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Getting Started In Film Photography

Velvia 100 film

     Film      Miscellaneous How-To


There are a lot of photographers getting back into film.  Quite a few are discovering it for the first time.  This is incredibly cool, because today we have both film and digital:  two different photographic media with their own unique characteristics.  (Both are dead, depending on whom you ask, but that doesn't stop any of us.)  It's actually a great time to be a photographic artist. 

In previous articles (here and here, just for starters) I've already talked about why film still has so much attraction even today.  The same reasons hold true now as then, and probably there are other reasons too.

I've been meaning for a long time to do a "How to Get Started In Film" piece, so here it finally is.  (I first wrote this article about four years ago, now with some updates for 2018.)

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In This Article

1.  Choosing a Film Camera

2.  Choosing Film

3.  Where to Get Film Developed

4.  Scanning / Digitizing Photos

5.  PrintingYour Photos

1.  Choosing a Film Camera

If you're just starting out in film, get yourself a good 35mm camera.  You can always progress to 120 or 4x5 later.  35mm is less expensive per shot, and it's possible to get developed locally in most larger towns or cities.  

35mm used to be an amateur format, with the exception of sports and news photogs who used it professionally.  For a long time, digital cameras could not match the resolution of a well-scanned 35mm picture.  Today's 24 to 50 MP DSLR's may have more resolution than 35mm film, but just as I said years ago, they still don't look like film.  It was always about much more than detail resolution.

Two of the main 35mm camera types are the "point and shoot" and the SLR.   (There's also the "toy camera", such as one of these.  Also in the toy camera category are many others, such as Holga 135 or the Great Wall PF-1.) 

Just starting out, I would get a good 35mm SLR, which we'll talk about shortly.  However, there are a number of point & shoots that have zoom capability.  

The Stylus Epic Zoom 80 is a good choice, but be sure to read my review for some precautions when buying one.  You can get one on Ebay for various prices.  (At a yard sale, you may find one for two dollars.  That's where I got mine.) 

There are a lot of other great, functioning 35mm point & shoot cameras out there, too.  Almost every camera company made these.  In other articles we'll look at some specific ones, but you can't go too far wrong by just picking up two or three different ones and trying them.  There are many of them priced $30 or less, and you should be able to find quite a few at less than $10 apiece. 

Now, for the SLR category.   Just like a DSLR, the 35mm film SLR has an interchangeable lens.  So you can choose from whichever lenses were designed for that camera type. 

Though it may seem plain and kind of boring, your best starting lens is probably the classic 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.7 lens.  If your subject doesn't fill the screen (er, viewfinder), just walk up closer to it.  If it's too close, step back. 

50mm is usable for most of your people pictures and scenery shots;  you can get by with no other focal length for quite a while.  If you want autofocus and you're using a Nikon camera body, try the 50mm f/1.8D AF (available here.  Focused manually, it works with most Nikon film SLR's).  I should probably mention this lens will not autofocus on your D3200, D5100, etc, but it works just fine with Nikon film cameras that have their own autofocus motors.  The f/1.8D AF is not a "fantastic" lens by professional standards, but it's a good beginner lens that's very sharp through most of its aperture range.

The 50mm f/1.8D AF works great on the Nikon 6006, a vastly underrated camera.  (Get yours here or here and you can help keep my website on-line.)  For the money, the 6006 was one of the best cameras Nikon ever made.  (With any of these things, that's a bit subjective, but it's a good, usable camera.)  I've had one of these for many years.  It has some pro features and doesn't cost that much on the used market.  Its only real drawback is that it uses a weird battery that's kind of expensive, but it's not that much of an issue.  Well, it's enough of a pain that it sort of keeps the resale value down.  That's good for you if you're looking for an inexpensive film camera with motorwind.  (Just don't store the battery in the camera when you're not using it, so you don't accidentally leave it on like I've done 1,000 times.  Well, it seems like that many.) 

Couple the Nikon 6006 with that 50mm f/1.8D AF that I mentioned, or get a used manual-focus 50mm f/1.8 Series E AIS, and you're all set.   Either of these lenses:  pure photographic joy.   Sure, there are better lenses, but not better inexpensive ones.

