36mm with a taper between the 20mm end and the 36mm end. That’s not a misprint – the template is 12cm long, whereas the taper is 10cm in length. See the template illustration for the proper placement of these dimensions.

Step 2. Locate two fused sides on your pouch. One of the sides will run the length of the template (12cm), while the other fused side will become the smaller take-up spool clip’s dimension (20mm). Lightly draw a line on the pouch that marks the final dimensions of your template. You will later cut along this line.

Step 3. Cut out your template. That’s it; the template is now ready for trimming your film leader.

Step 4. Pull approximately 12cm of film out of the manufacturer’s cassette. Slip this film length into your template and secure both pieces together with the binder clip. Now take a pair of scissors and trim the film’s leader along the tapering path of your template. Remember, do NOT cut the leader through a sprocket hole. ONLY trim between sprocket holes.

Now, load this newly trimmed film cassette into your vintage camera. You might have to carefully rewind 2cm of film back into the cassette to make everything fit snuggly inside the camera. Once you’ve closed the camera, make sure that the rewind knob rotates as you advance the film. This observation is your best sanity check for verifying that you have a usable template for properly loading modern film into your classic camera. On the other hand, if you aren’t satisfied with your leader template, make a new one. Templates are cheap and easy to make, so you might as well be happy with the results. Oh, and I usually trim an entire carton of film (e.g., ten film cassettes) in one sitting. Then all of my film is ready to go for loading up and capturing my next great moment.

written by themindseye

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