Storing and processing film on long journeys

Discussion in 'Geographic Location' started by WideAngleWandering, May 7, 2012.

  1. WideAngleWandering

    WideAngleWandering Member

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    Storing and processing film on long journeys (Latin America)

    I'm taking off soon for a roadtrip throughout Latin America where I'll be shooting 35mm e-6, c-41 and b&w film. I'm expecting to be on the road for the better part of the next year so I've got ~80 rolls with me.

    I have installed a small 12v compressor fridge in my truck to keep the film from getting cooked under the tropical sun. I'm hoping that is sufficient and the fridge doesn't fail.

    I'm wondering what I will do with the exposed film. I could just keep putting it in the fridge and drive it back home eventually. This is my default option.

    One alternative is shipping the film back to the states periodically. I don't have much confidence that it would arrive safely.

    Will I be able to find labs that can do decent processing? Where would I find them? I can save up and batch process film when I hit major cities.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2012
  2. cjbecker

    cjbecker Member

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    Either batch process in cities or wait till you get back. You could develop your own bw film.
     
  3. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    "Latin America" is a large place with different level of social and economic development. It would help if we knew which country/region you will be travelling.... I work with people from some of the countries. I could try asking....
     
  4. WideAngleWandering

    WideAngleWandering Member

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    Recommendations for Latin America?

    I could but I don't really want to carry a dark bag & tank & chemicals if I can avoid it. I figure that since I won't be equipped to do all my film, why bother processing any of it?

    I wouldn't mind processing the film locally from time to time but I'm worried that I won't be able to find and vet good labs. In the US, it's getting harder and harder to find places. I usually ship my E-6 film out to be processed since the last local processor in town is now closed. The local C-41 lab does a terrible job (mishandling negatives, mixing up orders, etc).

    I have no idea what to expect in Mexico, Central and South America. How do film hobbyists in those locations process their film? Are there any labs I should add to my list of destinations?
     
  5. WideAngleWandering

    WideAngleWandering Member

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    Fair question. Short answer: as much as I can

    Longer answer: I'm currently in California, leaving soon for Baja Mexico, down the west coast, across to the Yucatan, south through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, east through Honduras, south through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, by boat to Colombia, south through Ecuador (coast or mountains or mix TBD), Peru, some combination of Bolivia/Chile/Argentina, then north to Brazil along the east coast and then by boat back to the states.

    I'm planning as I go so my route is pretty nebulous once I get beyond Baja.

    That would be awesome.
     
  6. Katie

    Katie Subscriber

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    You could always ship it back to a trusty friend/companion who could then have it developed and send you scans! Will you have email access?
     
  7. cjbecker

    cjbecker Member

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    Sounds like an awesome trip. Enjoy.
     
  8. Newt_on_Swings

    Newt_on_Swings Member

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    A itinerary for a trip of a life time. You pretty named all the countries there are. I hope your car is 4x4. As for the film I would not depend on running a fridge in the back, you might be better off with a highly insulated 7 day cooler. A constant temp is better than cooling an warming everytime you turn off the car. Warm temps as long as well shielded from direct sunlight should be fine.

    You can do a test to see just Incase. Shoot 3 rolls, one to leave in house, other to bake in car, last to stay in thick cooler. Wait like a week or two and see what damage it has caused. Try a faster film speed to judge damage. There honestly might not be a big difference or a perceivable difference at all.

    Such as the one shot cameras people used to leave in the car for accidents for years on end baking, they usually held up fine.
     
  9. WideAngleWandering

    WideAngleWandering Member

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    Whenever I find a cafe, or if I buy phone & SIM, I'll have email.

    My issues with shipping it back are:
    A) will it ever arrive?
    B) will it arrive w/o having been x-rayed or otherwise molested?
     
  10. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    Most likely - where else will it go?

    Probably.


    Steve.
     
