A Pentax ME Super with SMC Pentax 55mm 1:1.8 lens, and the roll of film from which the images in this article were taken.
5 frames with...

5 Frames of (Extremely Expired) Kodak Gold 200 – By Don Goodman-Wilson

July 16, 2022

I got out of film something like 15 years ago. I can’t actually remember when precisely I put my film cameras down. My go-to color film was Fujicolor Superia 100—plentiful and cheap at the time. This film was discontinued in 2009, so that puts an upper limit of the last time I got out with a film camera.

A couple of months ago I had to send my Fujifilm X-Pro 3 to the shop for repairs. I wasn’t ready to not do photography entirely for the 6 weeks it would be out, so I pulled out my collection of film cameras. And… my collection of film. I still had quite a few rolls, in fact, of a large range of film stocks. None included their boxes with the date stamp (why don’t they stamp the canisters?), so I have no idea precisely how old any of them actually are. 10–20 years is the best I can guess, based on my own history with them. More to the point, each was subject to harsh abuse, being stored basically wherever, and subject to extremes of temperature and humidity, from the hot muggy summers of St. Louis to the dry cold winters of Denver, and everything in between.

So, I figured: Surely there was no way these rolls would actually capture images. So of course I had to try.

I started with a few rolls of Ilford FP4+ that I hand spooled from a bulk roll sometime in 2005. That experience is an article for another day, but I’ll just say that the results were surprisingly satisfactory. Grainy, but not bad. Some frames were even printable.

Encouraged, I pulled out a canister of Kodak Gold 200, and headed to Albert Cuypmarkt in Amsterdam, a massive daily street market full of anything an Amsterdammer (or a tourist) might want to buy. Rating the film at ISO 50, I hoped to capture at least some of the color and the action of the market. Unfortunately, I forgot how my camera worked, and ended up taking a few shots at ISO 200—crap. But I noticed before I was halfway through the film, and managed to get some more-or-less well-exposed shots.

I sent it off for professional development, unsure what to expect when I got it back.

Here’s what I got.

Instead of the usual red film base, the negative is very, very green. Lime Jarritos green.

It’s green like Lime Jarritos

Why. So. Green. ?. At least the grain isn’t overly offensive.

My first thought was: There can’t be any color information here, I’m going to have to treat these as black and white negatives.

But then I scanned them, and played with the colors in Capture One. I learned that C1 has some hard limits on how far you can push the white balance sliders—and these images are far beyond those limits—but that the white balance dropper tool will let you exceed those limits, albeit in a way that utterly breaks the white balance UI. The tool is a bit buggy, it seems. The result is I cannot use the color balance sliders, and I can’t copy settings from one image to another, but I can manually adjust each image individually with the dropper tool. So there’s a lot of variance in the color balance from image to image.

Well, that’s OK! There’s nothing saying I can’t color balance them as I find pleasing. This is expired film, we can’t expect “realistic” or “authentic” colors, whatever that means. So I have done just that with these five images. Some are practically psychedelic, while others just have a stubborn cast to them. I rather enjoy them all.

All images were captured with my trusty Pentax ME Super with an SMC Pentax 55mm 1:1.8 lens (easily one of the sharpest lenses I own, and an underrated champ).

Cafe Krull, with its bright red Amstel Light umbrellas.

Cafe Krull

A man sits on the side of the street, and plays accordion for passersby.

Street accordionist

A typical Dutch mailbox: Bright orange, and covered in stickers.

The orange feels right, anyway.

The sign announcing the entrance to Albert Cuyp Markt is two or three stories tall, rather abstract, and thus somewhat difficult to read. But it is a lovely shade of blue.

Normally this sign is blue with white lettering.

An array of mannequins touting winter coats, all staring off into space with their perfectly coifed hair.

That hair though.

I’ve missed my film cameras. I think they missed me too. I had forgotten what it was like, shooting with ground glass and a split prism, the immediacy of an SLR’s optical viewfinder. Just how easy it is to focus manually. The feeling of not having any idea how your image turned out, or even if it captured what you think it did. The care with each shot that results from that feeling. I’m going to be shooting a lot more film in the future.

This roll was an experiment, to get a sense what my rolls of Fujicolor Superia 100 might do. And the results are in: I have no idea what they will do, so I’ll be using them as serendipity engines. I’m just along for the ride.

(A note: Apparently my office is very dusty—the dust you see fell on the negatives as I was scanning them. I don’t know what to do about this, except to move house. Advice is welcome.)

Thanks for reading! You can view more of my street photography, or support my work by purchasing prints at my portfolio. Or you can keep up to date with my daily photography by following me on Grainery and on Instagram.

Update 17 July 2022

Fancy taking a try at processing a frame from this roll? Today’s your lucky day! I’ve made a RAW capture from one frame available here for you to download and test your artistic skills on. I’d love to do an article in the near future highlighting everyone’s efforts, showing the range of possibilities!

