In this present day of digital media, how old is your photo gear? Do you pride yourself on only shooting with the latest and greatest? Perhaps your kit is a few years old and showing it? Or maybe it’s well past it’s prime of five years or so and on its last legs?
Or how about this… do you have a digital camera in your kit that’s 28-years-old — and — not only does it continue to work, but it can pump out full-frame 35mm images in high resolution? I very much doubt it.
In this case, the camera in question is 11-years-old… but the media I’m using to capture the image — 35mm black and white film that expired long ago — is almost three decades in age.
Back in the day, if someone — anyone — had told me that film decades past its expiration date could still be viable and produce usable images, I would have laughed in their face. In fact, it was drummed into our heads that you had to use a fresh roll of film as quickly as possible, so as to obtain the very best results before it went bad. Film was… delicate. Fugitive. If you stored a roll in the glovebox of a car for a few months, you might get some faint images in the end, but the temperature extremes would basically ruin it.
Film couldn’t be too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet; it couldn’t be exposed to static electricity or X-rays; it had to be loaded in the shade; if you shot long exposures, you had to figure in reciprocity failure. Film was finicky to deal with from endpoint to endpoint, which was why digital virtually replaced it so quickly.
Film has proven to be far hardier than we ever gave it credit for back when it was king. People — including many like myself — are exploring expired film to see just how long it can stored under optimal conditions and still be viable. And the record so far? I dunno.
The oldest I’ve read about so far has been with film that expired back in December 1945 (some SEVEN decades past the “use by” date), but I imagine there are others even older. Is it a challenge to shoot with film that old? Yes, very much so. Exposures may need to be longer; time in the developer and fixer may need to be very different than what was originally required, etc. — in short, everything is an unknown.
But that’s part of the fun of playing with it.