Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

By Eric Norris

Ah, old film. A classic tale of unfilled potential, of a product brought back from near-death to (maybe) finally have its day in the sun. Expired, yes. Dead … not yet.

I have a love/hate relationship with expired film. I love it when I can find old film that gives good results (some old Agfa film sold under the Seattle Filmworks label comes to mind). But I hate it when I’ve gone to the effort to shoot a roll, process and scan, and I get images that are dark, muddy, and generally unusable. Expired film is, to quote Forrest Gump, “like a box of chocolates.” You never know what you’re going to get. And of course, you learn how this roll of expired film performs, but then what? Every roll is different, so it’s hard to transfer knowledge from that roll of 1996 Vericolor III to a 2001 roll of Kodak Gold Ultra (yeah, I’ve shot both).

A roll of film from 1976. What kind of images would it produce?

This is the story of a very successful experiment that involved the oldest film I’ve ever shot. It started at a local camera swap where a seller had a lone roll of Kodak Verichrome Pan 120 for sale for $1. I enjoy medium format film, and $1 isn’t much of an investment, so I handed over a dollar bill despite the printing on the box that said quite clearly, “Develop Before Jun. 1976.”

Back when film prices were low: $0.70, marked down to $0.54!
The reel inside the roll of film was made of good old American steel, as my St Johns Bridge magnet shows.

How long ago was this film made? A long, long time. Digital cameras were still mostly confined to research labs in those days. It was only one year earlier that a Kodak engineer, Steve Sasson, had cobbled together some parts to create the first Kodak digital camera, a 0.01-megapixel monster that weighed 4 kilos. (Although, given that a film’s expiration date is usually a couple of years after it was made, it’s likely that my roll of Verichrome Pan left the factory in Rochester before that first digital camera.) In 1976, I was still in high school and, by coincidence, shooting 120 roll film in an old camera I inherited from my Opa in Germany. It’s likely that I bought this same film stock new and developed and printed it in the darkroom I put together in the hall bathroom.

Helpful exposure instructions from a time before automatic cameras became ubiquitous.

With my very old film in hand, I headed home and made the decision to shoot it in my Lomo LCA-120. Yes, I have other medium format cameras, including a couple that would be more period-appropriate, but the LCA-120 is fun to shoot, and I planned to just burn through the roll quickly. The LCA-120’s zone focusing and auto exposure would make shooting 12 frames as easy as possible.

The general rule of thumb for expired film (depending on who you listen to or whose YouTube video you watch) is to overexpose by one stop for each decade since the expiration date. That works pretty well for me for color film, but I’ve found that black-and-white degrades much more slowly. Still, even one stop for every two decades would have meant setting the camera at ASA 25.

In the end, the LCA-120 made the decision for me. The camera’s built-in meter, adjusted with a tiny little thumbwheel, only goes as low as ASA 100, so that’s what I used.

One roll of exposed film. Amazingly, the gum on the sealing tab still worked.

Developing expired film is also the subject of a lot of bytes of data out on the internet. How to go about coaxing images from old, degraded, possibly dried-up emulsion?

I didn’t spend much time thinking about that. I use various Monobath one-step chemicals for black-and-white film, most recently Super Monobath from Film Photography Project. I’ve developed a work flow with this product that always produces good results (with new film, anyway). Super Monobath it was! (I should mention that I reached out to FFP and asked them for their advice. They very wisely recommended standard chemicals, and suggested a particular developer, temperature, time and agitation regimen. Which I perhaps unwisely disregarded entirely.)

My final processing involved warming the FFP Super Monobath up to 78 degrees and leaving the film in for 10 minutes (I usually do 4:15 at 75 degrees for new film). For those who are into such things, I agitated for 30 seconds initially, then four inversions every 30 seconds. Between agitations, I stuck the Paterson tank in a container of lukewarm water to keep the chemicals from cooling down. I rinsed as I usually do, filling and emptying the tank with water four times, followed by two minutes of dip-and-dunk in FPP’s Archival Wash (twice the usual time) and another minute of rinsing. A brief trip into some Photoflo and I was done. I scanned everything on my Epson V550.

And the results were great! The images have great contrast and detail, and only by zooming way in on some of the darker areas can you find any artifacts that indicate this is old film–in this case, a dot pattern that probably came from being rolled tightly with the backing paper for so long. I was very happy, and promptly posted results on Instagram.

And here are the pictures. As I look back on them, I realize that most of them are of things that existed in 1976, including the Guy West Bridge over the American River, built in 1967, and my friend, Bob, who turned 70 this year.

A cool VW.
Bob on the Guy West pedestrian bridge over the American River. Built in 1967 to link the California State University, Sacramento, with the neighborhoods across the river.
Sutters Fort in Sacramento. Quite a bit older than my old film.
Our street, seen from our home, built in the mid-70s.
A local cactus, maybe planted in the 70s.

So, what did this roll of Kodak Verichrome teach me? First of all, that the film was very likely stored correctly. Film just normally doesn’t last this long. Second, that Verichrome Pan was a nice film. Even decades after its best days, it still makes nice images. Third, FFP’s Super Monobath has hidden skills. A little more warmth and a little more time and it worked just fine in this very unusual instance. Fourth, after three years of ownership, I still really like the Lomo LCA-120. Quite unlike Lomography’s other medium format cameras, which make “quirky” images and demand an acceptance of blur and light leaks, the LCA-120 produces sharp, well-exposed pictures. It’s light and easy to carry and use, and I’ll be keeping it in my rotation in future.

