Expired Film Day 2016 results: 1956 Kodak Super-XX

Six-16 Brownie Junior
I had some issues with noise and difficulty advancing the film. The big ground-glass viewfinders are bright and easy to use, although I can’t vouch for how straight they are after my quick repair job… (Daniel J. Schneider)

Sometimes — a lot of the time — expired film turns out okay. Even really well. But sometimes it turns out badly — even disastrously. And then there’s this.

I was excited when I found this roll of 616 format Kodak Super-XX, which expired in November of 1956. The box was in great shape (it still is — I carefully glued it shut again to put on my camera wall).

I’ve had a Kodak Brownie Six-16 waiting around for testing for several years. I even have an old Bakelite Ansco daylight developing tank with a 616 notch on the adjustable reel. It seemed like everything was coming up Milhouse.

Super-XX data sheet
The data sheet for Super-XX and Plus-X (which were rated at ASA 100 and 50, respectively, at the time). (Daniel J. Schneider)

So I saved it for Expired Film Day. The backing paper was a little stiff but didn’t feel very brittle. There’s always the issue of the tape — it can just fall off the film or the paper when it’s that old — but I decided to give it a try anyway.

I opened the box and was reminded that, once upon a time, every roll of film came with a data sheet with exposure tables for daylight and flash, and developing information. I took a picture of that to hang onto, if for no reason other than the fact that the vintage typography is fantastic. Also, it has some potentially handy data for Plus-X of that era, too, and I have an affinity for old Plus-X.

There were some crinkling and grinding noises when I was advancing the film, but it seemed to be working for the most part. I felt the film pop over the guides and felt confident it was feeding correctly. I took a chance and kept shooting. After the eighth frame, I heard the tail end of the film pop over the corners on the film path as I wound up the end of the roll.

I left the camera closed when I finished the roll and opened it in my film changing tent, just in case. It seemed to be wound up tightly, so I took it out and sealed it to await developing.

Then, this weekend, I put it back in the tent to load it into the old Ansco tank. The little discussion I could find online about these tanks confirmed that they are, in fact, light-tight. They also should include an agitator that rotates the film spool — a little stick with a square end that I happened to be missing. They also don’t appear to have a very good reputation.

Kodak Super-XX 616 film
My Kodak Super-XX 616 film expired in Nov. 1956. Check out this awesome green backing paper. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I admit, it was not easy to load this ancient plastic reel. The film didn’t make it any easier. It was stiff and brittle, and it really, really wanted to maintain the same curl it had been tightly wound in for the last 60-plus years. I uncoiled it as gently as I could.

There was a corner missing. Then there was a small tear. Then I found an area where it had partially folded over itself and cracked several times. Bits started chipping off. I carefully trimmed the end a little to straighten it out. More chipped off. Then there were more cracks in the edges.

I struggled with it for 10 or 15 minutes and finally got the film to start loading. I didn’t have a good idea how it was moving into the reel, but I could tell it was. I kept turning and the film ended. I thought it was strange that there didn’t seem to be any tape at the end — or even evidence of it. During my struggles with the reel, the rolled film had partly exploded in the tent, and I guessed that the tape had popped off the film then.

To deal with the missing agitator stick, I found a flat-bladed screwdriver that fit neatly into the square center of the spool, and fit through the opening in the tank’s lid. It was the first roll I developed from Expired Film Day in Saturday’s epic develop-fest (due to the wide variety of times required, and the volume of film, I had to move the chemistry through 11 tank-loads).

Super-XX was ASA 100 film. I shot it all in bright sun, and the Brownie Six-16’s wider aperture (which I used) is f/11. I figured I was overexposing by about two stops with the 1/50 second shutter speed, and decided to develop it as closely as I could to whatever seemed most likely to be “normal.”

Ansco 616 tank
The Ansco Bakelite tank that holds 616 film, with my impromptu agitator replacement. On the plus side, agitating the film this way is really easy. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I found developing times from 5.5 to 8 minutes for HC-110 Dilution B listed online for Super-XX, so I decided to roughly split the difference and guess that 7 minutes would be about right. Then, because I like HC-110 at Dilution H (1:63), I doubled that and added thirty seconds: 14:30 at 20°C, agitated gently for the first minute and for 5 seconds every minute thereafter.

I stopped, fixed, hypo’d, washed and Photo-Flo’d it and … only had half the roll. And nothing on it. Just blackness from end to end. I looked in the changing tent and, sure enough, there was the other half of the film coiled tightly and hiding in the back corner. It just broke right in the middle. My guess about it popping off the tape, at least, appeared to have been spot on.

One edge of the developed portion has a narrow streak of clear, but the rest is black saved for a few little bits here and there. Once dry, I examined it very closely on the light table with a loupe to see if any hints of images survived. Nothing. No evidence at all.

So something exposed this film almost totally without ever opening the box. My best guess is that it spend time in a radiology suite, or happened to be laying around during a nuclear test in Nevada in the early 1960s. That’s really all I can come up with.

Oh well. I have some 120 adapters to test the camera with, too.

Next up: The c. 1955 Agfa Isopan FF.

Other Expired Film Day 2016 posts:

The remains of the Super-XX
The self-destructed remains of the Super-XX. Some of the chunks that broke off on the left, the backing paper and spool, the curled portion that fell off in the changing bag, and the blackened portion I managed to develop. (Daniel J. Schneider)