Another camera which can sometimes be found for even cheaper is the Nikon 4004s (usually available here).   Shown in the picture with one of the worst Nikon lenses of all time:  the 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AF kit lens.  But it works alright for scenery.  (You really should never pay more than $25 for this lens.  Ever.  Often you can buy a working camera with that lens for $25.)

Here's one taken with the N4004 and the 35-70mm lens:

Nikon 4004s
35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AF

The 4004 was designed as more of an amateur camera, but it has all the major modes (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Auto).  It has a unique "Decision Master" metering system that works pretty well.   AI-S / Series E manual Nikon lenses won't meter with the 4004, because it was actually designed to be used with Nikon AF lenses that have that little switch that locks the aperture ring to f/22.  The camera then controls the aperture using the dials.  This was a trend which would later devolve into "G" (gelded) lenses.  I may do a review of the 4004 some other time.

Now here's a camera I really like:  the Canon EOS 620.  It has P, S, A, and M modes (actually, Canon uses "Tv" instead of "S" to denote Shutter Priority.)  You can often pick up a Canon EOS 620 body for $15 to $25 on Ebay.  One nice thing is that it will use the same EF lenses as your Canon DSLR (except EF-S lenses).   If you get an EOS 620, the next thing I'd do is pick yourself up this lens.  Then if you ever get a Canon DSLR-- any one of them-- it will work on those too.

If you can do without Aperture Priority mode and you don't need to use modern Canon DSLR lenses, another great choice is the Canon AE1 Program (get one here or here).  The AE1 operates in Program Auto or Manual mode, with Shutter Priority also possible.  (There's also the regular AE-1 which lacks Program Auto mode, but it has Shutter Priority and Manual modes.)
My AE-1 / AE-1 Program "classic review" will be up as soon as I get around to it, but believe me when I say you can't go wrong with this camera.  (Unless you like Aperture Priority mode, which it lacks.)  I remember when the AE-1 Program hit the market, because at the time I had a 110 film camera and could only dream of having a pro-quality SLR.   (Not long afterward I got a Pentax, then later a Nikon, but my own AE-1 would have to wait a long time.)  Don't get me wrong;  it's not necessarily any better than several of the other classic film SLR's.  But it is good.

There's also the Canon T70 (available through this link or this one).   The T70 will run in either Programmed Auto or Shutter-Priority mode.  Both the AE-1 and the T70 take the old Canon FD-mount lenses, which thankfully are still inexpensive because DSLR owners can't pillage them (they don't fit EOS cameras, so ha!!).

I have a full review of the Canon T70 here, with some notes on using the camera. 

If you don't need automatic-anything, you could always start out with the great Pentax K1000 (get one here or here).  I used to have a K1000 many years ago.  It's just an all-around great camera.

When buying second-hand on the Internet, be sure you're buying from a seller who knows how to test the camera, or if not, make sure it's priced accordingly.  My last camera purchase was from an engineer who used his Nikon to photograph artillery shells leaving the muzzle at a test site.  They were blurry streaks, but that still requires some super-fast shutter speeds.  The point is, I found an ebay seller who knew his stuff, and I knew I was getting a working camera. 

Some of the 35mm cameras that were still being made sort of tapered off or were discontinued (2010-2015) because those were still the lean years for film.  In the past couple of years, film has really started to make a comeback, so it's possible we may finally see a good, all-manual SLR reach the market again.  Durability and simplicity of function would be #1 priority, followed by compatibility with a standard lens system.  But for now, there are a couple cameras that were being newly-made until the 2010's, and you can still find these "as new" or lightly used.

The Vivitar V3800 and Nikon FM10 are the two recent-production film SLR's I know of (the much more expensive-- and awesome-- Nikon F6 was also being made until the 2010's, but like-new ones are still around).  The V3800 is pretty good for the money;  I've put a lot of hours on one.  The V3800N will accept standard Pentax K-mount lenses;  the FM10 accepts standard Nikon F-mount lenses.   I have a full review of the V3800 here.  

