Caring for 16 mm Film: A Guide to Using & Caring for 16mm Film

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Film / Video

For people that have only shot on digital video or digital storage systems such as flash drives and portable hard drives it is going to be quite a shock when they try and use real film stock like 16 mm film. The 16 mm format is often thought of as archaic, but to film artists and auteurs this is still a valid format that provides a filmic texture and intention that digital video just does not hold. The issues for new 16 mm filmographers are numerous, but the simple care of the film stock is often just enough to cause problems. Though digital video tapes are not the most durable items that you can have around portable technology, they are still several degrees more resilient than 16 mm film stock. Here are some tips for caring for 16 mm film.

16 mm Film and Light Exposure

The first thing that you have to think about when it comes to 16 mm film is light exposure. This is a fact that is true of still photo film as well as that for moving pictures, though many people forget about that as standard consumer use has been on a video format for the past thirty five years. You can often tell how sensitive to light exposure the film will be by the numeric speed of it. The faster the 16 mm film the less light the film needs to experience a picture. This speed is recognized by the size of the number on the 16 mm film stock. For example, 16 m film with a speed of fifty will take very little light to create a picture and may be able to better handle light exposure to the raw film than that with a higher speed. Usually the ability between speeds to handle open light is going to be relatively minor and all should avoid exposure to direct light. Cool lights, or diffused light sources, are often alright. If loading or changing 16 mm film outside you may want to do it in the shade.


Temperature of the location that you store the 16 mm film is also going to be sensitive. You usually want to keep it around fifty five degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to do this is store the film in a dry location in your refrigerator. Never leave it in the freezer as this will be too cold and will create condensation.

Loading 16 mm Film and Using It

One of the most important features of 16 mm film stock care is using it correctly in your camera. This depends on the type of camera you are using, ranging from classic Bolex video cameras to more modern 16 mm contraptions. Always make sure you cut the film so that it has an even starting frame and make sure it is spooled and locked in the camera correctly. Double check the mechanisms of your 16 mm camera and make sure that you have followed the standard instructions carefully.

Buying and Developing 16 mm Film Stock

16 mm film stock is very expensive so you should never over use it and care is the most important thing. A simple three minute, one hundred foot roll, often costs around twenty one dollars and costs even more to develop.