“Using expired film is risky, foolish and virtually always ends in disappointing, unappealing photographs, so why bother?”
This might be the kind of advice you hear from some quarters, but it’s certainly not been my experience, very far from it.
In fact, over the last three or four years, I’d estimate over 80% of the 35mm film I’ve shot has been expired.
In my experience with expired film, it tends to go one of three ways –
1. It looks indistinguishable from fresh film, possibly slightly more saturated.
2. It produces interesting colour shifts, sometimes purples and greens, but also amber tones.
3. It looks washed out, overly grainy and lacking in contrast and detail.
The high proportion of rolls that end up as 1 and 2 for me outweigh the disappointment of the few that turn out like 3.
Of the expired film I’ve shot, only maybe one roll in every 12 turns out poorly.
Recently it’s been even less than that.
Here are the basic guidelines I follow to ensure I get often pleasing and frequently delightful results using expired film –
1. Stick to colour negative film.
Modern colour negative film is very robust, and most consumer film has a fantastic latitude of around -1/+3. This means you can under expose by a stop or over expose by three stops, and still get very decent results.
It follows, by my logic, that even if it’s expired and you follow the general rule of thumb that film loses sensitivity by one stop every decade, there’s still plenty of flexibility there, before the film will start to struggle.
2. Use only ISO100 and ISO200 film.
Following on from the above point, these films are very tolerant. The faster the film, the faster it deteriorates.
I don’t bother using expired ISO400 film any more as I’ve been disappointed far more often than not. But with ISO200 and ISO100 they’re rarely a let down.
3. Stay within ten years expired, or less.
The older the film, the more it will have deteriorated, so the greater the risk it will be grainy, washed out and low contrast.
If you stay within 5-10 years expired, there’s little chance the film has significantly lost any quality. Especially in the UK, where most unused film is sitting in the back of a cool drawer or cupboard, and not in sunlight or heat, which rapidly increase the rate of deterioration.
These simple guidelines work for me, and I enjoy the results I get from expired film.
If you like some of the samples above, feel free to follow these suggestions and experiment with expired film yourself – especially if you never have before for fear it’s guaranteed to end in disaster.
Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.
The trouble with 80s plastic fantastic compacts is once the electronics die, they’re fit for nothing but the dustbin. Right?
That’s what I thought until a recent and simple DIY experiment opened my eyes to the wonders of just one little compact that’s been given life after death and is thriving gloriously.
It started when, wanting to thin down my compact collection to less than half a dozen, I browsed my old albums on Flickr to find the ones I liked best .
A handful of photographs that really caught my eye were taken with a Ricoh TF-900, an unassuming dark grey chunk of rubberised plastic from the late 80s.
Behind its synthetic yet ordinary veneer, the TF-900 proved to be not only full of the essential features the discerning enthusiastic amateur needs, but had a pretty sweet 35mm f/2.8 lens. Which also, at the press of a button, became a 70mm f/5.6 lens.
I sold this model on long ago in one of my great purges, but inspired by these “lost” photographs, set about finding another example.
Off to the auctions, and after a quick haggle over price, I soon landed one in supposedly full working order.
When it arrived and I inserted the battery, all was not well, and it wouldn’t do anything it was supposed to.
After apologies and a full refund from the seller, I asked if they wanted the camera returned. They said not.
I was about to throw it in the bin, then remembered something about Hamish Gill having lenses extracted from old compact cameras sent away to Japan to be remounted for one of his Leicas.
So I wondered if the lens was salvageable from my otherwise next to useless TF-900.
The removal of a dozen or so miniature screws later, and the tiny purple coated gem like lens was free.
Next, how to make a mount that would mean it was usable on a camera.
When I’m not shooting film, I play around with a Sony NEX 3N, and have adapters so I can use and test my vintage 35mm film lenses on it.
One of these adapters, with the Ricoh lens stuck to the front, might do the trick.
First I tried a slim M39 adapter, plus some hastily sculpted blu-tack. The lens mounted fine but the focus was too far for what I wanted, some 10m away maybe.
So I needed to rethink, creating a mount that affixed the lens further away from the NEX’s sensor, and therefore allowed closer focus.
An M42 > NEX adapter was up next, and again with a little creative reshaping with blu-tack, I mounted the lens and its immediate housing on to the adapter, then attached it to the NEX.
The focus was now approximately 0.25m away, ideal not only for the kind of close proximity shots I like, but also at such distance (and with the lens – minus the shutter behind it changing the aperture as it did in the TF-900 – being fixed at its maximum aperture of f/2.8) that would force a shallow depth of field.
