Why Shoot Expired Film? 2013 Update!

Blog by Michael Raso

Back in the 1990s the concept of shooting on expired film seemed crazy. You would buy or drink an expired carton of milk? Nuts, right?

The digital photography explosion has pushed traditional film photography out of the spotlight and into the underground, where a rising cult of film shooters grows daily. Many shooters are attempting to steer away from the crisp look of digital and are open to the idea of using expired film to achieve that different, vintage look.

above: Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett on his 2013 Genesis Revisited II Tour (Times Square NYC 25 Sept).

I shot the Steve Hackett image on expired Kodak Tri-X using the point and shoot Olympus Stylus 80 camera. I processed the film in exhausted Kodak D-76. That combined with the slow shutter speed of the camera gave the film it's low contrast "spent" look.


above: FPP Guy Mark Dalzell / below: John Fedele (with his "Road Rage" face. Both shot with the Canon T70 / Tele-Lentar f2.8 135mm lens on "Batch Fried" Kodak Portra 800 (expired 04/2005)

Open to the grain!

With the advent of pockets of communities like this (The Film Photography Project),  Lomography and other companies promoting fun, plastic cameras, the new breed of film shooter seems less rigid and has embraced shooting expired film for the various funky colors and effects it can produce.

So, you ask…why shoot expired film and where can I purchase it?

Both retailers and private shooters alike are literally dumping their refrigerated stock on e-bay as they convert to digital. This is an excellent way for you to save money as well as being able to pick up some film stocks that are no longer produced.

 

Dedicated Film Fridge

 

FILM TYPES
Before buying or bidding on expired film, lets talk about film type. Color Print Film (processed in C-41), Color Slide Film (processed in E-6) and BW film (traditional BW processing) are the most common auctions. You will see auctions for instant films and for unique stocks like infrared film. Use “The Google” to look up stocks you might not of heard of before to make sure that processing is still available.

Flickr Kodak Expired Film Promotion

 

THE BAY

Door # 1
What to look for when buying film on "the bay" ( http://www.ebay.com/ ) are professional photographers that have switched to digital and are cleaning out their fridges & freezers. These auctions are GOLD. Film could be 15+ years old and still great because these guys stored it properly. Most of these films were also “batch tested” by the seller. As I mentioned, these are the best auction for purchasing expired film.

Door #2
The 2nd type of auctions I look for are guys selling bulk CVS, WALGREENS or other off-brand films. Most big pharmacies are liquidating their 35mm film and are selling for well under the $5. per roll sticker price. Most of these films are stored at room temperature so, don't buyer beware if the expiration date is pre-2007.

Door #3
The 3rd type of e-bay seller is the “I don’t know nuthin” guy. These sellers state that they know absolutely nothing about the product and have no idea how it was store or where it came from. This film was most likely stored in basements, attics and sock drawers and probably tortured in high temperatures. Buyers beware!

Regardless of what type of auction, don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions and/or try to find how the film was stored. If your into weird or funky film and want to take a chance on the “Type 3” e-bay seller, you might find that tortured film yields a desired effect!

The Final Door
The final door also happens to be The Best Door!  Why? This is the door to the FPP Store where I've been compiling lots of expired film just for you! Not only do you get film batch-tested by yours truly, but you are also helping support the Film Photography Podcast by making this purchase! So, sashay over to the FPP Store to check out the current inventory! Expired 35mm (and fresh-dated) film HERE.

 

Ducky Daddles / Woodland Lake

 

Above: The many moods of expired film! See my Flickr Expired Set HERE (or the slide show below!)

Have fun shooting film and feel free to drop me a line to tell me about your shooting experiences!

- Michael Raso / Podcast@FilmPhotographyProject.com

Originally published July 27, 2011 / Revised November 16, 2012 and September 26, 2013

Comments

alex luyckx's picture

Personally I love shooting on expired film, and often I get wonderful results with properly stored film, and even on improperly stored stuff the results can be..well a surprise, and who doesn't like a surprise?

I've shot on Velvia that has expired five-six years ago with the same great results I've come to expect from it, even b/w film that expired in the 1970s has given me great results also.

Dan Domme's picture

Not to be preachy or anything, but I shoot mostly fresh film.  It's all I can really do (other than talk on the internet about it) to show the surviving film companies that their product is worthwhile and that they shouldn't close their doors yet.

