Tommy Ku Photography

What happened to those expired film

Sunset through the viewfinder
Sunset through the viewfinder

Seeing the rising trend of film price on January 2022, I have decided to look for cheap expired film online. At this age even consumer-grade expired film fetches a higher price than their non-expired variants. Given that Fuji had been killing their lines of film this behavior is conceivable, but not every expired film should be priced this way.

Why would someone buy expired film?
— a friend of mine

To me, notwithstanding of the manipulative marketing of the photography supplies stores, there exists only 2 legitimate reasons to buy expired film:

  1. Discontinued filmstock may be bought for a high price
  2. Expired film, if properly stored, may be bought for cheaper than their non-expired counterpart

Should I be buying expired films, I would only be buying for these 2 reasons.

Identifying expired film

There are some obvious warning signs on expired films that one should avoid.

If the film smells acidic/vinegary, all hope is lost as the film has already begun decomposing.

If the film comes with film leader retracted, it may have been exposed already. Consider cutting half of the film out for development and expect surprise.

If the film doesn't come with the original box, it may be difficult to date and apply the rule of thumb (one stop lower every 10 years of expiry) to adjust for sensitivity loss.

Black and white film are generally more tolerating, properly stored BnW film may be shot at box speed even several years after expiry. Color film may survive with color shift even if stored only in the shelf but the mileage may vary.

What happened to the Kodak Gold

I got a couple rolls of Kodak Gold expiring on 2007/11 along with the Olympus Mju Zoom Deluxe from my aunt earlier. The film had been sitting on the shelf without any special treatment for a couple months.

The film did not smell strange when I first opened it, so I assumed it's at least usable.

On June 2022 I decided to give it a try without hoping for anything. The ISO 200 film has been expired for 15 years, which from the rule of thumb should be shot at 1-2 steps lower. In this case I shot the film at ISO 50 first on the Contina II and later switched to αSweet mid-roll.

Image from expired film looks blue
Looks very blue

Yes the film is very blue. The sensitivities to other colors were entirely gone. As a color photo it's not possible to recover the color, but to make it slightly more usable, as with any photo with bad color, I can convert the image into black and white photo.

Image from expired film converted into BnW
Looks very normal

Now it's better.

What happened to the 8 unlabelled rolls

I saw a listing on Carousell containing 8 rolls of expired film plus some other photographic junks, so I quickly contacted the seller and got them the next day. This batch of film checks both the boxes: they are cheap and some of them are discontinued film.

Because they were obtained cheaply, I was able to conduct several experiments on them without feeling guilty about wasting money.

There were 8 rolls of film in plastic film containers:

  1. Ferrania Solaris FG Plus × 1
  2. Ilford HP5+ 400 × 2
  3. Fuji Superia X-TRA 400 × 1
  4. Fuji Superia 200 × 1
  5. Fuji ProPlus 100 × 1
  6. Fuji ProPlus 100 (retracted film leader) × 2

Fuji Superia X-TRA 400

Remember the warning signs I mentioned before? Vinegar smell. This roll of film smelled of vinegar when I took it out of the plastic container. ISO 400 film goes well with the AGAT 18K and I spent some time, maybe went out 2-3 times to finish the roll.

The roll came back with absolutely nothing. Null. Empty. Black roll—what did I say about vinegar smell?

Ferrania Solaris FG Plus

Spoiler: this one has image

One day I decided I don't care and wanted to do point-and-shoot on my trip to (the surrounding area of) Hong Kong Disneyland. It's COVID time on February 2022 so the theme park was closed.

Out of every better camera I chose the worst possible one to shoot on, my Agfa Isoly 100. Well that kid needs more love. I also brought along Moskva-5 with a roll of Fuji ProPlus 100 inside, more on that later.

Image from expired film
Lab scan

Ferrania Solaris FG Plus has been discontinued on 2009. Assuming this roll came from the last few batches of the filmstock, the film would have been expired around 2012-2013.

