What It's Like to Shoot 35-Year-Old Film

Unlike SD cards, film has an expiration date. Once it reaches the end of its shelf life, all sorts of unpredictable things can happen: loss of sensitivity, decreased contrast, color shifts, fog, etc. Some people see that as unacceptable, some see it as artistic charm. Here's how one roll held up after over three decades of languishing in a bag. 

This great video from This Does Not Compute is a nostalgic look at the process of shooting film in addition to a peek at how well a decades-old roll of Plus-X pan held up in shooting. In fairness, the film is low sensitivity and black and white, both of which help it to weather the years a bit more, but it's still interesting to see the results. The final shots are a bit flat and definitely grainier than typical ISO 125 film, but I personally thought they were perfectly usable (particularly with a quick contrast adjustment) and rather charming. And at almost $1.50 a shot, it's interesting to hear him talk about it rewired his process. Despite the drawbacks, I still enjoy the thrill of opening prints for the first time; that's something that just can't be replicated by importing raw files onto my computer.

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Great article as usual. I still still shoot film from time to time in my old Minolta x700's and XGM.

Michael Aubrey's picture

FWIW: Even without the manual adapter (which goes for ~$15 on ebay), you can change your exposure from -2 to +2 on the top dial on the OM-10, if you don't like your automatically selected shutter speed.

I would be curious as to how the lab processed the film and in what. The base+fog looks really high and that may account for the flatness of the images.

Alex Cooke's picture

We've got some knowledgeable people here. :)

Flat may be good. Bruce Barnum, film guru, argued decades ago that when determining exposure, blacks should be placed in Zone 4 rather than 2 or 3 as conventional wisdom dictated. This results in a "flat", negative which could then be more easily worked (post processed) to bring out details when making a print. This is similar to the philosophy behind ETTR (expose to the right) for digital cameras.

José J. Soto's picture

I have shot three-decade-expired Plus-X film at ISO 25 with great results. Still have plenty with a 1984 expiration date in my freezer.

Scott Hays's picture

I can remember looking at expiration dates and if it was a month past it went in the trash. Expired film?? NOOOOO!!!!! Today? Not a problem. Well, if it didn't come out of someones hot trunk after 30 years, and since I develop my own, why not.
Some labs won't touch film that is to old. And they decide what "to old" is. I noticed someone else mentioned that they have 30 year old film in their freezer and get great results. I am the same way. Even if I don't get perfect results I still get acceptable results. I don't normally shoot incredibly important things with film that old, but I'm not afraid to use it on almost anything either.
If you can find it, especially if the seller can guarantee that it has been in cold storage or you can trust them, go for it. If you get a lot of it, learn to develop your own film. It will really make expired film even more worthwhile.