I’ve been shooting on film with disposable cameras for years and in that time I’ve found out all the ins and outs of disposable photography.
Most disposable cameras will have a use-by date of 2-3 years from production but after that, the camera can still be fine to use for 5-10 years. After around 5 years the film inside the camera will gradually degrade over time so your pictures may be slightly underexposed or foggy.
If you want to find out more about different types of disposable cameras, when you definitely shouldn’t use one or when it’s worth a try, keep on reading!
How Long Can A Disposable Camera Last?
How long a disposable camera (or the film inside it) can last will depend on a few things.
If your disposable camera is black and white then it should last longer than a disposable camera that has colour film in it. Black and white film naturally lasts longer than colour film so you could happily shoot a 10-15-year-old black and white disposable camera.
If your camera has relatively low ISO film inside it (like 200 ISO) then it should last longer than one with 800+ ISO inside it. Usually, Kodak disposable cameras have 800 ISO film inside. You’d expect a disposable camera with 200 ISO inside to last for around 10 years (there would likely be some degradation but it would still be useable up to and after this point).
If your camera has high ISO film inside like the standard 800 ISO film in Kodak disposables then you can expect it to degrade more quickly, it may still be usable after 10 years but it will be somewhat degraded and probably produce underexposed pictures.
Is There A Limit?
Let’s say hypothetically you’re looking through some old drawers and you discover a disposable camera from 25 years ago that your parents shot in full. Technically, there’s a good chance that there’s a moderate amount of damage to this film.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and get it developed. There will more than likely be something on that film and it’s incredibly valuable to go and get that film developed.
In my experience, it’s always worth taking a look and seeing what’s there. I actually found my grandma’s Olympus MJU Zoom camera recently, at this point she’d been dead for about 10 years. I got the film developed, there were only 6 pictures that she’d taken, one of me, one of my brother and some beautiful pictures of a sunset out the back of her house, the flash had gone off and it’d made the shot even better. This little time capsule of a few photos really bought back a lot of memories. It’s always worth trying to get the film developed.
When we talk about ‘best before dates’ with camera film and disposable cameras, it doesn’t mean that after that time the film just disintegrates and becomes mush. Film slowly degrades and loses sensitivity over a long period of time.
So best before really does mean best before, it means for 2-3 years the film will be the best it’ll ever be and every year after that it’ll gradually get worse.
What Can Impact How Long A Disposable Camera Can Last?
There are a few important things that can impact how long a disposable might last. Not all film stocks expire in the same way so it’s really important to know how this can vary.
ISO can have a big impact on how long camera film can last, as mentioned before, high ISO (800+) won’t last as long as lower ISO (200 ish) due to the difference in sensitivity of the film.
Colour VS B&W
Colour film doesn’t last as long as black and white film does, so if your disposable is black and white and it’s been sat there for 25 years then it’s got a much higher chance of being OK than if it’s colour.
The way film and disposable cameras are stored is really important when it happens over a long period of time. If your disposable camera was stored in a particular warm place, let’s say a sunny windowsill or in a tropical location then it will degrade more quickly than if it was stored in a cool dark place or a refrigerator.
Moisture and dampness can easily ruin camera film and cause disposable cameras to expire more quickly. If your camera has been stored in a particularly damp place or you live in a very humid place then it will degrade more quickly.
It’s worth keeping these tips in mind, it’s not really an exact science because there are so many different things that can impact your disposable camera. But it can hopefully help you to gauge and understand whether it’s worth shooting/developing your disposable.
My best advice would be to try to work out how old the camera is, how it’s been stored and what kind of film it is. Once you’ve done that you can start to make a decision about whether the camera and the film inside it is going to be okay.
If it doesn’t seem like a completely lost cause then you should get your film developed. If it’s a family camera and you’ve just found it with shots taken on it then get it developed, there’s nothing to lose and there may be some really precious memories on that camera.