Expired Film: Developing Ancient Black and White Film


How do you develop a roll of black and white film which is 35 years old and has no information about ISO or film type? With a bit or research and a lot of luck!

Credits: simonh82

If you find, win or are given a roll of really old, expired black and white film what is the best way to develop it at home? This was the problem I was posed when my father in law said that he had found a roll of film than he thought had been shot at least 35 years old. He asked if I could develop it and I said I would give it ago.

This film had not been stored properly during the intervening years and had just been left at the back of a draw getting hot in summer and cold in winter. In the last few years he had tried to send it to several photo labs, who had all said they couldn’t develop this type of film anymore. The main problem, I think, was that it was 127 format film which was discontinued my Kodak many years ago. Luckily for me, my Paterson development tank and reels can take 127 film. The other problem was that it just said ‘Boot – Black and White Film’ on the backing paper. An added note visible after I loaded it on to the reel said “Process at Boot immediately for best results”, definitely not an option! There was no information about ISO or anything else which might have given away who the real manufacturer was of this store brand film, or how it might have been developed when new.

The next issue is what to do with film this old. Over the years, film is affected by heat and cosmic rays. This causes a ‘base fog’, an overall exposure of the film which seriously decreases contrast and leaves the shadows looking washed out and the overall image lacking contrast. To deal with this you can choose certain black and white developers which suppress the base fog. Luckily I had a bottle of Kodak HC-110 developer in the cupboard and this is one of the best developers for this purpose. After a bit of research I decide on developing this film in dilution B (1 part developer to 63 parts water) for 9 minutes at 20 degree C. I had had suggestions to use weaker dilutions and longer development times, but these tend to lead to lower contrast so I went for the higher concentration.

I started with a 3 minute presoak of the film in water at 20 degrees C, to soften the old dry emulsion. This should allow the developer to penetrate the emulsion at an even rate.

The next choice was how often to agitate during development. Again, advice I receive online varied. More frequent agitation led to increased contrast (good), but also increased grain (bad). In the end I went for 10 seconds of agitation every minute.

The resulting negative were entirely usable. They were definitely not the finest grain or most contrasty negatives I had ever developed, but they were perfectly usable and gave a great peak back in to the past.

Credits: simonh82

This method should work for any unknown film of a similar age, but results will vary depending on film type and storage conditions. If you’ve developed ancient film, please let me know how you got along and share any tips below.

written by simonh82 on 2012-04-06 in #gear #tipster #expired-film #127 #film-processing #found-film #development #black-and-white #ancient #tipster #home-development


  1. wuxiong
    wuxiong ·

    great work, your careful research and prepairing work before actual processing the film is very important, and you definately got the best results...<:) congratulations and thanks for sharing...<:)

  2. sirio174
    sirio174 ·

    great article!

  3. exit14
    exit14 ·

    Nice job! I recently developed a roll from the early 70's. It was Kodacolor-X C-22 process. I wasn't going to find any C-22 developer so I went with B&W. I developed it in what I had, which was Sprint chemicals and left it in the developer for 15 minutes, agitating for 5 seconds every minute. I didn't get your amazing results but I did get results. It's always a thrill when something comes out of those old films! Here's a link to mine. Great article and advice!

  4. simonh82
    simonh82 ·

    @exit14 Your results from the kodacolor-X look great. They are very grainy, but what do you expect from film that old. It's really nice finding these little snapshots of life so long ago and giving them some life they may never have had otherwise.

  5. exit14
    exit14 ·

    I agree, every one is like a little mystery waiting to be solved, if you can...

More Interesting Articles

  • Expired Earl Grey: Does It Taste Nice?

    written by Xiang Cong Tham on 2015-02-22 in #gear #reviews
    Expired Earl Grey: Does It Taste Nice?

    A lot of lomographers have experienced using and even writing about the greatness of the Lomography Earl Grey black and white 35mm ISO 100 film. However, no one has written about using an expired Earl Grey film yet. How does it fare when it is used expired? Read on to find out more.

  • My Year in Analogue: Something New, Something Old

    written by murdoc_niccals on 2014-12-15 in #lifestyle
    My Year in Analogue: Something New, Something Old

    Hi, everyone! I'd like to share with you my 2014 summary on analogue photography. Some things I did were completely new, while some were my good old habits. This year I learned how to develop black and white film, which I consider my greatest milestone. But the most important thing is that in 2014, I remain in love with Lomography! And the rest? Well, let's see...

  • 'Aniki-Bòbò': A Tribute to Manoel De Oliveira

    written by sirio174 on 2015-04-08 in #world #lifestyle
    'Aniki-Bòbò': A Tribute to Manoel De Oliveira

    This article is a tribute to the great Portuguese film director Manoel de Oliveira, who died last April 2. With an old Praktica loaded with a roll of black and white film, I captured so enthusiastically his city Oporto (Porto) with its famous Ribeira district, the most characteristic of the Lusitanian town. It was here that more than 70 years ago, Manoel De Oliveira created a timeless masterpiece: "Aniki-Bòbò"!

