Analogue gems: The Rondinax 35U

The Agfa Rondinax 35U

The Agfa Rondinax 35U

Digital cameras are quick and easy to use, but sometimes film can be fun. These days you can pick up some pretty decent SLRs at bargain prices – my Nikon F90x body cost just £50.99 a few years back.

Developing your own black and white film is a pretty simple task, but usually involves a bit of tedious fiddling around to load the film into the developing tank. The first time, I did it teenage-style, pitch black under the duvet. Later I graduated to a changing bag, which is straightforward enough but does require a little dexterity.

There is an alternative though – the Daylight Developing Tank. No one seems to make these any more, but they were quite popular for a while, and can often be found on eBay. Step forward the Rondinax 35U, made by Afga. No need for a darkened room, a changing bag, or a fumble under the duvet. Thanks to this ingenious “Tageslicht-Entwicklungsdose”, you can process a film while sitting at your garden table – at least, that’s what the instruction leaflet shows.

So, what is it? Essentially, a Bakelite box with a removable lid. There’s enough space inside for a film spiral and 200ml of fluid. The lid provides a light trap, and a flat tray with a lip for pouring chemicals in and out. A knob on the side allows you to rotate the spiral – at 200ml, the film in a Rondinax never gets completely covered.

Inside the RondinaxBeauty is on the inside
That doesn’t sound like anything really special, granted. It’s what’s on the side of the Rondinax that makes the difference. No, not the built in thermometer, though that’s handy – but check the accuracy before you rely on it to process a film.
The real cleverness is at the top left, where there’s a holder for a 35mm film cassette. (120 film users should hunt out the Rondinax 60). Make sure you don’t wind the film all the way back in, or use a retriever to pull the end out. The centre of the spiral has a strap with a clip on the end. Clip that to the trimmed end of the film, put the lid on, and start slowly turning the knob.

The film gets pulled into the spiral, loading from the centre outwards, and a small lever on the front of the box shows roughly how many exposures have been wound on. Then, when you can’t wind any more, you’ve reached the end of the film. Slip you finger or thumb round the left side of the Rondinax, and pull the guillotine blade sharply upwards, cutting the film just as it leaves the cassette.

Now all you have to do is wind the last bit of film on, and pour in your developer. Since the film’s not completely submerged, you need to rotate it during developing. Some instructions say to do it continuously, and the Agfa manual suggests a half turn every two seconds, but I’ve found that it works just as well if you give, say, a third of a revolution every 20 seconds or so. The more mechanically minded could perhaps rig up a small motor – but don’t turn too fast, or you may see weird patterns round sprocket holes.

A film ready to be wound inOnce the development time is up, pour the used chemicals out, and then do the next steps, stop bath and fixer, followed by a good rinse. When the job’s all done, just undo the knurled screw in the centre of the knob and pull it out to release the spiral, then hang your film up to dry.

There are some drawbacks, of course – you can’t stand develop with a Rondinax. But you can do colour processing in one, if you’re methodical; there are examples in the Rondinax pool on Flickr.

Though they fell out of fashion, probably as colour photography took off, the Rondinax and its kin – other manufacturers made similar devices, or rebadged the Agfa – do make it processing film even easier than you might have imagined. If the thought of changing bags and messing around with loading film has put you off, keep an eye out for one on eBay or in junk shops.


With this extra hour of kids’ TV, you’re spoiling us

Amongst all the talk about the shift of BBC3 to online, and the launch of the BBC 1 + 1 channel, one of the things that’s not received much notice is the extra hour of kids TV.

On the face of it, this is a nice gift from Auntie, and means that instead of the stream running until 7 and then changing into BBC Three, it’ll run until 8pm and change into BBC 1+1.

All very kind and sharing – but also, a pragmatic response to what’s actually an engineering issue. While the main BBC 1 standard def service is fully regionalised, so you can get programmes like Look North or South Today, the same isn’t true of the HD service.

So, when there are regional opt-outs, you get the swimming hippos on the HD channel, and the message that you should switch to on Freeview channel 1 for your local programming.

