Everyone has shot and seen results from expired film. And it still is a topic that one can often read on forums or facebook groups. One viewer brought to my attention what was the fair price of expired film and my opinion on the matter. So here are my thoughts on the subject.
I will divide this article with cons and pros and a conclusion. Some aspects of expired film can be on both the cons and the pros depending on the user.
- Price - Back when I started shooting film again studios where dumping huge bundles of film onto Ebay. Prices where low and expire dates where pretty reasonable. Once a seller from ebay offered me 1200 rolls of Kodak Portra 400NC in 220 format, at the price of 2$ a roll. As you can imagine I jumped on the offer and had film for years in my freezer.
Now forward a few years and you find that most expired film is selling mostly more expensive than new film. Why? I can't tell you why but I can imagine sellers have a small stock of expired film and they bump the price as they see the market going wild for expired film.
- Results - The biggest expired movement is the Lomography user group. They die for rare color shifts or extreme grain. This is something that has to be valued by the end user. To me the fact that one can't really rely on repetitive results makes a film not interesting. But for many people its become a language and a very popular one. Same thing happens with cameras that produce random light leaks or artifacts. Its a artist tool and they use it that way. Not an issue in my eyes, but many people get fired up with such use of film and gear.
- Shooting Dinosaurs - As the catchy name suggests film has been slowly loosing emultions and that makes certain films more desirable, expired or not. If you died for Neopan 1600 and still want to shoot it, it will have to be expired. Same thing with Plus-X, Neopan 400, Astia and many great films that we lost on the race to the future of photography. I used to die for the Portra NC and VC but now I find the film brings too much grain and muddy blacks in the shadows, even overexposed and have assumed I have to stick to the new stock.
- Price - As I mentioned before prices have gone wild for expired film. To such a point it sells more expensive than of the shelve fresh film, and Im not talking rare film, many times its normal film that just expired. This is when I find it ridiculous to buy expired and think its in our hand to support companies still making film and buy new film.
- Inconsistency - Also a double view on this. If you consider the price of film (even if its free) and add lab developing and scanning plus the moments you froze on that piece of expired gelatin one doesn't want to play the lotto and see if they won or not. I don't shoot film for money (yet) but if I do shoot I want perfect results, at least from the film. If something goes wrong I want to make sure its under my control. So you decide what you want for your results.
- Grain and shadow detail - Film is alive and once it's manufactured its on its way to decompose. The chemical reactions that happen on a emulsion are sensitive to time, heat and other unstoppable reactions. For this once the film is made they highly recommend you store it in a cool place. Your fridge, freezer or car (during winter) are ideal for its conservation, but it wont stop the slow degradation of the emulsion. So expired film will expand grain more or less depending on storage and age. But also will loose strength to retain information in the shadows. As you can see in the example below and the crop the black has turned brown on this old Portra 400VC film.
- Overexpose - As film looses its strengh with time overexposing will help make the faults in it look less obvious. The general recommendation is one stop overexposure per decade (10 years).
Black and white holds its characteristics much better so don't be too scared to buy expired b&w. Then the next is color negative film (C41 process), it holds pretty well and overexposing will help a lot for old film. The worst one if not taken good care for is slide film (E6 process), this film will turn bad fast and give color casts that are not easy to fix. Some people cross process slide (developing it in C41 chemistry) to make it go wild and look different. It's up to you. But don't say I didn't tell you when your girlfriend turns into a alien in that 15 year old Astia.
- Freeze it - Many sellers will say the film was kept in a freezer but true or not its in your hand to get it under 0ªC as fast as you can. This will slow down the process of aging and help prevent the issues mentioned above.
- Buy new film - As much as old film is fun we need film being made. So try to support existing emulsions and companies by buying some new film every now and then. Also if you hear of a film being discontinued its a good time to break the piggy bank and invest on a good stock of that emulsion.
- Expect failure - Many times one takes a risk on a bundle of cheap expired film and looses. The film is way too bad and might not work for you. Try devopling it in Rodinal and see if you like that, it might be horrible as color negative but great as a b&w ultra grainy and contrasty film.
As every tool in ones art, film is just part of your way to express yourself. If you are into expired film go ahead and try it out, but do make sure that at least you are not paying premium money for something you can still find in a store.
But lastly its all up to you to decide if you want to use such a medium. A lot of people use it and love the look and feel of expired film.
Thanks to Svein for bringing up the topic.