How to Load a Film Camera


"How do I load this camera? Can you help?" 

The most common question we get asked at PhotoLounge is how to load a film camera. There are a few types of 35mm film cameras, but the differences between them are subtle so once you know how to load one it is pretty straightforward to load any other kind of camera.

The thorough instructions below show how to load a manual single lens reflex (SLR) film camera. It is important to follow these in order to avoid any damage to the film as you are photographing. Follow the instructions below, but if you want to come into PhotoLounge and have us take a look at your camera or go over how to load your camera we are happy to help you. No appointment is necessary.

Steps to Load Film in a 35mm SLR Camera

Open the SLR Camera

#1. On the top left hand side of the camera lift up on the rewind knob. There may be a little bit of resistance.

lifting the rewind knob of a SLR camera with an arrow pointing up

Note: There also might be a small safety lock that you will need to pull towards you as you lift up on the rewind knob

#2. The back of the camera should pop open and look similar to the image below:

the back of an open film camera with the film chamber and door circled

#3. Be careful not to touch anywhere on the rectangular panel between the film chamber and the take up spool as well as the one on the inside of the door to the back of the camera (areas highlighted in photo above)

Position the Film in the Camera

#4. Place the film cartridge with the film leader facing towards you into the film chamber located on the left hand side

#5. Depress the rewind knob so it locks your film in place

#6. Pull the film leader across to the take up spool located on the right hand side

#7. Take the end of the film leader and feed it into a slot in the take up spool

#8. Make sure the holes on the edges of the film align with the notches on the top and bottom of the film sprocket roller

Photograph of the back of a film camera with a roll of film loaded in it


Check the Position of the Film

#9. Check your film is loaded properly by depressing the shutter release button

#10. Crank the film advance lever slowly. The film leader should wrap around the take up spool smoothly

#11. Double check the film is a lined with the film sprocket rollers

#12. Close the back of the camera until you hear a snap

Close up showing film loaded around take up spool in back of 35mm camera


Advance the Film

Remember, film is light sensitive. When loading your film into the camera you exposed your film to direct light which means that it cannot be used to take a photograph. You need to advance the film a few exposures so you can be sure that your photographs will be captured.

#13. Depress the shutter release button then crank the film advance lever a couple times

Close up of advance lever on a Leica 35mm camera

#14. As you do this look at the top of the rewind knob on the left hand side of the camera to see if it turns. This is a second way to check if your film is loaded properly

Video: Loading 35mm Film in a SLR Camera

Watch this video showing how to load a camera: 

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