Quality/Skilled Film Processing for old/damaged film
January 19, 2021 1:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for a place to take some old disposable cameras for developing. I'd like to find someone with a focus on or experience with damaged film, that will be mindful of preserving the images within.

I have rediscovered 5-6 disposable film cameras (standard 35mm) that I thought I lost 15 years ago. They're all about 20 years old at this point, and have not been protected consistently from damage vectors. I don't want to take them to the usual film depots, I want and am happy to pay for a service that will treat it like a restoration project. It's entirely possible there's no salvageable pictures, but I'd rather have an expert who'll treat it with care tell me that. I'm in the LA suburbs, but a mail-in service would also be fine. If it matters, my budget would be in the hundreds, but not the thousands.
posted by ApathyGirl to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've had success with Photoworks in San Francisco for this exact request (that link goes to their mail-in service). I rediscovered a horde of film rolls from when I was in college in the late '90s. Photoworks developed them for me maybe 2-3 years ago.

I had a phone call with a manager there to make sure I wasn't barking up the wrong tree. They let me know about the caveats--there are no guarantees that the film is recoverable or undamaged, so you have to agree to take what you get, but the processing labs they work with are pretty keen on using care. And, generally, film from 1990 onward was manufactured to pretty rigorous ISO standards, so there's a good chance you'll get something out of them when they're developed. My rolls were a mixed bag--one full roll out of probably 20-25 was completely unrecoverable (they still returned the negatives and contact sheet to me) but all the rest were varying degrees of "okay, this sat in a storage unit through decades of Arkansas heat and a few wobbly areas are to be expected" to "wow, this looks great." A note from them that sticks in my head is that, as long as the camera/film packaging is still legible enough to read which film process it calls for, the developing isn't going to be appreciably different no matter who you take it to. The process is straightforward. You just want to make sure you're sending it to a developer that will in no way fuck that step up (apologies to budget developers like Wal-Mart or wherever else has an 18 year old kid working a machine they've barely been trained to use, but that's still the main weak link in modern film processing where ruined film happens most reliably).

Honestly, I imagine Los Angeles has much more local services that would do this, given the region's dominating industry.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:01 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

I used Film Rescue International about ten years ago for some 50-year-old undeveloped black and white and Kodachrome film as black and white (there's no longer any equipment or chemicals to develop Kodachrome in color). The black and white film developing was quite successful, the Kodachrome not so much.

You most certainly don't have Kodachrome in your camera, so you won't have the same issue I did.

Just checking Film Rescue's website, they say, "The Safest “First” Process for Expired Film is always into B&W – Even for Color Film" with a process to get the color in the final result. Interesting...
posted by ShooBoo at 2:41 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]

here in chicago I’d ask CSW Film Systems (his website appears to be Flash so non-functional right now, but google has the phone number and address) because it’s one person with many years of experience and develops it in-house. I’m not sure about LA but if I didn’t get other ideas I would call Freestyle and see if they have any leads.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 2:46 PM on January 19

I came in to recommend Film Rescue International as well.
posted by nathaole at 3:04 PM on January 19

It looks like Film Rescue is exactly what I was looking for, thanks! I don't think I would have encountered them without your help.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:19 AM on January 20

I've used Photoworks in SF and recommend them.

Negative film has a lot of latitude, you might be surprised what you get back.
posted by bradbane at 12:30 PM on January 20

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