Freezing film = no expiration date?

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kl122002

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I have seen many people suggesting freezing the film for longer film life span. It is not something new, but it just ... 🤨...confused me alot.

Does it mean it could be frozen to infinity? And when the film has been taken out from the fridge and "defrost" back to room temperature , would the water vapor inside bring damage to the film?
 

Alan9940

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Freezing film will certainly extend its life, but forever? The main issue with all stored film is radiation exposure which leads to increased fog density. Higher speed films seem to be more prone to this effect vs slow speed. Best to not store it too long and use it up. If you keep the film sealed in airtight bags and let it slowly warm to room temp after removing from the freezer, condensation is generally not an issue.
 

M-88

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The main issue with all stored film is radiation exposure which leads to increased fog density.
Some people go to the extent of putting their film into lead lined bags, to protect them from radiation. Not sure how efficient/effective it is though. Surely it's pointless to have a stash of film which is going to outlive the owner.
 

Paul Howell

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There is another thread where someone posted with some data I have not had to time to look up, that says cosmic or gamma radiation at ground level is so low that it is not a factor in film fogging. Alpha and Beta radiation will not pass though the steel shell of the freezer. But, even if frozen in a home refrigerator there is bound to be some ongoing chemical reactions that will eventually fog the film. How much longer will you get? Good question.
 

momus

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The original idea was that cosmic rays and other galactic and solar forms of radiation will cause the film to degrade. Cosmic rays are not that numerous compared to all the other forms of radiation we're exposed to daily. I've never bought enough film at one time to need freezing though, it got used well within the expiration date.

Where one lives is the big difference in cosmic ray exposure. Here in the U.S., people in high altitude cities like Denver, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, etc are exposed to a lot more of it than someone at sea level. Pilots and people who fly a lot receive large doses cumulatively, and astronauts are extremely concerned about this. All of this leads me to think that fogging film is certainly possible, but which form of radiation causes it, I don't know.
 
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xkaes

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I'm still using 30 year old frozen film without any problems -- radiation, condensation, or otherwise. In short, you're probably safe.
 

patashnik

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I bought a lot of expired Tri-X around 2010, put it in my sisters freezer and just discovered it again this summer. The results still looks fine.
 

Sirius Glass

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I have seen many people suggesting freezing the film for longer film life span. It is not something new, but it just ... 🤨...confused me alot.

Does it mean it could be frozen to infinity? And when the film has been taken out from the fridge and "defrost" back to room temperature , would the water vapor inside bring damage to the film?

If the original packaging which seals the air from the film has not been opened there is no reason not to freeze the film even for long periods of time. I have color and black & white film frozen since 2005 and there is no apparent degradation. If the packaging has been opened, seal the film in zip lock bags and store it in the refrigerator - that goes for unexposed film or exposed film that has to wait a while to be processed.
 

Sirius Glass

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Freezing film will certainly extend its life, but forever? The main issue with all stored film is radiation exposure which leads to increased fog density. Higher speed films seem to be more prone to this effect vs slow speed. Best to not store it too long and use it up. If you keep the film sealed in airtight bags and let it slowly warm to room temp after removing from the freezer, condensation is generally not an issue.

Radiation is not a factor for most people and film in this world and pointed out by Paul just below. Alternate universes need not apply.

There is another thread where someone posted with some data I have not had to time to look up, that says cosmic or gamma radiation at ground level is so low that it is not a factor in film fogging. Alpha and Beta radiation will not pass though the steel shell of the freezer. But, even if frozen in a home refrigerator there is bound to be some ongoing chemical reactions that will eventually fog the film. How much longer will you get? Good question.

I agree.

The original idea was that cosmic rays and other galactic and solar forms of radiation will cause the film to degrade. Cosmic rays are not that numerous compared to all the other forms of radiation we're exposed to daily. I've never bought enough film at one time to need freezing though, it got used well within the expiration date.

Where one lives is the big difference in cosmic ray exposure. Here in the U.S., people in high altitude cities like Denver, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, etc are exposed to a lot more of it than someone at sea level. Pilots and people who fly a lot receive large doses cumulatively, and astronauts are extremely concerned about this. All of this leads me to think that fogging film is certainly possible, but which form of radiation causes it, I don't know.

Since most of us do not live either in space or flying around above 35,000 feet, cosmic radiation is not a concern.


I'm still using 30 year old frozen film without any problems -- radiation, condensation, or otherwise. In short, you're probably safe.

