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I'm fairly new to photography on an actual film camera. I went ahead and bought a Kodak Ultra F9.

I'm sure this gets asked a lot but on the first roll I had accidentally hit the rewind button and opened up the back to investigate for a few seconds before closing it. Later of course I found out that was NOT the right thing to do.

The second roll I was all finished and had made sure I did not open the camera until it was ready. To make a long story short I opened the camera, thinking it was completely rewound, and it wasn't. I did eventually get it and shipped them both to a lab to be scanned.

Both times I opened the camera were inside with dim lighting and closed within seconds. I know there is not much hope for a couple exposures, but I am worried the entire roll of film will come back destroyed with light leaks on all of them. I am just worried and excited because developing film does cost a bit of money and I'm wondering if it will come back completely blank and not useful.

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  • Expect the film to be totally exposed - all images will be completely black. Be pleasantly surprised if you find some that are still salvageable.
    – FreeMan
    Jun 30 at 17:47
  • Do please come back and post the outcome.
    – osullic
    Jul 1 at 8:51

4 Answers 4

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  1. Unexposed film that remained in the film cassette should be unaffected.
  2. The film that was fully exposed to external light will be completely obliterated, with no visible image.
  3. The film that was on the take-up spool may be unaffected, or it may show some light damage around the edges. The closer the film is to the outside layer, the more likely the light damage.

Here is a typical example of light-leak damage. Note the exposure along the long edge, and the evidence of more light coming through the sprocket holes than in the area in-between holes.

Light leak evidence.

That shot might be salvageable with cropping — it was fairly deep on the take-up spool!

But this is how it will look closer to the surface of the take-up spool. I think this was the next layer below the totally exposed surface layer.

enter image description here

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  • You probably want to note that your examples look more like light leak damage caused by a very thin crack (so small it probably can't even be seen with the naked eye) or tiny pinhole in the body of the camera. They don't look anything like what happens when the back of the camera is opened for several seconds outside during daylight hours unless they were in the middle of the takeup spool that had an entire roll of film wound very tightly onto it.
    – Michael C
    Jun 30 at 15:39
  • @MichaelC and yet, opening the back of the camera is precisely what happened to those shots! And rolls I shot before and after with the same camera were unaffected, sorta poking a hole in the "pinhole in the body" theory. Jun 30 at 21:26
  • OK. Thanks for the clarification. Was the sun above the horizon when this happened, or was it dusk or even twilight?
    – Michael C
    Jul 1 at 11:15
  • @MichaelC: From the image, you can see that it was under a large tree canopy, without really any direct sunlight. It looks like it was a gray day, too! But it was certainly daytime. Jul 4 at 4:08
  • Yes, one can see through the trees that the sky has some light. But, depending in the length of exposure and aperture, one can get a similar result during twilight shortly after the sun has set. That's why I asked for more specifics. The sky was considerably darker than it looks in this 3.2 seconds exposure at f/3.2 taken about one-half hour after sunset.
    – Michael C
    Jul 6 at 15:35
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Any exposures that were fully exposed to light when opened are likely destroyed or washed-out, but any fully inside the canister or within the reel (not visible) of the take-up reel should be OK.

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  • Destroyed as in not visible at all or have light damage on them? Jun 29 at 16:38
  • @wormsforbreakfast Not visible at all.
    – Michael C
    Jun 29 at 17:05
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Undeveloped film records a photo by chemically reacting to light. Even after it has been exposed properly in the camera, it remains sensitive to additional light until it has been "fixed" at the end of the development process.

Used properly in a camera the amount of light allowed to shine on the film is comparatively small. Film needs to be very sensitive to light in order to allow taking photos using short exposure times that typically range from 1/60-1/1000 seconds or even shorter while only allowing light to shine on it through a small hole (the entrance pupil of the lens).

When the back of a camera is opened in an environment with pretty much any light present the amount of light striking the film is MUCH greater than what is typically allowed through a lens. With no lens and light box controlling how much light is allowed to shine on the film, effectively you're at near zero focal length lens with a near infinitely large aperture. The light is also allowed to shine on the film for MUCH longer that is the case for a typical shutter duration that is only fractions of a second long.

Any parts of the film that are exposed to direct light when the back of the camera is opened will be completely fogged. That is, when developed the negative will turn completely opaque and not allow any light to pass through.

Parts of the film that are inside the film cannister should be protected as long as the felt around the opening that the film passes through is not damaged.

Parts of the film that are wound on the camera's takeup spool are what might or might not be safe. It all depends upon several factors:

  • Does the takeup spool have discs on the ends of the shaft to prevent light from leaking into film from above and below it?
  • Is the takeup spool recessed into the main body of the camera in such a way that when the back is open it's still in shadow?
  • How tightly is the film wound onto the takeup spool? Is it allowed to uncoil when the camera back is opened? The tighter the film is wound, the less light will be allowed to reach the part of the film in the middle closest to the spindle of the takeup spool.
  • How bright was the light in the environment when the back of the camera was opened? "Dim" lighting could be anything from a room illuminated with a 100W bulb, which will probably completely ruin all of the film outside the film cannister, to a room with a single candle burning on the other end of it, which would take several seconds to do any serious fogging of the film wound up on the takeup spool. That's a huge range.
  • For how long was the camera back open? One-half second? Four or five seconds? Ten or twenty seconds? That's a pretty wide range as well.

The main thing to learn from this experience is to never open the back of your camera unless you are SURE the film has been wound back into the film cannister.

If there's any doubt at all, then only open the back in a completely dark room, such as an interior room with no windows and a rolled up towel blocking any light from shining in under the bottom of the door and feel with your fingers to see if the film has been rewound or not. Or you can use what is known as a changing bag that was used back in the days before roll film came protected inside light proof cassettes. Larger and medium format film cameras still use film that is best loaded in complete darkness. Changing bags are made of solid, opaque material and have arm holes with elastic that hold the material tightly against the user's arms.

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  • Not a single light was on for the very first roll in the room I was in. The sun was still out but the shades I have up make it look like it's near night. Jun 29 at 19:19
  • 3
    @wormsforbreakfast I don't think you realise just how light-sensitive film is. Exposures are generally fractions of a second. If you open the camera back, (even dim) light is essentially flooding the film.
    – osullic
    Jun 29 at 20:05
  • @wormsforbreakfast If the light was bright enough for you to see anything at all, it was bright enough to totally expose any film directly exposed to it. The only question is how much of it got into the film wrapped around the takeup spool in layers. You asked a question. We've given you a reasonable answer based on many years of hard-earned experience. If you aren't going to believe anyone when they don't tell you what you want to hear, then why even ask?
    – Michael C
    Jun 30 at 14:53
  • I do believe you. I don't think I stated anywhere that I didn't believe you. I appreciate the long answer and I commented further about the light situation to see if that meant anything of value. Again, I'm very new to this. I'm sorry that I did not walk in knowing everything. Is that why you responded? Just to slide in how many years of hard-earned experience you have? Congratulations. Jun 30 at 15:12
  • My apologies if that's how my comment above sounded. It just seems that each time more than one different user here has told you the harsh reality, you've responded with doubt that what any of us say is correct because it's not the answer you want.
    – Michael C
    Jun 30 at 15:41
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Simple! Anything exposed to direct light will be washed up and unusable. Anything left in the plastic casing that has not seen the extra light will be ok.

The plastic casing of a film is supposed to provide a light tight holder, so that the film held inside it does not get contaminated. Even if exposed to light, the film inside the holder is fine! When sent for development, the entire holder is removed from the camera and brought to the development studio. This happens in broad day light and none of the photos are corrupted.

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