How Long Can You Leave Film Inside A Camera?

I’ve bought and sold hundreds of film cameras and I’ve discovered film in so many of them, over this time I’ve learned when it’s worth developing said film.

Camera film can be left inside a camera for 10-15 years and still be fine when you come to develop it. The main considerations are the type of camera film, the environment it’s been stored in and the type of camera.

Whether you’ve left film in your camera for a long time or discovered an old camera and want to know if it’s worth developing it, read on to find out more!

What Happens To Camera Film Over Time?

Over time, camera film starts to lose sensitivity and become degraded. It can also slowly be exposed to very small amounts of light which can lead to fogging or even slowly expose all of your film. Whether it’s 35mm or 120mm film, the rules are pretty much the same.

The pictures above are from a camera that was stored for some years before its film was developed. As you can see, it’s started to have quite a green hue and some of the other shots from this roll are a bit underexposed.

This isn’t really an example of how bad it can get, this is most likely what shots will look like if they’ve been stored for 15-20 years in a well-sealed camera if it’s not too hot/damp.

How Does Environment Affect Camera Film?

The environment can have a massive part to play when it comes to your camera film. In basic terms, camera film likes the cold and dry, it doesn’t like the hot, humid or damp.

This is why most people store their camera film inside a fridge or freezer. This is cold and dry and allows the film to stay in far better condition for longer. It halts the loss of sensitivity and degradation over time.

Heat and moisture can quickly ruin camera film. So if you’ve left your camera with film in on a hot windowsill for years then it may well be done for.

This doesn’t mean it’ll be ruined if you’ve been shooting a roll of film on holiday for a month. It still needs time to degrade.

How Does The Type Of Film Affect It?

Here are some basic rules, black and white film lasts longer than colour film and low ISO film (400 and below) lasts for longer than high ISO film.

I don’t know the technicalities but B&W film can last a good while whereas colour film doesn’t quite have the same life. So if you find black and white film in the back of your camera then you might be a bit more confident about developing it.

ISO can have a big impact because higher ISO film is more sensitive so it’s much more likely to degrade quicker and lose contrast. Be aware if you’re leaving 800+ ISO film in your camera because there’s a good chance it’ll go bad sooner.

How Does The Type Of Camera Affect Film?

This is something I’ve learned the hard way, types of cameras, or the way the camera is stored can have an impact on camera film.

I think that an SLR/Rangefinder camera is more likely to have light leaks than a point-and-shoot camera. Usually, SLR cameras are older and they tend to have degraded light seals, so if they’ve been stored with a roll of film inside and the camera isn’t in a bag or something then there’s a good chance it’ll have light leaks or fogging (If it’s been there for 4+ years).

Point-and-shoot cameras have usually been produced more recently but they’ve also usually been stored inside a small camera pouch which would add another layer of light sealing.

So I believe that point-and-shoot cameras will take care of your film for longer on average than an SLR or rangefinder camera would.

So How Long Can You Leave Film In A Camera For?

The answer depends on all of the things mentioned before. If it’s in a well sealed camera, it’s below 400 ISO and it’s in a cool and dry environment then you could expect the film to be pretty fine for 15-20 years.

If it’s in a poorly sealed camera, the film is 400+ ISO and the environment is hot and damp then it may only be good for 4-5 years!

So hypothetically, if I found a camera in a loft in the cold north of England, it was in a camera bag/case and when I unwound the film and removed it I discovered it was 200 ISO. I would chance it and try to get it developed to see what was on it!

On the flipside, if I found a camera that had been kept in the windowsill of a house in Madagascar and when I removed the film it was 800 ISO. I’d pretty much assume that the film was ruined.

How To Tell How Long Film Has Been In A Camera

It’s hard to tell how old long a roll of film has been in a camera. Obviously, if it’s one of the more recent point-and-shoot cameras then the film can’t have been in the camera since before the camera was made but the film could have been out of date when it was loaded.

If there’s no information on the cannister then my best advice would be to take a photograph of the cannister and ask reddit, there will be somebody there that’ll give you a rough estimate of when this kind of cannister was produced and that’ll inform you about how old your film is!

How Long Can You Leave Film In A Camera While Before Shooting Again?

This is a long winded question that I think some of you will have come here to find the answer! Some of you may be casual shooters and have loaded a roll of film a year ago and you’re not sure whether it’ll be okay to keep shooting it or not.

I’d say that you could happily shoot a roll of film over the course of about 4 years without any negative impact on quality or sensitivity. Yes you could shoot it for longer but as time goes on you’ll risk degradation to the film.

If your camera is light sealed properly then you shouldn’t have any significant issues!

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  1. Pingback: Why Do People Store Camera Film In The Refrigerator? - Your Photography Buddy

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