EDIT: A friend of mine mentioned to me a few things about this post of which I've decided to clarify. And they are important enough to add this edit. My vision for how I process film is just one technique - wether that's scanning, choice of lab processing or developing at home. There are many who have used different techniques, equipment, flat bed scanners, and films of which the final outputs have been received without peer. It's never been my intent to offer the opinion of end/all, be/all - please keep that in mind.
Scanning film in the digital age
Coming at this as a newbie months ago, I really schooled myself about scanning services from labs: what they offer for resolution and pricing. None of which is standardized. And the idea of scanning my own developed film. Here's a quick distillation of my findings.
Scanning film becomes a confusing subject in this recent world of digital photography - as really the only purpose of the film scanning process is getting the best resolution possible.
The photographic / scanning labs aren't dumb either - after years of getting beat up by the influx of the digital camera eating into their survivability, they have now monetized the analog/digital aka "Hybrid" workflow with pricing tired services.
And I'll get to that in a moment.
There are a few components to the idea of scanning film. The first is the scanning; getting the resolution in-order to print something bigger than a postage stamp sized print (and I'm being a bit sarcastic of course).
The second is getting the scan to look like what would be expected when you would nakedly print. Meaning - the digital representation looks like the the original film stock, i.e. Kodak Portra, Kodak Ektar, Ilford HP5+, Ilford Delta, Koday Tri-X, etc. This can be tricky - and there are certain photoshop integrated pieces of software which keep the integrity of the "look" of the film you've scanned.
The third - is the price. That's were the monetization of services from the lab comes in. Bigger scan = more cost. Color vs. BW is a price difference there also. Color is easier to scan as the dust removal is more automated - BW scanning needs to be “spotted” manually which is more laborious.
So now I'm just touching the surface - and let's not forget shipping, i.e. getting it to the lab. Ugh. That’s a part of the expense also.
One would think that the scanning sizes per price paid would all be standardized.
But as you look around at which labs are worth considering you will see that scanning resolution sizes are not necessarily tied to price.
I might also add -- that if you are a lab and you are not scanning - then I don't even consider your services. But why -- why do you want a scan ?? --- Well that's a bit of another conversation but suffice to say - that wet printing is a bit of a diminishing return for how good ink jet and how capable large format ink jet has become.
Here's a taste of the confusion -- these numbers include Development and Scanning
theDarkroom.com 35mm BW
1024x1536 - $11
2048x3072 - $15
4492x6774 - $20
2285x3035 - $22
3042x4040 - $27
3647x5444 - $32
This is an example of what I mean -- Price and Resolution - you would think this would easily be your guide, but there is no correlation between the two. One doesn’t compliment the other - and here's another curve ball -- what's the secret sauce if there is a difference of price - what is theFindLab giving you for that extra $12 bucks on their top of the line scan compared to the theDarkroom ???
Is it better dust correction - do they care more - or is a scan a scan, especially when you are talking a high volume production shop ?
I've used these two labs as I’ve gotten started in the film hybrid workflow -- theDarkroom out of CA, and theFindLab out of UT., and I'm torn. TheFindLab is probably one of the most expensive in the country - yet I've never had to second guess with what they have provided me. The DarkRoom has great resolution, is sometimes a 1/3 cheaper but I've had to send some stuff back to be re-done, 5” prints to be exact.
So what's the future hold -- Well. As I get deeper into film I've started developing BW and color C-41 and scanning myself. I've secured a Nikon LS-8000 for MFormat film getting 4000dpi and a Minolta Dimage 5400 for 35mm at 5400 dpi.
Everything I’m doing is “cradle to grave”.
Both of these scanners will give me resolution competitive if not better than standard lab offerings - but the process for me will be a time hog. So either way you are paying -- in time or in money.
And here’s the rub - the scanners producing these outputs desirable aren’t made anymore. Yep - Nikon and Minolta scanners don’t exist as new - and services to repair them don’t exist either. Yet the frustrating part is that no one makes a comparable product - yes the technology of 2000 can’t be matched - Mind blower. Expect to pay at least $1000 for a Nikon first generation LS-8000 and expect to pay $500 for a Minolta Dimage I, used.
In closing -- the only way to see how a lab treats your negs., is to try them - util you come to the point of wanting to create your own work flow.
While I’m at it — let’s keep this conversation going — what happened to the “Flatbed option” ? Good question.
Ok — if your are planning to use a flat bed — Epson 600, 650, 700, 750, 800, 850 then you will hit the wall of real resolution vs. interpolated resolution. Meaning - the flat beds really don’t resolve past 2400 dpi. And, if you are a purest in all sense of the term then that just won’t be good enough for your artwork. There are many internet posts on this subject to be searched - and this was quite an eye-opener upon researching it - as I had no idea about this aspect.
On another note, and this is the biggest reason I’m not flatbedding - the flat beds can’t adjust and focus on the film image - so you may not get the sharpness you are entitled too. The flatbeds have an arbitrary focusing point - it’s either good out of the box, or horrible.
Whew — ok — so you got all of that ?