Follow the Leader: Sticky Tape Film Recovery

2013-08-08 2

Recover that lost film leader in 2 minutes for less than $2. Sure there are some great commercial products for retrieving a lost film leader, but what if you can’t wait for a FedEx delivery? What if your vacation memories will be ruined due to a lost leader? Never fear, retrieval is but some sticky tape away.

We’ve all done it at least once: accidentally rewound the entire film leader back into a 35mm cassette before it’s ready for development. Whether you’re doing a partial exposure in one camera, rewinding the film, and exposing it again in another camera; rewinding the film to exchange a black & white roll with a color transparency roll; or just clowning around and rewound the leader too far into the cassette, the result is the same, “UGH!”

All is not lost, however, the film leader can be retrieved. The most obvious method for getting your leader back is to use a Film Retriever. This handy device can be purchased through the Lomography Online Shop for $6. That’s OK, but what if you need that film leader back NOW? There is a fast, easy solution that takes only 2 minutes.

First of all, a word of caution. No matter how tempting it might be, do NOT try to pry apart the 35mm cassette’s felt slot and look for your lost leader. This incorrect action could result in exposing the film to light and ruining the whole roll.

Instead do this:

Sticky Leader Recovery



  • 2 minutes


  • Easy


  • Less than $1.00

Your first step is to fight fire with fire and locate a strip of discarded 35mm film. Yes, old film will help retrieve your lost leader. A piece of scrape 35mm film will work great. Also, you can alternatively use a piece of thin, flexible plastic material.

Now cut this strip of 35mm film into a piece about 1- x 5-inches. Basically, trim off those sprocket holes and round the front into a oval shape.

Next, attach a 3-inch long piece of double-sided tape to the emulsion side of your scrape strip of film. This sticky side is the surface that is going to “grab” your lost leader.

You are now ready for the moment of truth. It’s time to go fishin’. Fishin’ for your lost leader, that is. Slowly insert your sticky film strip into the cassette through the felt slot. Keep pushing your DIY film retriever into the cassette until it stops. Wait a second and then begin to pull the film scrape out of the cassette. With any luck you should find the leader stuck to the tape.

If you failed to grab the lost leader, try these recovery tips: (1) Once you’ve inserted your DIY film retriever into the cassette, slowly try to turn the film spool so that the leader will slap against your sticky tape. (2) Push the scrape film into the cassette at an angle so that the front edge of your film strip slides against the inside barrel of the metal cassette. (3) Finally, flip the sticky surface over, insert your DIY film retriever into the cassette and try again.

Ta-da, your 35mm film roll is now ready for action! And next time, please be more careful with your film’s leader.

Bonus Tip: Do you do your own darkroom work? If so, you might be having trouble opening a 35mm film cassette. Yes, there are some good commercial tools for performing this task; like the DLC Film Cassette Opener from the Lomography Online Shop for $14.95. There is a much cheaper alternative, however, and it’s hiding in your kitchen (or, around your neck depending on your volume of beer consumption).

A simple bottle cap remover (aka bottle opener) is able to quickly and easily “pop” the top off a 35mm film cassette. Just place the head of the opener against the plastic spool and slowly pry around the lip of the cassette. In about three prying tries the top should come off. And that’s it. Now load the film into your developing tank and have a beer.

Accidentally rewound your film all the way inside its cassette? Use the Film Retriever to save the day!

written by themindseye on 2013-08-08 #gear #tutorials #film #tutorial #35mm-film #tipster #cassette #film-leader #film-retriever #film-recovery #lost-leader #bottle-cap-opener #dlc-film-cassette-opener


  1. roolpaap
    roolpaap ·

    This works like a charm! I followed the same advice given in

    Unfortunately, in one case the sticky tape ended up in the cassette and no longer on the discarded piece of film. Guess I'll have to use the bottle opener in a dark bag.

  2. katinkaja
    katinkaja ·

    GREAT - it works! Last week I was so unhappy, because I rewound the entire film back in the filmcassette of my LC-A. A few days later I found your article and ta-da - in a few minutes I freed the film. Thanks for this helpful instruction.

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