And, the stream that currently carries BBC Three isn’t regionalised either, which is why there’ll be an extra hour of kids programming.

Otherwise, at 7pm, the first thing to be broadcast on the timeshift channel would be the six o’clock news sequence. That contains the major regional opt-outs for the magazine programmes.

So, the first hour of the +1 channel would have an awful lot of swimming hippos. To avoid that, it won’t start until an hour later, and the gap gets filled by an extra hour of stuff for the kids.


Do you know your consumer rights?

Some of the rules concerning your consumer rights changed this year – out go the Distance Selling Regs, and in come the Consumer Contract Regulations.

Do you know how long you have to decide if you want to keep something you order online? And whether or not you can send it back just because you don’t like the colour? Or the best way to pay the deposit to get extra protection?

Before you start spending money on gifts, check out my round up of the key points for UK and EU consumer protection, on The Register


Binaural stereo from the BBC – Under Milk Wood

A couple of times recently when I’ve written about object audio and binaural systems, people have expressed disbelief that you can get a surround sound effect through ordinary headphones.

But that’s exactly what binaural sound does. If you’re a sceptic, dig out a pair of headphones and head along to the BBC RD trial page.

This is the 2003 production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, which added new actors to the original recording of Richard Burton. Under Milk Wood is, in my view, an amazing thing to listen too. Just set aside 90 minutes and let the sound wash over you.

And, in this trial, you can choose to listen to it remixed in surround sound, either to pass through your PC if you have it set up with the right number of speakers, or in a binaural mix specially designed for headphones.

You’ll need to be using Chrome to listen to it.


Beyond Atmos – objects are the next big thing in audio

A couple of weeks ago, in my Breaking Fad column over on The Register, I wrote about Dolby Atmos, and the difficulty in getting people to upgrade their AV systems. In short, people don’t upgrade home it the way they upgrade their phones, and you’ll need a compelling reason to do so.

Most of what we’ve talked about with regard to object based audio on The Register has been in terms of Home Cinema, but I’m just back from IBC in Amsterdam, and having seen some of the demos there, from people like DTS and the BBC R&D team, it’s clear that there’s a lot more to object based audio than just improvements in surround sound.

I hope to have the opportunity to explore some of those things – along with other neat technology from IBC – on The Register soon, so watch this space for links.


Why you should worry about WRC-15

Over on The Register I’ve written about why WRC-15 matters. You’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s a conference where decisions are made about the frequencies that countries can use for broadcasting and other purposes.

And one of the agenda items for WRC-15, which takes place in November next year, could spell the end for Freeview in the UK, giving up the frequencies to mobile phone companies.

If you, or people you know, rely on Freeview, then you should read the article, and respond to the Ofcom consultation, to let them know that you think it’s important we still have a viable free to air digital TV service.

Without Freeview, many of the less well off in the UK would have no option other than to replace their equipment with satellite for Freesat, or to pay either a broadband or subscription TV company for access to services that, for now, they can enjoy without an additional monthly fee.

Read the article here


Netflix on Roku – is it hanging for you?

Since I’ve had it, my Roku 2XS has generally been very stable; I can use it for hours a day watching Netflix, in high definition, without any problems. For the last ten days, however, it’s been nothing but trouble, Netflix support has been useless, and I’ve had to resort to spending the evening watching old Laserdiscs – until with the help of other Roku users on Twitter, we worked out a solution, which seems so far to have eluded Netflix themselves.

The problem

The problem has manifested in a straightforward way – when I select the Netflix channel on the Roku box, it hangs at the splash screen. Other channels on the box work fine. On one occassion, I got in, watched a show, and at the end was dumped to the Roku menu, and unable to get back in again.

Tweeting about it brought absolutely no response from Netflix for over a week, though their various accounts seemed quite happy to gush to people who were asking questions about what shows were coming – leaving me pretty frustrated.

It stopped working on a Saturday; Sunday and Monday didn’t work either, despite rebooting the box, uninstalling the channel, reinstalling it, updating firmware. And then it sprang back into life; at this stage, my box had firmware 5.5 build 320, and Netflix 3.1 on it. Since I only noticed versions after the updates, I can’t say at which point things broke, unfortunately.

