Every now and then my parents present me with an old camera they’ve discovered at a car boot sale or some Freecycle giveaway. This is how last year I came to own a Kodak Bantam Colorsnap II, which were produced from 1959 to 1961. Old Kodak amateur cameras are pretty much ten-a-penny so I wasn’t initially very excited until I spotted that there was a half used film loaded. “I’ll do something with that”, I thought and then promptly put the camera in the back for a cupboard and forgot about it.
A few weeks ago I was having a clearout ahead of my temporary relocation to Manchester, and rediscovered the Bantam. This time I determined that I really must do something with the camera, and this week, having a couple of days off work, I decided to get on with it.
The first thing to do was work out what film was actually sitting in the camera. With the frame number on the backing paper showing through the red window on the back, I wound the film through and could read clearly that it was Kodak Verichrome Pan, a black and white film that I knew I could develop at home. At this point I hadn’t done my research and didn’t know what size film it was, but made some vague assumption it’d be a roll of 127 which I’d be able to get on my adjustable developing spool.
Popping out for a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry, I took the camera with me and decided to try taking a picture. I’d wound the film on a bit to make sure I didn’t ruin anything that might still be preserved on the roll after all these years, arriving at frame 8. At the entrance of the museum I could see the skyline-dominating Beetham Tower sticking out from behind part of the Air and Space Hall so decided to take a view of that. Knowing the film was probably 50+ years old and likely reduced in sensitivity, I decided to expose the shot more than the directions on the camera indicated. Photograph taken, I wound the film on and discovered that was the end of the roll.
After I’d taken a good look around the Destination Stations exhibit I sat down in the museum cafe and opened the camera. The film was much smaller than I’d been expecting, so I looked the camera up on line and discovered it uses a format called 828, which has been discontinued since the 1980s. Fortunately it’s essentially just 35mm film without the perforations, and so that meant I could develop it with the equipment I have.
I nipped into The Real Camera Co to buy some developer – they only had some stuff called Paranol S, so I bought that and set about researching what kind of developer it actually was (a Rodinal clone as it turns out) and how long I’d need to process the film for.
Armed with that knowledge, I dug my developing tank and equipment out of boxes and checked my makeshift darkroom was light tight. It’s an internal bathroom off of an internal hallway so past sunset there were no problems. With some trepidation, and with the equipment out before me, I turned off the light (and put my phone outside the room in case a sudden message notification should flash up the screen and ruin everything).
Unravelling the roll, the film came away from the backing paper easily enough, I carefully snipped off the tape holding them together, but the film itself was very short and very tightly curled up. It really did not want to flatten out and I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to wrangle it onto the spool. Finally with the lid on the tank, I was able to put the light back on.
I made up the Paranol S at 20 degrees celsius to a 1+25 mix, and gave the film 9 minutes in it, with an agitation every 30 seconds. A couple of minutes in the stop bath, then 5 minutes fixing, and a few minutes rinse at the end. With the wet bit over with, and a great deal of excitement, I opened the tank, and removed the film from the spiral.
The first thing I noticed was my photograph from earlier in the day at one end of the film, a little dense, but easily identifiable and I knew it would scan alright. At the other end of the film I only saw one photograph initially, a group of people, and was disappointed that’s all there was. On closer inspection I could see some sort of very faint image on another two frames, but most of the middle of the film was essentially a splodgy sort of transparent.
I let the film dry, cut it into two strips and powered up my Epson V550 scanner. As I loaded the strips onto the 35mm caddy I realised the top and bottoms of the frames would be slightly cropped off but given how springy the film was I’d have to go with it to try and keep it flat. With bated breath, I began the scan process…
My biggest surprise was the difference in image quality between my picture taken on the day and the ones originally on the film. My photograph looks fairly reasonable in quality, a little soft and grainy perhaps, but significantly better than the cracked, blotchy images from years ago. Time clearly hasn’t been kind on the film. The middle two photos are from the extremely thin negatives, I think I was lucky to get any kind of scan at all from them.
Part of me wonders whether the negative might have been stuck together in the tank and the developer held back from processing it properly, because of how difficult it was to load. I also wonder whether a different processing technique or different chemicals might have given a better result, but there’s not much I can do about that now.
I am glad however to have recovered something from this film, and also quite pleased to find pictures of people, who seem to be having a pleasant time whatever it is they’re doing. I wonder who these folks actually were? Their clothes seem to date the photographs back to the early 60s as I’d suspected, which means some of those people were likely born whilst Queen Victoria was still on the throne. Quite odd to have them on one end of the negative and the Beetham Tower on the other end.
Hopefully I’ll stumble on some more used film at some point, bringing a picture into existence that’s been hidden for years, with neither the photographer nor the sitters every seeing it, is a little bit magic.