That being said, expired stuff is great, and if I ever come across some at a decent price, I love shooting it, especially the older "pro" films.  I shot a roll of Panatomic X that expired in 1979 and it was fantastic!

John Meadows's picture
I recently got a 127 camera off "the Bay" and bought a roll of verichrome pan 127, that expired in 1965. Haven't tried it yet, but it should be fun! I've read that Verichrome Pan can last an awful long time, so who knows I might get lucky.
Nasir Hamid's picture
I recently picked up some Fuji 400 NPH that expired 15 years ago and the first roll I've tested looked great. It's got a nice vintage instagram look about it without having to use ay filters in Photoshop :-) Don't forget about cross processing E6 films in C41 chemistry for even more wild effects. That's what I plan on doing next with some expired Velvia that came with my RZ67 kit. It expired in 2007. Cheers, Nasir
Austin Beeman's picture
I've always wondered where the savings was on buying expired film Seems to me that so much of the cost is in processing and scanning - not even including the time and effort of shooting - to make expired film not worth it. However, anything that gets people shooting film is a good thing.
Derek Kennedy's picture
Last year (2010), I happened to have had the opportunity to get my hands on two 100 foot rolls of Tri-X that expired in 1997. Works fine! As I only shoot b&w anyway, I bought up both cans. Since using some of that film, I have no problems shooting expired b&w film. Ive also seen some really interesting photos taken with expired colour films so why not? Give it a try - you might like the results.
Bart's picture

This year I have been shooting with expired film to use with my EE100 Expired film is half the price of  non-expired film, making it about 0.60USD per shot (making it affordable for me, I'm 18 years old and not rich). Why would I pay more, in 2010 the film expired, but still works perfectly!

This is the first time I shoot with a Polaroid (I never even shot with another analog camera before).
For that reason my definition of perfect might not mean much.
Judge yourself, here are some of my shots: http://fotobart.tumblr.com/

Enjoy! :)

merlyn645's picture
I expired years ago, so why not buy expired film? (I'm 78).
Ernie's picture
Ha I am 86. I enjoy shooting film that:s date.d when I was a young man of 78.
petko's picture
I would shoot expired film for the benefits of high grain and weird colors , that is the main benefit, the flavor of it.
David 's picture
While in photo school two years ago I bought a darkroom set-up that came with over 40 rolls of film! Some was expired a decade, some recently, and some of it was fresh. I decided to use the expired stock for experimentation and practice, practice, practice. Since my "darkroom" came with a bushel of paper stock (literally, a bushel sized fruit box full of various papers), mostly expired, I have managed a lot of playing around with films and paper. Most results have been fine, and nothing important has been lost in the process, plus I have had a tremendous amount of fun learning (without the expense of noticeably more costly fresh film and paper. I highly recommend getting your hands on old stock and seeing what kind of fresh work you can produce. And BTW, these older films and papers can easily help you achieve a vintage look that Photoshop and inkjet printers can not properly reproduce.
Flora's picture
I've been shooting on some expired film for the past couple summers and have really enjoyed it. I really like the way the colors look, and the high grain levels and saturation I get do have a nice vintage look. I definitely say the surprises and savings are worth it if you are looking to do experimental stuff.
Eddy's picture
I just shot some expired Kodak Black and white infrared film. Expired 2009 but has been refridged since before that. I shot it at 400. The results were less than exciting. Lots of grain. I have more rolls but will shoot it at 100 asa or less and see what results I get from the lab.
William Brooks's picture
A friend of mine gave me a bulk loader that still had some Tri-x film in it from the 1980s. I tried some shooting with it and got a totally surprising result. The images that I took show up, but the emulsion is also very crackled and made spots that look like fireworks going off. A very detailed scan of an otherwise blank area looked like a Hubble image. Of all of the ways I thought the film would turn out, this effect never crossed my mind. It was a welcome surprise.
ROCKET Corp.'s picture

            I am awaiting two boxes of Type-32 film for my Highlander, Can't wait to see what I can make of it, however my hopes aren't too high up since the film was made a while ago. If anything, the pods are probably dried up by now.

