View Full Version : Processing 70-Year Old Undeveloped Film

2-Jul-2017, 12:12
My sister just discovered a trove of unprocessed B&W Kodak film (3.25 x 4.25) taken by my father in the early 1950's. I am an experienced 4 x 5 film photographer so I know how to process film and print negatives. I don't know yet the particular type of film but imagine it may be Tri-X. This film has seen heat and cold over the decades. I am not very confident that this film can be developed successfully but am very hopeful because the boxes are all labelled and there is likely a treasure trove of family images. My question: should I just process the film according to the recommended processing times and developer. Is there a developer that would be more forgiving under the circumstances?

Also, among the find are negatives from my father's service in the South Pacific (Guadalcanal, New Georgia, Bouganville). I have some prints from these negatives that my father sent back home with narratives on the back but I am excited about being able to produce fresh prints from these negatives.

Anyway, any help will be greatly appreciated.

2-Jul-2017, 12:39
There are plenty of examples of 40-50 years old exposed film being processed normally, successfully. I assume this is sheet film. With roll film, there is the issue of a strong curl. One option is to develop the first sheet/roll by inspection under a dim green safelight. I have details on how to do this somewhere, but I'm sure others have memorized it -- and have other tips. Since there are doubtless some under- and over-exposed sheets/exposures, don't assume that all the others will be the same.

Thad Gerheim
2-Jul-2017, 12:42
You might contact this guy for information http://www.rescuedfilm.com/rescued-about

Pere Casals
2-Jul-2017, 13:43
Next is my little experience, I agree with Thad that you should contact experienced people like these pointed by him.

A developer that works well with very old film is HC-110, because is low fog and fog is problem you may have.

Use HC-110 dilution "A" or even higher, to have a good contrast with that old film.

Then you have sacrifice an small strip from the top of a sheet, say some 8mm to make a test. Lights open, dip some 5mm the strip in developer, and every minute dip it 5mm more, after some 4min dip it completely for 4 min, so you'll have samples from 4 min to 8min of fully exposed film.

At some development time density won't increase more, so this is the development time at what max density is obtained. You have to develop under this time, say one or to minutes less, better a thin negative to prevent excessive fog.

If you obtain too low contrast then increase developer concentration over A dilution, if contrast is too high then lower HC-110 concentration.

This worked well for me with 40 years old Valca brand film.

Some say that developing at low temperature and extended time helps controlling fog, I found little advantage, in my case.

I would not recommend pre-soaking, as it can be a very soft emulsion, extended time in water may not be good.

Those days hardening could be common, so perheps you are in front of delicate stuff, I don't know if a hardener can be recommended, I'd prefer treating the film with extreme care. You may see how soft is with the test strip.

The image cannot be very good... so you'll have to rely in post process to get best.


PD: I found the web site from I learned that time ago: http://foundfilm.livejournal.com/16982.html

2-Jul-2017, 14:23
If you discover too much fogging on your tests, one option is to add a little benzotriazole (AKA Anti-fog) to the soup.

2-Jul-2017, 15:06
Here is a webpage dedicated to "development by inspection":


If you happen to have some of the film UNEXPOSED, you could always make some test exposures/developments.

Andrew O'Neill
2-Jul-2017, 15:29
Post your results here, please!

3-Jul-2017, 22:39
Pere offers some good advice, I too was going to suggest finding the Max developing time. I would suggest finding it and then reducing by about 25%.
I have used rodinal at normal to dilute concentrations, with 40 year old film.

Develope at low temperature! as mentioned, the emulsion is probably soft. I developed at room temperature, avoids softening the emulsion too much, and also protects against reticulation. Consider using a hardener.

You don't have to get it exactly right, the film probably has a high silver content and lots of information in it. If you scan, you can recover A LOT of that detail and adjust contrast as you need. If you want to print in the darkroom, then I suggest using a densitometer to measure the contrast of the negative, (or just make quick contact prints). Expect the negatives to be dense, but even if you massively under-develop, by scanning you could probably salvage a decent image.

and yes, do show some of the results here!

4-Jul-2017, 05:03
And remember, if one or all exposures are seriously under- or over-exposed or developed, there are several ways to intensify (ex., chromium) or minimize (ex., bleach) the result/outcome -- just a possible safety net, should you end up needing one. While these are not likely to solve the problem, they can help minimize it.

4-Jul-2017, 08:28
Go over to Ebay and look for a Kodak Professional Photoguide from the 1950's. It should have the notch codes for Kodak films from that era. That will at least give you an idea of what you're dealing with.

4-Jul-2017, 08:41
You also might want to type this into Google-"The acetate negative survey". You want to look at page 52 onwards-he might used have the notch code listed.

4-Jul-2017, 17:52
Years ago I processed a bunch of Tri-X that had been sitting in a film box for about 8-10 years (I knew that, once they were processed, because I recognized them as pictures I had taken of my son's middle school band and he was by process time graduated from high school).
Also, in the pictures was a negative I didn't recognize - it was a neg I did not shoot. Best as I can surmise I must have purchased some 4X5 film holders off ebay and in one was some exposed film. Came out fine and I managed (thanks to this internet thingy) to track down the man who shot the image in December of 1964. So this film had sat for a good 40+ years before I processed it - most likely in dilute HC-110.