This one seemed to be the ISO 400 variant of the film because it was able to retain some level of details when shooting at ISO 100 considering the film had been expired for nearly 10 years.. Agfa Isoly 100 can take film with ISO > 100 and anywhere below that the image will be way too underexposed to be useful.

Image from expired film converted into BnW
Converted to BnW

Even though there are some image, it cannot be used directly so applying the standard treatment to convert the image into black and white. This one is very usable despite being very grainly.

Recall that the roll of 2007 Kodak Gold having expired for 15 years was not grainly at all.

Image from expired film with some level of color details
Best-effort to salvage this

But, it's color photo. And unlike the 2007 Kodak Gold this one has proper color on all 3 channels of RGB so I did some slight tweaking to make the color more apparent. I am sure there are people who can do a better job. Here I am able to recover the blue body and red band with MTR's logo on the Airport Express train.

Ilford HP5+ (on Voigtländer Bessa R3A)

HP5+ is an ISO 400 film. Black and white film is more stable than color film past their expiration, so I expected this roll of HP5+ to behave the same way as non-expired HP5+.

Actually, I was ambitious. Having learned that HP5+ can be shot and developed at ISO up to 1600, I shot and developed the film at just that ISO speed. ISO 1600 from ISO 400 means plus 2 stops in development, or in other words, underexposing the film and overdeveloping it for higher contrast and inevitably more grain.

Image from expired HP5+ looking grainy
Like, way more grain

Obvious loss of shadow details can be observed as that's the first thing to be lost when underexposing a film. The grain is terrible compared to examples online, very likely due to this being an expired roll of film.

The rest of the roll was pretty much like this, some more underexposed ones were even less useful. OK, no pushing, even if it's black and white.

Ilford HP5+ (on Sports 35)

Spoiler: this one has image, color image in fact

Action Tracker Sports 35 shoots 4 quarter-size images (same size as 110 film) onto a frame of 135 film with 0.2 second delay per image. By applying filter on 3 of the 4 lenses, I am able to obtain 3 color components (red, green and blue) of a color images at the cost of only 1 frame.

Yes you can trichrome HP5+ to shoot just like using color film, 36 shots in a roll!

Expired HP5+ with 4 images in 1 frame
4 images in 1 frame
Combining 3 filtered BnW images into 1 color image
Combining 3 filtered BnW images into 1 color image

The Harris shutter effect is due to the slight delay (0.2s) between each of the 4 images.

Fuji ProPlus 100 (retracted film leader)

There were 2 rolls of ProPlus 100 with retracted film leaders. I asked the lady at my lab to retrieve the film leader for me when I went dropping some other rolls of film.

Before shooting the film I did ask the seller whether he has any information on the film, he didn't know anything and offered to refund me, to which I declined. Now I can do anything I want with the film without feeling a pang of conscience.

This roll was used in the first experiment of the poor man's panorama.

Not sure when ProPlus was discontinued. I lost interest before I found anything useful on Google. This roll of ProPlus is able to perform relatively well compared to the other expired color films I have tried before. In fact, the only precaution I took was to shoot this film at ISO 50.

6x9 is 3 frames of 135 film
6x9 is 3 frames of 135 film

Half of the roll contained image, including the fact of the seller and his friends, which of course I will not post here. As a result half of the photos I took were double-(quadruple-?) exposed.

No film is wasted, even the sprocket area
No film is wasted, even the sprocket area

The lab wouldn't scan with the film border for me, so I used my CanoScan 9000F and the scanning software SilverFast 9. Overall despite some images were wasted due to double-exposure, those that did turn out are looking quite good. There's no problem using this film if I compensate the loss in sensitivity by metering for ISO 50.

Fuji ProPlus 100 (retracted film leader)

I knew there's something in the roll of ProPlus 100 judging from what turned out from the last roll. This time I shot a few frames before deciding to just develop the whole roll to see what's already there.

