Expired Film: Developing Ancient Black and White Film

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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.

Credits: simonh82

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 a film this old. Over the years, the 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 degrees Celsius. 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 Celsius, 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, the 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 negatives 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 peek back into 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.


This article was written by Community member simonh82.

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

8 Comments

  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!
    www.flickr.com/photos/suebh/sets/72157629324487102/

  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...

  6. dktucson
    dktucson ·

    Actually sodium sulfite helps fight base fog. The DK50 formula is as follows and has quite a bit of sodium sulfite:
    Metric
    2.5 gm. . 'Eion '. (Metol)
    60.0 gm.. Sodium sulphite (cryst.) or 30.0 gm .(anhydrous)
    2.5 .gm.Hydroquinone
    10.0 gm . 'Kodalk'
    0.5 gm . Potass ium bromide
    1000 c.c. Water to make a liter
    Dissolve the chemicals in the order given.
    You can make your own Kodalk --for evey 100 grams of kodalk you use 69 grams of Borax and 14.5 grams of Sodium hydroxide. So 10 grams of Kodalk would be 6.9 grams Borax and 1.45 grams sodium hydroxide.
    Another good developer for old stock is D23 at a 1:3 dilution as a 1 shot & toss developer--Very simple 2 ingredient formula
    250ml water for single Nikor tank
    .65gr Metol
    8.2 grams sodium sulfite
    Optionally add a few drops of 1% benzotrialzole depending on the age of the film & condition

  7. vicars
    vicars ·

    I have a batch of 57 rolls of expired films -- from my mis-spent youth. So they are all about 50 years old. For about half of that time they were in a sealed bag in a refrigerator.).
    So I have a both 120 and 35mm films.
    More than half of the rolls are Plus X. But also some of each: Verichrome, Pan X, and Tri X. (Also some Ilford HP4, FP4, and FP3). Even 1 all of Kodak Infrared 135-20.
    So I plan to develop them myself -- using my old kit that has not been used for decades.
    I appreciated the post of SimonH83 above. As a result I have switched my plan fromXTOL or D76 to HC 110. I used to use HC110 decades ago and am pleased to read it is still around.
    So -- I am not sure if this thread is being looked at by photographers -- but I will be glad for information / suggestions / cautionary tales. Vicars

  8. pfrandsen
    pfrandsen ·

    What did developer did you decide to use and what kind of results did you get? I am facing a similar situation with a big bag (50+ rolls) of old (30 years +) tri-x film. Would love to hear how it turned out.

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