In Development: Adventures in Film, Volume Five

After sending my first four rolls of film to 120 Processing for developing and scanning, I loaded an old roll of Kodak Portra 160 NC that had expired in 2005. The film belonged to my camera’s previous owner, but he had assured me that the film had been refrigerated/frozen for the majority of its life to preserve it as much as possible. As I mentioned in my first post, I was experimenting with how shooting expired film affects results. Because I had not yet received my expired film back from the lab, I had not yet seen the encouraging results and had no idea whether this roll would turn out at all.

In my first post, I mentioned that a lesson learned was that it was ok to shoot expired film. This roll is making me re-think that lesson a bit… As you’ll see in the shots below, the colors are pretty far off and the film seems to have behaved strangely in a few cases. I’m not sure I can totally blame this on the fact that this film was expired, though. I was also experimenting with deliberately over-exposing the film by 2/3–2 stops, which may have also contributed to the poor results. Given that Portra is pretty well known for having tremendous exposure latitude and handles over-exposure up to 4 stops quite well, though, I think it’s unlikely that this is the sole cause of the issues. It’s also possible that something went wrong in the development process (though this is highly unlikely, given that this film was developed by a professional lab).

Daniel Schneider compares shooting expired film to “jumping from an airplane with a parachute you just bought at an army surplus store.” This is a bit hyperbolic, but it’s a useful way of thinking to help manage expectations. Shooting film is always going to be more of a guessing game than digital, as you’re operating with less transparency. Shooting expired film just magnifies this uncertainty.

And that’s ok. As long as you have the right expectations when you click the shutter…

All photos were shot on a Mamiya 7 II. For the first time, I used the 43mm and 150mm lenses in addition to the 80mm (so much experimentation with this roll of film!). They were developed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab and they were processed minimally in Lightroom. I made some more modifications to this roll than prior rolls due to the significant issues with color shifts and fading that were likely due to the film being very old. Enjoy!

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