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April 15, 2013


Here in the UK there are still several labs processing by mail order, and you can also still get processing done in a few of the larger supermarkets (eg ASDA, owned by Walmart, which does process-only C41 for £2 a roll, and charges £1 for a CD with what I think of as a "low res" scan at about 1200 dpi). Quite a lot of film fans seem to do their own black and white processing, using a changing bag and tank rather than the full-blown darkroom (I haven't tried this yet). Both black and white and transparency films are more expensive to get processed commercially, and fewer labs do them, sometimes with slower turnarounds. It all does add quite a bit of expense, but on the other hand there's magic in older cameras, and some wonderful lenses can be had quite cheaply, so you can sometimes get a really classy outfit for less than the price of an entry DSLR!

I process BW myself, and leave colour to my local camera shop, which, in turn processes 35mm locally and sends off 120 format to a regional pro lab.

I've tried their CD options, and while it works I prefer to scan myself using my V750. It's iffy for 35mm, but fine for 120. I use MF more than 35mm so I can live with that. Scan time is no problem, so I scan everything and preview the scans.

Load a holder, then go and do something else for half an hour while the scanner works. Or I start one holder when I get home; one after dinner; and one before bed. The results are slow, but I spend very little actual time on it.

Scans are "raw", as in, I scan as transparent images, not negatives, and save to 16 bit TIF. I don't let the scanner software do anything to the images; instead I do all post-processing myself with a combination of scripts I've written, Darktable and Gimp.

Would love to set up a darkroom. Just don't have the space for it unfortunately.

I'm a confirmed Costco photographer.

Almost all Costco locations process C-41 film (except, of course, the one nearest me). They do it in one hour. So I drop my rolls off, go shopping, eat lunch and they're done.

I then scan the prints I like. It's not the most deluxe approach, and of course they don't do "real" B&W (Kodak CN400 looks fine, though), but whaddya want for $6 a roll?

Going back to chemical processing in the present digital era sounds more like self punishment. If you get a kick out of it, well, it is OK.
But photography is about getting photos and not about self flagellating in a dark room with all the fumes and smells. Till I changed over to the digital I used to do my own B and W processing in a good, spacious dark room but now the very thought sends a shiver through my spine.
Ranjit Grover India


You're writing to a guy who actually enjoyed printing in a darkroom and who still misses it. That said, it has been years since I last set it up and I have no trouble understanding why not everyone loved B&W printing as much as I did. Because I also still like to shoot film every now and then, I looked for a convenient alternative to home processing or distant and/or low-quality local labs. I shared my answer for those who share my interest and situation. As always, your milage may vary.

+1 for Costco. I take my 35mm color negative film there. $1.59 per roll for process-only. Then I scan them in myself. Slide film, B&W, or 120 gets sent away. I've used The Darkroom, Dwayne's, and North Coast Photo.

Lucky me: there is a professional lab/real camera shop about an hour away in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I take my colour negative work and the occasional b/w roll (usually looking for light leaks in my Ukrainian rangefinders). I most often process b/w at home, and take the negatives of the ones I think are deserving to Pro Camera to have them print them. I've got two choices around the place where I could set up a chemical darkroom, which I've been fixin' to do for some time. Maybe this year will be the charm.

With best regards,

What I really enjoyed doing in the darkroom was printing: the test exposure, the dodging, the burning, the smells, the magical emergence of the image in the developer. Sending film away so that somebody else (or some machine) has that experience doesn't appeal to me. I have a manual-focus 35mm SLR decorating my "photo desk" (Mac mini + monitor), but I haven't shot a roll of film in 5 years, and don't miss it. I do my processing in Lightroom, send the files to Denver, and a few days later get prints back that are almost exactly what I had on the screen.

Well, I miss printing film a little... There is something about loading a roll of film, unloading it after shooting, and having images come out that SD cards just don't match.


Thanks for the excellent post Gordon.

I've never had the ambition to do color processing (slide or negative) myself. And with my current set of digital tools I see no reason to start. Yes, many of my images have color casts, spots, scratches, color dye issues, grain from underexposure and so on. But there's so much I can do with film scans in my digital darkroom to repair and enhance the images.

I've never had it this good, with respect to film-based photography. That's what I keep thinking whenever I pop a negative into my scanner (a top notch Minolta 2800 dpi scanner). Film has improved, the lab I use has consistent quality, my current computer is so much faster with processing images than ten years ago.

In Rotterdam (The Netherlands) I have a few options for developing film. The by far easiest option is to drop off the film at HEMA, a national retailer. They have the film developed and printed at a Fujifilm-owned lab, if I remember correctly. E-6 slide development is less than 4,- euros for 35mm. The results are delicious.

The 5x4in prints that come with the C-41 development from this lab are usually so-so, mostly because there's crazy amounts of sharpening before printing. But that's the digital part of color printing, and applies equally to prints from digital cameras. Probably a up/downsampling related issue.

My experiences with black and white and labs haven't been very encouraging in the past few years. It's expensive and of low quality (and one roll vanished last year -- I always have the impression that that is more common with lower volume work). To me, black and white is a valid candidate for the "wet" home dark room.

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