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Scratches on film

Been experiencing scratched film? Try these tips

Grit in the film cassette was responsible for the faint vertical scratch in the shadowy area above melodious Clancy's left paw
Grit in the film cassette was responsible for the faint vertical scratch in the shadowy area above melodious Clancy's left paw


Scratches on film may be caused by small particles of grit inside your camera back. You can usually dislodge them by opening the back when it has no film in it, and gently spraying air from a compressed-air can held about a foot or so away. You can also just turn the camera upside down and give it a gentle shake to get rid of small items that accumulate inside.

Should you notice a piece of film or grit that appears stuck in place, carefully remove it with a cotton-tipped swab, being sure not to touch the shutter or other interior components. If it won't dislodge easily, you'd be better off to bring your camera to a qualified repair shop to have them clean the camera.


Some photographers like to be sure their film is in fact completely rewound, so they continue to rewind it long after it is in the cassette or cartridge. When film is rewound too much, it rolls up tightly. A tiny bit of dust or grit on the film can cause damage to the film's surfaces as they are pulled together.

How do you know if this may be happening when you rewind? When the film is removed from the camera, the spool will spin freely. You can hear it unwinding within the cassette.


If you have been experiencing a problem with scratches on your negatives or slides, try to not rewind the film beyond the leader (the part that is exposed when you load the film into your camera). Many cameras have an indicator that will show when the film has come off the take-up spool, which is when you safely stop rewinding. If your camera does not have such an indicator, you can often hear a slight difference in sound when the film is dislodged from the take-up spool and you may feel a slight relaxation in the film's tension through the camera's rewind handle. (This hint will not work with cameras that automatically rewind the film into the cassette.)

A word of caution. When your film's leader is not rewound, the film looks like a fresh roll that is ready to be loaded. Be sure to mark your film's cassette as having been exposed, or store it in an exposed-film container immediately so you will not mistake it for an unused film. Some cameras automatically stop when the leader becomes dislodged from the take-up spool.


Don't place used or unused film in your pocket or camera bag unless it is in a sealed plastic container. Particles of grit or dust can be picked up and become lodged in the film cassette's opening, and can scratch the film as it is wound or rewound.


If the above methods don't stop scratches from appearing on your film, the problem may be a mechanical one - perhaps a tiny piece of jagged metal or plastic, or a part that has come loose. Take your camera into a qualified repair shop and have it examined and cleaned. Be sure to bring along a scratched slide or damaged roll of negative film to help them more quickly identify the cause.

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Things to know when opening a camera's back.