I have a bit of a convoluted question, pretty much two in one. One part is about film-storage before it's sold to consumers, the other is about how susceptible film actually is to degradation. But I'll try to be as straightforward as possible:

The storage of (un-exposed/developed) film has been discussed to death. But after many hours of research throughout the recent months I found that it basically comes down to keeping it cool and dry. The details depend on different variables, but generally speaking film just degrades more quickly the higher the temperature and humidity it is in.

That's great and all, that we know this and that we, the consumers, know how to store our film. However, that raises a bunch of question (to me);

What happens to film after it comes out of the factory? - I assume during the first trip it will still be transported under the right conditions, if a manufacturer cares enough about their product. - But what happens as soon as it's distributed? - Does it get transported in warm vans? - Does it get stored in warehouses at average temperatures and in stores at even higher temperatures? - What about film that's made in the USA, transported to the EU and sold there or the other way around? - There are so many scenarios a roll of film can end up in.

Just to give an example; I have one shop in my city that has a few types of film (and they sell more types online) and they're quite a sizeable branch who seem to know their stuff. - I went to buy in person one time, it was cold outside, but when I walked into the shop I noticed that the air was sweltering, probably well above 20 degrees Celsius. I bought a roll of film anyway, but some time later I thought back and realized the film was right behind the counter, in the same air. - And who knows how long it sits on the shelf considering film doesn't just sell out like freshly baked bread every day. - Though, to be fair, I do not know if they actually have a cooler and just take out a few for when they're open. - And again; What if I buy it online and it's transported in a heated (or non-cooled, in the summer) mail-van or something?

The point being; We're all up in arms about how we store our films. But does it even matter when we don't even know what happened to it between the factory and our storage? - That raises a few more questions yet again;

  • Is film more resistant to degradation the fresher/newer it is? (i.e. Is it less vulnerable right out of the factory and until it's sold? As long as the amount of time is reasonable and it's well before the expiration-date.)

  • Does film degrade at different rates at different ages? (Such as, again, when it's fresh out of the factory as opposed to sitting on a store-shelf some time later.)

Of course, this is all speaking in general and of average situations. Things might again be different when the boxes of films are sealed in plastic, or maybe when you have hotter or colder countries and different levels of humidity, and so on and so forth.

But basically the question is; How much chance does film have to degrade between manufacturing and selling?

And as a related question; Do shops/stores/warehouses/etc. need to be responsible for the storage and quality of film-products? - And in case of bad results that can be boiled down to bad film from the start (which obviously is difficult to prove after the fact), cán they be held responsible for selling what is practically a faulty product?

Again, I hope this isn't too convoluted. I've tried to make it as concrete as possible. - Answers to all the sub-questions are welcome, but it all boils down to the one question in bold. - Thanks for reading.


6 Answers 6


It used to be a good policy for camera stores to keep fresh film in coolers - the one in Yodobashi in Tokyo was / is a popular photo location (I am not sure whether they are still open to business).

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There used to be very special film emulsions susceptible to fast degradation - the most famous probably being Kodak Aerochrome that had to be kept refrigirated at all times - but they are gone now.

For more ordinary (still pro grade) film the cold storage was of most importance for color reversal film, where any color shift would be final.

For negative film this is not such a huge problem, as a slight color shift can be corrected when printing. Consumer grade film (the yellow Kodak boxes displayed in touristy places) was designed to handle bad storage well.

B&W film is pretty robust, and with a few exceptions (infrared material and Ilford Pan F) should not develop degradation issues for months.

As for your secondary (it really should be separate) question of a manufacturer / distributor held responsible for a faulty product:

This happens from time to time. The standard practice is that your film gets replaced, very few questions asked, but nothing more - i.e. no damages or cost of reshoot.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, that's some interesting stuff. - Why were those film emulsion special, though? Did they do something in particular or were they just a different approach that was more problematic? - I've read more often that "pro grade" (More expensive?) film is more unstable, apparently due to the fact that professional work moves faster (making it less of a problem). So is it safe to assume what's cheaper, or not considered "professional", is less prone to change? (Or mostly.) - And yes, I also keep reading that B&W is a lot more resilient. \$\endgroup\$
    – MichaelAH
    Jan 21, 2018 at 3:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ The secondary question was more of a curiosity that I wondered about along with the main question. But thanks for adding to it anyway. - But, although I doubt there have been many catastrophic problems of many films just being so bad that everyone ended up with terrible results (though, you don't always know, is the thing), has there never been a case where it did happen that just batches of film were just neglected and sold as pretty much useless, after which maybe a company got sued or whatever? Be it a store, a distrubutor, a postal company, etc. - It's hard to believe everyone cares. \$\endgroup\$
    – MichaelAH
    Jan 21, 2018 at 3:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As for the special emulsions being less tolerant to bad storage: I see it as a classic engineering problem - when it (as so often does) proves impossible to have everything perfect, you choose a particular objective to optimize for, and try to keep the others OKish but not perfect. Pro grade films were optimized for color rendition (e.g. Fuji had 4 different slide films - optimized for vivid colors / Velvia, for natural colors / Provia, for flesh tones / Astia and tungsten balanced / T64) whereas consumer grade films were optimized for shelf life, with good but not perfect color rendition. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 21, 2018 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ As for liability for bad film: I have checked packaging of Kodak, Ilford and Fuji films, and they use pretty much the same fine print on liability limited to replacement of product. I suppose in as litigious country as the great US of A there must have been some lawsuit for the main manufacturers to converge on the same wording, but I am not aware of it... \$\endgroup\$ Jan 21, 2018 at 13:21

