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My Analogue Life: Best Before

The only film I can find in my home that’s not expired or short-dated is a handful of Lomography brand 35mm and a few packs of Fuji Instax instant film. The rest — all 500-plus rolls of it — is old, sometimes damaged and definitely expired. Some of it has been kept frozen all along or at least refrigerated, while there are boxes full that contain film 10, 15 or 20 years old and it’s those rolls that are often my favourites.

In particular, I love the packs of Fuji Sensia 35mm slide film that comes in a tacky “Vacation/Party Pack” complete with bad graphics and a decidedly ’90s look. That Sensia is a consumer film rather than a professional film, which means it wasn’t likely ever refrigerated, which in turn means its deterioration has been accelerated. Today, it’s brittle — almost crispy — and super-grainy. Cross-processed, the colours are poppy, producing turquoise blue skies and vivid oranges and reds reminiscent of a well-worn 1950s Technicolour movie that’s been run through a projector too many times.

I’m forever on the lookout for expired and/or damaged film. I’ve cleaned out film fridges in camera shops and always ask if there’s anything in the back room, maybe in a dusty box underneath a dozen others, filled with film many people think nobody wants. I check local buy-and-sell websites regularly and dig through the miscellaneous bins at thrift stores. Rummage and yard sales can also produce real scores.

In fact, I found the very best box of expired film at a random garage sale in a small town just outside the city just months after I started shooting with my first Holga. It was a shoebox crammed with Kodacolor and Kodachrome, rolls of super-rare Kodak Panatomic-X and at least a dozen rolls of black-and-white 620 that expired in the 1960s and ’70s.

Later, at home, I forced a roll of Kodak-X 620 that expired October 1967 into my Holga CFN and shot a series of vintage wallpapers. I then re-wound the roll and forced it in again, taking shots of my daughter. The age of the film combined with the fact that the 620 roll didn’t fit properly in my 120 camera, resulted in all kinds of wonderful scratches and grain that make the shots look as though they may have actually been shot back in 1967.

After that experience over three years ago, I was hooked. Not only is expired film usually heavily discounted compared to fresh film, the results are wonderfully unpredictable and always fun; pop a roll in your camera — you never know what you might get when it’s developed.

What experiences have you had with expired film? Share your shots and stories with me!

Pamela Klaffke is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who now works as a novelist and photographer. Her column appears weekly in the Analogue Lifestyle section of Lomography Magazine.

written by pamelaklaffke

12 comments

  1. nicolas_noir

    nicolas_noir

    I thrive off expired film! The most expired I have is a few rolls of Agfa Isopan Ultra - expired in Feb 69! The packaging is absolutelt fantastic and it has a handy 120 film cannister :-). I've one shot left but I'm scared to finish it! How will I ask for it to be processed? Will it even show up?!

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  2. welland

    welland

    Ive just got into expired film and love the results. I used some 3 year out of date film in France and got amazing green affect all over it, not quite sure how or why but I love it! See my lomo home on the wall it produced a nice effect that i would not of got without it being out of date. I would love some mega old film but I have no idea where to find it!

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  3. stouf

    stouf

    All ektachrome emulsions are wonderful after a few decades... But I am right now also enjoying Smena foto, this film has more than a grain, it's like a pattern ! Another great post Pamela !

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  4. stouf

    stouf

    Hohoho I meant Svema...

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  5. coldkennels

    coldkennels

    I'm a little bit unsure about expired film. Like everything, it varies. I use expired slide film all the time, and as long as it's been refrigerated, you can barely ever tell the difference. But I recently got some decade-old Kodacolor from my parents, and it's so hit-and-miss that I'm just glad I got it for free!

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  6. fed

    fed

    I´m always on the look out for expired film! I have just recently purchased some Kodak Technical Pan 25asa expired in 1993 and some Kodak Ektachrome EPT 160Tungsten (my favorite!). Expired Slide film is my favorite because the loss of contrast complements cross-processing marvelously! Usually, with fresh film you get extreme contrast, with expired film you get more grain but more reasonable contrast in my opinion. The grain of said film sometimes reminds me of early century Autochromes. I have a small collection of Autochromes and always wondered how I could recreate that rich texture and subtle color palette.
    A definite plus is the fun in treasure hunting! A real feeling you have found something unique. A limited edition. One last chance to shoot with a film you may never come across again. A small pressure of sending it off in history with your best images possible.
    Definitely the best part of analogue photography since I have returned to it ,in my opinion.

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  7. fash_on

    fash_on

    @fed: that's interesting because sometimes I do find new films way too contrasty for xpro, I thought I would have to just shoot on low contrast days in future, that does seem to give a nicer effect.

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  8. pamelaklaffke

    pamelaklaffke

    nicolas_noir: great film find! (i have some rolls of agfachrome ct18 in my freezer that expired in 1974 that i have no idea what to do with either, so i don't know what you should do about the processing. i took in a roll of e-3 film from the '70s a few years ago and it wasn't marked e-3, so i just got them to process it as c-41 as i would for any e-6 slide film and the chemistry totally screwed up the lab's machines. the photos looked really cool, but i guess they took out the few rolls that were up behind it. yikes! maybe see if you can find out the chemistry online and talk to a private lab. i know there are a few people where i live that will develop odd rolls (for a steep fee), so maybe you could find someone in your part of the world.
    welland: super colours — the green really works with the pool shots! they remind me of an old movie!
    stouf: ektachrome is always fun, you're right, though the lower speeds tend to go really blue, i've found, so i just use them well, when i want things to look really blue! i have some a whole bunch of old svema b&w i haven't shot yet, but your comment reminds me i should dig it out and do something with it!
    coldkennels: indeed, the results are unpredictable and often hit-and-miss with expired film. it's great for experimentation, but i suppose if you're trying to achieve a particular look or taking photos that are really important to you, something fresh might be a good idea. personally, i love the surprise of expired film even though it doesn't turn out great every time.
    fed: great point about the contrast with expired slide film! i love the 160EPT as well and have at least 60 rolls, i think. tungsten makes it extra-fun and experimental when you shoot it in daylight. and i love your comment about expired film images being like limited editions, that's so true. and congratulations on scoring some tech pan 25: that stuff is so hard to find. i think i have 1-2 more rolls left, but i'm not ready to shoot it yet!

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  9. kontrast

    kontrast

    real cool post!!!

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  10. pamelaklaffke

    pamelaklaffke

    thanks, kontrast!

    over 3 years ago · report as spam
  11. nicolas_noir

    nicolas_noir

    Oooh I've got some Kodak Technical 25 as well I think. Mega long exposures I'm thinking! The Agfa is thankfully standard b&w, so I was thinking of just asking them to rate at iso 50 or lower. People say that film loses a stop per decade and it is 400 iso and 4 decades old, so will have lost at least 4 stops!

    Bad luck on the E3 - I've seen discussions about it ruining chemicals/machines before, possibly on your flickr stream or the cross processing flickr pool at least. I guess it's stuff like that that puts some processors of xpro :-(

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  12. shoujoai

    shoujoai

    The eldest film I used expired in 1978... 4 years before I was born :) http://www.lomograph(…)rs-old-film

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