i've recently bought Canon AL-1 with macro lens 35-70. I used some cheap kodak film, with ISO 400. Yesterday I went to some photography studio so they would scan my 35mm film. But when I got it back it was only develeoped and not scanned because it looked like nothing is on the film. Later we checked the film out with the employee and it looked like something is on, but it's really pale and hard to see. I'm still waiting for the CD with my photos.

Does anybody know what could be wrong here?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you remember how you setup the exposure (aperture, shutter speed)? And in which setting did you take the shots? Possibly you over- or underexposed the film to an unrecoverable degree. Was the developed film bright or dark? \$\endgroup\$
    – Grebu
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 10:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ The shutter speed was 1000, 500 and 250. And the aperture I'm not sure, but it was probably too dark. \$\endgroup\$
    – Urdz
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 10:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The meter was on 15." 15 what? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 0:00

3 Answers 3


If a negative is pale and hard to see, then it means that not enough light reached the film. Basically, the pictures were grossly underexposed.

Unfortunately, with film you don't get any feedback until the whole roll is developed. There may possibly be something mechanically wrong with the camera, the auto-exposure system of your camera, or most likely, bad settings.

You didn't say what kind of camera and what capabilities the Canon AL-1 has (brief descriptions are useful, most people don't know most camera), so its hard to be specific. With no film in the camera, open the back, point the camera at something bright like the sky, and check that you can see a flash of light thru the back when it takes a picture. That tells you the basic stuff is working, like the mirror not stuck in down position, shutter operating, etc.

Otherwise, do a sanity check on the exposure system and expose a few frames manually. Even if you're off by a couple of f-stops either way, you will still get some recognizable result. Blank negatives means the picture was grossly underexposed, not just by a couple of stops.

The basic rule of thumb is that for a normal sunlit scene, set the shutter speed to 1/ISO, and the aperture to f/16. Since you are using ISO 400 film, that means 1/400 second exposure at f/16. That would be the same, for example, as 1/200 second and f/22. Bright sand or snow will require less exposure, dark objects more, but this is a good starting point that will definitely cause quite recognizable pictures.

After taking a few pictures manually in full sunlight conditions, switch to automatic and see what the camera tries to do. If it's within a stop or two and changes with the brightness of the object you are pointing the camera at, then the auto exposure system is probably working. If not, then there is your problem. Even if it shows you the right settings, take a few pictures to make sure it actually uses those settings.

Record the details of each picture carefully, so that when you get the developed roll back you can hopefully narrow down what is wrong if you still have a problem. Don't bother getting scans or prints, just have the negatives developed. For testing the camera, you can look at those directly. That will be much cheaper.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Whoever downvoted this, I'd really like to understand what you think is wrong, misleading, or badly written. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 11:59

If a negative is pale and hard to see, then it means that not enough light reached the film. There could be a number of reasons for this. For one reason or another, the image is underexposed. When you get the CD with the photos, I would imagine that the images will be very very dark.

The actual exposure time was too fast or the aperture was too small. Did you meter with the camera, use any automatic settings or did you shoot with manual settings? If you used manual settings, how did you meter? Have you got a digital camera where you can set the same settings and take the same shots if you shoot another roll of film? For each frame on the film, take a photo with the digital camera of the same composition, or as close as possible, and with all the same settings that were used on the AL-1. This might be able to give a comparison when you get the next film developed.

Are you sure that the aperture is changing when you change the settings on the camera?

Another thing to check is to ensure that the camera body knows you were shooting with ISO400 film. If the camera was set to ISO800 for example, it's going to think that the exposure time is going to need to be faster than it actually is, whereas ISO400 film inside is actually slower to respond to the light than the ISO800 that the camera is expecting.

I don't think it's the film that's at fault here. There is also the possibility that something went wrong in the film processing. I'd suggest trying the same type of film again with similar settings, and getting it developed somewhere else if possible to help eliminate that as a possibility.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you so much, this is really helpful. I'll probably take notes on the next film on what aperture and shutter speed I used. On AL-1 I took shoots when meter was on 15. The shutter speed was usually on 500 or 250, I didn't change it a lot. Is this maybe the problem? I set ISO on 400 like the film wanted to. I'm new to all this so I think it's understandable it was all my fault. \$\endgroup\$
    – Urdz
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 10:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Urdz It's difficult to know without knowing all the settings including how much ambient light there was. If you're starting out, I would always recommend bracketing. You'll need to research this separately, but basically for each composition, take 3 images...one with the metered settings, and one with one stop over and one stop under. Eg if the aperture is at f8, take 3 images at f8, one where it's metered at 1/250s, then one either side, eg one at 1/500s, and one at 1/100s. You could even go two stops either side. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 10:54
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Urdz the best way to learn is to experiment. Remembering or writing down what settings you used for each image will help you to understand what you need to adjust for future images. It's certainly not your 'fault'...it's your learning process, and with film it seems more difficult because there is always the cost and the time delay, and not being able to see the results instantly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 10:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Dark areas on a negative would prevent light from hitting the paper during printing, leaving that area white. Clear or very light areas let light hit the paper, turning it dark during developing. So when you say If a negative is pale and hard to see, then it means that too much light reached the film, you've got it backward. \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleb
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 12:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Caleb yes I think I have...my bad. I will read my answer again and correct it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 12:46

Another possibility, but unlikely, is that the lab did not develop sufficiently. The way to determine that is to look to the sides of the film. There should be fully developed lettering or numbering. If that is missing, the lab made an error. If the lettering is readable and dark, the labwork was ok and your exposure was off. From your description, off by a few stops.

It pays to learn the old rules of thumb - daylight midday at 16 at the reciprocal of your film speed... there are online lists that will doublecheck exposure so you won't be wayyy off.

There's also the possibility of mechanical issues, so a test roll is in order. Don' t lose shots you want to a potentially bad shutter or diaphragm.


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