Recently I acquired a pair of medium format film cameras from a co-worker - a Bessa Voightlander 1 (I’m guessing 1949ish) that belonged to his father, and a 1969 Mamiya C-220 that belonged to his wife’s father. Both are cameras that I have wanted for a while for different reasons – the Bessa shoots a 6x9 format, and the C220 has bellows focusing which makes for some nice and close near-macro work if desired. Both make nice additions to my collection of medium format cameras that I use regularly – no shelf queens in my collection. I’ve shot with both of them already and both work great; other than the Bessa’s viewfinder being a nightmarishly small fogged-over pinhole that’s nearly impossible to see thru, but results can be great if one perseveres with it…….more on that in another blogpost.
In the cigar box with the Bessa were several rolls of very expired film, including a roll of Kodak Verichrome that expired in 1969. Yes, 1969. Before I was born.
I’ve shot some rolls of expired film lately thanks to the Film Photography Project selling off some old film from their freezer. Why shoot expired film? Why would I want to do that? Well, for me it gives me a chance to shoot film that’s no longer made, and, I quite like the interesting look/effects that sometimes result. Call it being experimental. No, I wouldn’t shoot expired film for something important/critical, and no I wouldn’t shoot it for paid work.
All film has an expiration date on it. The reason is that as over time film degrades, and for consistency its best to use it before that date. Manufacturers want to guarantee that you get what you expect when you shoot their film, and the date is a way to guarantee it.
But film doesn’t become useless as soon as soon as it expires. It’s not like milk. Some films may last years, maybe decades past their intended use-by date, as long as they’re carefully stored. Heat and radiation will eventually turn film into a fogged mess.
And even with that degradation, expired film can be used to take good images. Color/density shifts, curl, and lack of sharpness can elevate some shots from mundane to interesting. Think of expired film as an unpredictable, old-school Instagram filter that’s like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.
So, all that being said, time to get down to it.
I loaded the Verichrome into the Mamiya C-220. I wanted to shoot it with a camera from the same era and the C-220 ticked off that box. Plus, with its “blue-dot” 80mm f/2.8 lens I had a good chance of getting sharp images and the wide aperture helps with gathering as much light as the film needs.
Next, I had to figure out what speed to shoot the film. The Verichrome WAS rated at ISO 125 but given its 50-year old age, it has now become less sensitive to light. Probably a LOT less sensitive. The conventional wisdom is to shoot expired film 1-stop slower for each decade of expiration. So that’s 5 stops for this roll – meaning that instead of 125 I need to shoot it at ISO 4. Yes, 4. Thankfully my lightmeter goes that low.
I went to Woodland Cemetery in Dayton. It's a beautiful place and full of interesting gravesites. Given my theme of shooting old film in an old camera, I thought the location would be fitting.
Now comes time to develop and see what I have. Developing old film can often be problematic as well. Resources like the Massive Dev Chart won’t have any info for times/mixes for most expired films. I’ve found in these cases that, at least with B&W film, that the “semi-stand development” method works fairly well. The next-to-zero agitation helps keep grain issues low, and the process can help with perceived clarity and sharpness, all while helping get detail in shadows and not blowing out the highlights. Although I have to admit I’ve never shot with film this old before. I’m into uncharted territory.
I developed it in Rodinal 1:100 for 60 minutes, with slight agitation after putting the developer in the tank, and then at the 30 minute mark. Stop and Fix as normal, followed by PhotoFlo.
All images were scanned on an Epson V600, with dust removal and slight tweaks done in Photoshop CC.