Film manufacturers classify films as "professional" or "consumer" films...or at least they used to, back when film was in high enough demand to warrant producing many more varieties. Professional films were designed to be stored cool until the day of exposure, and it was very common to see refrigerators in camera shops storing film for sale - I still see some. Consumer films were designed to reach their optimal colour balance without refrigerator storage - manufacturers were well aware that these films would sit on camera store shelves, and indeed sit in consumers' cameras for up to a year maybe before processing. As long as you kept the film expiration date in mind, and didn't store your camera in a car's glove compartment, things were generally fine.

Examples of professional/consumer films are Fujifilm Velvia, Astia and Provia which are/were professional reversal films, and Fujifilm Sensia which was the consumer "equivalent". Kodak had the Ektachrome family of professional reversal films (soon to be resurrected), while the consumer equivalents were branded "Elite Chrome".

In practice though...none of this is really critical. You say that "we're all up in arms about how we store our films"... I don't think it's quite that bad! You are way over-thinking it. A few hours, or days, in sub-par storage conditions is not going to have a noticeable effect on in-date film (unless you are doing some kind of critical scientific photography maybe). Just buy fresh film (i.e. from a reputable vendor with reasonable stock turnover, selling non-expired film), store it properly yourself, expose before the expiration date printed on the box and process promptly. There won't be anything whatsoever to worry about. (I mean, the storage of the film won't be anything to worry about - your skill as a photographer will be something to worry about, not least exposing properly.)

Here is some information from the Kodak publication KODAK Color Films: The Differences Between Professional Films and Films for General Picture-Taking:

All color films are manufactured in a similar manner. They are composed of several layers of complex emulsions made of different chemical compounds. Because these compounds tend to change slowly with time, all color films will age, beginning on the day that they are manufactured. As films age, their color balance and other characteristics may change slightly.

To provide films that meet the needs of different kinds of photographers, Kodak allows for this aging process during manufacture. Kodak builds a small manufacturing bias into films for general picture-taking to compensate for changes produced by typical storage conditions and delays between purchase and processing.

Regardless of the film type, you should use all films before the expiration date printed on the carton. You will also obtain the best quality when you process the film promptly after exposure.

Kodak professional films are close to optimum color balance when they are manufactured and packaged. The film will remain near this balance if it's stored as recommended in the instructions or on the film carton and processed before the expiration date on the carton.

Casual picture-takers usually buy one or two rolls of film at a time. One roll of film may remain in the camera at room temperature for several weeks or even months before processing.

Under normal temperature conditions of 24°C (75°F) or lower, Kodak color films for general picture-taking do not require refrigeration. Storing them at room temperature allows the film to mature to its aim color balance and speed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your very informational reply. - As for how people are on about storage, though; Just do one Google-search with something like "how to story film" and you'll have many articles and threads ranting on how you should practically lock your film in a cold and dry bunker. - That's why I put it that way. - Then you have people who are more like "Meh, just keep it dry at room temperature.", kind of like yourself. - But I'm always in the middle like "Well, which is it?". While trying to be level-headed and realistic about it. - I suppose I should just listen to Kodak. ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – MichaelAH
    Jan 21, 2018 at 4:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't recommend storing film at room temperature. I store my film in my freezer. But film does not go bad at the same rate as say, milk. If I go on holiday for 2 weeks, and bring a bunch of film with me, I don't worry too much about refrigerating the film for those 2 weeks, because I know I've kept it frozen for the preceding several months or years or whatever. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Jan 21, 2018 at 10:53

Film will degrade, period.

How fast? it depends on the storage conditions...

How can you tell if the film was delivered at the end of a shipment while driving a truck in endless traffic on a hot sunny day? How long did the shipment sit in the open air on the tarmac or hot pavement? Did the employee let the shipment boxes outside in the sun while doing other chores? Do you know if the store turned off the air conditioning on a weekend? Do you know if the fridge where the film sits failed or was not set at the correct temperature? Probably you can't know all of the variables. Manufacturers plan for a set of "standard" transport and storage conditions and set the expiration date based on that. If you buy and use the film within that period you can expect the film to behave according to spec. Just like milk doesn't go bad on the exact expiration day necessarily... It can be much earlier or later, but it will go bad for sure.

