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Expired Film

Raymond Zananiri

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Kodak can give you the production date if you tell them the emulsion and batch no. that’s printed on the can. AFAIK, they don’t publish expiry dates, but they recommend that the film is exposed and processed as soon as possible after purchase. For professional purposes, anything older than about six months would probably be considered expired. This is more for insurance, rather than because of deterioration in the stock itself.

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I’ve called the Kodak sales office in the past to ask about batch numbers. They’ve usually been helpful. What’s more important than the age of the film, though, is how it has been stored. Refrigerated (or better yet, frozen) stock will remain useable for far longer than stock that has just been left on a shelf somewhere in the sun.

As far as shooting expired stock goes, you can get rolls clip tested at the lab before using them. Here, the lab spools off a few feet of stock and processes it, then analyzes the negative to see the fog levels, and any other issues. They then give you a report on your stock. It can be useful, but the labs are always extremely conservative in what they class as usable. 

When shooting, it’s common practice to overexpose expired stock slightly, in order to lift your exposures away from the toe of the characteristic curve, which is where any fogging from deterioration would be most obvious. I believe the rule of thumb is to overexpose by one stop for every decade the film is old.

FWIW, film is pretty resilient, and even ancient stock can yield 'great' results, as long as you’re not expecting a pristine image.


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High temperatures are very bad for film so one would want to know how it is stored. In extreme cases the whole film roll can fuze to one solid piece with all the film layers sticking permanently together, I have seen this on attic stored raw stock. 

High temperature stored stock will have depressing fog levels to the point of it being completely unusable or even being so damaged that all the film has become a solid block like mentioned before. 

In fridge or freezer the stock will generally last pretty reliably for many years. If grain levels are not critical it is typical to expect a reasonable image out of a stock of couple years old or up to 5 years. Cold storage does not prevent gamma ray/cosmic rays exposure so it will start to show blue flashes at some point. Any storage will show in the base fog but in most cases the difference is so small that you can intercut stuff pretty well. 

Additionally you may have pumping grain levels if the roll was stored so that one side of the roll was on different temperature than the other side and has thus aged at different speed. This may happen in fully packed fridge too which is why I like to rotate the cans half a turn every month or so just to be sure.



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You might want to have a look at a few very rough tests I did with my old short ends. I deliberately chose the oldest stock I could find, a short end from 1996 that had been stored pretty badly and in room temp or hotter. I was looking at fog levels and grain mainly, so not a very sophisticated test setup.




Here I also tested the very short-lived 800ASA 35mm Kodak stock, and you can see it held up pretty bad. But you can also tell that both stocks respond well to over-exposure to suppress grain and fog. A rule of thumb is to add 1 stop for each decade of film age.




You could not use this kind of film for anything where a stable or professional outcome is needed. But you could certainly use it for shorts, experimental stuff or perhaps black and white stuff - there the grain and fog almost add's something.


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More and more I am convinced that film need to be scanned AND displayed at very high resolution (like 8K, possibly more). There is some weird interaction between the texture of grain and digital pixels. I assume at some point of upping the digital resolution that interaction will stop and we'll finally only see the grain as the limiter of resolution of the overall image. That is why I am very suspicious that most digitally restored films (like almost the entire Criterion Collection) has been aggressively denoised and then grain was added in post. It was the only way to deal with that weird effect. I have no way to prove it but I am very suspicious that is the case. 

As far as storage effect, it seems that I have to find a way to test a short strip in a still camera and develop it myself. Then, reference it against  a developed fresh negative. 

Thank you for showing the examples!!

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On 11/17/2020 at 7:32 AM, David Mullen ASC said:

Interesting look -- I don't mind the fogging but the pulsing on the 800T stock is distracting, maybe it would be OK for a nightmare / fever dream feeling. The old 200T looks nice!

Yes, it has gotten damaged somehow, probably by just ground radiation and being stored in a position where it created this repetitive pattern. But it's also worth remembering that this particular stock was well hated and was grainy already when it was brand new. Kodak discontinued it after just a few years and it must have been their shortest running stock.

Worth noticing is also that sensitivity actually goes down - it's not just that the base fog increases. Exposed correctly, they still look underexposed, so they basically get less sensitive with time.

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Oh and one more thing, Kodak's expiration date is 6 months after manufacture. So it's pretty easy too know if the film is older than that, especially since Kodak changed the labeling a few years ago. Anything with the old label is guaranteed to be more than 2 years old. 

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