Some time ago I came across a question that a fellow photographer posted on Twitter. It simply asked about the pros and cons of scanning your own 35mm or 120 film at home. The replies were a mild mix, as is so often the case on twitter, ranging from “it’s easy and saves you money, and you have control” to “unbearable and takes too much time to learn”.
Rather than joining the conversation, the tweet did animate me to type up a couple of words summarizing my workflow. At the end of the day it’s my workflow that works best for me and there is no guarantee that it will work for you.
So here we go…
B&W - I develop most of my B&W film at home. For developer I use Kodak chemicals, either D76 or XTOL, and for stop bath and fixer I use Ilford. To get the correct developing time I use the “Massive Dev” app. It allows for all kinds of film/developer and push/pull combinations and always give you the exact time for each step.
C41/E6 - I drop off all of my C41/E6 film at a professional lab. I’ve tried different color kits; however, I find it too cumbersome to control the temperature and get consistent results. Don’t get me wrong, you can get consistent and good results at home; however, I need to spend more time experimenting before I am confident to develop color at home more frequently. For lab development I always ask for uncut negatives, makes the batch scanning process a lot easier. Here in NY I use Bleeker Digital Solutions. I’ve tried another lab on the UWS; however, didn’t have the greatest experience with them.
I’ve tried and had several scanners in the past - Epson V600 for 120 and Pakon for 35mm for example. I recently sold both of them and settled for the PrimeFilm XA. I only have one camera and one lens, and I only work with 35mm film, so the PrimeFilm XA is the perfect fit for my 35mm work.
The Pakon is a great scanner; however, the PrimeFilm XA beats it on many levels.
For software I’ve settled on Silverfast 8.8 Ai Studio. There’s a ton of other software out there; however, after a lot of experimenting I’ve concluded that Silverfast works best for me as it allows me to batch scan (read I load the film, walk away and come back when done) B&W, C41 and E6 film, and get consistent results with little tweaks post scanning. The “studio” version also allows me to calibrate the scanner and set up different profiles for slide film.
I am “religious” about printing my work. I don’t get the big blown up prints all the time, but I do get proof prints of pretty much all my photos. For proof prints I use Richard Photlab - great quality, quick and affordable.
If I need a larger print (for client work), I use Tribeca Printworks here in New York. Again, great quality, customer service and affordability is what makes them great.
From time to time I also print some of my work the old traditional way in a darkroom. I have a full darkroom setup (Beseler 23c iii) and my bathroom easily converts into a full blown darkroom at night.
So what are the pros and cons then? Well, here they are from my viewpoint…
It does save you money; however, only in the long run as there is an initial investment that you need to make for the scanner and software. Process and scan costs about $20 to $30 per roll. After about 30 rolls of film that you develop and/or scan at home you break even, then you start saving money.
It does take time to learn, a lot of time if you want consistent results. There’s a lot of experimenting that I had to do in order to find the right developer, lab, scanner, software and post scan tweaks. However, once you’ve nailed these steps it’s a breeze from that point forward
Is it unbearable? Yes, whenever you mess up one of the steps. Wrong or expired photo chemicals and your memories on film are gone forever. One wrong scan setting and you have to restart.
Can you get consistent results and have control over your photos? Absolutely; however, it takes a lot of time and practice to get there.
The only way way you will find out is giving it a try. Just because it worked or didn’t work for someone, doesn’t mean it will hold true for you.