Off I set to the local flora and fauna (ie, our back garden) to experiment.
The outcome I was pretty stunned by.
The humble little Ricoh 35/2.8, which measures barely a centimetre across, has produced impressive sharpness, lovely colours and delicious smooth bokeh, straight out of the camera.
It helps that with the NEX’s APS-C sensor being 75% the size of a frame of 35mm film (full frame), the central part of the lens is optimised, and any distortion at the outer edges you might experience when shooting film in the original TF-900 is in effect cropped out.
But even so, this miniature marvel, wide open at f/2.8 and shooting closer than it was ever designed for (around 0.25m compared with the minimum focus of around 0.9m of the TF-900) has delighted me.
The resurrection of this razor sharp Ricoh has proved to be an excellent idea.
Now I’m wondering if there’s a way to adapt it somehow to shoot with a film SLR… Maybe an old broken SLR lens could be disassembled and the Ricoh lens inserted inside instead?
Whilst I further ponder that, in the meantime I’ve located another TF-900, hopefully fully working this time, and given the results from this lens salvaging project, I’m very excited at using the compact as it was originally designed in the next week or two.
This is how the lens looks on my NEX. Note that I managed to mount the surrounding housing upside down, and, blu-tack sculpting perfected, I didn’t want to unstick it all again to flip it round!
Though the camera and lens combo looks something of a Frankenstein’s monster, it’s super light and compact, and as you can see from the other photographs, very capable. I love the deep purple coating of the Ricoh glass too…
Have you ever rescued a lens from a broken camera to use in another?
Disclaimer for the film diehards: Whilst this blog is mostly about my adventures with 35mm film cameras, all of the photographs above were taken with the rescued Ricoh lens and my Sony NEX 3N digital camera.
Despite them not being made with film, I wanted to share them here, along with this project, partly because I was so impressed with the lens and wanted to encourage others to try the same kind of resurrection of otherwise defunct old cameras. And partly because, as it’s a 35mm lens, from a 35mm film camera, I think it can squeeze inside the general remit of 35hunter.
Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.
After using a Pentax ME, ME Super, MV, MX and most recently an MG, the humble MG has become my favourite.
The only two M cameras I currently have are the MG and MX, originally aimed at very different users and with different budgets. Here are some thoughts on how the MX and MG compare, and why in my eyes, the MG is king of the Ms –
The MX is tiny, but for me too tiny. Width is good, but the short height means with my forefinger on the shutter button, I can only fit one other finger on the body to hold it, which makes it feel heavier than it is, and a little unbalanced. With the MG, the extra few millimetres in height makes a bit difference, and means two fingers comfortably grip the body, and balance feels much better.
Winner – MG, it just feels right in my hands, the MX feels awkward.
The MX has a slightly larger viewfinder (VF), but to my eyes it’s no brighter than the MG (and both feel inferior to my Minolta X-700 with MC Rokkor-PF 58/1.4!). Both are very good, and easy to focus. My MX has quite a bit of dust inside, whereas the MG is very clean, which does make a difference in use also, though this is obviously specific to these two examples I own.
The MX has shutter speeds on a dial in the VF to the right, which shows the current speed plus one either side, then the LEDs next to that to indicate when you’re properly exposed. Quite a neat system for a manual shutter camera. But I’ve come to realise that with fully manual and mechanical cameras, I enjoy a very simple, uncluttered VF (as with a Pentax S1a or Minolta SR-1s), then I meter externally and set the shutter speed and aperture before I put my eye to the VF to compose and focus.
With the cameras I use that have their own lightmeters, I prefer using an aperture priority (Av) system. The MG is Av, and shows the shutter speed the camera will choose up the left side of the VF. Even in poor light, the LEDs are cleverly colour coded – red at the very top or bottom to indicate over or underexposure beyond the camera’s capabilities, green for speeds from 1/60s – 1/1000s (ie fine for hand held shots) and orange for 1/30s down to 1s, indicating a warning of camera shake. It’s all just more intuitive and simple to use than the MX.
(Plus although the MG warns of underexposure with a red light, it will still open the shutter for far longer than 1s marked on the Auto dial on the top of the camera. I just put the lens on f/11 at ISO200 in a very lowly lit room, and the shutter stayed open for 45s! Which give scope for some interesting metered long exposures… )
The MX does also indicate the chosen aperture of the lens via a little window, which is a useful feature, but not essential. Again, with my style of shooting I know I’m using f/4 or f/5.6 or f/8 90% of the time so I don’t need to always be reminded of the aperture, so it’s a bit redundant for me.
