5 Frames of (Extremely Expired) Kodak Gold 200

Ever seen film with a lime green base? Let's explore photography with extremely expired, badly stored consumer color film.


5 Frames of (Extremely Expired) Kodak Gold 200

[Originally published on 35mmc.]

I got out of film something like 15 years ago. I can't actually remember when precisely I put my film cameras down. My go-to color film was Fujicolor Superia 100—plentiful and cheap at the time. This film was discontinued in 2009, so that puts an upper limit of the last time I got out with a film camera.

A couple of months ago I had to send my Fujifilm X-Pro 3 to the shop for repairs. I wasn't ready to not do photography entirely for the 6 weeks it would be out, so I pulled out my collection of film cameras. And… my collection of film. I still had quite a few rolls, in fact, of a large range of film stocks. None included their boxes with the date stamp (why don't they stamp the canisters?), so I have no idea precisely how old any of them actually are. 10–20 years is the best I can guess, based on my own history with them. More to the point, each was subject to harsh abuse, being stored basically wherever, and subject to extremes of temperature and humidity, from the hot muggy summers of St. Louis to the dry cold winters of Denver, and everything in between.

So, I figured: Surely there was no way these rolls would actually capture images. So of course I had to try.

I started with a few rolls of Ilford FP4+ that I hand spooled from a bulk roll sometime in 2005. That experience is an article for another day, but I'll just say that the results were surprisingly satisfactory. Grainy, but not bad. Some frames were even printable.

Encouraged, I pulled out a canister of Kodak Gold 200, and headed to Albert Cuypmarkt in Amsterdam, a massive daily street market full of anything an Amsterdammer (or a tourist) might want to buy. Rating the film at ISO 50, I hoped to capture at least some of the color and the action of the market. Unfortunately, I forgot how my camera worked, and ended up taking a few shots at ISO 200—crap. But I noticed before I was halfway through the film, and managed to get some more-or-less well-exposed shots.

I sent it off for professional development, unsure what to expect when I got it back.

Here's what I got.

Instead of the usual red film base, the negative is very, very green. Lime Jarritos green.

Why. So. Green. ?. At least the grain isn't overly offensive.

My first thought was: There can't be any color information here, I'm going to have to treat these as black and white negatives.

But then I scanned them, and played with the colors in Capture One. I learned that C1 has some hard limits on how far you can push the white balance sliders—and these images are far beyond those limits—but that the white balance dropper tool will let you exceed those limits, albeit in a way that utterly breaks the white balance UI. The tool is a bit buggy, it seems. The result is I cannot use the color balance sliders, and I can't copy settings from one image to another, but I can manually adjust each image individually with the dropper tool. So there's a lot of variance in the color balance from image to image.

Well, that's OK! There's nothing saying I can't color balance them as I find pleasing. This is expired film, we can't expect "realistic" or "authentic" colors, whatever that means. So I have done just that with these five images. Some are practically psychedelic, while others just have a stubborn cast to them. I rather enjoy them all.

All images were captured with my trusty Pentax ME Super with an SMC Pentax 55mm 1:1.8 lens (easily one of the sharpest lenses I own, and an underrated champ).

Cafe Krull, with its bright red Amstel Light umbrellas.
A man sits on the side of the street, and plays accordion for passersby.
A typical Dutch mailbox: Bright orange, and covered in stickers.
The sign announcing the entrance to Albert Cuyp Markt is two or three stories tall, rather abstract, and thus somewhat difficult to read. But it is a lovely shade of blue.
An array of mannequins touting winter coats, all staring off into space with their perfectly coifed hair.

I've missed my film cameras. I think they missed me too. I had forgotten what it was like, shooting with ground glass and a split prism, the immediacy of an SLR's optical viewfinder. Just how easy it is to focus manually. The feeling of not having any idea how your image turned out, or even if it captured what you think it did. The care with each shot that results from that feeling. I'm going to be shooting a lot more film in the future.

This roll was an experiment, to get a sense what my rolls of Fujicolor Superia 100 might do. And the results are in: I have no idea what they will do, so I'll be using them as serendipity engines. I'm just along for the ride.

(A note: Apparently my office is very dusty—the dust you see fell on the negatives as I was scanning them. I don't know what to do about this, except to move house. Advice is welcome.)