Check out my other photographic adventures with new and old film on Instagram: campyonlyguy Read more about the first Kodak digital camera on Cnet’s web site. Alex Luyckx writes about shooting old Verichrome Pan and developing it in different chemicals here.

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About The Author

By Eric Norris
While my professional life for the past 30 years has revolved around urban planning, my love of photography goes back much farther. I inherited an old folding camera from my grandfather in high school, and was soon taking over the bathroom develop and print film. Since then, photography has remained a common thread in all my endeavors, which have included a stint as newspaper reporter and several decades of long-distance cycling. In addition to 35MMC, I post to Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube under the user name CampyOnlyGuy
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Comments

Jeff Titon on Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

Comment posted: 14/01/2024

Absolutely. In the 1950s I used Verichrome Pan in my Brownie Hawkeye. It was one of the few films available for it. Because it was recommended for box cameras and the like, it got a reputation as an amateur Kodak film, compared with the others. But as the images in this post show, the film stock is capable of excellent renditions. As I looked back at the negatives I shot with some 127-film cameras from the 1970s, such as a Yashica 44, a size of film for which VP was still available at that time, I'm surprised at how good the images are. The film speed was close to Plus-X, and the film itself did about as well as Plus-X too. Agreed that Panatomic X should still be available. And how about Kodak Royal-X Pan? I used that in many an available light situation indoors where flash was forbidden. It was rated at 1250 ASA and the grain was pretty rough but it came in medium format so the size of the negatives made the grain less of a problem than it would have been in 35mm.
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Paul Quellin on Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

Comment posted: 10/01/2024

Great article Eric, full of helpful technical detail and it builds a little suspense somehow. The images are just great and way beyond what I would have imagined at the start of the article. I pulled a roll of 35mm Kodak colour possibly from the early eighties, from a 1939 Retina I picked up at auction. I fired the remaining frames and sent it off to my usual lab with an explanation. It came back totally blank and I wished I had found a lab with a reputation for salvaging film. I also found the point about the metal spool interesting. I have just taken another roll of 120 out of my early fifties Agifold and it is rewinding badly leaving some minor creases along the very bottom edge of the paper and the wound spool looks loose and untidy. So far this doesn't affect the results but there is a danger of light ingress. I suspect all the spools were metal when this camera was built and I am wondering if there are possibly differences in tolerances between the old metal and later plastic. I plan to install some copper washers to hold the spools more tightly for the next load. Your article shed further light on the issue. I will be looking out for some older expired stock as a result of reading your terrific article. Thank you.
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Graham Orbell on Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

A great article and an interesting processing procedure using a higher temperature; that obviously works. I used a lot of Ilford Monobath in 1971 / 72 for an assignment every week that required fast processing of TriX in an Agfa daylight tank. Monobath was good because it produced fast and consistent results for the negatives to be used as freeze frames for a TV program (polarity reversed) when the studio had no other way in the black and white TV days. Photos taken during dress rehearsal and inserted during the live performance 30 minutes later. When I got my first camera a Brownie E in 1948 at age 10, Verichrome film was the most common choice. Same name but back then it was an orthochromatic film and shades of gray didn’t accurately represent our perception of colour. I got better results in my Box Brownie using Kodak Supper XX panchromatic film which had a green backing paper. Panchromatic of course means all colours
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Gary on Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

I don't develop my own film, so the technical info on developing is beyond my ken. I am amazed by the results of your shooting and developing, however. Very old film and a toy camera, in your hands, have produced superb results.
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hugh crawford on Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

Comment posted: 08/01/2024

Kodak designed Verichrome Pan for people who might take a couple of years to expose a roll of film in a camera with one exposure setting, wait another couple of years before sending it to be developed and printed into 3x3 incl prints. Oh, and the camera was stored in the car. It was designed to take tremendous abuse and make acceptable images. The fact that it also rendered beautiful images was a happy accident. Verichrome Pan and Panatomic X are the two films I miss the most.
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Dave on Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

Comment posted: 08/01/2024

Despite using a different method than suggested by the people at FPP, that film turned out amazingly well. The pedestrian bridge photo looks as if it were taken with fresh film. I'm sure we all wish film prices were still as low as the price on the sticker! That LOMO camera sure did a nice job, especially resisting the flare in the cactus photo. Thanks for the writeup and the photos.
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JR Smith on Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

Comment posted: 08/01/2024

I shot a few rolls of VP a few years ago from 1975 it performed very nicely...a testament to the fine folks at Eastman Kodak.
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Jim Grey on Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

Comment posted: 08/01/2024

Old VP, as long as it wasn't abused in storage, generally performs very well. I'd shoot stuff as old as 1970 at box and develop normally and not worry much.
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Eric Norris replied:

Comment posted: 08/01/2024

I'm going to keep my eye out for more Verichrome!

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Steve h on Kodak Verichrome Pan – Adventures Shooting a Roll of Film from 1976

Comment posted: 08/01/2024

Wow. You actually just made me want to send out my old yashica mat12 out for a cla! It was my first good non toy camera back around the same time your roll expired. It too was given to me from our church’s youth pastor and I got a lot of great pics from it before I graduated high school in 1979 and my folks bought me a new Pentax Mx to use in college. I’ve been a Pentax 35mm shooter ever since. I got too many of them! I have a few digital cameras. They live on my drawer. Where’s the art, the skill on those! Hell, my iPhone 11 takes great digi pics.
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