First Time Film Developing with Expired Film

January 03, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Half Dome, October 2019. Chinon Genesis with expired Kodak UltraMax400.

My experimentation with film photography started in 2017 when I acquired two old manual film cameras-a 1960s Yashica-Mat TLR and a 1970s Yashica Electro 35 GSN. I shot several rolls with each that year and bought a couple more film cameras along the way. But after about a year, I stopped using the film cameras even though I loved the images and loved using the cameras. The problem was the expense of film developing, particularly black and white which I had to send off at a cost of $18 per roll plus shipping each way. I considered trying my hand at film developing but just never could convince myself to make the initial investment, mainly because I was concerned about the time commitment to develop, digitize, and post-process a roll of film exposures.

San Diego, July 2003. Chinon Genesis with Kodak UltraMax 400, unprocessed for 17 years.

I finally took the plunge this year when I saw Cinestill’s post-Thanksgiving sale on their film developing starter kits. My kit didn’t arrive until just before Christmas, so I set aside New Year’s Day for learning how to develop black and white film. I even broke out the Yashica-Mat for the first time in over a year and installed some film photography apps on my phone.

My wife and baby, c. January 2004.

I had decided to start with the Cinestill Df96 monobath developer for black and white and wait to try C41 color processing another day. However, when I opened up the bottle of Df96, the developer was dark brown when it was supposed to be clear. Apparently my bottle was not sealed properly and had gone bad. So I moved on to Plan B and started mixing up the chemicals from the packets of powders included with my kit from Cinestill.


Giraffes at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, July 2003.

By far the hardest part of the process was loading the film reels in complete darkness. I had two rolls of 35mm to start with-one was a roll of found film from an antique Yashica FRII camera that I bought for the lens, and the second was a roll of Kodak 200 that was abandoned in our last film camera when we got our first digital camera in 2003. I had dug the camera out of a box in the garage in 2018, shot a few frames around the house, then abandoned it again for another year. I visited Yosemite in October 2019 and decided to only take film cameras, so the last few frames of this roll were captured in the valley. I figured that the roll was probably hopeless and would likely survive whatever damage I could bestow on it with my freshly mixed chemicals.


Half Dome, October 2019.

I spent at least half an hour sitting in the bathroom floor in the darkness before I managed to get both film reels loaded, but at least it was plenty of time to let the chemicals get warmed up. The actual developing process was fairly simple. It’s hard to judge my success from these two rolls of old expired film, but I feel confident enough to use a roll that I care about next time.

Family Portrait, c. January 2004.

The roll found in the old Yashica turned out blank-I don’t think it had ever been exposed. And the roll found in our old camera with photos taken 17 years apart turned out better than I expected. And I was surprised to find that it contained photos from a trip to San Diego we took in 2003 when my wife was pregnant with our first child and some photos of our daughter just after she was born. These older images fared better than the newer ones-I guess exposed film holds up better to baking in the summer heat of a garage in Texas than the unexposed portion still curled up inside the canister.


San Diego, July 2003.

Note: negatives were processed in Lightroom using Negative Lab Pro v.2.2.


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