I agree although I have only 17 years of experience storing film in a freezer.
 

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When Efke shut down a decade ago, I bought a lot of it and began to freeze film so I could continue to shoot 127. Around that time I bought several lots of 46mm (127) Portra color neg stock on the evil place in addition to buying 50-foot rolls of HP5 in Ilford's annual "ULF" sale. It's well known that black & white degrades much more slowly than color, but I have been amazed at how well my frozen Portra has performed. I just shot some 160NC that expired in 2008 and it looked very good--just a slight shift toward the green but no major issues. (Shot box speed and developed normally.) Another roll dated 2001 didn't do as well but I've always suspected that the person I bought it from didn't freeze it. I've also got some Agfa XPS from (I think) around 2003 that processes with more visible grain than the Portra but whose colors look good. So, if you freeze color film you might reasonably expect to extend its life for ten years or more, but not forever. You could expect black & white to go a bit longer than that, possibly a good while longer; I still have a few rolls of Efke film in the freezer and it performs like new.
 

Alan9940

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Well, I don't know what causes frozen film to eventually exhibit increased fog, but I can assure you that I've seen it in my higher speed emulsions--Tri-X and HP-5--that really haven't been stored that long. As a matter of fact, I had a box of 8x10 HP-5 that wasn't frozen for even 10 years and it was fogged almost to the point of being unusable. On the other hand, I've had slow emulsions like EFKE 25 stored in the freezer for many, many years and it appears as fresh as new when used. So, maybe radiation isn't a factor, but something seems to affect film in the freezer over time.
 

MattKing

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Photographic film is intentionally unstable - it is supposed to change when it undergoes even the smallest amount of exposure to light. Heat and non-visible radiation can have similar effect.
Freezing it helps minimize the effect of that instability, but it doesn't eliminate it.
The more sensitive to light the film is, the more vulnerable it is to that instability.
I celebrate that sensitivity.
 

RalphLambrecht

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I have seen many people suggesting freezing the film for longer film life span. It is not something new, but it just ... 🤨...confused me alot.

Does it mean it could be frozen to infinity? And when the film has been taken out from the fridge and "defrost" back to room temperature , would the water vapor inside bring damage to the film?

Yes it's recommended to put the film into a plastic bag before freezing and leave it in there while the frosting.
 

Tel

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Yes it's recommended to put the film into a plastic bag before freezing and leave it in there while the frosting.
Good point; whether it's frozen or just refrigerated, I've always put my film in a zip-lock bag before storing it.
 
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Agulliver

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The degradation of photographic film over time is basically chemical reactions. Any chemical reaction can be sped up or slowed down by various means.

Heat - chemical reactions go faster in higher temperatures, and slower in lower temperatures.
Catalysts - the presence of a catalyst will speed up a reaction
Film speed - in the case of photographic emulsions, generally speaking faster film will degrade quicker. Delta 3200 and TMZ will degrade significantly faster than FP4+ or Fomapan 100 for example.

In the case of film there are other factors such as humidity. Radiation and cosmic rays have been mentioned already. The bulk of the radiation will be shielded by your fridge/freezer and the unless you're in a very high radon area or are also storing radioisotopes in your fridge it is probably of no practical consequence. It will take many decades for your film to be fogged by background radiation or cosmic rays.

With B&W film, freezing does effectively stop the chemical reactions. Frozen B&W film has been known to last 30,40 even 50 years and come out fresh. With all films, try and keep in the original canister or foil package without opening these. With roll film that has backing paper, this is doubly important as moisture getting inbetween the backing paper and film, or just on the backing paper, can wreak havoc.

Film can even react with air, or gases in the air may act as mild catalysts to speed up the reaction, so again, keep the film in the foil packs or plastic tubs. Don't be tempted to have a look at it. It is good practise to put your films in zip-lock or press shut bags. It's fine to fill the bag with multiple films, try and squeeze the air out of the bag before shutting it.

When the time comes to defrost, let the chosen films thaw fully before opening them and loading them into a camera. At least an hour, but I tend to thaw them the night before a trip. This is extra important for roll films with backing paper for the reasons mentioned above. Note that film is not meat, it is perfectly fine to freeze, thaw, refreeze, thaw, refreeze in cases where you don't get round to using it.

I know there are people here who are using 30+ year old stashes of frozen film. I've personally frozen film for 15-20 years and it came out indistinguishable from fresh. For the sake of caution, I probably wouldn't freeze HP5+ for 40 years and then push it ti 6400ISO. But that's why I freeze my Delta 3200 and TMZ.