  • Shop News

    Give your space a facelift with your own analogue print

    Give your space a facelift with your own analogue print

    Really want to bring your film photos to life? We’re now offering totally analogue fine art prints in a host of large sizes and formats! Carefully enlarged from your negatives onto premium photographic paper by lab professionals, each picture is a unique piece of craftsmanship.

  • 5 Ways to Arrange and Photograph Collections

    written by lomographymagazine on 2015-07-08 in #world #lifestyle
    5 Ways to Arrange and Photograph Collections

    A stash of vinyl. A shelf lined with precious books. A cache of film rolls. How do collectors take pride in the precious objects they have sought and kept throughout the years? They flaunt the stockpile—in pictures, of course.

  • Trusty Bags for Trusty Cameras

    written by lomography on 2015-10-17 in #gear #news
    Trusty Bags for Trusty Cameras

    We spend copious amounts of time stalking camera forums and researching specifications that "hunter" seems a more fitting term than "collector." And yet, when the time comes to pack all this game—the new or thrillingly ancient cameras—we DIY padding on the spot. (Guilty of trying to avoid the unappealing gear bag from the department store.) Last year though we stocked up on camera bags that are as cool as they are protective. Here are some of them.

  • A Salute to the Masters: Barkers (A Tribute to Jack Delano)

    written by sirio174 on 2015-05-02 in #world #lifestyle
    A Salute to the Masters: Barkers (A Tribute to Jack Delano)

    This is tribute to the Farm Security Administration photographer, Jack Delano, and his photographic series dedicated to barkers. For this article, I chose a series of photos I took this year at the traditional Easter Fair in my city, Como, using a classic rangefinder camera loaded with a roll of black and white film.

  • Shop News

    Check Revolog 36exp Plexus Effects!

    Check Revolog 36exp Plexus Effects!

    Feeling experimental? We have the perfect film for you. Load up a roll of Revolog Plexus 200 on your favorite 35mm camera and shoot as you normally would.

  • Tipster: DIY X-Pro Redscale

    written by rancliffhasenza on 2015-09-27 in #gear #tipster
    Tipster: DIY X-Pro Redscale

    Browsing through the Lomography website, you can find a lot of redscale shots, which are all done on color negative films. I asked myself if it’s possible to redscale a slide or chrome film and then cross process it. (And yes, it is.) In this tipster I’m going to teach you how to create the bloodiest homemade redscale film I've ever come across.

  • Alvchrist and his Weapon of Choice: Pentax SP1000

    written by icequeenubia on 2015-01-15 in #lifestyle
    Alvchrist and his Weapon of Choice: Pentax SP1000

    Alva has been shooting analogue photographs for almost five years. Currently, he's concentrating on building a portfolio of portraits and street photographs in black and white using his nifty Pentax SP1000.

  • My First Lomo Affair: Sonjay and her Holga 120 CFN

    written by Eunice Abique on 2015-05-23 in #gear #lifestyle
    My First Lomo Affair: Sonjay and her Holga 120 CFN

    Sonja started her analog adventures during her teenage years. She took her first film photographs when she was 13 and has been in love with the magic of the process since. Her idea of a perfect day involves developing film rolls while listening to jazz and having a cup of tea in between. In this interview, she recalls about her experience with her first Lomography camera, a Holga 120 CFN.

  • Shop News

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Shoot wider and bigger with this new instax camera that has film format twice the size of the instax mini films!

  • The Rescued Film Project

    written by hannah_brown on 2015-02-10 in #world #lifestyle
    The Rescued Film Project

    The Rescued Film Project collects, develops and archives undeveloped or unwanted film from all over the world. Recently, the group acquired 31 rolls at an auction in Ohio, which, as it turns out, were from World War 1 and featured some amazing photographic footage of that time. Founder and film technician Levi Bettwieser talks about this exciting project.

  • Buy Lomography Film, Get a Free Camera!

    written by lomography on 2015-11-06 in #gear #news
    Buy Lomography Film, Get a Free Camera!

    Spend over 99 EUR/USD/GBP worth of 35mm and 120 Lomography film until Sunday and be rewarded with a Diana F+ Black Jack or a Diana Mini and Flash White camera!

  • December 14th Advent Offer: Take Advantage of our Festive 3 For 2 Film Deals (Online Code: 3FOR2HOLIDAYFILM)

    written by jacobs on 2014-12-14 in #news
    December 14th Advent Offer: Take Advantage of our Festive 3 For 2 Film Deals  (Online Code: 3FOR2HOLIDAYFILM)

    Seeing that we love to spread the cheer around here, we're giving you another chance to load up on our awesome film with today's Advent deal! Choose a classy black and white film, like our Lady Grey, or get creative and colorful with one of our Redscale films. We're certain that no matter what you choose, you'll have a great time making memories with tons of lovely analogue photos this year!