You should probably stop buying film from Amazon
I’ve probably got enough stocked up already to last the rest of my life. So, having never bought film from Amazon this isn’t something I’d even considered before. It seems that Amazon might not be storing film properly.
According to Stephen Swett from Coastal Film Lab, however, that is exactly what’s happening. He says that customers are consistently getting poor results with new and in date film they’ve purchased from Amazon.
Bad results with “good” film
Stephen posted a PSA to the Film Photographers group on Facebook warning people to avoid buying their film on Amazon due to what is likely improper storage conditions. This is a result of having customers consistently come to them with films to be developed only to see poor results.
These films were newly purchased and not expired films that should be producing excellent results. Yet, they’re not. The company also took to sharing its PSA on Instagram, stating:
Important! We Recently discovered that alarmingly bad results have been coming back from film purchased from Amazon. Recent orders of Portra 400 have been occasionally coming out wiith heavy base fog and low sensitivity, so we took it upon ourselves to order some and run an exposure test. Exposed at iso 100, the in date Portra film, developed in fresh, control strip tested C41 chemistry came out severely fogged with incorrect base color and poor tonality. As a result, we are advising customers to completely avoid purchasing film from Amazon, as it is evident they are not storing it correctly.
Instead, buy from your local photo retailer! They care much more and understand how to store in properly. Please share this far and wide!
Not really a scientific result (yet?)
Yes, Coastal Film Lab’s experiences are more anecdotal than any kind of serious scientific test. We don’t know their sample size. We don’t know exactly how many customers or films have presented such an experience for them.
But such anecdotal evidence can potentially suggest a larger problem. Other labs might have also seen a rise in customers with similar experiences but don’t know the origin of the film stock. More may come forward now with similar experiences, bringing the sample size much higher.
For folks like us, we know that if we need to store film long-term, we should refrigerate it. Or, for storing it REALLY long-term, the freezer. Amazon’s warehouse – and probably most 3rd party seller warehouses – likely aren’t chilled and perhaps don’t even maintain what most of us would consider a reasonable temperature.
Long term heat exposure damage
Stephen’s experiences suggest that this might be the case. The damage shown in the prints – and the image in the PSA – show obvious heat damage. PopPhoto points out that there are obviously going to be temperature fluctuations during transportation and delivery that are largely beyond a person’s control. But the damage here suggests that it’s been subject to a decent amount of heat for an extended period of time. It’s probably not happened just while being shipped from one warehouse to another over a couple of days, even if it’s not in a refrigerated truck.
If the shipments have come from third-party sellers, and have been shipped from that seller’s warehouse, that’s one thing. But if these Amazon orders are being fulfilled by Amazon and shipped from Amazon warehouses, this is potentially a much larger problem than Coastal Film Lab’s experiences might suggest.
What’s the solution?
Whatever the cause may be and wherever the ultimate fault may lie, it’s something that Amazon should investigate. Whether they discover that they are indeed the cause or whether it’s specific third-party sellers at fault, something needs to change.
In the meantime, Stephen’s advice is probably the best I could offer. Stop buying film from Amazon and get it at your local camera shop – if you have one available nearby. If not, find a little independent online retailer nearby. Sure, you might not get same-day delivery, but they probably know how to store film properly.
Have you bought film from Amazon? How was your experience?
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.