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    CP93
    July 16, 2022 at 2:21 pm

    I’d be curious to see if Ps can correct the color, at least somewhat?

    • Reply
      Don Goodman-Wilson
      July 16, 2022 at 2:32 pm

      I’m curious too, but I’m fairly certain there just isn’t enough color information to do much more…in the post box, I could get the orange looking good, or the rest of the photo looking OK, but not both, for example. But better tools might reveal more information! I don’t have PS, but I could run it through Affinity Photo and see what comes out.

      • Reply
        Matthew Patey
        July 16, 2022 at 3:58 pm

        I haven’t scanned colour film in a long time, but I imagine that if you scan as a DNG file that you should have a little more headroom to adjust white balance. I’d recommend trying to set white balance to a neutral element in the frame using the white balance tool’s eye dropper mode (not sure if AP has this feature). This usually makes for an easy starting point to go from somewhat sterile colours to something with a little more character, depending on what you’re going for.

        As for dust, I find using a rocket blower right after putting images into the neg holder, which seems to work quite well.

        • Reply
          Don Goodman-Wilson
          July 16, 2022 at 5:34 pm

          Thanks for the tips! FWIW I “scanned” these with my Fujifilm X-Pro 3 and a macro lens, resulting in 26MP Fuji raw files.

          I’m thinking perhaps I should post one of the raw files, just to see how different people process them! Would you be interested in the challenge?

          • Matthew Patey
            July 16, 2022 at 11:11 pm

            Ah, that would explain how dust could so easily fall onto the film. I’d assumed you were using a dedicated scanner of sorts.

            Would be happy to give processing a shot, feel free to send one along!

          • Don Goodman-Wilson
            July 17, 2022 at 1:44 pm

            I wasn’t very clear about that in the article, sorry! I’m figuring out how to share the RAF file now.

          • Don Goodman-Wilson
            July 17, 2022 at 1:49 pm

            OK, I’ve added a Dropbox link to the end of the article—have at it, and please share with me your results! I’d love to do a future article that shows off a number of people’s efforts at tackling this challenge!

    • Reply
      Don Goodman-Wilson
      July 17, 2022 at 1:50 pm

      CP93, today’s your luck day. I’ve added a link to an original RAW file that you can download and try out for yourself! Please share the results back with me so I can show off everyone’s response to the challenge!

  • Reply
    Bud Sisti
    July 16, 2022 at 6:27 pm

    Maybe I’m too “old school” and rigid, but this widespread practice (here on 35mmc and elsewhere) of shooting long-expired and abused film is beyond my comprehension. If you care about your images, why turn the process into a crap shoot? If a process can’t be controlled for predictable results, what’s its value? Producing imagery because one is curious to see “what would happen if…” has value; that doesn’t mean the images themselves do. Next time, suck it up and spend the $10.00 for a fresh roll of film.

    • Reply
      Don Goodman-Wilson
      July 16, 2022 at 7:04 pm

      How do we learn anything about our world, our craft, if not through experimentation, and dare I say failure? We cannot. There is absolutely a place for predictability and reproducibility—I would never use expired film with one of my commercial clients, for example. But it only cost me €5 and a few hours of my time to discover whether this film could produce usable images. And now I know it does, with caveats. I understand how this film is going to work. And, as I have more of it, I can take advantage of this new knowledge to produce predictable, reproducible results. I have learned something new from this experimentation.

      Insisting that we always know precisely what we are stepping into is a recipe only for stagnation in our own growth as artists.

      Also: It was a lot of fun!

  • Reply
    Jared Gerlach
    July 17, 2022 at 4:25 pm

    Hi Don,
    Interesting article and results from your ‘experiment’. Not sure how best to return a processed image to you, but I had fun trying to wring the most out of your scan. Let us know how we can/should return them to you.
    Cheers,
    Jared

    • Reply
      Don Goodman-Wilson
      July 17, 2022 at 5:53 pm

      Oooooh exiting! Two ways:

      1. Email it to me [email protected]

      2. Post it to Grainery using the hashtag #expiredfilmchallenge
      https://grainery.app/h/expiredfilmchallenge

      • Reply
        Matthew Patey
        July 18, 2022 at 2:04 pm

        Just sent you an email with the my attempt at colour correction. First challenge I see: the colour cast from the expired film appears to be inconsistent across the frame!

        • Reply
          Don Goodman-Wilson
          July 18, 2022 at 2:29 pm

          Very exciting, thank you! And yes, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the center of the frame is different from the left and right edges. I wonder why that is?

  • Reply
    Jared Gerlach
    July 17, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    Thanks Don! Sending it your way.

    Jared

  • Reply
    Bernhard
    July 27, 2022 at 9:07 am

    https://www.instagram.com/p/BLorxQlB0_m/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

    This is a 1987 expired Ektachrome 64 shot. The original slide looks worse, than your negatives.
    I scanned it on flatbed and played with the restore settings . That can sometimes yield amazing results.
    I really like the kind of rough results.

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