By Tobias Eriksson
These musings are based on my experience of using expired films. Trying to find valid facts on the web about this subject is difficult. Don’t take my writing here as fact since my purpose here is to encourage you to use expired film, not to present an instruction based on scientific research.
I started buying expired film because it is cheaper than buying new. Actually, the first times I used expired film would have been when a partly finished roll of colour negative film sat in a camera that I’d bought to sell in my Etsy shop. I finished the rolls and when the negatives came back from the lab I discovered that they came out just fine despite of what I’d read about age degradation of film in posts on forums and elsewhere.
After a bit of research I also figured I could develop some colour films in the Caffenol process that I’d begun using for my b&w films.
But let’s not go there yet: colour is a good starting point. We’ll begin with the standard C-41 process films:
Expired colour negative film
Developed with C-41
I like my photos to present surprises – to a certain extent at least. Sometimes colour shifts occur in older films, which is the favourite outcome – I never aim to get realistic colours in my analogue photography.
Kodacolor VR late Seventies
(Example 1: Colour negative – C-41 process)
Hi-Color HR 100 early 1980s
(Example 2: Colour neg – C-41)
Fujifilm Nexia 200 APS early 2000s
(Example 3: Colour neg – C-41)
The C-41 process is the most common method of development that I use for expired colour film. For the last couple of years I have sent my colour films to Best Foto by Schröter in Riesa, Germany. They develop several types of colour film in C-41 process at a good price (but not 120 film), and they cross-process my slide films too (in C-41) without hassle.
Colour negative film
In my experience there are some misunderstandings out there regarding expired film. There is a disputed rule of thumb, for expired films in general, for the photographer to add one stop per decade since expiry date to “help” the film because of the chemical degradation that takes place with age. I have found that there is a reason for there to be a dispute. My own experience with overexposure of any film is that contrasts increase and some colours go “off”. If that is not the effect you intend then there is no reason to overexpose expired film.
Expired colour slide film
Kodak Ektachrome 64 late Sixties
(Example 4: Slide film cross-processed – C-41)
Cross-processing slide film makes the film into a negative with strong colour shifts and increased contrast. Since the film does not go well with the modern slide film developing chemicals I have taken this approach to it and embraced the aesthetics.
Fujifilm Provia 100 early 2000s
(Example 5: Slide film cross-processed – C-41)
One should not apply to these films the common circulated advice for expired colour negative film of overexposing. I would even go as far as to under-expose one stop. I have yet to prove this last theory myself. My main argument is that the cross-processing gives the negatives really heavy contrast so less light should be applied.
Expired colour negative film – as b&w
My experience with this method is not particularly extensive. Mostly since I’m now in my fifth year using Caffenol as main developer and I have little experience using other b&w developers. Three out of three times that I have used Ilford Ilfosol developer on colour film I was severely disappointed.
The first film that yielded nothing with Ilfosol was an Agfacolor CT18 100 ASA film from the early 70s. The second was an early 80s XR100 Extra Film, which was from an Instamatic 126 cassette. The third, a late 80s Göfab 200 ASA, a Swedish super-cheap rebranded film of unknown origin.
Expired colour negative film – Caffenol
My preferred method of Caffenol rests on this recipe: Tap water + cheap instant coffee + vitamin C + washing soda. In all but a few instances this method has yielded satisfactory results for years. Some films turn out grey or muddy but most can be saved in editing. Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Gold 200 look amazing. The film won’t become damaged from the developer.
Kodak Gold 200 late 1990s
(Example 6: Colour neg – Caffenol)
Göfab 100 late 1980s
(Example 7: Colour neg – Caffenol)
There isn’t much to say about the process. Both agitated or stand-developed methods work. I have tried timing development from seven minutes to two hours and they all work. And the developer lasts for many many, many films.
(Example 8: Colour neg – Caffenol)
I would say that if the intention is to develop your colour film in Caffenol you can expose it at box speed. My experience is that there’s lots of fine grain coming out in the Caffenol process of these films.
Expired slide film – Caffenol
The same as above goes for developing expired Ektachrome slide film in Caffenol. The difference is that it turns into a negative, opposite to its initial use. And a very good looking one at that, I think.
Ektachrome 64 early 1980s
(Example 9: Slide film – Caffenol)
Ektachrome 64 early 1980s
(Example 10: Slide film – Caffenol)
The dark layer protecting the film – which, as I understand it, is pulled off in standard development – just dissolves in Caffenol. To aid this process stand or semi-stand development should be considered.
There is a slide film that I wasn’t able to get anything out of (apart from a couple of shadows): Kodachrome 64. I first sent it to be C-41 developed which resulted in nothing. Then I tried two recipes of Caffenol (instant coffee and rosemary tea respectively). Nothing. My third and last try was Ilfosol which produced slight shadows on one strip of negative. I now know not to mistake Kodachrome with Ektachrome.
Since slide film turns into something else entirely – far from what it was designed to be – experimentation is key. And to me it is now obvious that the older (pre-1990) Ektachrome films should be exposed at box speed as I have had very satisfactory results from films with expiration dates ranging from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Expired b&w negative film – Caffenol
I have not encountered many b&w films that respond other than great to Caffenol development. An exception is Rollei Retro 400 ASA film, which can’t be developed. Another is Kodak’s films T-Max and Tri-X which tend to develop as muddy and grey.
Agfa Isochrom mid-1940s
(Example 11: B&w film – Caffenol)
Agfa ISS Isopan late 1970s
(Example 12: B&W film – Caffenol)
T-Max 400 early 2000s
(Example 13: B&W film – Caffenol)
Agfapan Vario-XL mid 1980s
(Example 14: B&w film – Caffenol)
This category of film I expose at box speed nowadays. The first of these were over-exposed by one stop. I was at the time misinformed about how to expose older film. My conclusion based on experience of exposing and developing thirty something expired b&w rolls is that any older film should be exposed at box speed.
A final disclaimer: I have bought my expired film here in Sweden. It’s a country with conditions unlike many other with regard to summer temperatures, humidity etc. Keep this in mind when slavishly following my gospel for expired film.
Thank you for listening to my expired musings! I hope that you’re keen to experiment and not to throw away good film just because it’s older.