Winner – MG, the VF is great, the shutter speed display near perfectly designed.
The MX is all mechanical, and only the meter is battery dependent, making it still an appealing option for someone seeking a small all mechanical camera and metering externally or using Sunny 16.
But if I want to use an all mechanical, meterless camera, I would choose my S1a or Minolta Sr-1s, because of their pure stripped down simplicity. For my uses, the MX falls between two stools – neither simple and pure enough an experience as a fully mechanical camera, nor automated enough as a electronic one.
The MG is battery dependent for the meter and all automatically selected shutter speeds. But it does have a mechanical back up speed of 1/100s, so if your batteries fail you still have a very usable camera with Sunny 16 or an external meter.
Most of my creative control with a camera comes from how I manipulate depth of field, via changing the lens aperture. With the MG I can focus on this and let the camera choose the shutter speed. The MX does have a depth of field (DOF) preview button which the MG doesn’t, which is a bonus.
However, as my shooting has evolved, I don’t rely on DOF preview like I used to – I now have a good idea of what DOF I’ll get close up at f/4, 5.6, or 8. Plus if I do need to see, I use the simple trick of unmounting the lens a few millimetres until the blades close down, adjusting aperture if necessary, then clicking the lens back into its locked position, composing and shooting.
Also, much of the time I use M42 lenses on the M cameras, like the Takumars, Pentacon Auto, Helios 44s etc. Here the DOF preview becomes redundant as the lenses become manual aperture and you get a constant view through of how the DOF looks.
Controlling shutter speed is something I rarely require. It’s more direct with the MX, but the shutter speed dial is a bit stiff and awkward, especially compared with the S1a, Spotmatic F or KM, which are all a joy to turn. With the MG if I want to shoot at a specific shutter speed I just look through the VF then turn the aperture ring until the required LED is lit up. Easy.
Winner – MG, it gives me all the creative control I need without ever getting in the way.
Both cameras are identical in the following aspects – Manual ISO dial running from 25-1600. Shutter speeds from 1s to 1/1000s (and both have Bulb mode). Small red indicator shows by wind on lever when shutter is cocked. Loading film is also identical.
The wind on lever is similar with both, though the MG is a little lighter and smoother to use, and has a shorter throw. Again, like the height difference, although this seems quite negligible, in practice it’s another aspect that just feels right with the MG, and somehow not quite right on the MX. However, for the quality of the feel of the wind on, neither come close to my S1a, Spotmatic F or KM.
Of course, the lenses the cameras are compatible with are the same too, ie any manual aperture Pentax K mount lens, or, with my adapter, any M42 mount lens.
The MX has a shutter button lock, which is useful as the button does protrude quite far up. The MG doesn’t, but as its button is virtually flush with the surrounding knob, it’s unlikely to get pushed accidentally anyway.
Winner – A draw, as they are near identical in these other features, though the MG again feels slightly more natural to use.
Obviously this comparison is specific to me, my likes, and the way(s) I prefer to shoot.
Also, price is not a factor, as it would have been when the camera were new(er) – Both I bought with lenses – the one with the MX I sold, meaning the camera cost me less than £10, and the MG with the lovely SMC Pentax 55/2 lens it’s pictured with at the top of this post cost £13. If I had paid full price (new) for the MX I think I might have been more disappointed, especially compared with the MG which no doubt cost vastly less.
I’m sure there are people who adore the MX and it offers them a far more satisfying experience than the relatively simple MG.
But it’s this simplicity of the MG that makes it such a winner for me. It does all I need it to, and keeps it straightforward and easy.
If I’m shooting all manual, all mechanical, my Pentax S1a or Minolta SR-1s offer the kind of minimal, pure experience I enjoy. But for most of the time, when I favour shooting aperture priority, the MG ticks every box, plus handles very naturally, and again just feels “right”.
Plus it gives me access to my Pentax K mount lenses and with a very basic adapter all the M42s too, two of my three favourite lens mounts.
So, after nearly four years of dabbling in the M game, and trying virtually all variations available, my last M(an) standing it seems is unexpectedly the humble MG…
When I first got into film photography in mid 2012, my early film purchases were Fuji Superia 200 and 400, bought from a local camera shop. As I read more online, I read a tip off that Poundland here in the UK (discount chain store that sells everything for £1) stocked 35mm film, so off I went to my nearest branch.
