I am scanning 35mm negatives of old family photos and came across a roll I can't make sense of. The images are all printed upside down. What's more confusing, though, is that they appear in reverse order on the roll. The last photo taken appears at frame 0, and the first photo is at the end of the roll at frame 25. How could this have happened? Is there any way the film could have been loaded into the camera incorrectly, or could this be due to a manufacturing error?

ETA: Here is a picture of a couple of frames from this roll of film. You can see that the images are upside down, but the frame numbers appear normal. The image in frame 2 was taken before the image in frame 1.

backwards negatives

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    What difference does it make? If you're scanning them you'll get them corrected. Aug 17, 2017 at 1:55
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    @GordonStogre It might make little difference, but it's a perfectly valid question. Asking questions and seeking to understand how things work, where errors can creep into processes, and general inquisitiveness, should be encouraged. This site is all about providing answers to good questions.
    – scottbb
    Aug 17, 2017 at 3:04
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    I don't suppose you know what camera was used? Aug 17, 2017 at 8:10
  • Stranger is the fact that you appear to have a giant yellow lego brick on your head.
    – Strawberry
    Aug 17, 2017 at 12:13
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    @Strawberry Cheese hat - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheesehead
    – meklarian
    Aug 17, 2017 at 14:21

7 Answers 7


Some models of 35mm film cameras, upon loading advance all the film from the cassette on to a take-up spool. For these models, the first picture is taken on the end of roll, likely about frame # 36 or # 24. As you take pictures, the film advance actually rewinds the film back into the cassette. This scheme was used on a few models, it protected exposed film from accidental damage should the camera back be accidently opened.

The other stuff, upside down or even inverted left for right might be due to the film inserted upside down in the scanner.

Lots of strange stuff in this business!

Addendum: As a veteran of the photofinishing business I think I have seen it all. The one that was most weird. The film was loaded so the base side faced the lens. The photographer over-exposed so heavily, printable images were exposed through the base side. The images were inverted left to right.

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    Thank you for your answer. I added a picture of the film to my original post, to show how to upside down images aren't related to how it was inserted into the scanner. No one in my family recalls ever owning a camera that would advance all the film on the roll when it was loaded, and I have no other rolls where the first image appeared in the last frame, so this seems unlikely.
    – shannon27
    Aug 17, 2017 at 3:44
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    @ Shannon27 --- As per Mr. Clark, I had forgotten that many one-time-use cameras came with the film preloaded and returned the film to the cassette as pictures were taken. It is not uncommon that a single use camera was held upside down. Anyway, all cameras, film and digital, receives an upside down image from the lens. If the camera was held upside down, the image on the film would be inverted as to the expected orientation. Aug 17, 2017 at 5:17
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    Since my last comment, my mother has recalled that we did have a Kodak Star 835AF camera, which appears to do the auto winding you described after all. And I have found a few more rolls from the same time period with upside down images, although based on the subject matter I can't confirm the images started at the final frame and ended on the first. It seems likely, though. Thank you for your helpful answer!
    – shannon27
    Aug 17, 2017 at 18:16
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    @ shannon27 - I cannot confirm that the Kodak Star 835AF advanced all the film upon loading and returned film to the cassette as it was exposed. I do know it had a battery operated film advance. For me, its a tossup that this explains the backwards frame numbers. Also, every camera image up side down, that's the nature of all camera lenses. Aug 17, 2017 at 18:40
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    Almost all of those compacts with motorized film advance (pretty much all of them after about 1990 or so) used the preload method. I can't recall actually seeing one that did not.
    – Michael C
    Aug 17, 2017 at 20:54

You say in a comment to another answer that the camera used could not have been a pre-loaded disposable compact. But that is how the film was loaded in more than a few varieties of them. The film was transported through them 'upside down' from left to right and the lightproof cassette was used as the takeup spool. The cassette was also upside down compared to more conventional usage so that they didn't need to be 'mirror image' versions of the very common film cassette.

The cassette was the takeup spool situated 'upside down' to the right of the light box, rather than to the left of the light box as is the case with most 35mm cameras. The film was wound onto the open 'takeup spool' situated to the left, rather than the traditional right, side of the light box. As each exposure was made the film was wound back into the cassette.

In effect, these types of disposable cameras were simply traditional cameras that were flipped 180° and then the controls were moved to the 'top' of the 'upside down camera.' The film was then wound onto the takeup spool without exposing it and then wound back into the cassette as it was shot.