General rule, but YMMV, is that B&W film can effectively last a human lifetime this way....C41 colour negative 20 years or so....E6 slide film 10 years. But you'll always find anecdotal evidence of people who found their stash of Tri-X went bad after 10 years or who found a 30 year old roll of Ektachrome in the fridge and it came out fine.
 

Paul Howell

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The NASA study I posted a link to, found that in low earth orbit slide film had fewer issues than color negative film, movie film did the worse, black and white was not tested.
 
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I put my film in a ziplock along with a silica gel to absorb any remaining moisture in the bag before putting it all in the freezer.

Then I wait for it to warm up out the freezer to room temperature before opening the bag to use the film.

I've also been considering lowering the room thermostat for the air conditioner temperature in the bedroom where I sleep at night to see if I can extend my own expiration date.
 

nosmok

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The Tech-Pan story is relevant here: when Kodak discontinued that emulsion (late 1990s/early 2000s?), it was learned that they had actually ceased manufacturing it twenty years or so before, had been selling off frozen stock ever since, and nobody had noticed. Given that TP users were probably the pickiest sorts, that says a lot to me.
 

Sirius Glass

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The degradation of photographic film over time is basically chemical reactions. Any chemical reaction can be sped up or slowed down by various means.

Heat - chemical reactions go faster in higher temperatures, and slower in lower temperatures.
Catalysts - the presence of a catalyst will speed up a reaction
Film speed - in the case of photographic emulsions, generally speaking faster film will degrade quicker. Delta 3200 and TMZ will degrade significantly faster than FP4+ or Fomapan 100 for example.

In the case of film there are other factors such as humidity. Radiation and cosmic rays have been mentioned already. The bulk of the radiation will be shielded by your fridge/freezer and the unless you're in a very high radon area or are also storing radioisotopes in your fridge it is probably of no practical consequence. It will take many decades for your film to be fogged by background radiation or cosmic rays.

With B&W film, freezing does effectively stop the chemical reactions. Frozen B&W film has been known to last 30,40 even 50 years and come out fresh. With all films, try and keep in the original canister or foil package without opening these. With roll film that has backing paper, this is doubly important as moisture getting inbetween the backing paper and film, or just on the backing paper, can wreak havoc.

Film can even react with air, or gases in the air may act as mild catalysts to speed up the reaction, so again, keep the film in the foil packs or plastic tubs. Don't be tempted to have a look at it. It is good practise to put your films in zip-lock or press shut bags. It's fine to fill the bag with multiple films, try and squeeze the air out of the bag before shutting it.

When the time comes to defrost, let the chosen films thaw fully before opening them and loading them into a camera. At least an hour, but I tend to thaw them the night before a trip. This is extra important for roll films with backing paper for the reasons mentioned above. Note that film is not meat, it is perfectly fine to freeze, thaw, refreeze, thaw, refreeze in cases where you don't get round to using it.

I know there are people here who are using 30+ year old stashes of frozen film. I've personally frozen film for 15-20 years and it came out indistinguishable from fresh. For the sake of caution, I probably wouldn't freeze HP5+ for 40 years and then push it ti 6400ISO. But that's why I freeze my Delta 3200 and TMZ.

General rule, but YMMV, is that B&W film can effectively last a human lifetime this way....C41 colour negative 20 years or so....E6 slide film 10 years. But you'll always find anecdotal evidence of people who found their stash of Tri-X went bad after 10 years or who found a 30 year old roll of Ektachrome in the fridge and it came out fine.

Thank you for a good summary of all the concerns and benefits of freezing film.
 

el_37

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The Tech-Pan story is relevant here: when Kodak discontinued that emulsion (late 1990s/early 2000s?), it was learned that they had actually ceased manufacturing it twenty years or so before, had been selling off frozen stock ever since, and nobody had noticed. Given that TP users were probably the pickiest sorts, that says a lot to me.

About 20 years ago, I remember reading the posts of someone on photo.net who was involved either in the U2 or SR-71 program in the early 1990's. He stated that the huge rolls of Tech-Pan that those planes used were marked with "expiration dates" from the late 1960's and they were not stored in a freezer or even a refrigerator.

According to him the film was not affected at all- and the film was used during missions costing tremendous amounts of money in fuel, maintenance and personnel. Nothing was to be gained using outdated film stock since money was no object on these missions and the Military could have easily procured whatever was needed. Obviously there was nothing wrong with the film.
 
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