Film Degradation

While film still remains my favorite medium, it does however, have some obvious flaws.  One of the most prominent of these would be that film degrades over time.

A piece of film showing signs of degradation

A piece of film showing signs of degradation

Film degradation, also known as the “Vinegar Syndrome”, is when the cellulose acetate that the picture is exposed on begins to degrade in a physical manner.  This occurs when the film is exposed to high heat and humidity(as wells as acids), which cause the molecular bonds of the cellulose acetate film to break apart, specifically when the acetyl groups break away from the chains of cellulose molecules.  This releases a vinegar type smell, hence the name Vinegar Syndrome.  From here the film becomes brittle and can experience shrinking, which will eventually destroy the film.

Film usually lasts about 50 years before degradation begins to occur.  Unfortunately, there is no way to stop degradation happening to film, but there are ways to slow the process significantly.

  • Storing the film in a cool dry place is known to extend the life of the film significantly, up to 3 times longer than if it were stored in regular room conditions.
  • Keeping the film in containers that can absorb acids is also helpful, as they help to rid the area the film is stored in of the acids that aid in degradation.
  • Scanning the film won’t help stop the process, but it will prevent the loss of the photo by creating a digital copy, which will remain unchanged.  Check out this post for tips on this process.
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