The scheme mentioned in the first paragraph of this answer was used in more than just a few models at the end of the film era. All of the EOS film camera bodies beginning in 1987 did it. So did Konica's models that had built-in film winder motors that began appearing in the early 1980s. Almost all 35mm disposable cameras were (and still are) preloaded with the film out of the cassette. Pretty much any of the electronic 35mm compacts with motorized film advance that came out in the late 1980s and later did it as well. Prior to the early 1980s it was rare, but after it first appeared a LOT of camera makers adopted it.

One could take any SLR or compact 35mm "automatic" that was sold during the late 1980s or 1990s that 'preloaded' the film onto the takeup spool and then wound the film back into the cassette as it was shot and get the same pictures. You just need to hold the camera upside down as you shoot the roll.

Another possibility is that the pictures were shot using a "super secret spy lens" with a 45° angled mirror. You know, the kind you used to see advertised in comic books to take pictures of unsuspecting people like bikini clad young ladies at the beach?

enter image description here

When the "spy lens" is attached to the front of the camera's actual lens via the filter threads there's a hole in the side of the add-on 'barrel' that admits light which is then reflected by the mirror into the actual lens. There's a fake 'lens' on the front of the "spy lens" so it looks like you're pointing the camera in one direction while you're actually taking a picture of something 90° to the left or right of the camera.

By using a camera with such a "spy lens" attached and the hole rotated to point towards the top or bottom of the camera and then pointing the camera straight up in the air the images would be 'upside down' and reversed.

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    I wonder if this might imply (in context) that someone did shoot a camera/roll upside down to compensate for being strongly left-hand dominant.
    – meklarian
    Aug 17, 2017 at 4:22
  • Could be.......
    – Michael C
    Aug 17, 2017 at 4:34
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    I doubt it is just the spy lens: it won't explain why it starts on slot 25 and end up in 1. I believe the roll itself was reversed (in the factory) so that it started on slot 25 and ended up on 1 (this explains both the reversal of the image, and the reversal of the slot numbers) Aug 17, 2017 at 13:18
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    @OlivierDulac Yeah, but the "super secret spy lens" idea is so much fun. And it is one possible explanation for the images being inverted.
    – Michael C
    Aug 17, 2017 at 20:51
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    There were enough motorized film advance cameras post about 1987 that preloaded the entire roll onto the takeup spool that the explanation for the reverse order can be easily explained completely independently from the upside down issue. Especially now that the likely camera used has been identified - A Kodak Star 835AF - that is exactly such a camera.
    – Michael C
    Aug 17, 2017 at 20:58

It's possible but rather unlikely that the film was loaded incorrectly into a 35mm camera. I can't think of any 35mm camera where it would be possible to load a roll of 35mm film upside-down due to camera bodies being designed to seat the roll of film and accommodate the flange where the film exits the film. Loading the film upside down would make it impossible to close the camera and should raise immediate doubt whether the camera was being loaded properly.

However, it is possible that the roll of film was used with an adapter in some other non-35mm system, such as a 645 medium format camera. Depending on the foreign system in use, it may be necessary to wind all of the 35mm film onto a secondary spool and then shoot backwards along the orientation of the film. In this scenario, it is possible that a 35mm film canister could be loaded upside down if the uptake spindles don't care about alignment of the grooves in the spindle of the 35mm film canister, or the entire assembly could be reversible as well (also possible in any system supporting a film back that could be rotated 90 degrees to either side of vertical). If your negatives have image exposure out into the sprocket hole margin, then it's quite likely they were shot this way.

Another possibility is that you're not handling 35mm film, but APS film. APS cameras spool all of the film on the camera into the body, up to the last available unexposed frame. This allowed APS camera users the possibility of shooting as little as a single frame and switching out the roll for a different roll (usually to change ISO).

Finally, if it is the orientation of prints that is off, and they were made with negatives spooled properly, then whomever printed that series of prints just had the negatives upside down or oriented improperly. In any case, if you have the negatives, you can rescan them or have them reprinted with the correct orientation. The only likely additional concern (besides the original photographer's technique) is a small loss of sharpness and contrast in the captured images caused by shooting through the wrong side of the base.

PS. If the negatives came from a self-contained unit, like a point-and-shoot disposable camera, it is possible there could have been a bad batch where the film was spooled upside down and backwards. I don't know anyone who has encountered this, but of course it isn't impossible. Given that many of these cameras were used for 4x6 prints, it's possible that anyone who used such a camera might not have noticed nor made any noise about the result.