Don't forget the batteries.  There are some great cameras out there that take non-AA batteries, so make sure you order the right ones.  One rookie mistake is to test a camera when the batteries are running down.  On some cameras this can drastically throw off the light meter readings.  (It depends on the voltage regulator circuitry).

Here are some cameras that take batteries other than "AA": 
Canon AE-1.........PX28 / 4LR44 (dog collar battery)
Canon EOS 620......2CR5
Nikon 6006.........Duracell Photo Lithium 223
Nikon FM10.........SR44 or Energizer 357 (x 2 each) or CR1/3N (x 1 ea.)
Pentax K1000.......SR44 or Energizer 357
Vivitar V3800N.....SR44 or Energizer 357 (x 2 each)

There are quite a few others that take non-AA batteries, obviously.  These are just some of the ones I've owned or used in the past. 

(The T70 and N4004S take AA batteries.)

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2.  Choosing Film

Negative film (color or black & white) has very wide exposure latitude.  That makes it great for beginners, because your metering doesn't have to be spot-on (when in doubt, it's better to overexpose slightly with negative film). 

Color negative film is probably the better choice over B&W, simply because you can get it developed at a one-hour photo place... and you can have color if you want it, or just Photoshop your scan to make it B&W. 

However, they do make chromogenic (C41 process) black and white film.  (It's black-and-white, not color, but it develops in C-41 chemistry.)  This is another good alternative.  I still use chromogenic B&W very often.

If you want regular black & white film, know that you must get it developed with real "black & white" process.  It will come out blank if you use C-41.  That's permanent, so don't mix them up!  In other words, you have to send this film in to a pro lab that does true B&W, or else you have to learn to develop it yourself.   I like Kodak 400TX and Ilford HP5 Plus the best of all B&W films.  You can pick up a 10-roll pack of HP5 Plus here, which is one of the more economical ways to buy it (unless you spool your own).   Another film I really like is Ilford Delta 400, which is a more contrasty film.  (10-roll pack here.)  Delta is also less grainy than HP5+. 

True black & white has a tonality that's hard to replicate, even by turning down the saturation on color film scans.  It's good stuff.

For all-around daylight work with color, I shoot a lot of Superia 200 and 400, as well as Kodak Ultramax 400.   The Kodak seems to have warmer tones.  Of the professional color-neg films, I really like Kodak Ektar 100.  It can yield those saturated bubble-gum colors.  Also I really like Kodak Portra 160 and 400.  (These have more exposure latitude than Ektar, which behaves more like slide film.)  Once in a while I use Fuji Pro 400H especially when shooting medium format.  Other than that, I shoot mostly slide films (see below).

Low-Light / Hi-Speed Films

DSLR's usually have the advantage for low-light situations, but the film SLR can do pretty well with a fast 50mm lens and some 800 film.  Some developing places will also push process the film (may cost extra).  That means with 800 film you can set the camera's ASA / ISO setting at 1600 (i.e., 1 stop "push") or 3200 (2 stops).  Just make sure you arrange ahead of time to have your film push processed.  Dale Labs will do 1 stop of push processing, but not 2, so you can shoot Superia 800 at 1600 and they'll develop it as 1600.   Some other places will do 2 stops... contact them first.

Kodak Portra 400 pushes to 800 or 1600 without a problem.  6400 is attainable if you learn to develop it yourself

In Black & White films, Ilford HP5+ 400 and Kodak 400TX (a.k.a. Tri-X) both push well.  I've pushed 400TX as high as 12800 with good results;  that's a five-stop push!  You'll probably have to develop it yourself to attain that, and it might take some practice.  You can push either of these B&W films to 1600 or 3200 almost without even trying, though.  Almost any good pro-lab will offer that service. 

The standard way, though, is just to use the 800 film at 800 and get it developed normally.  I do this a lot, because after a while you get good at holding the camera still at 1/60th or even 1/30th of a second.  No image stabilization, so you have to wait for the right pose!

