Cross Processing 45-Year-Old Kodak Ektachrome

Cross processing film is something I’ve wanted to try out for a long time now. Prior to this experiment, I had heard a lot about it, mainly from lomographers, as well as Flickr forums, but I was never quite sure how to go about it. Furthermore, with the price of commercially available slide films these days, it honestly seemed like a waste to cross process E-6 films when they yield such beautiful results already. But a few months ago, a friend from one of my photography classes as giving away some heavily expired film, and I decided to snag a few rolls of Kodak Ektachrome slide film that expired in 1974. The exact film stocks were Ektachrome 400, and Ektachrome 160 Tungsten, as well as some 3M 640T, which I think was a more generic drugstore type slide film. While I would usually try to use these gems normally, with the recent resurrection of Ektachrome film, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give this process a go!

For this experiment, I just used the roll of Ektachrome 400, and processed it normally, the same way I process C-41 films, Using Cinestill’s C-41 “color simplified” chemistry at normal times, no push or pull. Exposing it was a little more tricky, though. There are conflicting reports on how expired slide film should be exposed, and on top of that, how it is affected by cross processing. Although many people believe slide film should never be over-exposed regardless of lost sensitivity from aging, the extreme age of the film led me to disregard that and go ahead in overexposing it by several stops. This way, I was fairly certain that I would be able to get images out of it, even with any fogging that the film had accumulated over the years. I eventually (and un-scientifically) decided on over-exposing by 3 stops for the 4+ decades of lost sensitivity, which got me to a metered speed of ASA 50 for the 400 speed film.

The results were interesting to say the least. The first shock to the system was the dark, deep blue color of the resulting negatives.

At first glance, the negatives look extremely dark, but upon holding them to the light, it becomes clear that the film base makes up much of the density for the majority of the negs. The latitude of this film when cross processed is very low, but I think it resists going white(or in this case, black) better than most slide films. There was relatively little fogging present, and the images have very good contrast, but little in the way of color tonality. Why this is, I do not know, but I would imagine it has something to do with the age of the film. The colors of these old films allegedly degrade at different rates, so that may have something to do with the extreme shift.

I decided that macro photography would be the best compliment to the cross processed look, and photographed all of these images with a nikon em, and a 35mm 2.8 nikkor s lens with a macro ring. Despite the monotone appearance of the negatives though, the scans have a surprising range of colors, and there are a few images that even looked good. My scanner definitely struggled with them though, and any images with even slightly sub-optimal exposure resulted in much stronger color shifts.

Daylight and cloudy tones resulted in pasty blue highlights, and I found that the best lighting was tungsten balance despite the fact that the film was intended for daylight use. I was impressed with the sharpness of the film, even though the grain was so strong that it could be seem with the naked eye. Still, It was not at all unpleasant looking, and I imagine these negatives would print very well in black and white. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the images though, and will definitely be doing more like this in the future. I will however, be much more careful about exposure, as well as try and do some night photography to make use of the strong warm tones of artificial lights at night! If you are into lofi looks and lomography, I definitely suggest trying this out!

Lastly, I just want to say that I will be printing a few photographs(including one from this roll) to submit to the annual 6×6 show/fundraiser at the Rochester Contemporary Art Center! Their 6×6 shows are a super easy and inexpensive way to support the work they do there, and it’s super easy to submit your work too. Find more info at roco6x6.org

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