Film Panic


Ruined shot

Two problems to deal with

It is not a situation that I find myself in often, but over the years I have had this happen to me three times. On Saturday, I was shooting an auction event in Sydney, and something went wrong. I have had experienced two problems prior in regards to film breaking in camera, the first is where the film splits lengthways and the more common is where the film breaks across the film.

Yes, I have has a split film! It was when I used self spooled film, or I should say a group of us photography nerds from school had an old film loader, and I believe that it was due to so old film being in it. I have never been brave enought to use a film loader ever since.

As to breaking across the film is far more common and can be either an issue with the tape at the end of the film not holding, or there is a feed issue. The first time I broke the film was in Canon camera with electronic wind. The unit malfunctioned and the part winding the film did its job and the film cassette winder didn't. The film that broke recently was due to the film detaching from the spool. I was given the film from a friend who had recently acquired, cured bulk film loader. He didn't stick the end on the little bit of original film on both sides, so it kept coming out of the end of the film cassette.

Having a plan

So, what to do if you think you have an issue? The first thing I will do is to rewind the film. If it has split, there rewind sound is very different to that of broken film, and to rewind will feel harder to do. If, on the other hand, the film has broken while been advanced, you will not be able to wind the film back into the canister, and the rewind feels like the film didn’t advance.

The split film issue is one that will be the easiest to get out of the camera, as you are still able to the rewind the film. The main problem is when you try to develop it. To be honest, I can't remember if I even tried, but if I had that issue today, and the photos we important enough to try saving them, it would be time for some tray development. (No, not easy and it is a cross between dip and dunk and submarines, but I think you would get something out of it.)

A broken film, or one that has just pulled off the spool presents its own problems, as in knowing if it is or the film has not been loaded correctly. This is why I check three or four times during the shoot that the rewind knob actually spins when you advance the film. Otherwise, and as I have often seen, people are likely to open the camera up and end up exposing the film and ruining any chances of saving the photos.

Now, how I handle a broken film depends on where I am and what I have to hand. To get the film sorted, you need to be able to do it in total darkness. So, either have a film change back handy, which in my case I did not, or the other option is to find a place that is totally dark. In my case, I was lucky to find the toilets were able to turn the light off.

Gille and Marc: Having managed to find a dark place and blocked as much light as possible, my phone went off and was very bright in the darkness. Those hoping to get lovely light flares if the film get some light will be disappointed.

So, getting my wife to block the toilets, I placed the camera and a black plastic film canister on the toilet lid and then turned the lights off. Now, this is like the blindfold game where you have to remember where everything is. Luck was on my side in regards to that, and I was able to find the camera, open the back and extract the film.

All was going well until my iPhone and Apple Watch decided to glow. I had just opened the back of the camera, and slammed it shut very quickly. Then, after I was dazzelled by the light from the techno gadgets, I knocked the canister off the toilet seat and spent a minute finding it. Finally, in what felt like a very long time I found it and managed to get the film safely into the canister.

I was happy with the photo called Man at auction. As we can see, except for the part of the frame exposed to light, the rest of the frame has come out, and in this example I could use the right side of the image.

Worth the effort

Bondi Beach scene

Save what you can, they are irreplaceable

Bondi Beach. Yes, the effort to save the file is worth it. Out of the 36 images, I lost 4 from the end of the film, another I can partially use, and the rest are just fine. Main point is not to panic, instead you need to deal with it!