Old memories, trapped in 126 film cartridges

When I was a child, maybe around 12 years old, I had a cheap Kodak X-15F camera (why do I remember the model number?) that used those 126 film cartridges that were popular at the time.

I could afford to buy the film with the money I earned from my paper route, but I could never afford to get the films processed. So, they went into dresser drawers, and sat there. Months turned in years, years into decades. I still have them today. Six rolls of colour film that have been improperly stored through 25 hot humid summers.

I have very little idea what might be on them. I know I shot one roll on a trip to Ottawa with my “big brother” Mike. We visited his father, who was a senator. Some other rolls are probably from school trips… maybe the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. Beyond that, I have no idea.

I had tried to get one roll developed when I was in university, at one of those 1-hour photomat places, with the automated processing machine. As you might expect, it was a complete loss. The dried out old gelatin layers just fell right off. I can vaguely make out a few shapes, maybe a line or two.

I recently discovered that there are actually photo-labs that specialize in handling these kinds of old films. And it’s not even too unbearably expensive. Much more than processing new film, obviously, but cheap compared to the excitement of rediscovering long-forgotten treasures.

Two well-known labs are Rocky Mountain Film Lab, and Film Rescue International. Film Rescue has a lab in Indian Head, Saskatchewan, so I’ve decided to send my film there (avoid the border hassles.)

The main trick they use, I think, to rescue old colour film is to process it with a black-and-white process. Colour film degrades much more than black-and-white film, because the coloured gelatin layers dry out and become brittle. But apparently the blue layer, which I guess is the deepest, can usually be recovered fairly well, and processed with a high-contrast developer. You’ll end up with black-and-white photos, but that’s better than nothing.

I sent the film to them today. They only run a batch once of film once a month, though. I won’t get to hear any results until near the end of September.

When I get some results back, I’ll put them up here.

Update, Oct. 21, 2008: Here’s part 2.

5 Responses to “Old memories, trapped in 126 film cartridges”

  • Sounds like you had C-22 process film, developed incorrectly. I have seem the “Kringles potato chip effect” numerous times in the photo labs I worked at. Modern colour film process is C-41. I can’t believe there are still labs aroud processing C-22. Digital cameras have pretty much wiped out film all together.
    I doubt whether you will get any images at all. Latent images (Images on exposed, undeveloped film) decay very rapidly.
    Had I seen this posting earlier, I would have told you to save your money. Chances are you will get nothing…

  • I second that. Film is pretty durable stuff, and while it would be kinda foggy and low-contrast, I don’t think the ‘gelatin flaking off’ effect sounds like how I would expect old film to act. Doublecheck whether it’s C22 or C41 process.

  • Hi–

    I have about 40 (!) rolls of film, including nine rolls of old movie film, that I want to try getting developed. Some possibilities are Dwayne’s and Film Rescue International. Where did you go and did you get any results from yours? I didn’t see any mention of it on your site–sorry if I just didn’t see it!


  • I have various films, that I would like developed. I would like to know how much it would cost me, I don’t know if they are any good, they are old. Where do I take them to get them developed?

  • I have nothing else to say, I would like to get them developed. They may have pictures of my parents who are departed, my father over 18 years and my mother of 14 years.

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