Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dacomatic Recordak Film

I have been playing around with expired film recently. This is for a couple of reasons. First, it is economical and I am cheap. ;) Second, and more importantly, I like the look of grainy film. I wouldn't say that I am in the "more grain is better ad infinitum" camp, but I like photos with pronounced grain. In fact, back when I was shooting digital, I would often use grain 'filters' or plug-ins for my photos that needed that extra something. Looking back now, I am surprised that it took me so long to return to film photography, when that is what I wanted my photos to look like all along. As film ages, the ionic silver undergoes subtle chemical changes. The crystals merge and aggregate, cosmic rays and other radiation can 'expose' some crystals, etc. So the net effect is that the film speed (iso rating) gets lower, the grain gets bigger and the base fog becomes more noticeable. Some of this can be overcome when you develop your film if you are trying to get a 'cleaner' look from your expired film. I use one of two developers (Rodinal or Caffenol-CL), neither of which is very good at compensating for these side effects of elderly film. So I shoot the film and live with what I get, which is usually pretty close if not exactly the look I am going for.

Recently, I acquired a 400 foot roll of some well-expired 35mm film. It is Kodak Dacomatic A film, expired in Dec. 1973. I was only 6 years old when this expired!! I bought it on the big auction site and then started trying to figure out what iso it should be shot at and how in the world to develop it. Guess what, there's not much information out there on this film. From what I can gather it was made for use in the Kodak Recordak machine which was used for copying documents. Okay, so it's copy film. That will mean that it is probably high contrast, or at least it was in 1973. I did find one guy on Flickr that had used it and shot it at iso 6. Over on the FilmWasters forum (highly recommended) one of the guys wrote a desktop application that will calculate a reasonably accurate EI for expired film. You can download it HERE. Download those three files and run setup.exe. This application predicts an iso of 6 for film that was originally iso 100. Was that the original speed?? Who knows? Never being one for following rules, or even guidelines, I set my meter to iso 12 just to allow a little more reasonable shutter speeds. I should note that subsequently, another Filmwaster has exposed this same film at iso 80 and got very good results using Blufire HR developer from the Frugal Photographer. Anyway, I rolled some up in a reusable film canister. I had to do this in the dark since my daylight film loader will not hold a 400' roll. So I measured a piece of string as long as a 12-exposure roll of film and taped it to the counter in my darkroom (bathroom). Then I turned out the lights and measured out a piece of film as long as the string. I then taped that to the film spool and rolled it up. I threw this into my trusty old Nikkormat FTn and went out in the sun to find something to shoot. I found myself at The Scripps UCSD Medical Center where they have sculptures and fountains and buildings that might be photogenic.

Here are a couple of shots I took of a marble sculpture of a pair of robed figures looking at each other.

I developed in Caffenol-CL for 60min with no agitation after the first 30sec. You can see that the grain is 'pronounced', but not what I would call 'extreme' or distracting. This is the look I like and why I like to use expired film. Different films age in different ways and storage conditions play a big part in whether they are usable or not. If you are buying very old film (more than 5yrs past expiration) you probably want to verify with the seller that it was in cold storage. You may get an image out of film stored in a closet, but it will be pretty faint. Just experiment and have fun with these old stocks!