  • Thank you. The camera used would not have been a non-35mm system with an adapter or a self-contained disposable. It would have been a basic point-and-shoot non-disposable camera. I was able to correct the orientation when I scanned, so my only concern now is curiosity about how the film came to be upside down and in reverse order. In all the rolls I've scanned, this is only one I've encountered like this.
    – shannon27
    Aug 17, 2017 at 3:41
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    Thanks for the clarification and sample image. Looks like it is a case as mentioned in Alan Marcus' answer, where the entire cartridge is spooled on load and then fed back into case (also as I mentioned for APS).
    – meklarian
    Aug 17, 2017 at 3:52

This must be a mistake at the factory. I'm in the middle of scanning a bunch of film, all from the same camera. Everything has been normal up until now, but I just encountered a few rolls with the exact problem you describe - the higher frames are the earliest chronologically. And the frames are "upside down". All this compared to film that was shot on the same normal SLR (pentax). AIUI the numbers are printed on the film before you buy it, so this must be an error at the factory where the film was rolled onto the spool backward.

I know it's tempting to blame a weird camera, but I can confirm the problem is with the film/factory.

Fuji film, fwiw.


A possibility:

In the factory, for some reason (they fell on the floor? they were looked at visually but put back upside down?) the roll (with its frames 1 to 25) was put in place in the wrong order, so that now the frame 25 is the first to appear. When you use that roll, you end up with what you describe: images look reversed, and start on frame 25 and end up on frame 1.

 [1 .... 25] (right side up)  --somehow flipped over-->   [25..... 1] (wrong side up)
             (sorry I can't write the numbers upside down on the 2nd one ^^)

Ie, the roll was with "the other side" facing the lens, and thus starts on the high numbers and ends on the low numbers, and the image, once you put the number the correct way, look reversed.

  • Unfortunately, I've since found 2 more rolls of film from the same general time period that also have upside down images. I can't completely confirm they are also in reverse order, though, since they were all shot at the same time of subjects where it'd be impossible to tell which came first (i.e., 12 photos of the same house.)
    – shannon27
    Aug 17, 2017 at 18:25
  • @shannon27: then it can be a batch with reversed films... that can happen too. Aug 17, 2017 at 18:27
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    Different types of film. One is Kodak Gold 400-5 film, and one is Kodak BP 160, so I'd assume they are not from the same batch.
    – shannon27
    Aug 17, 2017 at 18:31
  • @shannon27: then it is maybe the adapter scenario, from the above answer Aug 17, 2017 at 18:35

Are you completely sure that all your films were taken with the same camera?

For photography it is perfectly normal that all images are upside down on the film. This is how the light passes through the lens. On my old Canon EOS 100 I had to put in the film on the right side and it was moved to the left after exposure resulting in the very same situation as you saw in the attached image. The camera had a eletrical winder that moved the film after each image.

I remember an old manual camera where the film was put in on the left side and moved to the right after exposure. Moving the film was done by a lever that had to be pulled after each image. The lever moved the film and "armed" the shutter again.

Depending on the camera model the film would end up either with the numbers upside down just as the taken pictures of straight up while the images are still upside down.

I would assume that you simply have films taken with different cameras.

I once scanned some films for a friend that were exposed using a camera as mentioned in the answer from Alan Marcus. While the order of the images taken is from high numbers to low numbers, this does not affect being upside down or not.

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    I am definitely scanning negatives that were used in a variety of different cameras, and I don't know what all the cameras were. I have only come across 3 rolls now (out of almost 60) where the images are upside down relative to the numbers printed on the film. But all three of these are from the same general time period and were probably taken with a Kodak Star 835AF.
    – shannon27
    Aug 17, 2017 at 18:28

I can't believe the answers that I'm reading on these comments. Here's the correct answer. when your eyes look at someone they see them upside down just like the camera does. The brain then goes through a process that will change that to showing them right side up it has nothing to do with a camera it has to do with the way that our eyes see people which is basically upside down.

  • The negatives in question are an anomaly, most negatives have the people right side up in relation to the numbers. If what you are saying was true then all negatives would look like the ones in question.
    – Alaska Man
    Jul 10, 2020 at 2:39
  • Just to confuse you still further, the image on a camera film or sensor is also upside-down. It must either be a) a conspiracy or b) just how lenses work.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 21, 2020 at 8:48

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