How Long Does Film Last?

Old-photographic-film

Perhaps you uncovered some old unexposed film rolls along with a film or movie camera in your parents’ or grandparents’ attic. You’re intrigued and thinking about shooting pictures or a home movie, but have questions, starting with does film expire and how long does undeveloped film last

What You Need to Know About Expired Film 

Most negative and movie films have an expiration date. This is typically about two years after the month of manufacture, which is actually a “best if used by” date. The older the film, the more unpredictable it will be in terms of quality. Another crucial factor that determines the outcome is how film is stored. With that said, the old film you found in an attic will be wildly unpredictable if subjected to hot temperatures. Heat is film’s worst enemy and can cause increased grain, color shifts, and even brittleness. On the other hand, when stored in cold temperatures, degradation tends to be slower, especially color film kept in a freezer. 

How Long Will 35mm Film Last? 

The question of how long does 35mm film last undeveloped depends on the type of film and the conditions to which it was subjected. Color films are made of layers of silver halides with dyes and color masks. These dyes degrade at different rates depending on the type of film. Some films skew towards blue (especially Ektachrome which was colder than Kodachrome when brand new), while others take on a magenta or yellow hue. Black and white film with silver halides degrade as well, but at a much slower rate than color dyes. Even without major color shifts, color film is vulnerable to changes that range from slightly muted colors to overall desaturation that results in one dominant color. Most expired films also suffer from mottling or spotting, streaking, inconsistent grain, contrast issues, etc. 

How Long Do Film Reels Last? 

If stored optimally in sealed canisters at low humidity and with minimal viewing, film reels can last as long as 70 years. If the unexposed film was stored in a freezer, chances are you can use it and get decent results. If you’re not sure if the reel has sound, it’s easy to find out. The major problem for both movie and negative film is that Kodachrome processing was officially discontinued at the end of 2010. A handful of specialized labs may be able to process it through a black and white reversal process. 

Converting Old Film to Digital 

Whether you wish to shoot unexposed film or discovered a stack of old 35mm negatives and/or home movies, the best way to prevent further deterioration and preserve them is to convert them ASAP to digital. And after movies are digitized, don’t throw out the reels because you can repurpose them to create a wide array of intriguing décor!

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