Damien TROLARD

The film photography blog

Can we use expired film rolls ?

Can we use expired film rolls ?

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Every analog films roll has an expiration date. Generally, you can keep them for 2 to 5 years depending on the brand and model. But do we really have to follow this date? Couldn’t we use them even a long time after?

Do photography with expired film

You have some old rolls lying around and you don’t know if you can use them? Well, good news, they still perfectly usable! Many people take pictures with film expired for several years or even decades!

It’s usually a question of price. These films are, in principle, less expensive than new rolls. But it can also be an artistic choice, the result of an image can vary depending on the conservation status. In addition, some films are no longer manufactured. If you want to try them, the only way will be to get an old expired stock!

However, I must warn you before you start an expired film. The result of your photography will be a little bit random. Depending on the expiration date and the quality of its conservation, the rendering may be very different from what it should be with a new roll. But don’t worry, you can still get great pictures a long time after the expiration date.

To succeed to take photos with your expired film, there are a few key things to know. You will have to modify few settings of your device to be able to have correct images. But before tacking about this subject, a small point is essential.

Notify your laboratory

Before explaining how to take perfect photos with your expired film, a little precision is necessary:

ALWAYS notify your laboratory if you develop films expired for many years.

This is something that we don’t think automatically, but using expired film can ruin the chemistries used by your lab. You could destruct pictures that are presents on the rolls who will be developed after yours! In addition, the rendering of your films is kind of random. Your lab can think that the badly result come from quality of their products, but it’s just because you are using expired films! To avoid this pain to you lab, as to other customers, remember to warn them.

Less sensitive film rolls

In analog photography, films have a predefined sensitivity. It’s determined by their ISO. For example, a 400 ISO film is twice as sensitive as 200 ISO film. However, over time, it loses a bit of sensitivity. The emulsion present on its surface which serves to capture the image is deteriorating. It will be necessary to compensate for this loss when taking pictures. But this deterioration depend on how the film has been stored.

  • Stored in the freezer: This is the best way to store a film roll, let it to come back at room temperature before using it. It can be used like a new roll up to 20 years after its expiration date. After that, it loses about half of its sensitivity every 20 years.
  • Stored in the fridge: This is also a good way to preserve films, again come back at room temperature before using it. It can be used like a new roll up to 10 years after its expiration date. After that, it loses about half of its sensitivity every 20 years.
  • Stored in a fresh place (15-20 ° C) and in the dark: We usually say that films lose half of their sensitivity every 10 years.

For example, if you are using 400 ISO film expired since 10 years and stored simply in the dark, it will have lost about half of its sensitivity. So we will use it as if it were a 200 ISO. If it’s 20 years old, like an 100 ISO, 30 years old, like an 50 ISO , etc…

If you don’t know how it was stored: in this case it’s totally random. People generally keep their film rolls in a cupboard or a box. So they probably have been stored in the dark. But nothing is sure, the result can be very great like very bad. 😅

Using an expired roll is all about estimating how much the film has lost in sensitivity, it’s up to you to judge how you will have to expose it. Then, You will only have to modify the ISO value given to your device to expose it correctly.

Some film rolls don’t resist very well…

The ISO

The initial ISO sensitivity of the film also has an important role in film retention. The more sensitive a film, the more difficult it is to preserve. For example, films up to ISO 400 keep relatively well. On the contrary, films at ISO 3200 will very quickly lose sensitivity even if they are stored correctly. So choose film with relatively low ISO if you buy outdated ones, you will have a better chance of being able to take good photos with it.

Black and white or color ?

If black & white films are particularly resistant over the time, this is not the case with all films. In black & white, do not hesitate to use them even a long time after their expiration date. If the roll has been stored properly, you should have good results.

But there is two other film families. First, the color films (with C41 development). They can also be used a long time after expiration. Even if the colors may vary over the time, they still usable. Prepare yourself to get photographies that may look green, red or blue, but the pictures still pretty great.

Slide films (with E6 development) don’t support the years well. Once expired, to get the best possible result, ask your lab to cross-process them (in other words, develop them as if they were color films). This allows a relatively correct result until 10 years after the expiration date. However, the cross-processing will gives a random color tint to your picture, the result can be beautiful or disastrous. After 10 years, for the slides, it becomes quite complicated, the result becomes really hazardous.

The case of infrared films

Infrared films are a bit of a special, they cannot be kept at all. If they aren’t used within 2 to 3 years of their expiration date, don’t expect great pictures out of them. They are very fragile and they don’t like to stay in the closet too much time. You can try them but don’t take pictures that you care about, you may never see them again.

To conclude

Ultimately, most film rolls can be used long times after the expiration date. You just have to estimate how much they have lost in sensitivity. For black & white and color film, don’t hesitate, even if the result may not be what you are looking at, if you stick to films below 400ISO, they still usable even after decades.

If you are using slides or infrared films, it is very hard to get a something out of them. Nevertheless, do not hesitate to experiment rather than throwing them away, you could get some interesting results!

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