I took a series of photos yesterday that are generally grainy, have inconsistent colour shifts and have soft detail (I can't see as much as I'd expect in facial details, for instance).

Low definition, High grain, Purple colour, Strong shadows Original image at Flickr

My film is Kodak UltraMAX 400 (although I took some photos with Kodak Portra that were in-date, that were equally foggy). The film is approximately 2 years old and was kept in a drawer. I developed them myself in not-so-perfect conditions, although I timed and temperature regulated them. The equipment is a 1960s Canon 50mm lens and AE-1. The developer is probably ancient (1 year +) and sediment was gathering.

I'm not concerned about the light leaks, creases, smudges or developer left-over.

Can I expect more definition from film (partic. Kodak UltraMAX?) Or was my process or equipment to blame?

  • \$\begingroup\$ How fresh or old was the film? Who developed it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jul 10, 2017 at 4:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ The film's probably a bit old. I'm unsure now, but it's been to China and back with me, gone through heat and cold for probably two to three years now since purchase. \$\endgroup\$
    – yeeeeee
    Jul 10, 2017 at 10:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ The first and only list I can give you is: Post an image. Ask about the specific problem. Regarding your question... You can not focus on "N" problems, focus on what needs to be done right. You say foggy. Was the lens clean? "Grainy (even though they're in focus)" Grain has nothing to do with focus. Did you develped the film? Did you check the "proper" way to do it? Did you use the correct temperature? Was the film expired? \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    Jul 10, 2017 at 10:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rafael, is there a reason you deleted your answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – yeeeeee
    Jul 10, 2017 at 10:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Here's an example of my photos: flickr.com/gp/152514573@N05/hF25B1 I'll start a new question, however. \$\endgroup\$
    – yeeeeee
    Jul 10, 2017 at 11:10

3 Answers 3


The most likely explanation is: Substandard developing circumstances. Color film processing is a bit more demanding than its black & white counterpart. First, all the chemicals of the process must be operating at full potency. Second, the time/temperature specification of the process must be strictly followed.

The timing and temperature of the developer is based on the film’s infusion rate. The blue sensitive emulsions are on top, followed by the green emulsions; the red emulsions are underneath. The temperature determines the scope of the swelling of the gelatin binder. This controls the diffusion rate. If the diffusion rate is not at specification, one or more of the emulsion layers will be over or under developed.

The cyan, magenta, and yellow dyes are nearly colorless until developed. They blossom to full color only if conditions are right. These dyes are highly pH dependent, particularly the cyan dye. If the pH is wrong, the cyan dye is scrawny and this results in a warm color balance.

The bleach-fix (or bleach) must do its job to completion, otherwise metallic silver remains and veils the colors. The bleach action is dependent on the presence of dissolved oxygen in the waters of the bleach. This oxidizes the iron component giving the fluid its red coloration. Also, the pH is critical lest the cyan dye reverts to its leuco (colorless) state.

Although your film problem is difficult to diagnose, I suggest re-bleaching. This might help your film by reviving the cyan dye, and this, hopefully, will improve the color balance.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So rebleaching at 102F for 6 1/2 minutes. That won’t further damage the film? \$\endgroup\$
    – yeeeeee
    Jul 11, 2017 at 2:16
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The bleach and or bleach/fix is not actually a bleach as most might think. This bleach seeks out metallic silver and converts it to a compound of silver. This action setup the fixer so it can go to work and flush out all the now complexed silver. The second time around often restores the cyan dye. This is especially true if the bleach is good. OK to re-bleach followed by the fix or re-bleach/fix. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 11, 2017 at 4:47

Increased grain and color shift are a sure sign of expired film. Many people shoot this way on purpose (see the Lomography movement :)

To answer the question: yes, you can expect more definition from film. Fresh film and professional development help. A bit more resolution can be had from pro grade negative films (Portra/Ektar) then from consumer ones (Ultramax / Gold). This can be yet further improved by shooting slide film. Medium format is another ballpark (size matters).

A bit of caution: while you can improve resolution significantly you will not get results comparable to those of modern full frame or even APS-C digital cameras from 35mm film. You might instead want to learn to love your results as they are and call their deficiencies "character".

Also note: the sample image was shot in pretty crappy light - harsh sunlight & deep shadows. A softer light would bring out more facial details even with all other things being equal.


Better than some on line reference is to stop and actually think about it. Think about how a film camera works to expose frames, but otherwise keep the film in the dark.

Different problems show up in different ways. Is the sprocket area exposed, for example? Is there a streak in the same place in every picture? Are there regular streaks, but in different locations each picture?

Film gives you many clues. Look at the symptoms carefully, then think about how they could have been caused. Even if you can't say what the cause is for sure, many possible causes can be eliminated by a set of symptoms.

If you still can't figure it out, then post images of your film here. Be sure to include a strip of a few frames long at least showing the whole film, not just the scanned frames.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I figured out some of the last frame smudges were my fingers loading the film and developing it, but the earlier frames (loaded first) don't have any of these problems. They're just grainy with a purple colour-shift. My guess is that it's expired film and bad developer (maybe also inconsistent temperature and timing). I just wish I knew it more specifically than that. This is my first ever roll, so I don't know what I can expect (particularly from Kodak UltraMAX 400). Is the softness the lens? Examples: flickr.com/gp/152514573@N05/Nw8sxm \$\endgroup\$
    – yeeeeee
    Jul 10, 2017 at 12:16

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