It’s time to admit to myself that I’m insatiably curious to find out what things look like when photographed with various cameras on various films. I’ll shoot nearly anything. That includes expired film — despite my past declarations that I intend to shoot only fresh stock from now on. I keep buying expired film, and people keep giving it to me, and I keep shooting it!
Here are some things I’ve learned about shooting expired film.
Frozen film performs best
Try to get expired film that has been stored frozen since new. Freezing film slows its natural degradation down a lot. Let frozen film come to room temperature before you shoot it, though! This roll of Fujicolor 200 had been expired for a long time, but I put it right into the freezer after I bought it. I shot it at box speed and it looked terrific.
Lower-ISO films look fresh longer than higher-ISO films
The faster the film, the faster it degrades. I made this image with an ISO 400 color negative film that had always been stored frozen. It’s underexposed, and the colors are muted.
It’s a good idea to overexpose expired film
The rule of thumb is to overexpose expired film by one stop for ever ten years it’s been expired. This is a good starting point, at any rate. The more rolls of an expired film that you have, the more you can play with exposure from one roll to the next to find the right amount of exposure to make it look good. Andrew Morang sent me several rolls of Kodak Vericolor III, an ISO 160 color negative film that expired in 1986. After a couple rolls I discovered that it looked best shot at no more than EI 80. That’s only one stop of overexposure despite this film being nearly four decades old.
Kodak’s traditional black-and-white films perform well for years, even decades, past their expiration date
Kodak’s Panatomic-X, Verichrome Pan, Plus-X, and Tri-X films usually look great for many, many years after they expire. The lower-ISO films like the ISO 32 Panatomic-X are hardier than the higher-ISO films like the ISO 400 Tri-X. I’ve had good luck shooting 40-year-old Verichrome Pan at box speed when I have no idea how the film was stored. This image came from a roll of Panatomic-X that Mike Eckman gave me. He had no idea how it had been stored. I shot it at EI 25 and it looks as good as fresh.
Consumer negative films perform perfectly fine up to a couple years expired when stored at room temperature
For years I kept all of my film in a Rubbermaid tub on the floor a closet. I bought film in large batches when I found it on sale, and put it right into that tub. Sometimes film would hang out there for years before I shot it. I shot mostly Fujicolor 200, and it always looked great at box speed.
Expired film is unpredictable, so don’t shoot anything that really matters with it
I bought a roll of 620 Verichrome Pan on eBay to shoot in an old Brownie on my 2013 Route 66 trip. The seller said it had always been stored cold, so I shot it confidently. Sadly, the whole roll looked terrible.
I found this 50-year-old roll of Plus-X at the bottom of a camera bag. I shot it at EI 25 and hoped for the best. It must have been in a hot environment for a while as many images shows damage to the emulsion.
Expired slide film is a crapshoot no matter how it was stored
Stephen Dowling of Kosmo Foto sent me some film from his stash as a thank you for writing an article for his site. One roll was a Konica slide film expired since 2003. Stephen insisted he pulled the roll right out of his freezer, but the whole roll looked like this. Some people enjoy results like these, but I’m not among them.
On the other hand, someone gave me a couple rolls of Fujifilm Velvia, the original version of the well-known ISO 50 color slide film. Despite its August, 2006, expiration, it looked fantastic.
When the images really matter to me, I shoot fresh film. But for the many times I’m just making images for the fun of it, expired film can add to the fun.
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