Fuji Superia 800
Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Series E
f/1.8 @ 1/60th

Both Fuji Superia 800 and Kodak Portra 800 work well pushed up to ISO 3200.  Portra is a pro film, so it costs quite a bit more, but it's finer grained than Superia.  You'll probably also have to do less color adjusting of your scans.  That said, I really like Superia 800, but maybe that's because I like grainy films.  Then again it's not always that grainy.... daylight shots seem no more grainy than the 400 or even the 200, sometimes.  Depends on the conditions, lighting, and the developing.  Also on how the film was stored, probably.  Keep your film in the freezer for longest life.  Faster films especially.  Refrigerate them, at least. 

Slide Films

For the best in color rendition, get slide film, which is developed by the E-6 processFujichrome Velvia has high saturation.  This is the stuff for blue skies and autumn foliage.  And ignore those posts around the Internet where some distributor said Velvia is being "discontinued" and they "can't get it anymore".  If I had a nickel for every time someone said that since 2010 (actually, earlier than that), I'd be able to buy a lot of film.  Some people thrive on saying your favorite thing is "going away", either to create drama or to get a rise out of you.  It reminds me of the guy at the local film counter.  (If that happens to you, see below for "Pro Labs".)

Digital cameras often have a "slide film" mode, but it's never going to be slide film, and it's definitely never going to be Velvia.  So ignore the rumors and hype, and go get you some Velvia 50 or 100 for your 35mm SLR.  (And yes, Velvia 100 is still available in 4x5 at the time I write this.)

Fujichrome Provia 100 has more true-to-life rendition for doing portraits.   The colors are still good, though;  choose colorful scenes, and the pictures will have nice saturation.

Digital cameras never seem to get sky-blue quite right.  Slide film nails the color perfectly.  Nothing else can achieve quite that look.   Chemists worked for years to get that color right.

Slide film has fairly narrow tolerance for over- or underexposure.  That said, any camera with a good light meter (even an FM10 or V3800N) can handle slide film.  Heck, I even shoot slide film using the "Sunny 16 Rule" on sunny days, and it looks fine.  (I actually use a variant, the Sunny 11 rule.  That's f/11 at 1/125th of a second.)  Using this setting, I can get nice slide shots with a Belomo Vilia, a cheap commie camera that doesn't have any light meter at all!  (Read my review of the Vilia here.)


Buying Film

It used to be that we had a local camera shop staffed by two really knowledgeable photographers, but unfortunately they decided to close up shop.  (This was in those "lean years" before film made a comeback.)  Now, I buy all my film through Amazon or Ebay, except for some of the C-41 film which I still buy locally.  I like to keep buying some film that way, just because I'd hate to see the choices dry up completely there.  That would just accelerate the transition to a dumbed-down world of smartphones and smartphone accessories (more than it already is).   So I buy a lot of Superia 200, 400, and 800 locally when I can.  That said, you can't get Velvia or Portra at the local shops, so...

Velvia 50 in 35mm (5-roll pro pack)..... available here
Velvia 100 in 35mm (5-roll pro pack)..... through this link

Velvia 50 in 120 film (5-roll pro pack).... here
Velvia 100 in 120 film (5-roll pro pack).... here

Portra 800 in 35mm (5-roll pro pack).... through this link

Portra 800 in 120 film (5-roll pro pack).... here

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3.  Where to Get Film Developed!!

The three main film processes today are:

C-41.........Color Negative Film   (Example:  Fuji Superia, Kodak Portra, Kodak Ektar)

B&W........Black & White Negative Film  (Examples: Ilford HP5+,  Kodak T-Max, Kodak Tri-X)

E-6............Color Slide Film  (Examples:  Fujichrome Velvia, Provia)

Some black and white is "chromogenic" (C-41 process) and can be developed at a regular C-41 lab. 
Examples:  Ilford XP2, Kodak BW400CN.

Local developing....   call around your town or city for a C-41 minilab.   Increasingly, this is a hit-or-miss proposition.  I would start with CVS, Rite-Aid, Costco, Sam's Club, and Walgreens.  (You have to pay to be a member of Costco or Sam's.)  Try to get "develop only" and scan your own.   Print only the ones you like.