Double exposure, random lday and Sailo
Double exposure, random lady and Sailo

This is one of the few frames I took before taking the film out for development. The whole roll appear yellow/brown-ish unlike the other roll. This goes on to show that even in the same storage condition expired film may behave differently.

There wasn't any interesting photo in this roll. Perhaps because I didn't take any of those photos and knew none of the people there, I had no attachment to the photos produced. I also didn't care enough to contact the seller to take his photos back. If he was selling them then it's mine already.

Fuji ProPlus 100

Knowing ProPlus are probably ok for shooting normally, I used this roll to continue my experiment on shooting panoramas with medium format cameras. Luckily this roll doesn't come out brownish, maybe the brownish one is from an earlier date.

Panorama shot on Press Super 23 with proper color
Panorama shot on Press Super 23 with proper color

…well the sprockets look brownish, but the center area is ok so I am ok.

Fuji Superia 200

I am keeping this roll in the fridge for now, not having a plan on how to use it. I am pretty sure ProPlus and HP5+ are going to work normally. While this roll of Superia 200 doesn't smell acidic like the roll of Superia X-TRA 400, I don't have any incentive to risk the money and time for this.

Update (2022-10-17)

I shot the film at ISO 50 using Mamiya Press Super 23.

Your roll of Fuji 200 is blanked.
Well, what was I expecting?

What happened to the Fomapan 200?

I will never buy from this shop that sells me expired Fomapan 200 again. Fomapan 200 is still in production but these are cheap, $20 per roll in 120 format on 2022 is cheap.

As I mentinoed before, black and white film are relative stable compared to color film. From the batch of 8 expired and film, all the HP5+ turned out normally, whereas the color films were hits and misses.

Therefore I expected the same for these 2 rolls of expired Fomapan 200, only having expired for 7 months before I shot them on the newly acquired Semi Leotax and Ikonta 520.

Mottling and paper-back print transfer
Mottling and paper-back print transfer

The result from the first roll was brutal, well priceless at the same time if that floats your boat.

At first I thought those are molds but upon inspecting the film itself, those are what's called mottling, where the film fails to record light consistently as it's exposed.

Notice the black dots, those are the black dots printed on the paper backing of 120 film used to indicate film position as user view through the red window as the back while advancing the film.

I am not sure what treatment this roll of Fomapan 200 was subjected to or the film just gives up after expiry. This print transfer would only happen on 120 film because 135 film doesn't have a paper backing.

A portal is opened
A portal is opened

And somehow there's this artistics effect of a bright ring at the middle of the image. Out of 16 images taken, only this one contains such an interesting effect. Even with this miage, still I consider this roll a loss to be written off.

Was Fomapan 200 able to redeem itself in the second roll?


Nah. The same kind of print transfer happened to the second roll of Fomapan 200 as well. Luckily, the mottling didn't happen so the image is somewhat usable. Just need to ignore the dots and the number there.

Advancing the film under direct sunlight may introduce the same effect, but on that day, the film was advanced in the shadow so I don't think that's the reason those dots and numbers are showing up on the negative.

This one is ok
This one is ok

The only silver lining after all these is there exist some images that look almost all ok. The scratches were probably introduced when I developed the film at home. This roll was actually the first roll of film I developed myself.

So, what happened to those expired film

After wasting so much money and effort shooting those expired film, I decided to call it quits. All I wanted was not those "pleasant surprises". I simply want predictable, usable images out of every roll I shoot so my money and time invested will be worth it.

Think of it like splashing paint on the canvas and hope for something good to come out. Sometimes good things do come out, most of other times it's just a waste of material. Out of the 10 rolls shot, I was ok maybe with only 2 or 3 rolls of them.

Later if I am to shoot expired film, I will again inquire myself:

  1. Are they discontinued filmstock you want to try?
  2. Are they cheap and properly stored?