Sugar Rush (Why This Big Kid Has Such A Sweet Tooth For Expired Film)

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Thank you Mr Postman!

One of the delights of film photography is the range of film emulsions available.

With brand new film there’s still enough of a range available to suit every need for an enthusiastic amateur like me, from the very cheap yet surprisingly versatile and impressive AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 upwards.

But if you’re prepared to delve into film’s (recent) history a little, the number of emulsions at your disposal multiplies many times over. 

I love shooting expired film, and have had great success doing so.

Aside from the sometimes unpredictable outcomes (in a good way), being able to try film that’s no longer made is both exciting and refreshing, yet somehow nostalgic and slightly melancholy all at once.

Added to this, the physical, tactile aspect of the film is hugely appealing.

Much like CDs with their artwork and inlay cards (and records before them) added another layer of creativity and interest to the music itself in the past, compared with the uniform anonymity of a digital mp3 file, film in its bright and varied packaging makes it feel so much more special to see and hold in the lead up (the photographic foreplay before the actual picture taking, if you will) than slipping a tiny black SD card into your digital camera.

The latest batch of expired film I’ve picked up is pictured above. 

The Kodak Colour Plus 200 is an excellent alternative to AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, and in my experience gives very pleasing results even up to a decade or so expired.

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Ricoh FF-3D AF Super plus Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film
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Contax 167MT with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

Jessops Diamond Everyday 400 I’ve used before and is rebranded Kodak. The slightly muted tones are appealing for certain subjects and moods.

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Pentax Spotmatic F with Asahi Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Jessops Diamond Everyday 400 expired film

Incidentally, the far more common ISO200 version of Jessops Diamond is even better, being repackaged Agfacolor XRG200. It can create some lovely rich tones and textures.

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Contax 159MM with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Jessops Diamond Everyday 200 expired film
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Contax 159MM with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens plus Jessops Diamond Everyday 200 expired film

Truprint FG+ 200 has become one of my very favourite expired films, and it was no surprise to me to find it’s rebranded Ferrania FG+ 200. The similar Ferrania Solaris I’ve shot dozens of rolls with and has been just as good, and very similar in colours.

The FG+, depending on how expired, can give some lovely autumnal, amber tones.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i with Tokina SD 28-70mm lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film
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Minolta X-700 with Minolta MD 28mm f/2.8 lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

When it’s a little fresher, you get just as special results, with the kind of richness and depth of colour that is so appealing about film photography.

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Contax 167MT with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film
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Contax 167MT with Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 lens plus Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

The Konica VX100, Agfa Vista 200 (the original German emulsion from Agfa, not the AgfaPhoto version that is rebranded Japanese FujiColor C200) and Agfa Ultra Color 100 are all new to me, so I look forward to seeing what results they can bring too.

All in all, a very appetising package, and being ever frugal, to me great value, working out at just £1.02 per film (another appeal of expired film, especially when found in mixed batched like this).

The phrase “feeling like a kid in a sweet shop” is over used, but with me and expired film, it’s exactly how I feel…

How do you feel about picking up expired film like this? What about the physical feel and look of those tiny coloured boxes and canisters?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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The Three Faces of Expired Film Photography

“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.

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Pentax MX, Auto Chinon 50mm f/1.7 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 film expired 2010
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Canon Sure Shot Tele, 40mm f/2.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film
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Pentax Spotmatic F, Auto Chinon 55mm f/1.7 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film
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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

2. It produces interesting colour shifts, sometimes purples and greens, but also amber tones.

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Minolta X-700, Minolta MD 28mm f/2.8 lens, Truprint FG+200 film expired 2006
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Contax 139 Quartz, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, York Photo 100 expired film
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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm lens, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film
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Contax 139 Quartz, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, York Photo 100 expired film

3. It looks washed out, overly grainy and lacking in contrast and detail.

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Pentax ES, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Solution VX200 expired film
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Fujica ST701, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Solution VX200 expired film

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.

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Konica AutoReflex T, Hexanon 52mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film expired 2003

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.

Expired Emulsions – Ferrania Solaris 200

The first post in this Expired Emulsions series introduced some of the reasons why I love using expired film, and how I use it.

One of my favourites is Ferrania Solaris 200 FG Plus.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

15309097159_d9c938b7e7_zIn 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.

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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.

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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.

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Expired Ambition

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Ferrania Solaris 200 film expiry date unknown

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.

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Konica Centuria 400 film expired 2006

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.

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Kodak ColorPlus 200 film expired 2010

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.

There’s an interesting post about film, latitude, and how to read it in the DX codes of film canisters on Japan Camera Hunter.

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.

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Kodak HD2 200 film expired 2006

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 –

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Solution VX200 film expired 2011
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Konica Centuria 400 film expired 2006

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.

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Solution VX200 film expired 2011

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.