The most important part is that once you expose the film, avoid extreme heat and humidity, and develop it promptly, as it degrades faster than unexposed film.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Well yes, that's pretty much the questions I've asked... What happens to the film before the sale and are there any regulations. - Not to mention all the different evironments in the world, both in terms of nature and human nature (kind of like how the post-man could kick your package around). - But avoiding extreme heat and humidity. Yes, that much was clear. But some, even official sources, go on to say to keep it at such and such temperatures for so much time, etc. - Would you care to add roughly how much faster degradation increases when film has been exposed? \$\endgroup\$
    – MichaelAH
    Jan 21, 2018 at 4:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelAH Clarification: After a photographic emulsion has been exposed, the latent image gradually degrades over time; rates depending on the emulsion characteristics such as speed. For example: One exposed film, cut in two (in order to get identical duplicates to test), will show different images when processing is delayed for the second half image—such as diminished MTF. By "delay" the storage was using "best practices" for unexposed media. It would be accelerated by poor storage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Nov 5, 2019 at 20:58

We shot several thousand feet of ektachrome pro 16 mm movie film in Peru one summer. On the way back there was ONE day where it was stored at about 30 C (88F) It had about a 20Y cast to the colour of it.

On movie sets when shooting they used to have coolers to keep film magazines in. You wanted to minimize the colour shifts.

I used to buy my ektachrome pro in 100 foot roles and bulk load. I would buy it on a dry day, come home, load it into re-usable cassettes, put them in the film cans and keep them in the freezer. This way time would stop.

Another trick: When buying film check that all the boxes have a matching lot number. Shoot one roll get it developed. If it was ok, the rest would be ok in my freezer until shot. Sometimes there would be subtle shifts between batches. Most people won't notice a small colour shift if the entire set is off by the same amount.

The off brands would be worse for this. E.g. Safeway would have their own film brand, about 25% lower price. (I suspect that the off brands were all produced by the big three, but either didn't make their quality criteria, or were made to sloppier standards) (Big three during my era = Kodak, Fuji, and Agfa)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting. - So that film that came from Peru was very Yellow? Or just a bit more Yellow? - What about non-exposed film that was stored or transported at a higher temperature; Have you had a situation like that? And what became of the results? - Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – MichaelAH
    Jan 21, 2018 at 4:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Looked like it was shot through a set of amber tinted ski goggles. Now a days it could be fixed in post, as the cost of desaturating everything somewhat. The damage is independent of pre or post exposure. Not all emulsions change the same way. I've seen old negative film go blue (on print) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 21, 2018 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelAH Colour film is not a homogenous material. It is a complex mechanical construct made with different layers of emulsions in separate steps in the manufacturing process. Each layer reacts differently from each other to the same environmental effects after development causing visible artifacts if they are severe enough. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Jan 30, 2018 at 18:36

After any entropic material such as film is manufactured, it is subject to degradation according to standard chemical reactions. The disciplines of inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry are involved. Film photography is concerned with the controlled differential effects of the reduction of a silver halide emulsion with exposure of light. There are others. It can be affected by various environmental conditions over time to reduce the ability of the emulsion to react differentially to visible radiation. (It gets fogged until it can no longer record any difference of light on a subject when exposed. It just turns black when developed.)

One factor is heat. For every increase of 10°C, the rate of the chemical reaction will double. There are other relevant factors over time such as the halide reactivity. A very sensitive (unstable) emulsion may degrade "faster" than a less sensitive film generally speaking. The specific rates are known and plotted but rarely compared as it is not a practical metric for use. It was used in quality control to determine recommended expiry date and in the studies of film characteristics.

Here's the difficulty answering your question(s) with any degree of specificity. It's an unanswerable question. There are many unanswerable questions. The most obvious class relates to regions of space time about which we are incapable of knowing - one such is "how much." Predicting the future is not an exact science.

Testing Photographic Materials
The only way of testing the photographic quality of a material is to expose and develop it, whereon it is destroyed for future use. The disadvantage of manufacturing materials which can be tested only by destructive methods is that it is impossible to guarantee the quality of any sample manufactured. One can merely take every precaution, test frequent samples, and assume that if they are satisfactory, then the material between samples will also be good. It is usual practice in the industry to test samples of emulsion before coating and samples from each roll/sheet immediately after emulsion application, and again when dry. The examination includes tests of physical characteristics as well as tests of photographic behaviour and tests for mechanical defects. If faults are suspected, then more frequent tests are made until defective material is located and removed. Every roll of base and packing paper, every batch of gelatin, bromide, silver nitrate—in short every material which goes to make, or comes in contact with the finished product—is tested not only chemically, but for its photographic action; and not only its immediate photographic action, but by exhaustive incubation tests for its probable future action. Impurities may be present in amounts which are undetectable by chemical analysis and yet exert a powerful photographic action.


An area of degradation I rarely see commented on in any thread is from background radiation. Regardless of storage temperatures, radiation from earth and space is always at work, eventually fogging the film. Per a Kodak rep back in the 90's and early 2000's Kodak was storing their critical emulsions such as test strips for their Q-Lab professional film processing labs in salt mines, miles under the surface to minimize space and earth radiation.


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