Larry's picture
Picked up 96 rolls of 200 color film (Rite-Aid) from eBay, Delivered in the winter, so no baking in a mail truck. Let them sit in the garage and then took them all out of the 4-pack packages, put them in big ziplocs and then into the fridge. They're still as fresh-looking as the day they came from Kodak (or whever they came from). Used Clark Color (I had a bunch of cheap mailers) and everything was fine. A little worried, though - just sent off a dozen rolls and I hear they no longer use proper print paper but do some kind of inkjet thing. We'll see.
Robert H. Bruce's picture
I'm currently shooting TMax Professional which expired in 1998 and was stored in the freezer before it expired and the results have been good! I'm also using expired in 2005 Ektachrome 100 VS and can't complain!
annonni's picture
I currently regularly shoot expired film. Most is fuji consumer stocks expired within the last ten years, but have also a 100' roll of plus-x expired in 1977, and about 50 sheets of unknown 4x5 film stock from the 1930's. Never had a film regardless of the vintage fail me. Long live film.
pentaxpete's picture
I always shoot on 'Expired 'film now as ALL my stocks in two 'fridges is expired !! The last 'fresh' stock bought was 30 cassettes Fuji Acros 100 new in 2007 and 30 rolls 120 Ilford XP2 Super 400 in 2007, then I have been GIVEN loads of film from Camera Club friends and people. I was given 80 rolls 120 Fuji RMS dated 2002 and many Fuji NPC 160 dated 2002 which is still good, downrated a little to 100 ASA. the C41 I develop a little longer as well as downrating it and have got very good results
alex corona's picture
My most favorite picture I ever took was on expired film! http://streetsofriverside.net/post/62195912025/dog-on-spruce-st-olympus-... Tri-X from 2009, that unfortunately wasn't stored properly but it still worked out. Even from batch tested film you still have to watch out, I had a brick where 6 rolls were still at 400 but the last four had withered down to only 100 ASA. Sad to say one of my most favorite pictures I ever took was lost because of it. Thankfully the other 3 came out perfectly when I pushed them 2 stops in developing.
Zachary Fruhling's picture

I recently had four old 110 film cartridges developed. They were between 20 and 25 years old. Only a few pictures were usable, but it was great to recover any of the images at all! Here are some of the results:

http://analogfilmphotography.blogspot.com/2014/03/developing-25-year-old...

Twostones's picture
I'm 63 expired and retired. I had no idea expired film could be so interesting. I have 4 cameras loaded with expired film just waiting for daybreak. The more film cameras you have the bigger variety of expired film you can shoot and enjoy. It is like having several girlfriends at the same time. I have about a dozen varieties of expired film to keep me busy. If you see a man with 4 or 5 cameras around his neck it isn't Dennis Hopper from "Apocalypse Now," it is me! Don't forget to SMILE.
Anonymous's picture
Hahhha! You are funny.. Can't wait to hear about your photos! I will keep a look out for a man with 4 or 5 cameras around his neck! LOL What area are you in? :)
Ron Force's picture
Hey I love what you guys are doing. I too love film & wish I could still get color film process any where near me. Check out a short film I did years ago at youtube rforcephoto Art Mission the movie. Ron Force
Nick's picture
Hi, Now the weather has broken, I've been shooting expired Agfa Portrait 160. It expired in 2003 and I shoot it at iso 100. The prints have come back and look fine. I do keep them in the freezer and then transfer one or two boxes as and when I need them. I don't know how they were stored before I got them but it must have been ok. Nick
Dave Howard's picture
I've shot a [bleep]load of expired film for my 52 cameras project. The craziest success so far is some 1965 Kodak B&W shot in 2014 (I was 3 when this stuff expired) . I've gotten some grain-fest, bizarre color shifts, and nothing worth scanning too. The key is to shoot double for irreplaceable opportunities -- get the shot on digital or trusted film equipment AND your vintage film. Kodak Brownie Holiday Flash with 49-year-old film (not spam, just my hobby): http://exit272.com/?p=1358 Love the project. Bought stuff (APS film, E6 chems). Will more. - Dave
Mary's picture
I purchased a bag of film today from a church yard sale. Looking forward to testing it out but also worried about WHAT to photograph in case the film doesn't turn out. For example, the grandkids vs. the yard or other random things etc. Don't want to take a photo of a priceless moment and it not develop. So, thank you for your website. It is very encouraging to read and makes me want to be fearless. Here's to rolling the dice! Blessings! Mary
Anonymous's picture
Developed 25 year old exposed B&W, 100asa HP4, HP5, Tri-x, T-MAX. in R09 Rodinal, all came out exceptionaly well, but the one problem is that film remains tighter in the need to roll up on itself after so many years. All were in Plastic canisters, and kept 20 degrees C max for some of the years. So if you want to develop old B&W I would say more chance of stability than colour.

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