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Is it worth developing long-forgotten films?

Generally speaking, it is possible to recover printable images from just about all films, even if they are very old. They're well worth sending in for processing if they yield no printable images, your processing payment is refunded.

Click here to view and download our comprehensive 4-page Bluefire processing brochure (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).


127 black and white image, damaged by moisture
This is one frame from a seriously damaged roll of 127 black and white film. This roll and four others had been stored for nearly fifty years in a California basement, subjected to decades of heat and high humidity. The film had stuck to its backing paper, which required several days soaking in distilled water followed by a delicate recovery effort in the pitch black of a darkroom. The developed negatives were damaged along the edges, as you can see, where the paper was irrevocably stuck, and they were so heavily fogged that to the naked eye they appeared unprintable.

Were they worth printing? Ask the person who sent them to us. She found these long-forgotten films after her twin's death. These are irreplaceable images a perfect teen-age girl summer from a half-century ago. These are images that memory alone, unaided by photography, could never recreate.

 

  • black and white films, no matter how old, that have been stored at more or less room temperature for a long time, usually yield recoverable images. Any degradation usually takes the form of increased background density ("fog"), and significant loss of contrast. All of these can be compensated for to some degree with digital post-processing. You may get results that look fresh, but most of the time some degradation will be obvious (see the extreme example above). You are very likely to get results that are well worth the small extra expense.

     



It's not much of a picture, is it?  ...unless she happens to be your mother, or sister, proud of her new fur coat, in the vanished snows of a long-ago mountain springtime, when everyone was young.

This is a particularly interesting example. The C-22 film was found in a Minox camera I bought on eBay. Minox negatives are only 8x11mm, the size of the fingernail on a child's little finger. I have no idea who the people in the pictures are I hope someone will recognize this lady and contact me. The film was almost completely deteriorated from heat and humidity, streaked and almost opaque to the naked eye, but deep down inside, irreplaceable images were waiting to be recovered.
  • color films (including color slide films) start life, underneath the hood, as black and white negatives associated with color dyes which are formed during a subsequent color development step, after which the black and white silver grains are bleached away, leaving an image made up of colored dye "clouds".

 We use a special multi-step process: 

  • If the film is unusual, extremely old, or damaged by moisture, we clip-test it to establish processing time;
  • then we develop the black and white image and the dye image together; 
  • if the dye image appears salvageable, we continue with color development;  
  • if the colors are not recoverable, we finalize a black and white negative and make black and white prints.
        If the colors are recoverable but "iffy" (as in the seriously degraded example above), we finalize an "iffy" color film and use digital  techniques to reduce the effects of age, which are sometimes quite strange but sometimes quite lovely. 

        If the colors are more or less acceptable (especially considering the alternative), we finalize a color film and print it as a modern film. The colors and contrasts will not look fresh, and in fact they will probably look somewhat strange but they will be more or less intact. 

It is useful to remember that not that many years ago, the standard color films gave colors that seemed wonderful at the time, but would not be acceptable today.


Films that have been stored for a long time in hot, humid environments (for example, fifty years in an attic in Mayfield, Kentucky) are very challenging. 

Films that have been continuously stored cool, or, better, cold, or even better, frozen, and sealed against humidity, will probably yield excellent image, no matter how old. This is a lot to hope for -- since the inception of this business, we have never seen a frozen or cold-stored roll sent in for processing. Maybe you could be the first (you'll be very pleased!).


Our warranty: if the film you send us is blank, or has no recoverable images, we refund your development charge.

For complete information regarding this service here, click here to download the four-page Bluefire processing brochure (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).