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Glen Brownson

DIY processing old reversal film

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I have recently bought some 1970s era 16mm film very cheaply. I want to have a go at home processing, partly for fun and partly due to the high cost of professional developing (and partly due to the stock being so old and unreliable).

I have three different types, one roll of ORWO colour 16ASA , some Svema 50ASA B/W and some Svema 200ASA B/W.

I believe they are all reversal film.

I am looking for the cheapest, easiest way of developing them, at home. Can anyone recommend a suitable process for developing them?

I am happy to develop them as negative or reversal (I am assuming reversal will be more difficult), and I'm not worried if the colour film comes out monochrome or odd colours (happy to see if unusual effects develop).





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Hi, great that you want to process the films yourself.  I have to ask, which processing method are you intending to use?  Rewind Tank, Spiral Reel etc?  Due to the severe age of the film, unless it has been stored frozen since new, it will have severe age fog.  The filmspeed will have dropped as well.   I wouldn't consider Rewind Processing since residual chemistry would build image density working against you, and you want more precise processing control due to the old nature of the films.  I wouldn't attempt reversal processing unless you do a snip test first off each one to see how it responds.  If doing a Reversal Snip Test, you only need to remove a short amount, such as a foot or two or less.  Just make sure this portion has been exposed.  If you can shoot an average scene and include a Gray Card in it, that will help as well, or a Color Chart, or Gray Scale Chart.    In the reversal process, pull the First Developer time down from the normal 6 minute (average) range to 2.5 minutes.  Make sure to Pre-Soak/Wash your film for a good minute or two before preceeding, actually 5 minutes would be fine. 

        Chances are though, that Reversal Processing will fair extremely poor, with lots of cloudy mottling in the images, low contrast etc, perhaps very washed out density unless you are able to get it down via time and temperature dropping to compensate.  Your tests should let you know.  Do NOT shoot the entire roll, just the snip test portion. In fact, if you have a subminiature 16mm camera, use that for your tests, or you could use a 35mm SLR type camera, just taping the film to the takeup spool, since your film length is so short, there won't be any real slippage of the film since the sprockets are advancing it, just the tug on the takeup spool.  A foot of film should allow you to take at least 3 to 5 shots, fine for this test.   You could then, cut each film snip test into 2 segments and store them in 35mm Kodak type plastic film cans since they are dark, seal with tape and mark them as to what they are.  This will allow you to conduct a Reversal Process Test of each film and a Negative Process Test.  This way, you'll be way ahead and have a good idea how the film is and which way would be best to proceed.

    For the Negative Process test, I recommend any strong B&W Developer with high contrast similar to KODAK D-19 (ILFORD  Phenisol is the equivalent), or a B&W Photo Paper Developer similar to Dektol if nothing else in the higher contrast area is available.  Use this for all 3 film types, since it's only to create a B&W Negative of usable density.  At least doing Negative, should the films have dropped to a very low filmspeed sensitivity and have severe age fogging, the higher contrast developer will 'clear' up the image somewhat for you, and you can experiment with exposure and processing times.

    For the Color Reversal ones, it will be tricky here, since these films were made prior to when films were had Prehardened emulsions.  So, unless you can chemically preharden them prior to the processing, your best bet is to use a room temperature process.  UniColor E-6   3-Step will work fine at room temp.  Do NOT go over 80F, stay in the 72F to 75F range, with all liquids, washes etc.  Give each film a long presoak of 5 minutes.   I also recommend using a B&W Rapid Hardening Fixer in the end for at least 5 - 8 minutes.  You can use it to replace the E-6 Kit Fixer.  This will insure the emulsion is hardened for later handling protection.  Okay, for processing, follow the room temp guidelines.....for all solutions except the First Developer, cut that one down 2/3rds from what is recommended.  The First Developer determines the image density (speed) and with the age of the film, not doing so will usually cause the film to look nearly clear as all the silver halides will have mostly converted to black metallic silver, leaving you with not enough silver to create the Positive Image. Once the Bleach converts all this black metallic silver to silver bromide, and is removed by the Fixer...the film will look blank.  The goal is to avoid that.  Again, testing will be necessary to find the usable range for each film. So keep good notes for yourself.

    ORWO and SVEMA of that era were made under the regimes of that era, which utilized different color reversal technology, especially the Color Developers.  So it would be hard to match without some manipulation.  However, this won't apply here since the film is so old and has to be processed with compensation.  EKTACHROME color reversal films of this era usually yield a severe green or cyan look with sometimes traces of other colors.  These eastern European films will yield a purplish or magenta range, could even be orange.  It has to do with their film layers, film technology, and in which direction the dye couplers have faded/failed.  Since you stated that you're up for weird color effects, that's what you'll get, if anything.  In the end....if Color Reversal doesn't work out at all or anywhere near acceptable for you, the default process for all photographic film is B&W Negative processing.  At least from there, you can get something.  You could experiment and attempt B&W Reversal processing of these 2 color films, if you wanted to, but I doubt it would be worthwhile. 

    Lastly, now IF for some reason, these films were stored frozen since new....then they would have to be processed more along 'normal' ranges of course.   Anyhow, once you have your test results, if unusable at all, make some more, until you get in the range of usability.  Then mark you film cans as to how to expose and process, and you'll be all set to shoot.  I know it's a bit of work initially, but if you just go ahead and shoot the entire film on something, and can't get anything usable, you'll have just totally wasted your time, defeating the goal of having cheap film to use.  I wish you the best of success in your endeavor!

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Hi Martin,

Thank you for taking the time to give  such a detailed and useful reply!

I will probably be using a home made tank to develop - I realise the problems & risks involved with this - scratched film and uneven development etc, but Lomo tanks etc are expensive and hard to find (my wife already thinks I spend too much money on this hobby!) Plus I think it will be fun do some really basic home-made development.

From the look of them, they haven't been stored well, and from your reply I think I will try B/W negative process first, if the results are good, I may give colour reversal a go, just to see if anything interesting happens. I'm going to assume at this stage that B/W will be the best for all of them though.

Doing the snip tests is excellent advice and will allow me to practice developing, as well as assessing the state of the film.

Thank you once again for the reply.



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You can build a simple film processing rack out of plexiglass (even wood, but it would have to sealed up so it's liquid proof) and use a 20 inch x 24 inch photo processing tray or similar type container.   Or you could build a rotating film rack that will also serve as your film drying rack afterwards.  It will use a smaller container for your chemistry.   I have processed virtually all film types, both still and cine using DIY and professional equipment, as well as machines in my long career in this field.  There are some that use the Caffenol Developer formula for processing old films as Black & White Negative with some YouTube and Vimeo videos available out there to look at.   Anyhow, building a simple to use rack will avoid all the film scratching you'll get by wadding it all up into a still film processing tank, bucket or other containers where the film surfaces will rub against itself.  And also avoid any unprocessed regions, which can be spotty where the emulsion doesn't receive any chemistry.  You can always email me for more details if you'd like. Not sure how much space I should take up here in this forum.

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Hi Martin, If you have any details on a DIY rack please add it to the forum - you're not 'taking up space' you're providing useful information that I and others can use!

I've seen a large drum type rack, but that will probably take up too much room. It's a shame there isn't an easy way to make Lomo type spirals!

For pre-soak, would you use tap water or another solution?

Other than the developers you mention for B/W negative, do you have any recommendations for fixing / rinsing, wetting agents etc. ?

Thanks once again for your help.


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