Film Destroyed by age?? Please help.

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by hooten_baldini, Feb 5, 2014.

  1. Hello everyone,

    I am writing this post b/c I need some advice.

    I got back a roll of medium format black and white, slow speed 120 film back from the lab. They had process and scanned it.

    Here is an example of what they sent back:
    Needless to say, I am flabbergasted.

    A little background:

    I have shot literally hundreds of rolls of film and kept them in my fridge to be developed later.

    In 2009, due to a family situation, the film where taken out of the fridge and stored in a storage unit. No climate control, just a plain old storage unit.

    Finally, now, I am able to get back to my old archive. This is one of the first rolls of 120 that I've had a chance to develop. I've also developed rolls of color 35mm film that, for the most part, looks perfectly fine (a little color distortion, but nothing like this).

    I now have the film sitting in ziplocks in the closet.

    I am terrified that the rest of the B&W 120 film will look like this image.

    Am I screwed? Is the film degrading?

    This is really sad. I spent years and a ton of money. This was my work and I didn't realize this outcome was possible. I thought the film wouldn't be pristine but at least manageable with some Photoshop work.

    Now I don't know what to do. Like I said, I have hundreds of rolls similar to the image posted, sitting waiting to be developed.

    Do I spend thousands of dollars having them developed just to receive back this garbage?

    Is there something the lab can do? Should I throw the film in the fridge now? Will it do any good?

    I am dumbstruck. This is really painful.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.
  2. Depends on whether the film itself is fogged, or whether the results are due to poor processing and/or printing.
    As the fellow on this other thread suggested, it would help if you can photograph the negatives themselves against a light box, or illuminated by a window. A sheet of white typing paper would make an adequate diffuser for this purpose. It will help if we can see what the negatives look like. Any decent digital camera will do for this, even a decent cell phone camera.
    Even badly fogged film/negatives can be rescued with careful scanning and post processing. I've deliberately induced fogging through heat, age and high-fog developers, and was still able to produce reasonably good results in post processing. So there's always hope.
    But don't despair. I and other folks here have seen remarkable results from decades old found film salvaged from old cameras. Keep in mind that many of Vivian Maier's rolls of film were left exposed but undeveloped for decades before being discovered, developed and scanned. Most of her photos look remarkably good - apparently she was careful to avoid underexposure so most of her photos retained full shadow detail and normal tonality. Even most of her color photos look good, and color film is notoriously unforgiving of long storage in poor conditions.
    You may need to consider developing the film yourself to get the best results, or find a lab that will agree to custom processing requests - either by using a low fog developer, or adding additional restrainer to their existing developer.
    But let's see a photo of the negatives themselves and we'll go from there.
  3. I have shot literally hundreds of rolls of film and kept them in my fridge to be developed later.​
    That was not a great idea for long term storage. Too much moisture in a frig.
    Is the film degrading?​
    If the lab is trusted, apparently so. The storage bin could of had a wide range of temps to affect the emulsion. Then there is the damp refrig.
    If it were me, I would have several more rolls done normally and see what they look like.
    You actually might do better by processing yourself since you can control the contrast and density better but if the emulsion is reticulated or otherwise damaged you may be out of luck. Then again some digital folks spend money on apps to get "special effects" like that. It's a matter of if you like the look and want to bother with all the work.
    Don't store film in a refrigerator long term. Carefully sealed it may safely be stored in a freezer. But whatever happened to the film, freezing it now will only slow further changes. The primary damage may have already been done. Test a few more rolls.
  4. Whether a refrigerator is suitable for storage depends on the type of fridge. I've used frost-free refrigerator/freezers for years without any problems, including with medium format film. However I did experience moisture spotting in film stored in an older chest freezer - moisture became trapped between the film and paper backing, causing distinctive spotting on both surfaces.
    But frost-free fridge/freezer types tend to be very dry - so much so that I need to store most veggies and fruits in sealed containers or they'll become dehydrated very quickly. On the plus side, frost-free types are great for home-dehydrating mushrooms and fresh herbs.
    In fact, if I needed to dry out film with frozen condensation between layers, I'd leave it open on a shelf in a frost-free freezer. The dry, cold air will eventually evaporate the ice without thawing and risking worse condensation marks.
  5. Agree with all of above, including the suggestion of showing us the actual film. You seem to be in LA? If so, it is likely that the films have been exposed in the storage unit to temperatures of 30°C and more for several hours a day, several months a year for 5 years. When film manufacturers says "Keep film cool, process promptly after exposure", they ain't kidding. People have got away with murder here, but I am afraid your storage conditions may prove to have been too extreme.
  6. Hi Guys,

