How Long does Film Last?
How Long does Film Last?
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How Long does Film Last?

By Dillon Wallace

When cassette tapes and videotapes were at their peak popularity back in the 80s and 90s, most people weren’t thinking, “how long will this tape last?”

And once the popularity subsided due to the emergence of the CD and DVD, that question (if it ever even existed) went out the window entirely. I mean, who thinks about longevity for technology that’s no longer being used, right?

The answer should be you, because as those years have turned into decades, your tapes, but more importantly the memories they hold, are aging, degrading and fading from existence. And if you don’t do anything, those memories will be nothing but a distant and dim thought in the back of your mind.

Average VHS tape lifespan

Even under the most ideal storage environment, your video and cassette tapes are fading. And although the life expectancy varies from one tape to the next, along with how well you’ve cared for your collection over the years, the average deterioration sets in around the 10-25-year range. 

Now, that’s not to say that one day you’ll pop your VHS in your VCR (if you by some random happenstance still have one) and it won’t work. No, what that lifespan signifies is the age that it begins to deteriorate. Studies have shown that in that 10-25-year span, tapes begin to show around 10-20% rate of decay. That means a fuzzier picture, slightly dull color shift, a dip in audio quality, etc. After all, the film inside the plastic video and cassette tape deck is just magnetic tape, and it was never meant to last forever.

How long do old film reels last?

If you’re one of the lucky few to have found film reel footage of when your parents or your grandparents were kids – good for you. But while that type of film is a treasure, its value is slowly fading as well. Even under the most ideal storage conditions, your old 8mm and 16mm film is expected to last for 70 years or so. Canisters can help prolong this film.


And while that’s not an exact number for all types of film, it’s the average age when your film really starts to decay and deteriorate – and that's under ideal circumstances. Professional film has an even shorter lifespan. That number is a lot less if your film wasn’t properly cared for.


Long story short, your film reels and your tapes are fading. Worse yet, we’re getting super close to reaching peak deterioration period. Most video and cassette tapes by this point are right around, if not over, the 25-30-year mark. And your color film reels … I’m no mathematician but those numbers don’t add up to anything good.


How long does 35mm film last?

The manufacturer suggests using 35mm film before the expiration date. Another big factor is the conditions in which the undeveloped film was stored. Room temperature is best for storage. Exposed film can still be developed, but may have lower image quality with a fogged appearance.


Some photographers choose to use expired film to make their photos stand out. You can still achieve this effect using a digital camera and photoshop. Otherwise, you should take your rolls of 35mm film to the photo lab at your local drug store for film processing.


Digitize your tapes and save your memories

Want to know the good news in all of this? You can save your tapes by getting them digitized – and we can help!

We’ll take your dusty old box jam packed with old family tapes and film and digitally preserve their memories so that you don’t have to fear losing those memorable moments. So, what are you waiting for? Get one of our pre-paid, mail-in boxes and start loading it up your memories today. Your tomorrow you will thank yourself!

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