  11. jordanstarr

    jordanstarr Member

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    I worked at a pro-lab in NYC that got film from all over the place and from photographers just like you who wanted a reputable lab to develop it. Lots of assignment photographers from all over the world, even some from Magnum. I never saw a roll come out bad, get lost, etc. So, I would personally send out batches of 10 rolls at a time or whatever to a friend, get home and develop them at a trust-worthy place or call up a good pro lab and tell them your situation and they would likely develop and hold it for you as long as they had your credit card on file or something.
     
  12. hdeyong

    hdeyong Member

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    Newton Swings has the right idea, in my opinion. Take it out of a well insulated cooler to expose it, put it back in when it's been shot. Keeping the temp fairly consistent, even if it's pretty warm shouldn't harm it. The idea of shipping once-in-a-lifetime shots across South America makes the old buttocks clench a bit.
     
  13. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    Perhaps, but what are the actually statistics?

    Millions of things are posted from South America to the US and I doubt that many get lost. Probably no more than get posted within the US.


    Steve.
     
  14. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    If you are paranoid about things getting lost in transit on the way to the lab, save up your shipping of film until you get to your next major city, and then find the FedEx office and ship it back to the lab FedEx. Sure it costs more, but in the scheme of things, plus the absolute un-repeatability of what you're doing, what's a couple hundred dollars in shipping fees in the grand scheme of things? I don't know about photo labs between Mexico and Argentina/Chile/Brazil - there may still be some, and they may be good or may not. But certainly they still exist in cities like Santiago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio and Brasilia. There are some big camera stores in those cities - I'd go in and ask if they know of any that they could recommend. When I was in Buenos Aires a few years ago, there were still a number of 1-hour/next day photo labs doing fairly decent quality work. I had one issue with one that I used, but it was more a customer service thing than anything else: their machine dorked up a couple frames on one roll. This sometimes happens, even in well-run labs - I understand, as I used to work in a well-run minilab. The annoying thing was that they tried to blame it on my camera. I've been around the block enough times and put enough thousand rolls through cameras to know when it's a camera problem and when it's a lab problem. I know this is hardly a confidence-building story about the quality of mini-labs in South America, but my point is that A: the problem I had there I could just as easily have had here, and B: out of nearly 20 rolls I shot in twelve days, to have one roll with a couple of bad frames is not horrible. I would definitely ship the E-6 back to a lab here in the US, process the C-41 locally, and process the b&w yourself. Since you'll be traveling with your own vehicle, transporting chemistry will not be a problem. To save on weight and space, I'd try to use developers and fixers that can be mixed from powder, and just use a water stop.
     
  15. WideAngleWandering

    WideAngleWandering Member

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    I'm not sure where your confidence comes from.

    To me, there are a million things that could go wrong between a post office in Honduras and a lab in the US. Local mis-handling, sitting on in the tropical sun for days at a time, x-ray (at the border or in customs?), stolen from my friend's doorstep, etc. I suppose I could mitigate some of that by paying bigger bucks for Fedex.

    Carrying the film around with me presents some risk too. I'm just not sure what the best approach is.

    Thanks all for the ideas.
     
  16. WideAngleWandering

    WideAngleWandering Member

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    While I haven't tried to ship any film yet, I'd like to point out that the Mexican postal service seems to have lost the parts I need for my car. So yeah ... losing confidence in the mail. FedEx it is ...
     
  17. WideAngleWandering

    WideAngleWandering Member

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    Hi all,

    Just a minor update, but I'm officially in Latin America now. As for film handling, I have a bunch of 35mm, Provia 100/400x, Efke 25, Acros 100, Velvia 50, Ektar 100. It is stored in ziplocks that I keep in the fridge in my truck. I thought about the insulated cooler but there wasn't space. In any event, the fridge has been very reliable. I have solar panels on the roof of the truck to keep the battery charged and it runs 24/7, unless I'm in a climate controlled hotel (rare but it happens) in which case I bring it inside with me and shut the fridge off. If the fridge were to die, the six pack can act as a cooling buffer until I get it working again :smile:

    I still haven't decided how to handle processing. I think local processing in big cities is the way to go and I'll be looking for specific recommendations as I travel. Otherwise, I'd ship it back to the states via FedEx or DHL. I wish I had some way to guarantee it wouldn't get x-rayed as cargo but I haven't been able to find much specific information on how to do that. Local information is not trustworthy, IMO.

