Film Processing Another Victim of the Pandemic

One year ago, life resembled all of the characteristics of a “normal” society.

One could still sit, or stand, along a railroad track with camera in hand to photograph a passing train.

For those of us who still insist upon using the legacy technology of a film-based camera system, all was good.

Travel to a location, scope out the scenery, wait for a train, expose film, return home, then visit the local camera store to process film. Wait one to three weeks to receive processed film, inspect film, and then file film.

That was how it was in January 2020. The film I used that month was processed and received in February with the usual immaculate results.

The world suddenly changed in March 2020 with school closings, business closings, toilet paper shortages, and anti-social distancing.

But through it all, the railroads were still running freight trains. The days of spring were upon us, and what better way to maintain sanity than by being along a railroad track with camera in hand.

Photography provided for limited travel and relaxation. However, between March and June, film processing became non-existent.

With the local camera store being in lockdown mode, I was forced to accumulate four exposed rolls of FujiChrome 120 ASA100 film.

The local camera store finally reopened and the four rolls were dropped off for E-6 processing on June 16.  

For several years, the local camera store has outsourced all slide film requiring E-6 processing to a major photo lab in Parsons, Kansas

The four processed uncut film strips along with four photo CDs were retrieved on July 2.

I returned home to inspect the results. My heart almost stopped beating.

The four strips were severely over-exposed. Was it caused from the fact that the film processed was 10 years past its expiration date?

Was there a malfunction in my 26-year old Bronica GS-1 medium format camera? “Nay,” I say.

Upon further inspection of the film strips, I concluded that the black frame masking between images did not have sufficient density.

The film had exhibited evidence of being under developed. The photo CDs were also burned with all images being reversed.

The film was from the same lot that I had previously shot in January, which had been flawless. 

Never before had I encountered such a problem with commercially processed film.

So, it was back to the local camera store to inquire about what might have happened.

After a few phone calls, it was confirmed, that with COVID-19 lockdowns in place, the Kansas lab was scrambling to find and maintain those people with the knowledge to process 120 roll film. I felt vindicated.

All of my film since them has been processed to pre-pandemic quality.

Unfortunately, I was left with what I considered four rolls of garbage.

Would I be able to recover any detail upon scanning the images?

Thanks to digital technology, I could. The image above shows the raw scan with no enhancements.

The next image is the same image with increases in the yellow and red channels, and reductions in midtone brightness and overall contrast. The results are quite acceptable.

The image made during the Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts trip to Bellevue, Ohio June 13, 2020.

The joys of still shooting film.

Article and Photographs by David Kachinko

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One Response to “Film Processing Another Victim of the Pandemic”

  1. Bob Farkas Says:

    What a blessing digital photo software is! You made a great save.
    Bob

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