Not every branch has a C-41 minilab, but some do.  Your experience with minilabs can depend a lot on the staff and their individual attitudes and level of training.   "Not paid enough to care" has become all too common at corporate-owned stores.  And not just with film.

Some other stores in your city may offer C41 developing, but they send the film out to another place.  If you're going to drive somewhere to get film developed, I'd go with a place that does it in-house.  Then you can drop off the film, go take some more pictures for an hour or so, and get your pictures an hour later.   Otherwise just use a Pro lab and you don't have to waste a long drive.

That said, I should mention that Wal Mart is still doing mail-out film developing.  You can even get slide film (E-6) developed.   I have one or two non-critical rolls of C41 I might try out there.  We'll see how it goes. 

Pro labs are really the way to go.  You won't have to deal with untrained or misinformed staff, which is becoming increasingly common at corporate chain-stores.  Pro labs are usually run by long-time photographers who care about getting good results. 

Here are just a few places. 
Harder-to-find sizes are highlighted in bold text.  Technically, anyone who uses dip-and-dunk can just take any size film out of its canister and develop it.   Call them to make sure.  Some of them won't do 110 film, even though it would be technically possible, but most will do 35mm and 120/220, at least. 

Bison Photo - Huntington Beach, CA - www.bisonphoto.com (C-41 only) (110 / APS / 35mm / 120 / 220)

BWC - Dallas, TX - www.bwc.net (C-41 / B&W) (35mm / 120 / 220 / 4x5 thru 8x10)

Colourworks - Wilmington, DE - colourworks.com (C-41 / E-6 / B&W) (35mm / 120 / 220 / 4x5 thru 8x10)

Dale Labs - Hollywood, FL - www.dalelabs.com  (C-41 / E-6 / B&W) (35mm / 120 / 220) 

Dwayne's Photo - Parsons, KS - www.dwaynesphoto.com (C-41 / E-6 / B&W) (Disc Film / 110 / 126 / APS / 35mm / 120 / 220)  Yes, Dwayne's still processes slide film.  They only stopped doing Kodachrome, because K14 film is no longer available. 

The Darkroom - San Clemente, CA - www.thedarkroom.com (C-41 / E-6 / B&W) (110 / 126 / APS / 35mm / 110 / 220 / 4x5 thru 8x10)

Denver Digital Imaging - Denver, CO - www.theslideprinter.com (E-6 only) (35mm / 120 / 220 / 4x5)

Fromex Photo & Digital - Long Beach, CA - www.fromex.com (C-41 / E-6 / B&W) (110 / APS / 35mm / 120 / 220)

Keith French Photo -  Elgin, IL - http://kfrenchphoto.com/services/  (C-41 only) (35mm  / 120 / 220)

North Coast Photo - Carlsbad, CA - www.northcoastphoto.com  (C-41 / E-6 / B&W) (35mm / 120 / 220 / 4x5 thru 8x10)

Pittsburgh Custom Darkroom - Pittsburgh, PA - www.photoprocess.com  (C-41 / B&W)  (35mm / 120 / 220.  Also does 4x5 thru 8x10 Black & White only) (updated 7/7/2014)

Praus Productions - Rochester, NY - www.4photolab.com  (C-41 / E-6 / B&W)  (35mm / 120 / 220 / 4x5 thru 11x14 sheet film!)  I've had a lot of 4x5 developed here and have been very happy.  Also lots of color slide film. 

120processing.com (C-41 / B&W)  (120 film only)   Despite the "120" in the name, I have no affiliation with these guys... but I do use 'em to develop 120 film.

Oldschoolphotolab.com - same guys from 120processing, but this lab does all the other stuff (E-6, B&W, 35mm, etc.) 

Ritz Camera - it would appear RitzPix.com offers film developing, or you can visit any one of their store locations and drop off the film.

If anyone wants me to add a place to this list, contact me.  I don't have any non-USA sites on here yet, but if you know of any good ones, let me know.  UK, Australia, Brazil, Russia... wherever you are, who develops your film, and who does the best job?  Email me.

