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I have just received a roll of film back from a lab and it had very low density, it was almost clear everywhere except the leader. I haven't used this lab before as I have always processed my own film. I don't like to assume they made a mistake but I can't think of anything that could cause this other than underdevelopment.

The film was Ilford Pan F, a 50 ISO film, that I think may have been processed using times for a faster film.

I couldn't have simply underexposed the film as the manufacturer markings are almost non-existent, though the leader is opaque.

The film was expired, though I don't think it was by a long time, and as I understand it a slow black and white film should be less susceptible to expiration than other types.

It was also left in the camera for some time, though if this was an issue I would have expected the film to come back darker due to light leaks, not lighter.

I also don't think it's likely to be a problem with the film as Ilford's quality control has always been great as far as I know.

So was this a mistake by the lab or could something else have caused this?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does your film have the veiled portion? The beginning of the roll? That part is surely exposed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    Commented Feb 19 at 4:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure what you mean by veiled portion? If you mean the leader, the part of the film that originally extended out of the cartridge, then yes, that was fully exposed and is the only part of the film that is dark. \$\endgroup\$
    – axevalley
    Commented Feb 19 at 10:23

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It was also left in the camera for some time

This is likely the problem, depending on how long you mean by "some time". Ilford Pan-F has an exceptionally low latent image stability. That is, the exposed image fades away relatively quickly and needs to be developed promptly. Ilford recommends processing the film within three months of exposure.

Similarly, the manufacturer edge markings fade away, so those can't be used to gauge proper development when it comes to this particular film. I have developed cold-stored Pan-F that hadn't even reached its expiry date, and still the edge markings were very faint. The images were fine, because there was only a week or two between exposure and development.

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It’s often difficult to determine why film comes back from the lab with low density.

That being said, most likely is under exposure due a camera setting error.

Common lab errors: Under developing via too short a developing time. Weak or contaminated chemicals. A power failure occurred, and the operator tried to rescue films in the developing machine and yours got pulled out of developer too soon. No way to know for sure, this is just a partial list.

All that being said, all films have edge printing. In other words, the edges of developed film display frame numbers, batch numbers, manufactures name, and likely barcode. These markings are exposed during manufacture. The edge printer uses light and mask and exposes letters, numbers, and symbols.

This edge printing is quire helpful, if the edge printing is dark and well defined, it likely proves the developing procedure is not to blame. What I am telling you, look at the film and examine the edge printing and compare this roll of film with other films with “good” density. Perhaps this examination will tell you if its pilot error setting the camera or a lab error.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the edge printing is what the question references when it says, "...the manufacturer markings are almost non-existent..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 21 at 14:30
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I contacted the lab I used used I was informed that, unusually for slow black and white film, Ilford Pan F is particularly suceptable to expiration and storage condidtions and that these results are common for this film.

On researching this I have found that when expired the film doesn't tend to show the usual signs of expiration, such as fogging, but that when exposed the latent image doesn't last long.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your research as to latent image shifting is false. Most of the latent image shifting takes place within two days of exposure and continues slowly after that. Your thin negatives are due to improper camera setting or improper developing. Again, I urge you to look at the edge printing, if those numbers and symbols are quite legible the problem is camera setting. If the edge printing has lower density, it's the lab's processing that is at fault. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 20 at 15:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AlanMarcus Pan-F has notoriously bad latent image stability, and, in its particular case, the edge markings can't be used to gauge development, because they tend to fade away from the film as well. Ilford recommends developing the film within three months from exposure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steadybox
    Commented Feb 21 at 10:54

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