    Thank you for your responses.

    The lab I sent them to is Swan Photo Labs. They also operate TheDarkroom.
    I should have the negatives back in a day or two. The image I posted is from the scan the lab did of the roll. I don't think Swan/Darkroom is a pro lab. But their prices are good (10 bucks process & scan) per roll and I've had good results with them before. However, the rolls I had them develop before were freshly shot and stored in the fridge before being developed.

    I'll take some shots of the negs on a light box when I get them back and post them here.

    In the meantime, I put all the 120 film in a light proof aluminum envelope and put them in my (sort of newish, purchased 2012) fridge in the veggie box.

    I'll also be developing a couple of other rolls to see if the example shot above is an anomaly or something that's more widespread.

    If you have any other recommendations, please let me know. Also, any good mail order labs that will work with me as far as requests on processing, will be greatly appreciated.

    I don't have the option of developing them myself as I don't have the space, equipment or the knowledge (or patience!) to do a good job of it.

    Thanks again.
  7. If processing the film and scanning the negatives yourself isn't an option, I'd strongly recommend the following:
    I'm seeing what *may* be moisture marks. In addition to possible fogging, I see lots of squiggly marks that resemble the moisture marks I've seen in some of my medium format film when condensation was trapped between the film and paper backing. One way to be certain is to examine the paper backing where it touches the film - condensation will usually produce mirrored marks on both the film and matte black paper backing. If you don't receive the paper backing from the lab, ask them to inspect the paper backing or return it to you for inspection.
    Don't refrigerate the film unless you are absolutely certain it's a frost free refrigerator. An easy way to test is to check your ice trays - if the unused ice slowly vanishes, it's frost free and recirculates plenty of dry air. And the veggie box is the worst place to keep film dry, even in a frost free fridge - it's the one place where a frost-free fridge tries to maintain a little humidity (although not effectively in my fridge). I'd look for a place directly in the path of the recirculating air - with my fridge it's the rear, center, just below the overhead freezer. Anything located directly in that path gets a pretty good breeze and will eventually dehydrate if not kept covered. And if you do have a frost free fridge, the film should be in something permeable to air - a paper bag is good. That's what I use to freezer-dehydrate my mushrooms and fresh herbs, with layers of paper towels in between.
    If you're not certain you have a frost free fridge, it would be best to dry out the film. Wrapping it in foil, plastic, etc., will hinder drying it out. If you're concerned about the film being protected from light leaks (some rollfilm can occasionally leak a bit of piped light along the edges if the paper backing isn't wide enough), put it in a dark box, or shelf unit with a door, and a small fan to circulate room temperature air.
    Custom or pro lab
    You really need to find a lab that will work with you. If this film is as important to you as you've said, paying only $10 a roll may still be $10 wasted. Find a lab where you can actually communicate with the darkroom tech so that you both understand the problems you're experiencing and the results you want. It won't do any good, for example, to specify custom processing in developer with added restrainer at a temperature no warmer than 68 degrees F to minimize additional fog, and to save the paper backing, if the darkroom tech never gets the instructions and just tosses your film into the 72F deep tank of Ilfotec DD-X along with everyone else's film, and tosses the paper backing into the trash.
    I recommend, at least for one or two test rolls so that you'll have a reliable baseline. David Wood, the owner, has built a career on custom processing. If you explain the situation, or just forward a copy of this discussion thread, David will understand what to do and help you choose the most appropriate processing. Or I'd just trust him to use his best judgment on how to tackle the film.
    You might also ask David whether to send along your existing negatives so he'll have an idea of what he's working with for your undeveloped rolls.
    I don't know whether dr5 offers scanning but at least you'll have narrowed down the possibilities so that you'll know whether the film or processing is the problem. Once you have the best possible negatives, then you can worry about scanning and/or optical enlargements.
  8. So the film was exposed, and then refrigerated. Subequently, in 2009, the refrigerated film was taken out of the controlled environment and put into an ordinary uncontrolled storage unit where it was exposed to unknown temperature and humidity conditions.
    You didn't say how old the film was at the time it was exposed and then refrigerated.
    Like people, film ages. Over time, it does deteriorate. Refrigerating film does slow down the aging process, and freezing the film actually causes the aging process to stop - as long as the film is frozen. Years ago, I spoke with a researcher from Polaroid who said that they had done some testing that suggested that the aging process actually accelerates after film has been frozen and then thawed.
    Also, it's my understanding that beyond the fundamental aging issue there is also a matter of long-term latent image stability, which is why film manufacturers have always recommended that film be processed fairly soon after exposure.
    You also didn't say how the film was packaged at the time it was refrigerated and later stored. If the film was refrigerated, and then moved on an uncontrolled space with high humidity while it was still cold, it is very possible for there to be condensation on the film that can also lead to damage.
    I know it would be nice to be able to blame this problem on the lab, but I'm suspicious that the real cause is that the film has been improperly stored.
  9. Two issues here, I think... maybe three.
    1. Film deteriorates with age. If the film was old to begin with, then aged more, that would cause deterioration and a build-up of base fog.
    2. Film likes to be kept cool and processed promptly. Heat is particularly bad for film. Even a few days of extreme heat can seriously harm the latent image on unprocessed film (and does damage to unexposed film too).
    3. Film does not like to get wet until it's time for processing. Put exposed film into a sealed container if you are going to refrigerate it or freeze it. Simple zip-loc bags work for 120 film, and the plastic canisters that come with 35mm film work fine for it. Evacuate all the air you can from plastic bags you use, seal, and chill.

