Into the Wayback Machine – More Adventures with Severly Expired Film

By Eric Norris

Emboldened by my success shooting a roll of film a half century past its expiration date, I decided to venture back into the world of expired film with another, even older roll. This time around, I was shooting a roll of Kodak Verichrome Pan 120 film (black and white) that was clearly labeled, “Develop Before 1960.” By far the oldest film I’ve ever shot.

“Develop Before Sep 1960”

In fact, this roll was thrown in for free by the eBay seller with two other rolls of expired film. It wasn’t just expired–the box had been opened and the foil wrapping had been torn open. The paper strip that kept the film from unspooling was gone, replaced by a rubber band. The seller said he had no idea whether the film had been shot, and of course he also didn’t know how it had been stored for the past 64 years. Sounded fun to me.

Kodak’s Verichrome Pan film was released in 1956, aimed at amateur photographers who were mostly using simple box cameras. It has an ISO of 125 which, interestingly, is not listed anywhere on the film or the box of the roll I shot. The start of the paper backing did have a helpful list of suggested shutter speeds and apertures for various lighting conditions, but it’s likely that most early Verichrome Pan users just loaded it into their Kodak Brownie and went out into the world without thinking at all about such stuff.

As I did with my earlier exploration of 1976 film, I loaded the Verichrome Pan in my Lomo LCA-120, a zone-focusing medium format camera with auto exposure that is my go-to for quick, fun snapping. It has a nice, wide angle lens, it’s light, and it’s very easy to shoot.

It was at the winding-to-the-first-shot step that I had a hint that something might be amiss. On the way from zero to one, something seemed to bind in the camera and the winding knob became a little harder to turn. Undeterred, I twisted a little harder (taking care not to damage the camera) and after a moment the winding proceeded normally.

It wasn’t until I finished the roll and opened the camera that I discovered what had happened: The strip of paper tape that hold the start of the film to the paper backing (if you’ve ever shot/processed 120 film, you know what I’m talking about) had become brittle and non-adhesive over the past 60-plus years. That piece of tape, which was now free to wander about inside the camera, decided to jam itself at the side of film mask, where it turned what should have been square negatives into something closer to 4:3 vertical shots. The images below, therefore, were cropped in-camera by an errant piece of dried-up paper tape.

When I processed and scanned the film (once again using Film Photography Project’s “Super Monobath” for ten minutes, and scanning on an Epson Perfection V550), I was very pleased. One of the limitations of the LCA-120 is that the built-in meter has settings only as low as ISO 100, which means that I was shooting very old film at more or less box speed. Unable to overexpose the film, I stuck with brightly lit, contrasty subjects.  The results speak for themselves: nice contrast, a fair amount of latitude, and relatively fine grain. For a roll of film almost as old as I am, and which apparently had led a less-than-sheltered life that included someone actually opening the package and then deciding to put it back in the box, it performed well.

I was pleased with the results, and happy to finally help this little roll of orphan film finally fulfill its mission of being exposed to light and creating images. Here’s a selection of what it gave in return for my efforts:

Artsy photo of the Guy West pedestrian bridge over the American River in Sacramento. Cropped from square by an errant piece of tape inside the camera.
Guy West Bridge, a small-scale copy of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fluffy clouds over the American River.
Interior shot at a local coffee house. I steadied the camera on the table to accommodate the slow shutter speed selected by the camera. Even in this somewhat dimly lit setting, the film performed well. The table at left should have been centered, but the piece of tape had other ideas and cropped the negative like this.
Mid-Century vibe at a mostly closed local shopping center.

Are there some minor problems with the negatives? Of course there are. There are horizontal scratches which I assume were caused by that piece of dry, brittle tape and some minor spotting here and there. On the whole, however, a very successful journey into the past.

Next up: An even older roll of Verichrome Pan from 1957! I’ll report back on how that goes.

See my other photographic experiments and attempts on Instagram: www.instagram.com/campyonlyguy

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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

Jeffery Luhn on Into the Wayback Machine – More Adventures with Severly Expired Film

Comment posted: 28/05/2024

I ask myself, "Why bother shooting expired film, when the time invested may be lost to spotting, streaking, underexposure, etc."

That question held more weight when film was cheap. Film is not cheap anymore. Just yesterday I ordered a 100 sheet box of 'cold stored' 4x5 film at about 30% of the new price. I hope my results are as good as yours. I think you got lucky with that roll of Verichrome Pan. As long as there's enough to do some tests, shooting expired stock seems justified. What are you hoping to get from single rolls of long expired film that newly expired film won't deliver?
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Richard Moore replied:

Comment posted: 28/05/2024

Personally I'm not interested in buying expired film when as you say new film is generally available at various price points. But the odd roll of this age when it's free, piques my scientific interest in if it will work at all.

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Huss on Into the Wayback Machine – More Adventures with Severly Expired Film

Comment posted: 28/05/2024

Those results are ridiculously good!
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James on Into the Wayback Machine – More Adventures with Severly Expired Film

Comment posted: 28/05/2024

Amazing you got any images from that old roll! And the results are decent, based on the age of the film. I have half a dozen rolls of expired film I need to get developed - most came in cameras I for for free, or for less than $10.00. The oldest rolls are from 1994. Curious myself to see the results.

You have also inspired me to finally pull the trigger on a roll of black and white 620, expired sometime in 1962. My old, trusty Brownie awaits patiently!
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David Hume on Into the Wayback Machine – More Adventures with Severly Expired Film

Comment posted: 29/05/2024

Lovely post Eric - “happy to finally help this little roll of orphan film finally fulfil its mission of being exposed to light and creating images” Bravo!
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Richard Moore on Into the Wayback Machine – More Adventures with Severly Expired Film

Comment posted: 29/05/2024

Given that this film was probably made at about the same time I was being born it seems to have reached the same age rather better than I have ! Makes me quite optimistic that the boxes of plate film from the 20s onward I have accumulated might, just might produce some sort of image. I'd love an LCA 120 but they've become quite desirable.
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Steve h on Into the Wayback Machine – More Adventures with Severly Expired Film

Comment posted: 29/05/2024

Now that’s how it’s done and very worthy to be posted!! You’re not just lucky, you’re impressive!
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Ibraar Hussain on Into the Wayback Machine – More Adventures with Severly Expired Film

Comment posted: 30/05/2024

Lovely photography
Really like the dark beautiful moody tones
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Paul H Trantow on Into the Wayback Machine – More Adventures with Severly Expired Film

Comment posted: 30/05/2024

I found a pile of 1960 Verichrome Pan at a thrift store in Trinidad, Colorado last summer. The great photographer and YouTuber Kenneth Wajda says VP lasts pretty well into its old age, but I was too dumb to buy it. From the looks of my Instagram post on that day, they had about 10 rolls!
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