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March 03, 2010


Gordon, I really liked the photo you used for this post. Very nice! I do have a lot of negatives (mostly b&w) back home in India. I am going to bring them with me to the US next time I visit and try renting a local darkroom to see how it works out for me. I have recently started shooting on film again (medium format this time) so it would be nice to compare my current work with my past work.

Personally, I sold off my b&w darkroom quite a while ago, so I would scan the film myself and send the file away to be printed, not having my own high-quality printer. I use a calibrated monitor and the same lab every time, so there are no, or at least only a few, surprises. Instead of wondering if optical print would be better or not, I would try to achieve the highest quality with the technique of my choice.

In my city of about 250,000 people there is no commercial lab drugstore that still prints optically. Negatives and transparencies are scanned, then Lightjet/RA4 printed.

Local labs in my city - while doing great prints from digital - do awful scans. Reversal film that looks beautiful on the light table dies when labs here scan it, unless you pay $20+ per image for a custom scan. This is compounded by the fact that I shoot a lot of fashion on pure white or pure black backgrounds, and the lab operators are in auto scan mode looking for middle grey.

Your concern about the lab losing or damaging your negative is valid, and some labs here ship all scans (and E6 processing) out of town.

I think I'm going to invest in an Epson V700 or even a V600 and try doing my own 120 & 135 scans from film. Hopefully this will give me enough quality to get some decent prints at a fair price, without running the risk of loss or damage of processed film.

I am curious to hear what your take on this is, and of the opinions/experiences of others here.

I'd haul out my trusty Nikon film scanner and scan it. Then I'd print it on my Epson 2880. (Doing the processing in Lightroom. )

If you like wet printing, then it may be worth it to try a rental darkroom. Once you've familiarized yourself with the place you can come back and use it again and again, as the equipment doesn't change much (or at all) over time.

Me, I scan my negatives but I'm toying with the idea of setting up a darkroom for myself. It'd have to be a setup I could put away between uses, though, as the only place we have for it is the bathroom.

I subscribe to the Ansel Adams statement that a negative is the score, and the print the performance (or something thereabouts). IMHO, I'm the only one who can properly print (interpret) my own images, even if it may be of lesser technical quality than a darkroom wizard like Bruce Barnbaum or Sexton may obtain.

If I had the darkroom equipment on hand, even if in storage, I would mix up fresh chemistry, tape the bathroom door light-tight and print it myself. If I didn't have the equipment, I'd either scan and print it digitally, myself, or ship it off to be scanned professionally.

I realize there is a small danger of loss or damage, but sometimes a guy has no choice but to have faith.

My Coolscans and my calibrated monitors give me the freedom to compensate my non-existing darkroom skills. Personally I like the way of "WYSIWYG" on my computer.
Hopefully my Epson printer will arrive next month and then I will have the freedom to do the developing in B&W or C41 myself and have my pictures printed right in time.
I like the hybrid way to work and it makes my pictures look a little bit different from the total digital workchain, because the roots of my pictures are analog. Seems that there has to be at least one single analog step that makes the difference.
Yes, it's not that quick and easy a way of producing pictures but the result is worth it for me.

Well, for me, there is little chance that I am going back into the darkroom. And for the most part, I like the inkjet prints I make from scanned negatives better than my wet prints. That could be because I simply wasn't that great at darkroom printing. It could also be that after 30 years in the printing/publishing trade, ink on paper is the look that I am used to and prefer.

So I agree with Ralf; a hybrid work-flow suits me fine. And I also think he's right that prints from scanned negatives look different than prints from a digital camera. I can't quite put my finger on it, but the difference is real to me, particularly for black and white.

For most people reading this, I gather we're into photography as a hobby. So I'd choose the option that's the most fun for the best result and within budget. My dark room is long gone and so the fun I had in it. If the image is irreplaceable, then I would hand carry the negative to the most recognized pro lab for scanning and or printing. I'd pay them to worry about getting the best results. Some pro labs will pre-print or re-print to ensure customer satisfaction.
I still shoot film occasionally for many reasons most of all because I love the look and enjoy my Canon A1, however I more often reach for my Canon 5DMKII. Why? Because whatever the advantages of film, I'm entirely over wrestling with dust and scratches on negatives and slides.

My darkroom is long gone, and I really don't miss the time setting up in the bathroom, blocking the light under the door, mixing the chemicals, and then packing everything up again.
I do have a fairly decent scanner, but in this case I'd probably take (not send) it to a pro lab for scanning, and then do the print myself at home.

Having done several exhibitions of my current photographs, in 2006 I proposed a gallery in Milan a show totally focused on my Twentieth Century works, which I titled "Light-Years". My goal was to gather the most meaning (to me) black & white photographs I had shot from 1969 to 1999 and, so to speak, have that period sealed.
As a former darkroom geek, I would never trust anybody my photographs to get printed. So I choosed the same process I had used, more recently, before my final shift to digital: scan the negatives with my old Canon FS4000 (SCSI connected to my 2005 computer), edit the files in Photoshop and print them with my Epson Stylus Pro 7600. The results were very good, and my 60x90 cm prints easily sold.
This said, I would never go back to this process again (unless for vintage photographs). Even with Photoshop, dust spots and scratches removal is a drudgery. And most of the times film grain appears to bee too defined in vintage 400 ISO negatives (especially when exposed and developed to 800/1000 ISO), so that I had to lower a little bit the pixel resolution in most cases, until the files were as "soft" as the original silver prints I used as a reference.
On the other hand, this issue can be effectively overcome using a modern emulsion like Ilford Delta 400, overexposed to ISO 200 and developed accordingly. Negatives must be scanned at the lower possible contrast, with no sharpening at all.
But be warned: dust spots removal remains the same old torture. Enjoy.

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