Expired film can be a scary thing to approach as it’s unknown what you’re going to get. Over the years I’ve shot and developed a lot of old film and now I can guide you along!
Camera film can last 30-40 Years if the film is kept refrigerated. Film expiry dates are 2 years after manufacture but the film will usually still be fine for 5 years as long as it isn’t stored in a warm place. After around 5 years, camera film will start to degrade slightly, reducing its sensitivity, becoming more grainy or changing hue substantially. This process can be slowed down by keeping your film cool. It’s certainly possible to successfully develop film that is 30+ years old if it has been in the right conditions, however, it will have some kind of degradation.
There are many nuances to expired film so if you want to learn more, keep on reading!
How Long Film Lasts In Different Environments
There are a few factors that affect how long expired film will last and how much degradation may occur to it. Here is a table to give you an idea of how film is affected over time in different environments.
|Colour Film||Black & White|
|Stored In Cupboard||10 Years Before Substantial Degradation||15 Years Before Substantial Degradation|
|Stored On Windowsill||3 Years Before Substantial Degradation||5 Years Before Substantial Degradation|
|Stored In Fridge/Freezer||20 Years Before Substantial Degradation||25 Years Before Substantial Degradation|
|Found In SLR||7-10 Years Before Degradation And Possible Light Leaks||10-15 Years Before Degradation and Possible Light Leaks|
|Found In Point And Shoot||10 Years+ Before Degradation||15 Years+ Before Degradation|
Of course, these times are an estimation and things like the original quality of the film can also change the time it takes to degrade.
Personally, I’ve found many rolls of film in old cameras over the years and usually, there is some kind of degradation or light leaks once they’re developed.
Above is a shot from a roll I found in an old camera, it’s hard to tell how old it actually is but from the other images, I think it’s from the last 10-15 years. As you can see, the film has degraded somewhat but it’s not ruined by any stretch. This probably wasn’t overly high-quality film in the first place so it’s not surprising that it looks underexposed and flat, with a bit more grain than you’d expect too.
If you find some rolls of film somewhere and you’re not sure if it’s worth trying them out, take a look at the date and think about the way they’ve been stored up until that point. Use the table set out to work out if it’s worth giving it a go and remember, just because they’ve started to degrade doesn’t mean that they immediately have become unusable, film changes slowly and in many different ways.
How To Make Expired Film Last Longer
Storing Camera Film in a refrigerator or freezer will extend the life of your film stock. Ensure that you don’t use your film immediately after removing it from your fridge or freezer, keep it at room temperature for a day before using it to avoid any possible condensation.
There’s no exact way of saying how much more life you can get from storing film like this but the table I made at the start of the article gives a general idea and as noted earlier, your film will just begin degrading, it doesn’t mean after X amount of years that it’s fully ruined.
Is Shooting Expired Film A Cheaper Alternative?
Expired film tends to be a great way to shoot film for cheaper, obviously you have to be careful when buying expired film, ask a lot of questions when you’re sourcing it and try to get a guarantee about the quality of the film.
When buying expired film, black and white is the safest bet as it keeps better than colour under any conditions.
You can use the table at the start of the article to try to get a gauge of how well your film will perform. My best advice would be to shoot one roll from your batch, if it’s much worse than expected then send it back.
Can You Develop 50 Year Old Film?
Technically, you could develop 50 year old film and if it’s been stored in the right conditions then you would still get somewhat okay scans. As always, it fully depends on how your film has been stored, if it’s been in a cold place with no humidity then there’s a fair chance that the film might not be too far gone.
The likelihood of film being stored in the perfect way for 50 years is low so there’s a fair chance that there would be significant degradtion after this amount of time.
With expired film there’s no exact way to say what will happen with it. There are many variables such as environment, the quality or type of film and whether the film is colour or black and white, all of these things ultimately impact the final outcome.
I think that if you follow the information in this post, you can certainly figure out if the film you have is worth shooting or developing and hopefully this can help you to work out whether it’s worth shooting expired film as a cheaper alternative.
Not Sure What Kind Of Film To Use?
Even after all of these years, I’m always googling what kind of film to use to remind myself what I should go for for a particular shoot. I finally put together an ultimate guide for the best film stocks in this article here. This article perfectly explains the different prices of film stocks, what kind of photography they are best for and where you can pick them up.
Thank you for reading and feel free to take a look at one of my many other blog posts to get more photography ideas, inspiration and information!