Here's a tip.  If your pictures are important to you (as they probably are), make sure the photo processing place uses a tracking number on your developed film..  Also make sure they don't use Flat Rate Envelopes, because these rip open very easily.  A box of slides will rip right out of the envelopes when someone presses on it.  So, ask your film developing place if they use real boxes with tracking numbers.  Some places offer UPS Ground return shipping but it's something like $8 to $10.  Wait until you accumulate three or four rolls of film, then go for that.  The first time you lose an important batch of film, you will wish you had it shipped right!

Here's another tip.  Look really carefully at the picture below.  C-41 minilabs use rollers that can leave marks on your film.  For fun stuff it doesn't matter, and maybe for artistic stuff it adds to the charm, but if you're detail-conscious (or your customers don't appreciate "effects"), use a pro lab that develops by the dip-and-dunk method.  The automated C-41 minilab can mar your film during the developing, and again when they make prints from your negatives.  I had a one-hour minilab put a permanent burn spot on every picture in a couple rolls of negatives when they made prints.   Still not sure what happened there, and neither were they. 

A good minilab operator won't have these problems, though;  I'm sure there are still some non-corporate places that use minilab equipment. 

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4.  Scanning / Digitizing Your Photos

There are three basic ways to do this.

- Basic Lab Scanning
- Drum Scanning
- Scan Them Yourself!

1.)  Basic Lab Scanning.  The typical "Photo CD" allows for enlargements of maybe 8x10 if you're lucky.  Sure you can make bigger ones, but you'll see the pixel artifacts that were introduced by the scanning.  It's too time-consuming for a lab to do high-res scans of all your negatives or slides and still be able to offer it for eight or ten bucks. 

Most of these labs use Noritsu film scanners.  Some of them will do higher-res scans for you (up to 3089 x 2048 pixels), but that's still not really very "hi-res" by today's standards.   The images tend to be a bit more contrasty than I like, but they might just be setting the contrast high.  Probably that's because people like high-contrast pictures.  The problem is that it loses tone detail.   Sometimes, badly.  This was one of the great travesties of early film scanning.  A lot of people scanned their film or slides at these resolutions, and they used too much contrast, then they threw away the originals.  Don't do that!!!

There are ways to bring up the contrast in a picture without losing as much tone detail.  I don't know how to operate a Noritsu film scanner, so I can't say how to set it for that.   But if you're going to go with a Noritsu-type scanner, deal with someone who has been doing it for a long time.  Keith French Photography offers Noritsu film scanning services and he's been in the business since the 1980's.  Give Keith a try for C41 developing, too.  Veteran-owned business.

2.)  Drum Scanning.  This is the best-quality scanning you can get, although today with 50 MP DSLR's it doesn't really have a resolution advantage anymore.  Drum scanning does have an advantage in preserving tones, from what I've seen.  Expensive but worth it.  A good drum scan operator really has to know what they're doing, and the process is rather labor-intensive.   Even macro-cap scanning, which you all know I talk about constantly (see below), still can't outdo a good drum scan.   OK, maybe it can for 35mm, but maybe not for medium and large format.

Imacon scanners are not true drum scanners, but the quality is comparable.  They bend the negative or transparency as if it were on a drum ("virtual drum" technology).   An Imacon 848 can scan 35mm at up to 5000 true dpi.

Contact Danny Burk.  He's a photographic artist who offers drum scanning services.  Unlike some operators, Danny will scan color negative film.  That's good, because a lot of 4x5 shooters like to use Ektar and Portra. 

Also try Richard Auger.  He uses a Hasselblad / Imacon 848.  

Denver Digital Imaging Center (theslideprinter.com) also does drum scanning.

The Lab Ciba was mentioned by a reader.  Burbank, California.  They also do Ilfochrome / Cibachrome prints, last I checked.

Edgar Praus (www.4photolab.com) does Imacon 848 scanning up through 5x7.

3.)  Scanning them yourself, which could mean:

          A.)  Flatbed.  Epson V700 (available here) or V750 (here) are the most likely choices.  They're good for scanning negatives, 120/220, and 4x5.  They are the best choice for slides with large bright / clear areas that would cause glare in DSLR capture.  For most other uses I actually prefer...