    I can say that my one experience with the Mexican post has not gone well - I had some parts for my truck shipped to me from the states and they disappeared in the hand-off to Mex Correo.
     
  18. tsiklonaut

    tsiklonaut Member

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    Erm... Film on long journeys

    You shouldn't even complain if you have a fridge and a car. :smile:

    I did over 3 year round the world journey visiting 5 continents on a motorcycle carring Pentax 67 with 3 lenses and around 30-50 rolls of 120 films at a time. Equipment and film went through hell - from desert to ice. My P67 camera that is as old as I am is tough as an ox - not a single problem during over 100 000 miles of third world roads, offroad trails and motorcycle vibrations. Sent the film back home with a trackable trustworthy services such as UPS, DHL, Fedex from the bigger cities I visited. It's was BLOODY expensive so I sent them home around twice or three times a year, not more. Also I bought new film stock around that frequency. Friend of mine developed them and scanned - put them online for me to download and keept the negs/positives archived there till I got back.

    I found out many interesting things about films living in extremes per long time after being exposed:

    B&W films can survive hell (except IR, which you need to take care). Some C41 color negs can do fairly well, but not so environment abuse resistant as B&Ws, Kodak seemed to be little better than Fuji C41s, but not much difference. Kodak's E6 films seemed to be the worst - color overtones when got heat treated in Australian +40C desert. Fuji Provia 100F - not so good, but still better than Kodak. Velvia 50 and 100 - seemed to be the best out of E6 films, colors didn't seem to be as affected after longer hot climate abuse both before and after exposing, also Provia 400X does fairly good.

    This is no scientific method of course, since with motorcycle I was really affected by the climate and the film batches I had were very varying containing many different types of film with different expiry dates (mostly fresh though!), but I guess per average they showed their tendencies with the above "pushed to extreme test".

    The worst factor seemed to be the quick and dramatic temperature variations: i.e. hot day and a freezing night and the condensation that comes with it. Or from hot plains you ride into freezing high mountain altitudes or down again. I'd be very careful with the fridge if you don't run it during the night off the battery, unless you have very well isolated fridge that has very slow temperature rise and drops between the cycles.

    Safe roads and you'll sure love South-Am - one of my favourite continents to travel!

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    (Bolivia)

    Cheers,
    Margus
     

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  19. Prest_400

    Prest_400 Member

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    Margus, I discovered your adventure while looking around medium format stuff, two years ago. That must have been wonderful (tough however); I'm more of a semi-adventurous traveller type. Welcome to APUG too.

    Haven't done any long trip (+2 months) with particularly tough conditions; The most has been about 2 months in tropical weather. However, I'll take into account what's posted here for the future.
     
  20. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I would just store exposed film back in your travel fridge and sort out all the processing when you get back. That way you have complete control over your film stock.
     
  21. WideAngleWandering

    WideAngleWandering Member

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    I'm less worried about loss (although that's certainly a possibility) but more worried about abuse (x-ray, heat, etc). Somehow I doubt my film is going to have much climate control between a Guatemalan post office and my friends or a lab in the states, for example.

    Nice reply - thanks for the info. I'm less concerned than I was but if I knew of a way to safely send a batch of film home I would do it. I'm guessing that is probably DHL. The only time it is a challenge for me is when I want to leave the truck for an extended time. The fridge can run for 5 or 6 days as long as the windows are open (so the interior doesn't heat up) but that's a security problem. So far I've had good luck bringing the film with me or getting a hotel or friend to hold onto it for me when I'm away from the vehicle.