In this video segment, Sarah Wagner, Senior Photograph Conservator, provides an overview of the history of photographic films and identifies some basic characteristics of various film types. For more imformation, please refer to the "Resources" button included in the menu on this page.

Film Identification

Presentation Transcript
It is important to be able to identify the types of film in your collection in order to care for them appropriately. Cold storage is used to preserve two types of film, cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate, while black and white polyester film is stable and does not require cold storage. All color media does require cold storage regardless of its film base. (25SEC)

Because cold storage space is usually limited, it is important to target only those film collections requiring cold storage, and to identify flammable nitrate film because it has additional fire code requirements.

Sarah Wagner will provide an overview of the history of photographic films. (18SEC)

There are three major types of plastic films used in photography--cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, and lastly, polyester film. Cellulose nitrate was introduced at about 1890. It was used for a variety of formats, from motion picture film to various sheet films and even microfilm. Because it was highly flammable, the manufacturers began to replace these various formats with a safer version called safety film made from cellulose acetate. By the 1930s, cellulose acetate was commonly found in almost every format, such as 8-millimeter motion picture film, in the 1920s for x-ray films, and for sheet films in the 1930s. In 1960, polyester was introduced as another plastic film, although it still competes with acetate, which is found on many formats today. Polyester film, however, is very stable and does not require cold storage, while acetate and nitrate deteriorate rapidly at room temperature and do require cold storage.

In this video we see various film types and are told about the history and shown the visual characteristics of the film that help identify the different film types. This image shows an example of aerial film cans This image shows an example of celluse acetate faded films This image shows an example of motion picture films This image shows Sam Tamburro holding movie reels This image shows negatives in a Bally Box This image shows Sarah and Sue looking in film boxes This image shows someone surveying the collection This is another image of someone surveying the collection Continue to Film Identification: History of Film Types