Poundland had fresh AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 36exp rolls in single packs, and the Ferrania Solaris 200 24exp rolls in twin packs with the expiry date suspiciously blacked out.
I wondered how good a film that was effectively 50p a roll, and obviously expired (hence the doctored packaging) could be, but bought a couple of packs anyway.
It turned out to be one of my favourite, if not my absolute favourite film I’ve ever used, and I managed to stock up maybe 70 or 80 rolls in the following months from Poundland, before they ran out nationally.
Although I’ve used it almost as much as any film (AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 aka rebranded Fuji C200 – the other Poundland special – is my most used film), fortunately I still have maybe 30 rolls in my freezer.
Also fortunately, it seems to hold up as well as it did the day I bought that first batch, and shows none of the sometimes unpleasant traits over-expired film can have like excessive grain and washed out colours.
In fact it is colour that the Solaris excels at. I’ve always considered it to be a film that works very well with autumn reds and oranges, but looking back through my archives have found it’s equally pleasing with yellows, blues and greens.
The film is no longer made, though it can still be found knocking around in the usual online places, ie eBay. I’ve also found that some (but not all – Made in Italy is likely Ferrania, Made in USA is likely Kodak) Truprint film (UK photo chain that disappeared from high streets a few years back but remains in business online) is rebranded Ferrania, though I’ve yet to test any out.
If you get the opportunity to use any Ferrania Solaris 200, I would highly recommend it, especially if it’s not too expired (five years ideally, but worth a risk even if a few years older). For the kind of vivid colours I so love about film, it’s in my view as special as anything I’ve tried, and the day my freezer stocks run dry will be a sad one.
The definition of each – and, more vitally, hunting for the balance between them – is something I have struggled with in the last few years.
Shooting film is wonderful for many reasons. For me, arguably the greatest of these is simply the joy of using old cameras, with their sensations, sounds and scents.
Any camera capable of making a picture is a magic black box in my eyes.
Beyond that elevated starting point, some soar (me) even higher into the stratosphere of pleasure and wonder than others, though there are few camera I haven’t liked using in some way or other.
The ready availability of decades of vintage cameras, and usually at pocket money prices, makes them even more irresistible.
Indeed the average price I have paid for a working 35mm camera in the last three and a half years of shooting film I would estimate at around £7.
If you focus purely on compacts, then it’s likely under £5. The flourishing ranks of my unofficial “99p Camera Club”, ie any camera I have picked up for 99p, must number in the dozens now, and it was even a working title for this blog.
This overflowing abundance of tiny willing magical machines is also the worst aspect.
Instead of having, say, one SLR, and one compact, then getting to know them back to front and inside out and squeezing ever better images from them, I rarely shoot two consecutive rolls in the same camera.
I have my favourites I return to time and time again (especially now with SLRs as I’m virtually a Pentax only man), but most of the time with compacts I’m all over the place.
Generally, this doesn’t bother me.
But sometimes I really dislike it, and it feels like I’m feeding a ravenous monster whose stomach has no limit to its capacity for more.
Cost is a consideration too.
Whilst cameras are very cheap, ten cameras at £7 each is still £70. Which could pay for the purchase and processing of up to 18 rolls of film.
Imagine shooting 18 rolls of film with just one camera, over, say three months.
How might that alter your relationship with that single camera? How might it improve your photography?
As I write, already I’m thinking of my most likely candidates for such a challenge – Olympus XA, maybe the XA2 or mju I, a Canon Sure Shot like the Tele, or recent acquisition the Sure Shot Classic 120, or maybe one of my adorable little Konica C35 EF3s, which arguably with their 35mm f/2.8 Hexanon lens have made the best pictures of any compact I’ve ever used…
Ultimately, the Electro was too bulky and too fiddly to use for me to keep it. But that intense period did result in some of my favourite photographs of the year (those lenses are stunning).
And I really enjoyed the freedom of simply grabbing the Electro and asking “Which film shall I load this time?” instead of surveying the overspilling boxes in my room and asking “Which of the 25+ cameras shall I pick today, and which film might be best to shoot with?”
It was (and still is) an excellent example of the “paradox of choice” – the more options we have, the harder it is to pick just one and commit to it.
The flip side of the monogamous photographer argument is that using a range of cameras widens one’s experience and knowledge of photography.
I can certainly say that I learned more about the essentials of photography by reading camera manuals (Canon’s are especially informative, even for humble Sure Shot models) than from any other source.