    All things equal, freezing is better for film than refrigeration - it will keep longer. Still, even frozen, film slowly deteriorates from exposure to cosmic rays - the faster the film, the more significant the deterioration will be.
    And remember also, if you freeze film, give it adequate warm-up time before opening the sealed container. The colder the film, the longer a warm-up time it will require. A couple or three hours seems to be enough in most cases.
  10. I wouldn't just toss them. About all you can do is put them back into proper storage and start getting them processed. You may well find some of it is beyond help but I'll bet there is quite a lot of it in good condition. Film can be delicate and finicky but at the same time it can be suprisingly durable. You might consider processing them yourself if that is practical and having scans done on whatever is undamaged. That would save some money if nothing else and B&W isn't hard to process.
    Rick H.
  11. I'll try and answer everyone's questions.

    It's a roll of panf50 film.
    I spoke with the Lab. They throw the paper backing out so now way of getting it back. They use a dip n dunk process on a refema (not sure if that's the spelling) machine. He stated that he thinks I'm basically screwed. The PanF immulsion doesn't hold up well with time.

    I'm not sure if my fridge is frost free or not. I took the film out and put it in dark ziplock bag and put that into a large aluminum envelope. They are currently in a dark, cool closet.

    I called David but no one was there. I'll try him again.

    The film was basically in a large ziplock, stored in the fridge. At the time the film was removed, the rolls were shot b/w 2003 - 2009. I don't think this (particular) roll is a lab/scanning issue. This image I posted is from a roll that was especially poorly stored. It was basically sitting in an envelope next to my desk for months (I get plenty of light).

    Do you think I should freeze the remaining stock?


