First let me get something out of my system: Film should be wet printed! Yeah, and I should be really rich and the whole world should be at peace. Problem is, I don’t have the space and the time needed to wet print, so this is out of the equation.
Then there’s your local friendly photo lab. As much as I am for keeping local businesses in… business, I am definitely not happy with their prints, at least black and white prints.
Leaving only the scanner option…
I tried quite an assortment of film scanners over the past 3 years, ranging from a superb but old and definitely out of warranty Nikon Coolscan IV (LS40) to a Canoscan 9000F MkII.
Let me get it straight, the best one was the Nikon, closely followed by a Plustek 8100, with dedicated film scanners. The bad thing with the Plustek was that you have to load your film frame by frame, so this ties you up 100% near your scanner whereas the Nikon can at least scan strips of 6 negatives in one go. So the Nikon was definitely best… but if ever if breaks you’re out of luck. Over 10 years out of production, no repairs are possible…
Then there were the flatbed scanners I tried, the Canoscan an an Epson Perfection V600. Here we’re talking of a radicaly lower scan quality, at least with my 35mm film. They are faster scanning 12 negatives in one go, but resolution is faaaaaaaar from the advertised 9600 dpi it says on the Canoscan box. Tests I found online find a real resolution of about 1700 to 1800 dpi for these machines… if you use the maximum resolution, giving you huge, bloated files.
Then again, you also have the problem of getting the right colours out of your negatives. Even using the same scanning software (Use Vuescan! – don’t try the original software that comes with the scanners, if it still works on your modern OS, or even Silverfast which in my eyes is a terrible bloatware and exceedingly expensive).
Here are some examples from 3 of those scanners, from the same negative:
Canoscan 9000F MkII
Nikon Coolscan IV (LS40)
Plustek Opticfilm 8100 (colours are a bit wonky, sorry)
As you can see, the best by far is the Nikon, but the Canon gives usable results if you don’t print too large – but there’s always the nagging feeling that you’re missing out on something.
And then, there’s the time factor! I spend about 2 ½ to 3 hours watching the scanner do it’s thing and processing the pictures, and that’s a lot of time. Time you can use to look at photography books, to talk too your family… time lost!
This makes me ask, why bother with scanning at home? Why spend hours watching Vuescan’s slow progress? Why wondering if your settings were right and if this is really the most you can get out of your scanner? I even tried scanning the raw negatives and converting them with ColorPerfect which gave quite nice results – but doing this negative by negative is very time consuming.
I thought about digital, it’s carefree and time saving nature… I was tempted. But I said NO!, Vade retro Digital.
And then I found a great alternative!
I sent out my latest films to a professional lab, in my case it’s MeinFilmLab in Germany. They will develop and/or scan your films for an appropriate fee, and they do this extremely fast and in a very good quality.
Of course you might still post-process your photos to get them to your liking, but if you chose the neutral setting on their order form you will get VERY good starting point for your post work.
I sent a test-film, shot on my ‘new’ Olympus XA2 as a first test an I way very happy with the results. I chose a highest resolution scan at the cost of 17€ for dev and scanning. Any ‘unsharpness’ might be due to the camera or this old man’s shaking hands.
The film is a Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 that has already quite flashy colours….
They offer as well to storage your negatives for a fee of 10€ for one year and then they send them to you. You can as well chose the scan resolution, color and contrast balance to your liking.
Here are some examples, one post-processed and one straight out of their scanner. The B/W pictures have grain added… not their fault!
Straight from their scanner
And processed a bit in Lightroom
No really, why bother with scanning at home? OK, this comes at a cost, but I won’t shoot more than a roll or four a month, and the cost will stay reasonable.
As promised, here are more examples!
My advice, is to just go ahead and try out MeinFilmLab – they reply VERY fast to any question (German and English)
I should just say that I am not affiliated in any way with them – I won’t even get a rebate… And of course there’s lots of other labs around, just check online in your region.
Even more shots on my flickr here