Saturday, November 21, 2015

There's Expired Film, and Then There's...

When I see a bargain on 'the bay', there is a fleeting moment when my brain says, "That's too good to be true, and if it were really a bargain someone else would have snatched it up before you." Often that is enough to discourage me from making impulsive purchases. However, when it comes to cheap film, I am a complete sucker. So when I came across a 10-pack of 120 film for around $3/roll shipped, my urges got the better of me. Now this film was a little odd, but not unheard of. It was the Russian brand Svema and it was the FN64 black and white negative emulsion. It had expired in 1996 which is less than 10 years ago, so I figured between the relative newness and the slow iso, it would be good to go, maybe even at box speed. So I ordered the 10 rolls and hoped for the best. When it came in the mail (from Ukraine) I thought the cold war style packaging was quaint. The rolls were individually boxed with Cyrillic letters on them. The rolls inside were wrapped in a foil-lined paper, not sealed in plastic like most other 120 films are. I unwrapped one to find a bright red backing paper that seemed a little bit thicker than most backing papers I have encountered, but you never know until you try, right? So I put the roll into my Bronica S2a and started shooting. My concern grew on about the fourth shot. I wound the film, the shutter cocked and then the film kept winding. It wasn't like a free spin as if the film had broken, but a sort of squishy wind that gradually got stiffer. I finished the roll with this sort of strange 'feel' to the winder. Normally when I reach 12 on the counter, I get the free wind as the film is all on the take-up spool and no longer turning the sprockets in the winding mechanism. This time that didn't happen. It just got harder and harder to wind. So I opened it up, figuring it had something to do with the thickness of the backing paper. Maybe I was going to have to respool all of this onto regular 'Western-style' backing papers. But no, when I opened the back, the film sort of sprung out at me like one of those trick snakes in a can novelties. It was not wound around the take up spool at all. Instead it was crammed all around it accordion style. What I discovered was that the tape that normally holds the film to the backing paper on the leading edge had lost all of its stickiness and so it did not lead the film onto the spool. One roll down. One lesson learned. The next roll I took into a darkened room and unrolled it until I could feel the leading edge of the film and the old tape. Out with the old and in with a new piece of nice sticky tape. I rolled it back up and put it in the camera. This time it wound like a charm. I shot the roll at iso 50 because that is what I read someone else did on the interwebz. Here is where we learn the lesson about film storage conditions and what effect they have on film over time. Here is an example from that roll.


Sometimes you can overcome background/base fog simply by bumping the exposure a stop or two. So for the next roll, I decided to go for it and shoot it two stops slower than box speed at iso 16. This might have been a little better, but not significantly so.


This film was obviously stored at 'room' temperature or worse. This caused oxidation of the emulsion which turns things all 'speckeled'. It's not the worst thing that could happen. If I know the photos are going to look like this, I can choose my subjects and lighting accordingly and set my expectations. So I'm not sure what exactly I will do with the remaining 7 rolls of this old film, but I'll bet one day I will find myself in the mood for something a little 'different' and I'll pull another one of these old Russian rolls out of the freezer.