    I hope your right my friend. That's what I'm counting on. If I had a couple of extra grand laying about, I would process the rest of the film asap. I'll just have to wait and see what happens.

    I'm still not sure how I should store the remaining film.

    Any suggestions?
  12. DO NOT put 120 Pan-f back in the fridge once it has been shot. DO NOT put un-wrapped pan-f in the fridge. YOUR FILM WILL BE RUINED!

    I read this here:
  13. DO NOT put 120 Pan-f back in the fridge once it has been shot. DO NOT put un-wrapped pan-f in the fridge. YOUR FILM WILL BE RUINED!
    As far as I am concerned, this applies to ALL rollfilm. Putting exposed film in the fridge is in principle fine but only in a Ziploc bag, Tupperware container or other means of keeping the film totally dry. The film should of course be allowed to warm up to room temperature after coming out of the fridge before it is unwrapped. Recommendations for warm-up time vary - some say 1 or 2 hours, I have on occasion put a wrapped roll of film in my trouser pocket and then unwrapped it after 15 minutes.
  14. That seems like a really long time to have undeveloped sitting around. But without seeing the film itself, hard to tell. I would not at all be surprised if it degraded.
  15. Refrigerating or freezing unexposed film so that you can still use it years later is common practice. Shooting film and then storing it for long periods of time -- refrigerated or not -- is not common practice and it's a very bad idea.

    The latent image starts to fade immediately once you've shot a picture. Not so fast that you have to rush home and develop the roll the same day or the same week or even the same month. But enough that every single manufacturer of film urges that you have it developed "promptly."

    The classic amateur who has Christmas, Fourth of July and Labor Day snapshots all on the same roll typically goes a year or more before the pictures are processed without a problem. And there have been famous stories of photos found in the Arctic after decades that could still be salvaged. People sometimes save up a few rolls for a few months so they can do a big batch and get full use out of a set of chemicals. But intentionally delaying photo for years just isn't done. Besides the issue of the film going bad/image fading, you run the risk that maybe your shutter or lens developed problems that you're not aware of, maybe the camera has a light leak, etc., that you won't know about until you develop the film. It's a huge gamble.

    At this point, the damage has been done. I would not put the film back in the refrigerator, with the main reason being simply that you should not delay developing any further. The time for more storage is over. I would develop all of the film immediately. You might want to run a few test rolls to see how bad they are and if any will need longer developing times, etc. But get it all developed now, not six months or a year or another five years from now.

    Based on the picture you posted, it's a good shot and you're probably a pretty good photographer. But I'm curious -- how did you come to shoot hundreds of rolls -- maybe thousands of great shots -- over a period of years without getting the film developed?
  16. I don't know how good of a professional lab Swan is, but they are a fairly well known pro lab in the Los Angeles area that still processes b/w if that's the same lab the OP is talking about.
  17. A storage unit like "Public Storage" that can get very hot in LA?

    Otherwise, I have had exposed film (not intentionally) 30 or 40 years old. (I had some rolls from 8th grade.) Not kept cool, but not a warm storage unit either, that were not so bad a few years ago.
    Possibly the effect is on the back, which would make it much easier to get off without bothering the emulsion. I suspect something between moisture and the backing paper.
    Once out of the factory sealed package, if refrigerated it should probably have a dessicant to make sure it stays dry.
  18. I saw everything I needed to know due to the type of film. PAN F is notoriously lousy about latent image keeping. Even Ilford says to process it before 3 months are up. Even if you hadn't put it in the fridge/freezer, it would have gone off.
    I once did a trip to Europe. Normally I developed PAN F within a week of exposing it. This trip was about a month long. Then I forgot about it for a few more months. Went to process it, and got almost nothing.
    I've seen differences in rolls I've shot at the beginning and end of 3 week trips. If you shoot PAN F, shoot it all at once and process promptly. Wonderful film, otherwise.
  19. This is what you'd get from storing films in fridge and freezer.
    Sorry but probably all your remaining films are ruined.

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