          B.)  Macro Capture (read my articles on how to capture slides or negatives).  This method is slower than flatbed scanning but offers much better sharpness and detail, if you do it right.   Use a good multi-coated macro lens to minimize glare in bright areas.

"Real" prosumer film scanners like the Nikon Coolscan are not being made anymore.  Macro capture can only get better as DSLR technology improves.

If you want the ultimate home scanning setup and don't want to spend $12,000 on a used Imacon, go straight for a Nikon D800 or D810 and this lens, plus a copy stand and a light pad (talked about here).  I suggest the D800 / 810 because it's got high enough resolution to preserve a lot of detail in the larger film formats, and its full-frame sensor will impart less of that "digital" harshness to the captures.    I like Canon, though, so I'd actually go for the Canon 6D (review here) because I want to use it for other stuff.  20 MP is mostly good enough for 35mm scanning, especially for small print and Web resolutions.

Actually, the 6D with a good lens is pretty awesome for macro capture.

If you've hung around this site for a while, you probably know I prefer macro capture.  Flatbed scanning is passable, though, and I used to do flatbed scanning with an Epson V500.  Then I'd send the scans to Dale Labs or someone else for printing.  Now, I do macro cap of all my better photos.  I have a couple in the queue for drum scanning, but it will probably be a while before I get around to sending them off.

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5.  Printing Your Photos

Many of the pro developing labs offer pro-quality printing, as well.  If you do lab-corrected color, they will decide what adjustments look the best on their photographic paper.  One rookie mistake is to assume that what's on your screen is what's going to appear on the paper.  That's not how it works.  Your computer screen is emitted light.  Printed images are reflected light.    The printed images always look darker, so you have to adjust the image before printing to compensate.  There is a limit to what you can do, though.  

A good strategy:  first get your contact sheet or small preview images in hand.  Then decide which ones you want printed large.  Just make sure the image is in-focus before you spend the money to print it large.  You can't always tell unless you can enlarge the picture and really examine it on the computer screen.  This is why I prefer macro capture.  However, the experienced people at the pro labs generally know what they're doing. 

I've never gone wrong with Dale Labs for printing my film pictures.  Another reason I'll use them in preference to a chain store is that Dale Labs also processes film, including E-6.  Our local pharmacy should take a lesson from this.  Dale got me in the door by offering film developing, then I buy other stuff like metallic prints.   (Whatever you do, though, make sure you ask for a tracking number on return shipments of film.   Call ahead.)

The Lab Ciba (Burbank, CA) still offers Ilfochrome printing, which is the traditional "analog" method to make direct prints from color slides.  Expensive, but nothing else can compare to the vibrance and depth.  Ilfochrome prints are incredible.

For less-important stuff, there's always your local big-box superstore.  Their printing is not as good as what you'd get with Dale Labs or somewhere like that, but it's convenient.  Superficially the pictures look great;  it's just that the inks and the paper are typically not as good at your local store as they would be from a pro lab.  At least that's been my experience.  Big-box store printing methods can also blow out highlights.   You could have a film scan where highlights are washing out due to overexposure (such as in that baby picture shown above), and that looks OK because it's gradual.  But when you get the prints back at your local big-box store, there can be harsh clipping that wasn't there before.  Uncareful digital processing will do that.   "Everything's going digital", huh?   Color me not impressed.

Increasingly, I am avoiding chain stores for anything photo-related.  Most of these places have already been run into the ground from advanced bean-counting.   Pro labs are usually the way to go, although you might find one or two chain stores that still do film services well.

Table of Contents


This has been a look at the gear-related aspects of getting into film photography.  In a future article I may talk more about actual camera techniques-- and actually if you look around this site you'll find some already-- but for now I wanted to cover the basics of "what camera", "what film", "where to get developed", and so on. 

Some more stuff may be added to this article later, when I feel like it, but I think I've covered the major points.  Someone will email me, hopefully, if I haven't!

I hope you've found this article helpful.  It really helps when you purchase any of your stuff through the links on here.   This website depends on the support of readers like you.  Much appreciated! 

As always, thanks for visiting my site.

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