The Guide on How Long Film Lasts and When It's Expired Based on Film Type, Storage, and More

21 February 2024 by
Anna Lam

Whether you have an unexposed roll of film or developed film that contains your precious memories, it won’t last forever. While film can last decades in optimal conditions, in humid or warm environments it can start to deteriorate much faster. 

When this happens, you could lose your memories to fading, fogging, graininess, and other quality issues. Additionally, old film won’t work properly in a camera because exposure will require more light. That’s why Capture analogue preservation experts put together this complete guide to help you determine the answer to, “how long does film last?”

How Long Does Film Last?


The lifespan of camera film depends on many factors, but the primary consideration is whether it’s undeveloped, exposed, or developed film. However, a good rule of thumb is that film lasts 10 to 15 years, longer if high-quality film is stored in good conditions. It is also good to look at how long a film lasts in a camera compared to canisters.

How Long Does Unexposed Film Last?

Unused rolls of film typically have an expiration date of 2 years from the date they were made. However, don’t throw out your expired film stock yet. Just because the old film is beyond the expiry date doesn’t mean you can’t still use it. 

Film is made of thin strips of plastic coated with a chemical emulsion that contains silver halides. These chemicals react when exposed to light, which creates the image. For colour film, the silver chemicals are mixed with colour dyes as well. 

Over time, these chemicals and dyes begin to deteriorate, which means that the colours lose their vibrancy, contrasts begin to blur and fade, and grain increases. When it gets worse, the expired film will become foggy and ineffective altogether. 

However, this process is gradual, which means that you don’t necessarily need to throw out your old rolls of Kodak Ektachrome, Portra, or APS film. In fact, unexposed film can last 25 to 30 years or longer in the right conditions including within a camera.

How Long Does Exposed Film Last?

exposed film

If the film is exposed, but not developed, then you have a shorter length of time. In fact, most experts recommend getting exposed film developed within a few days or weeks, but in some cases, exposed film could still last 20 years or longer. This depends on the storage conditions and other factors. 

Black and white film is known to last the longest because the dye colour shifts faster than the other chemicals. In many cases with black and white film, you can get decent prints out of film 20 to 30 years after it was originally exposed. 

If you are wondering how long disposable camera film lasts, then the guidelines are similar. If disposable film is used, then it may start degrading after around 6 months. However, if it is unused, it will likely expire in 2 years but could last much longer. This is the same for film that is contained in an SLR film camera.

How Long Does Developed Film Last?

Finally, if you have developed negative film, then the lifespan could be 10 to 15 years. However, it will depend greatly on the quality of processing, film brand, image quality, storage conditions, and more. Regardless, you can expect it to last at least 10 years as long as it’s stored in a place without extreme temperatures or humidity.

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Signs That Your Film Has Deteriorated

There are several signs that your film has begun to deteriorate that you need to look out for. If you notice these signs for exposed film, then you need to make sure to get it developed, checked by a professional, or digitised immediately before those memories are lost forever. 

Colour Shifts and Fading

One of the first signs that your film is starting to degrade is a shift in colour and fading. The colours may appear foggy or hazy and the contrast will become less vivid as the chemicals begin to break down. While film processing won’t be able to recover the original colours, when you develop film, you can prevent further colour shifts from taking place.

colour fading
physical damage

Physical Damage

Another sign of 35mm film, slide film, or even film reel deterioration is physical damage. If the film itself is bent, torn, or folded, then obviously it is in danger of being lost or destroyed. However, it’s also important to note that old film becomes more susceptible to physical damage and in extreme cases can become brittle. 

Grainy or Foggy Image Quality

When the chemicals on film break down, you won’t be able to get as high quality with a film camera or when you develop film. This can lead to a foggy appearance or graininess that you may associate with older photos.  

foggy image

Tips for Extending the Life of Your Film

There are some things you can do to extend the life of your film. These tips should work well with any type of film whether it’s unexposed, exposed, or fully developed. 

Store in a Cool, Dry Place

Two of the main causes of rapid deterioration are high room temperature and humidity. By storing your film in a cool, dry place you can significantly reduce the degradation and extend the shelf life. You can even store your film in a refrigerator to preserve it for even longer as long as you make sure no moisture can access the film.

Handle with Care

The oils from your hands and other sources can also contribute to faster expiration of film, so it’s important to handle film as rarely as possible. When you do have to handle film, it’s important to wear gloves. Finally, use acid-free envelopes and other storage options for any long-term film storage. You should be able to find them on Amazon or at your local office supply store. 

Develop and Digitise Film ASAP

The best thing you can do to preserve your film is to use it, develop it, and digitise it as soon as you can. By using expired film promptly, you can make sure that the image quality is as high as possible. Then, by developing exposed film as soon as possible, you prevent overexposure or deterioration. Finally, by digitising your developed positive or negative film, you preserve the memories as high-quality digital images that future generations can enjoy and share.

Capture’s Digitisation Service


While film can last 10 to 15 years or longer, it can start to degrade in as little as 2 years depending on the type of film you have. It’s important to take care of your film to ensure that it lasts as long as possible, but if you have film that contains your most precious memories, the best thing to do is to digitise it. 

Capture can digitise your slide, photo albums, photographs, videotapes, and even digital camera SD cards to preserve them forever in USB Flash Drive or Google Photos. Click here to learn about Capture’s analogue media digitisation services!  

*This article is brought to you by Capture HK.

Capture HK is the premier analogue media digitisation company in Hong Kong.

Capture HK's business covers photographs, photo album, slide digitisation, videotapes digitisation, including VHS, S-VHS, VHS-C, S-VHS-C Hi-8, Video8, Digital8, DV, DVCAM, MiniDV, DVC and digital media digitisation, including Secure Digital (SD), Smart Media (SM), MultiMediaCard (MMC) Compact Flash (CF), xD-Picture Card, Memory Stick, USB Drive, CDROM, DVD.

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