So you finally decided to get your 16 year old film developed...
January 25, 2022 11:43 AM   Subscribe

... but you discover that several rolls have not been rewound all the way into the cartridge. Do you assume they're unexposed and shoot them just for fun despite their age? Or do you assume they're precious memories and have them processed even though they might be blank? There are no helpful markings on the cartridges to indicate whether they've been exposed. This is 35mm film fwiw.

This is a question about decision-making, not about the potential problems with shooting and/or developing old film stock.
posted by under_petticoat_rule to Media & Arts (16 answers total)
Personal opinion - I would just get it developed to find out what is on the film from 16 years ago and not risk double exposure or additional light damage by trying to use the maybe unused film.
posted by metahawk at 11:51 AM on January 25 [18 favorites]

I had mine developed just in case. Turned out there was nothing on them. I’d still make the same choice in the future, if not certain.
posted by umber vowel at 11:52 AM on January 25 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If the leaders are still outside of the film cartridge, then more than likely the film has never been used. Film cameras were designed to rewind the film fully into the cartridge (including the leader) which would indicate that the canister was ready to be developed.

If you opened the back of a camera and found film in it, anything that was exposed to light has been ruined. You may be able to get some usable images out of what's left in the cartridge, since it's supposed to be fully light-tight.

I recently shot a roll of color film that was around that age (somewhere between 15-20 years old), and the results weren't great. Lots of bleaching and significant grain. So, I probably wouldn't shoot anything that's going to be precious to you.

General rule of thumb is to overexpose by 1 stop for every decade the film has been expired.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:53 AM on January 25 [8 favorites]

I'd agree with backseatpilot. If there's a leader, the film almost certainly hasn't been used. Most cameras automatically rewind all the way. If you'd pulled the film and found a bit sticking out, I'll bet you would have just shrugged and wound the flap into the cartridge by hand.
posted by pipeski at 11:58 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]

The length of film that is left outside the canister on manufacturing is pretty standard (you can search for images if this isn't familiar). If roughly that amount of film is outside the canister, I'd assume they are unexposed. Unless you had a camera that had to be rewound manually and you had a habit of leaving film sticking out of the canister, it would be hard to imagine why they wouldn't be fully rewound with no film sticking out if they had been exposed. Any camera that rewound the film automatically would have rewound it all the way back into the canister.
posted by ssg at 12:15 PM on January 25 [4 favorites]

35 Film rolls are always rewound all the way back into the canister when they're done, that's how we know that it's been shot. If a short tab is sticking out, then it's definitely unused. I couldn't imagine how anyone could shoot a roll and then leave a bit of tab out?

Shoot it. As noted above, it will be "arty" quality.
posted by ovvl at 12:31 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Like others in this thread, I think it's highly unlikely these have been used, but even if they were, I think the potential double exposures might be more interesting than what may currently be on them.
posted by spudsilo at 1:25 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would just get it developed. I'm less certain than some posters here that 100% of all exposed film ends up in the canister 100% of the time. But then, I used to leave the leader exposed a lot because certain brands of film were annoying to work with in the dark bag. With a manual camera its very easy to do, you just listen to the little snick of the film slipping off the sprocket and then stop winding.
posted by Lorin at 1:26 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Almost certainly nothing on there. You'd need to have had someone manually rewind the film 95% of the way, which you could pull off if you were deliberately trying to do that, but why would anyone try? (On preview: I see what Lorin says directly above. So that's one reason.)

But does the cost to develop each roll (no prints) matter to you? It it were two or three rolls in a big batch, I'd probably include them when I was going to get things developed, just in case.
posted by mark k at 2:14 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

When I only had a single film camera I'd fish the leaders out so I could switch film stock (there were tools for this) so if that was you I wouldn't be confident these weren't exposed.

But even so developing film is still pretty cheap all things considered and film is even cheaper. So I'd just get them developed. Absolutely worse case you waste the cost of a roll of film. I'd mention to the tech that the particular rolls might be blank and most will skip prints if they are.

{Actually the other way around used to be a problem; Take an entire or most of a roll of astrophotographs and the "helpful" photo technicion would skip printing those "blank" exposures to save you money. You'd have to make a special note when dropping off to print everything even the stuff that looks blank.}
posted by Mitheral at 3:27 PM on January 25

Go ahead and waste all of that old film stock if you believe that, leaving tabs open on exposed film is pure idiocy, unless they leave tabs open on purpose and tag them with notes.

This old film stock is not pure, it's experimental film.
posted by ovvl at 7:28 PM on January 25

Best answer: All I can say is that I got six rolls of clearly exposed film developed to solve my curiosity. Why not - it was cheap. The pictures came out neon-tinted and turned out to be 95% blurry shots of unrecognizable nothing and 5% of my kid sister with her middle school friends and some Backstreet Boys fan art. So, kind of boring, but I'm still glad I'm not wondering.

Just do it. Probably they're unexposed, but do you want to be wondering forever?
posted by epanalepsis at 3:01 AM on January 26

I definitely owned cameras (cheap ones) that were not always 100% reliable at completely winding the leader into the cartridge. In that case, it would only be sticking out a fraction of an inch, much less than you would expect for brand new film. I'd always just tuck that last bit in.

I'd probably be inclined to shoot the film, figuring any double exposures would be more interesting than whatever is on there, like spudsilo says, but in my mind, a tiny bit of exposed leader would not lead me to believe that they are exposed.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:12 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]

When you're rewinding film you don't know when you're done until the tension releases from the right side and it starts winding much faster. Now you could stop early and leave the leader hanging out like a new roll, but why? It's an extremely unlikely scenario that serves no purpose whatsoever
posted by O9scar at 1:00 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]

Best answer: QFT: old film stock is not pure, it's experimental film.

I'd do one of 3 things - 1) Develop one roll and if blank, I'd try to shoot the other one, or 2) I'd cut a length and develop it at home and if there is nothing I'd shoot it, 3) Just shoot it and if you get double exposures - fun - if not that's cool too.
posted by Ashwagandha at 6:11 PM on January 26

Response by poster: I appreciate all the input. My hunch is that it's unexposed. I've decided to get two rolls processed and see if there's anything on them. I'll be paying for developing whether I go ahead and shoot them first or not, and since the performance of the film will be unpredictable I wouldn't be shooting anything meaningful on them anyway.

I think two rolls is a reasonable sample size to determine whether the rest of it is likely to be unexposed. If the two rolls are unexposed, I'll treat the rest as unexposed stock that I can shot if I'm feeling arty and can tolerate the unpredictability of the stock. If there are images on either of them, I'll probably continue getting two rolls processed periodically as long as one roll of each pair has images.

If I do get one returned with mages, and it looks like they're super-meaningful, I'll probably get them all processed just in case.

The really good news here is that the film lab I was planning on using is opening a facility about 150 feet from my house! I'm not sure if they're moving (from their already close-to-me location) or opening a new branch, but I could just about throw them my film from my bedroom window once the new location is open.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:40 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

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