New Life For Old Films: A Lab Service For Past Processes

This story began with the discovery of a few old rolls of C-22 126 format film in a drawer coinciding with some information that came in from the folks at Film Rescue. The idea of finding the formula for and mixing C-22 chemistry was not appealing, and while I could have probably gotten an image using Dektol, inexperience with processing old color films and fear of losing whatever was on the film prompted me to contact the company. I’m glad I did.

Here’s a black-and-white frame of Grace from the 126 film cartridge recently found in a drawer sent to Film Rescue. Grace says this is from 1970, just when she moved into her new home. While there was some color still “left” it was pretty much impossible to clean up and the black and white serves just as well. The company can make prints, post online for download, and/or burn a CD from the processed images.
Courtesy of Grace Schaub

First though, some thoughts on older color films. People sometimes harken back to the good old days of film with the notion that there was none of this fast-paced change when upgrades, format changes, and instant obsolescence was the norm, like in the digital realm. However, in the so-called analog world there were enough format shifts, discontinuance of processing runs in labs and chemistry for various films, and downright loss of film types (“recent” evidence would be 110, APS, and the recent death of Kodachrome) to convince me that what’s changed is the medium, not the marketing method. While some film processes remain today, such as E-6 and C-41, these cannot be used for older film types, and that’s why finding a service that still offers processing for old formats, discontinued film types (including Kodachrome in black and white!), old movie films, and even for films whose expiration dates and processing availability have long past is a good thing.

The films I discovered were about 40 years old and were of my wife’s son and family back in the 1970s. They were 126 film, a drop-in cartridge type used by millions of people. I knew they were exposed because the cartridge window was empty of the transport paper backing on the film. I contacted the Film Rescue folks at www.filmrescue.com and we started a process that would be the same should you discover similar films among your old film boxes and drawers. I sure learned something along the way.

It turns out that the 126 cartridge I sent in was a fairly common one for them to handle, and they noted that oxidation of the cartridge itself might have caused some quality issues. They let me know that what I could expect was a fairly grainy and mottled black-and-white image, which was fine with me. The company keeps a log of film types and success rates, which is available on their website, and which you might find interesting regardless of whether or not you have film to salvage. And, to soothe your mind, the company has a “no image no charge” policy, which certainly removes any fear of just getting blanks back for a fee.

According to the company, “Brand, type within the brand, and storage conditions are helpful (…in making some prediction of outcome). We can’t tell you exactly what you will get but we can give you an indication of what the trend is for the film that you have. Our film database has over 400 entries along with the quality trends for each film in a given development, though some samples are too small for a reliable trend.”

Because of the fact that they get so many different film types and cannot do a processing run every week for perhaps two or three rolls of film they work in processing cycles, which means about every six weeks. Contact them and they can inform you of a reliable time frame in which the work will be done.

You start the process by collecting all the work you have and getting in touch with them on their website. You then can check with them about turnover times, quality expectations, and any other concerns or questions you might have. You then ship the film and they process, scan, and put the images on a password-protected website for you to review and order.

Because they have a “no image no charge” policy and cannot determine costs because of it, they ask that you include a credit card number with the order that will only be charged for each roll when successful. Sample charges for processing are $18 each for disc film and $24 for roll film (either in cassette or on spool). They will return a spool (for hand-rolled film, etc.) but cannot guarantee that it is the exact spool you sent in, though it will be identical in format to the spool you sent. They do offer processing only on roll film (without scanning) for a slightly higher charge for roll film, but check their caveats on the site.

Once the film is processed you can get a CD, download images, or have them create a CD and make “snapshot” prints from selected images. Check the website for current charges, but as of this writing they were about a buck an image for download or placement onto a CD and various handling charges for the order. Do note that they do some cleanup as a matter of course on the images you choose and that the website preview is the straight scan without work being done.

Here’s Grace’s son John from 1970, now a 48-year-old father of three wonderful girls. Images like this that might have otherwise been lost can be rediscovered thanks to the services provided by Film Rescue.
Courtesy of Grace Schaub

Needless to say the images you receive back can be a wonderful surprise and bring back memories you thought were long gone, or that you never had, good or bad. What this service does show is that there can be new life for old films, and that the images made on film long forgotten can be a delightful look into the past that you might otherwise have never seen.

Rescuing Old Films: The Human Touch
When we contacted the folks at Film Rescue we requested some other sample images they had processed for their customers. What we got back was a wonderful “backstory” from Mr. Andrew Mazloom from Clinton, New York, along with some of the images he had Film Rescue process. It served as a reminder of the amazing ability of photographic images to rekindle memories, to bring back thoughts of years gone by and of those who were such an important part of our lives.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Mazloom

Mr. Mazloom wrote: “Mary, the mom in the beach photo, passed away in 1983. This is her on family vacation at Cape Cod around 1964-’65. Her husband died in 2006. His youngest daughter Catherine was charged with the estate and cleaning out the family home. No one was left in town so it was to be sold. Cathy and I both spent our summers in Old Forge, New York, are the same age, and are best friends. Our mothers are sisters so we are first cousins, but are more like brother and sister. We were 12 when her mom passed.

“As we cleaned out his house I stumbled upon undeveloped Super 8 film in his closet. It seemed like this would be a great surprise. July 4th is a de facto family reunion so I planned to get a public showing as soon as possible. My local lab apologized. They did not have the equipment or chemicals needed for such old film development. Searching the web, I sent it to possibly the only place in America where it could be done. They fell on hard times and went bankrupt. It took over two years to get my film returned.

“Film Rescue International did everything right. They even helped with the Codec! July 4th was a huge hit and a fantastic surprise.

“Later in the week Cathy’s 4 year old was playing with his cars. He had set up a whole village using whatever he found around the house. I picked up the ‘gas station’ and realized this old coffee tin wasn’t empty. It was full of undeveloped stills from our stored goods. He found what I had missed. There was only one place to send these.

“These guys developed the film and put it all online to see if I wanted any. If not, no charge! Lucky for me because Peter was able to see them right before he passed on. These photos helped rebuild a few family bridges. I can’t thank them enough!

“The lad in this shot, Peter, was born in November 1960. He is pictured with his grandfather, Papa Wurz. It must have been around 1966. Peter suddenly passed on last Saturday. These photos brought back some warm memories.

“I hope this story helps you get an idea of how important their work is, getting these things developed. It’s a huge part of our lives up here in the Adirondacks. Enjoy them!”

That pretty much sums up the service this company supplies, and we are glad to share it with you.

For more information, contact Film Rescue at: www.filmrescue.com.

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