Old colour film

One of the classic cameras I took possession of this week was a 1959 Halina 35x, which happened to contain an unused film. I managed to date the film to between 1983-1987 (after 1983 as it had a DX code, and before 1987 because the film speed was given in ASA rather than ISO).

Expired colour film

Yesterday, I exposed the film in my lunch break using the Halina 35x that it had been sitting in for almost the past three decades. I had no idea what to expect, although I was sure the results would be somehow imperfect. Here’s the film in the tank, and the four chemical baths being kept warm in a water jacket.

Developing a colour film

Unfortunately, the film didn’t produce a decent image. There are traces of images just about visible by eye. The scanner was able to make out a little more detail than I was, but the image is pretty unsatisfactory. Before post-processing the entire image was grey – it really is quite hard to emphasise how underexposed this film was!

Manufactured 1983, exposed 2012, developed 2012

In this picture, I’ve made a makeshift lightbox by hanging the film in front of my computer screen and displaying a white background. You can clearly see the pixels, but really what we’re looking at here is the distinct absence of a picture. You can see the reflected Apple logo from the back of my iPhone, but the darker areas are actually the picture. Yep, that’s what we’re working with. Note also the DX barcodes.

Detail of the negatives

In the past, I found a 1980s colour film that had been exposed but not developed. When I developed it, it came out with a slight colour cast that was easily fixed and some blue areas that were not.

Manufactured 1984, exposed 1984, developed 2011

Colour film doesn’t age well, but the real issue is the loss of film speed with age. Development worked well in both cases – I can tell because both films have correctly-exposed DX film-edge barcodes, which are exposed by a machine at the factory and are revealed in development.

The film was that exposed in 1984 has been exposed properly, and fortunately the latent image more-or-less lasted the 27 years before development. The film that was exposed in 2012 has had problems, because the film lost so much speed that I grossly underexposed it. Other than that, it worked. I bet if I had exposed it at ISO 12 (3 extra stops from the rated 100 ISO) it would have been fine.

So here’s my summary:

  • Old colour film works, but expect imperfect results
  • If the film was exposed long ago, just develop it as normal. It’ll probably be fine!
  • If the film hasn’t yet been exposed, give at least 3 extra stops of exposure when you do shoot it.

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