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Labs for developing old black and white film

Al Viktora , Jan 18, 2007; 12:32 p.m.

I have a number of exposed black and white film rolls (Tri-X and Plus-X), all over 10 years old, some approaching 30. I am looking for a lab to (only) develop this film using the best available techniques to optimize the images given the films' age. Several labs came up in searches on the Web and on this site which specialize in this sort of service: Bluefire Antique Film Processing (Calgary, Canada), linked to Adox Fotowerk, Inc.; Dwain Coufal Photography (Temple, TX); Rocky Mountain Film Laboratory (Aurora, CO); Film Rescue International (Fortuna, ND). I would appreciate feedback on these outfits or any others which perform this sort of work in order to help make an informed decision as to which one(s) would do the best job, and whether there are any which are to be avoided. Thanks in advance for the input.

Responses

Christopher Gervais , Jan 18, 2007; 12:43 p.m.

I'm just guessing but I assume that all labs that do this develop in standard chemicals you and I could buy. If I was in your position, I would research what the best developer would be for the best chance of getting images, and doing it yourself. It is easy, and a lot cheaper than sending it out, especially if you have several rolls. Check out Gene M posts in the classic camera forum for developing old film. BTW the few items you need to do this at home can be found on craigslist for very cheap $$. I know people send film like this to Gene M all the time, But I don't know if he sends it back.

RG Nelson , Jan 18, 2007; 04:23 p.m.

I'd like to second Christopher's suggestion. Developing film isn't too difficult and if it were my film I wouldn't hesitate to give it a try. If you have never done this before you might want to try the process out on a few new "practice" rolls to make sure you get good results before you work on the older rolls that can't be replaced. I fumbled around and ruined a few rolls the first few times I tried. (Actually I never really ruined the film but they didn't turn out as good as I would have liked) Loading the reels in the dark takes practice. Make sure you control time and temperature and above all dry them as dust free as possible. (In the bathroom after the shower has run awhile knocks down most of the dust and gives you clean negatives.)

Jim Malone , Jan 18, 2007; 06:09 p.m.

Al:

I develop film as a business and I suppose I shouldn't say this, but the folks above are correct. You can develop the film youself pretty easily. Just go to DigitalTruth, look up the times for your developer and make your best guess about how much the film should be pushed.

Expect to see the older rolls fogged; much depends on the emulsion and how it was stored. If you really want to be careful, do a clip test by snipping off a few inches and processing that. You will lose an image, but you might save the rest of the roll.

Good luck

Jeff Adler , Jan 19, 2007; 09:29 a.m.

I recently developed nine rolls of old film for a family friend. The film was shot in the early 1970s. All of the film was developed in undiluted Ilford Microphen. I looked up the time for each film and added 50%. Some people like to try benzotriazole (also known as Edwal Orthazite or Kodak Anti-Fog Pills) with their developer to lower the amount of fog. My strategy is to go for a more contrasty negative even if this shows a little more fog. In practice you can "print through" the fog as long as there is enough of an image on the negative.

Of the nine rolls I developed, three were Plus-X. These had the lowest level of fog and the best looking images. There were two rolls of Tri-X. One was considerably fogged but the images were usable. The second roll apparently was never exposed. Perhaps it slipped offof the take-up spool after it was loaded. The frame number markings were visible and it did show fog so I know it was developed properly. There were four rolls of East German ORWO NP-27. This is, as you would guess, a 400 speed (ASA/ISO) film. One roll never went through the camera. One roll had a cracked plastic cartridge and was mostly fogged. The other two rolls had images but were much more fogged than the Tri-X.

If you aren't familiar with film developing and don't really want to become familiar you can e-mail me. As long as you don't have too many rolls I would develop them for you but I would only charge for the return shipping. I have enough spare chemicals to sink a ship.

Al Viktora , Jan 19, 2007; 12:32 p.m.

Thanks to all for your thoughts. I am not averse to developing my own film (although it's been a couple of decades now...), but my concern was that, due to the films' age and less than ideal storage conditions, specialized processing would be necessary to minimize fogging, etc. I wasn't sure about the chemicals involved and possible other techniques for bringing out details. From what I gather, however, standard chemistry is used and up to 50% longer developing time, based on some experimentation. As I have more than a few rolls, this would certainly save on costs.

Your quick and thoughtful responses are much appreciated, and your offer to develop, Jeff, generous. This is a good, solid site.

Regards, Al V

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