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How to Look for Signs of Film Decay

by | Dec 1, 2016

How to Look for Signs of Film Decay

Since the advent of the digital camera, film photography has become a thing of the past. Yet, nearly every household still has unused film stowed away in forgotten corners of attics and basements. So when inspiration, curiosity, or nostalgia strikes and you want to shoot with your old camera, how can you tell if your film is still usable? Film can be damaged in a number of ways. Read on to learn how to spot signs of film decay.

Chemical Damage

Film decay can lead to the following types of chemical damage:

  • Nitrate degradation happens because of the way film is stored and because of the physical properties of cellulose nitrate plastic. This gradual chemical process can become flammable even if stored in a low temperature. Evidence of nitrate degradation takes the form of faint noxious odors, stickiness, discoloration, image fading, blistering, and eventual disintegration.
  • Acetate decay/vinegar syndrome usually occurs as a result of heat and humidity. You can tell when this is beginning to happen when the film base shrinks, loses flexibility, the emulsion cracks, white powder appears, and the film gives off a strong, vinegar-like odor.
  • Shrinkage results from acetate decay and vinegar syndrome. You can spot shrinkage by the gelatin emulsion buckling and becoming brittle.

Fading Color

Color decay is due to the different dyes in the film fading at differing rates. You can spot this type of damage when the colors shift and wash out, the contrast and balance are off, and the film takes on a pinkish hue. Once color decay sets in it cannot be reversed.

Fungal, Mildew, and Mold Damage

Improper storage in warm, humid conditions is the main contributor to fungal, mildew, and mold damage. Fungus, mildew, and mold show up in the form of white spots. It is possible to clean these powdery spots off and preserve the film by storing it in cool, dry conditions.

Mechanical Damage

Improper treatment of film results in mechanical damage. Mechanical damage occurs because the film may have been mishandled during shipping, repairs, or cleaning.

 Need an Extra Eye when Spotting Film Decay?

Call the experts at Disc Hounds for advice on how to spot film decay. We’re here to help you find damage and store your film properly to ensure it stays undamaged.