Also, for every less than amazing camera we use, it helps us appreciate our very favourites all the more.
Right now, for me I think it would be just too hard to give up a range of cameras for just one or two.
Or, maybe I haven’t found that one that is great enough. And so this further fuels the quest for more!
I know ultimately I would really rather be remembered as a decent photographer, than someone who had a lot of cameras.
How about you? Would you like to be considered foremost a camera collector and tester, or a photographer?
This is the first in a small series of posts about expired film, why I use it, how I use it, how you can use it, and some of my favourite emulsions.
Being a film photographer today means we not only still have a range of fresh film available to us from various sources and at various prices, but we have literally decades’ worth of unused film at our disposal too.
Although film has an expiry date, in my experience as long as you are still within ten years, and certainly within five years, there should be few if any issues with the film being able to produce pleasing results.
Part of the risk of using expired film is also part of the joy.
You could, if the film is too far expired, end up with very grainy, washed out, or even completely blank photographs.
To make the situation more complex, the condition of the film cannot be gauged purely by the “process by” date stamped on the box.
A film might be only a year expired, but if it has been sitting in the glove box of a car in blazing sun for three long summers running, it could well be in worse condition than a roll that’s 15 years expired but has been undisturbed in a freezer all that time.
Fortunately here in the UK, most old film has been simply been neglected at the back of a cool dark drawer, so the chances of it having been regularly roasted are slim. Which gives me the confidence to experiment with expired film within the limits suggested above – up to five and sometimes even ten years outdated.
Some say as a very rough rule of thumb you should overexpose expired film by about one stop for every decade expired.
So ISO200 film that’s ten years old you might shoot as ISO100 for best results.
Personally, as I tend to use around five years expired film, I might shoot ISO200 at ISO125 or ISO100. It makes sense to over, rather than underexpose, as most colour negative (C41) films have great latitude, and are designed to still give good results 2-3 stops overexposed or one stop underexposed.
Sometimes if I forget to make any adjustment, or the film is being used in a camera with an auto DX coded system, I simply shoot the expired film at box speed.
With cameras that have manual ISO adjustment, it’s very easy to intentionally overexpose like this when shooting expired film.
The camera only exposes the film at the ISO setting you tell it to. The original (and arguably best) wave of compacts from the early 80s most often have a manual ISO dial to add further reason to shoot with them aside from the usual obligatory sharp and vibrant 35mm f/2.8 lens.
Another way is to use a camera’s exposure compensation controls, if it has them.
Most SLRs have +/- 2 or 3 stops and many decent compacts have a simple +1 or +1.5 exposure compensation setting that can be used. Some later compacts even have +/- 2 or 3 stops like SLRs.
An easy trick also, particularly for ISO200 film (which is the most widely available, and what I shoot far more than ISO100 or ISO400) is to rely on the default setting of auto DX cameras.
Aside from many Pentax cameras, like their Espios which default to ISO25 when the camera can’t read the DX code, the majority of compacts use ISO100 as their base setting. All the Canon SureShots I’ve used default to this, for example. Check the camera’s manual to find out more.
Then, by simply putting a piece of black tape over the DX code of an ISO200 film canister before you load it, the camera won’t be able to read the true speed of the film (ie ISO200) and will default to ISO100, giving you the one stop over exposure you wanted for the expired film. Simple!
So why would you want to shoot expired film, when there’s the risk of getting awful images?
Because for me, in my experience of shooting dozens or rolls of expired film, the dud rolls I can count on the fingers of one hand. And even those can give rise to some interesting colour shifts and grain –
Also, there’s a wider range of films to try when you’re prepared to reach back into film’s rich history by a decade or so.
Furthermore, expired film can be picked up pretty cheaply if you’re patient, on places like eBay.
I’ve sourced sizeable batches of Solution VX200 and Kodak ColorPlus 200 for example (more on these in the follow up posts) for only around £1-£2 per roll of film maximum. Go into your high street camera shop and a single roll of even the most basic Kodak or Fuji will likely cost £4 or £5 plus.
The final reason for me, is that shooting expired film is just a natural extension of the already somewhat unpredictable and wondrous adventure of using film and film cameras.
With digital, every detail can be precisely controlled and adjusted and edited. With film, it’s much more organic and loose and often magical. Adding another layer of enigma with expired film just enhances the whole experience.
If you haven’t already tried shooting with expired film, give it a try today. I’ll be looking at a few of my own favourite expired emulsions in follow up posts.