My film expired

I've been shooting away with my dad's old Nikon FE, loaded with some very old and long since expired film but progress was cut short by a problem with the camera. I was getting a situation where I would press the shutter release and the camera would lock up, the viewfinder would go black suggesting the mirror was locked in the up position, the shutter may or may not have been stuck open. The camera is a mechanical/electrical hybrid, what I found was that if I set the shutter speed to M90, the mechanical option, this then allowed the mirror to return to position, the film could then be advanced to try again. This gave me a temporary workaround however the problem quickly became more frequent, then happened every shot. So I decided to stop and develop the film with whatever was on it to that point.

The colour negative film needed the C41 process, a time and temperature sensitive process which is usually best done by a lab, and I needed a lab that would process expired film, so I searched online to see what I could find. This has become something of a specialised process but there are still several labs offering this, for example:

Being based in Scotland I looked to see if there was something more local and found A&M Imaging in Edinburgh, . Although I do have a film scanner they offer a lazy option where they scan the film and then give a link to download all the images.

My film expired back in 2001 and had not been stored in a cool place. The camera had been faulty. Would I even get any images? It's fair to say I wasn't confident so it was a pleasant surprise when the lab emailed a link to download my images. Better still I even liked a few.

Siamese cat sunbathing

Cast a long shadow

From the EXIF data I could see the scanner they used was a Fuji Frontier SP-3000. The scanned images were only jpg, with resolution 2433 x 3637 pixel. If we take a 35mm negative to be the standard 24mm x 36mm then this puts the scan density at around 2,600 dpi (I could have squeezed a few more pixels out of the negs with my own scanner).

In total a 36 exposure film had given me just 15 scanned images. There was total failure for all the images I attempted when the mirror became stuck, this suggests the problem extended to the shutter, either not opening or becoming stuck open.

With a couple of the scenes I shot them on both film and digital so that I would have a basis for comparison (note that I  had a 50mm lens on the film camera but happened to have a 35mm lens on the digital when these were taken so the views vary accordingly).

film on left, digital on right

digital on left, film on right

The shot with the text on the roadside phone allows the difference in resolution and sharpness to be clearly seen. Here the digital is clearly delivering a much higher image quality. With the shot of the Christmas tree I was able to crank up the ISO on the digital while with the film I had to open up the aperture and try to keep it steady with a slow shutter speed (both hand held, could have been better if I'd used a tripod). Again, even at 8000 ISO, the digital camera delivers a much higher image quality.

Nikon FE with one of the expired films

So why shoot film? Well with 35mm film the benefits may be few. Film usually gives more latitude in exposure and delivers a look of grain which is hard to truly match with digital (though some post processing comes very close). However this was never really about the technical aspects or a quest for some utopian image aesthetic. For me this was always about going back to my photographic roots, shooting film, using my dad's old camera and seeing what I could do with one of his old expired films.

Of course step up to the larger film formats (4x5, 8x10 etc) and the potential for resolution can blow the average digital clean out of the water.
4x5 here I come, one day, perhaps, maybe!


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