All was looking good – until the following weekend, when it broke again. Again, to a deafening silence from the Netflix twitter accounts. By now, various other users had contacted me on Twitter to say they were having exactly the same problem. One of them had even been told by Netflix Customer Service that it was a known issue on Roku that was being looked into. A shame they didn’t see fit to share that with other customers; I’d have been considerably less disappointed if they’d simply tweeted “we know about this; we’re working on it” instead of ignoring every comment.

Matters weren’t helped by calling the customer service line, prompted by an eventual response to one of my tweets, which suggested I did so. The rep I spoke to agreed I’d done all the right things, and called up my account details, and told me she’d have to put me on hold for a minute while she spoke to the engineers about it. A minute turned into more than three quarters of an hour, after which I hung up because there’s only so much plinky plonky guitar hold music a man can stand.

Tracking it down

Fortunately, the other users of twitter were much more helpful when it comes to solving this, and Julie Brandon (@geekycow) wondered if it was a DNS problem. Even better, she did A/B testing, and discovered that Netflix would reliably hang if her network was configured to use the Google DNS servers, rather than her ISPs.

She then set up a DNS proxy to capture the traffic and see what was doing on, and you can see the results here. In short, when using Google DNS, the box never gets as far as the content delivery network; exactly why is unclear, but in the working trace, and are never looked up, so perhaps there’s something odd going on there – and certainly it’s only EU customers who have mentioned this problem to me. I checked the settings on the router that my Roku’s connected to and discovered that I had two DNS servers configured in it, one on my ISP, and one Google one that I’d put in for backup. I removed the Google server, restarted the router and the Roku, and everything’s back to normal.

What to do

If you’re suffering from the Netflix app hanging when it starts, first make sure that you have up to date firmware on your Roku (and see update 2 below, too); earlier versions ignored what your router told them about DNS, as this exchange explains:

Then, check your router for the DNS settings it uses; it may pick them up from your ISP, which is probably going to be fine, but if there is an entry that says either or, then you’re using a Google DNS server. (Update: soe have also reported this problem using OpenDNS servers, which are and Remove any entries that match the ones I’ve listed, and either leave it blank (and hope the router gets info from your ISP) or change it to the address of your ISPs own servers. Restart the router, and power off the Roku too. When it starts up, it should get the new DNS severs, and hopefully you’ll be back to normal; in my case, I noticed that the app starts much faster too, fetching the catalogue a lot sooner than it had been doing recently.

(One other tweak, suggested to my colleague Bob Dormon at The Register, is to disable network ping; I’ve not had to do this, but you can turn it off on the Roku via the service menu; to reach that press Home five times, followed by FF, Play, RW, Play, FF, *. That menu also allows you to reboot from the comfort of your armchair, incidentally.

So far, so good. It’s only a while since I did the tweak, and last week the service was up and down anyway – but hopefully this will turn out to resolve the problem for other Netflix & Roku users, in which case many thanks to Julie for tracking it down, a task that she did far, far better than Netflix Customer Service, whose sole contribution appears to have been to keep me on the phone for 50 minutes, and deduct a paltry £1.50 from my next bill.

Update: some ISP DNS servers may have problems too, it seems. Here’s info about finding alternatives:

Update 2: there’s now a new update to the Netflix app on Roku which apparently fixes this issue too. Thanks to Roku forum user craigski for pointing me to this, and no thanks, as ever, to Netflix Customer Support, who still haven’t got back to me.

The new version of Netflix, confusingly, still identifies itself as Version 3.1 12th July in the screens you normally see on the Roku, but it should if you go into the software update option, it should update itself and, hopefully, get you back up and running, whatever your DNS settings. I won’t speculate on whether it’s laziness or a desire to pretend this never happened that has it calling itself a 12th July update, when it was released almost a week later.

You can find out exactly which version you have via the Roku’s secret list of installed software. Press Home three times, Up twice, then Left, Right, Left, Right, Left. The first ‘July 12th’ Netflix update is build 6036, while the new working one is build 6037.

August 2015
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