Tag Archives: questions

Tips for Finding a Film Developer

I recently got an email from a reader, Genaro Orengo, concerning workflow with film — specifically going from analog to digital. Here’s that email:

I recently read your post “Diana+ Camera Review”. I am curious as to your workflow for getting the shots from the film to the computer. Is there anyway you can share that with me? I am interested in shooting with the Diana, but am a little uninformed when it comes to medium format film.

And my quick response:

I get the film developed at a local photography store — most places will be able to process 120 format film (it’s still pretty standard stuff). Actually, I should say that most places will do C-41 (color negative) processing of 120 film. Slide film and b/w film are a little harder to find developers for. I just have them “develop only” — meaning no prints and no cuts. Then I cut them into the appropriate lengths and run them through my scanner (CanoScan 8400F) as full resolution TIF files. Then I just treat those files like RAW files and process them through Bridge/ACR or Photoshop if needed. If you don’t have a scanner (and if you don’t want to invest in one), most places that develop film also offer film scanning. The resolution will be somewhat low, but certainly large enough for web display. So really, you shouldn’t shy away from 120 format film just because it’s “medium format”. You just need to find a place that has the right equipment to handle it. Call around and ask them if they can develop 120 film, if they can process E-6 or b/w, if they do cross processing (E-6 as C-41), if they offer film scanning, and at what resolution.

But I wanted to expand on this topic and broaden the scope to finding a film developer that will suit your needs.

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE DEVELOPER

Once you locate some local places that claim to develop film (by Google Maps, Yellow Pages, etc), you’ll want to call around and find out if they can do what you need. Here are some things to ask potential film developers, depending on your current or future needs.

  • CAN YOU PROCESS 35MM AND 120 FILM?
    35mm is the most common film format, but 120 is also very common. Most places will be capable of developing both of these formats.
  • WHAT OTHER FORMATS CAN YOU PROCESS?
    Formats like 110, 220, 240, large formats, and others are less common, but still used. If you use a less common film format, you’ll want to find somebody that can deal with it. And find out if they can do it in-house — some places will claim they can develop these formats, but they really just send them off to a different lab. If you don’t want prints from these formats, be sure to ask if they could develop only — they may just be lacking the film holders for doing prints.
  • CAN YOU PROCESS BLACK & WHITE FILM?
    I’ve seen places handle b/w in two different ways: send it off to a pro-lab or do it by hand themselves. Black & white film developing is usually done by hand, so not too many places offer this service. The alternative option is to get the chemicals and do it yourself.
  • CAN YOU PROCESS SLIDE FILM?
    Slide film has to be processed differently than color negative film and b/w film. If you like slide film, make sure you can find somebody to develop it. Most places I’ve encountered will send slide film out to pro-labs.
  • WILL YOU CROSS PROCESS SLIDE FILM?
    Cross processing slide film as color negative film can be very interesting, but not all developers will do this for you. The slide film will alter the chemistry in the developer, so not everybody is willing to do this. Typically places with higher volume and more knowledgeable staff will be willing to do this.
  • DO YOU SCAN FILM? AND HOW LARGE?
    Most places will offer some sort of scanning capabilities. The resolution is typically around 1200 pixels on the long edge — so good enough for the web, but not for digital printing or stock uploads.
  • DO YOU PRINT? HOW LARGE? AND WHAT PAPER?
    Prints are handy to have — but will you be needing anything larger than the standard 4×6? How about 20×30? Can they print on matte paper, photo paper, or canvas?
  • WHAT ARE YOUR TURNAROUND TIMES?
    It really only takes about 10-15 minutes to run a roll of color film, and most places will give you a 1-hour turnaround for one or two rolls. If they do b/w, you might have to wait until the next day.
  • HOW ABOUT PRICES?
    If this is a concern, ask them about prices before you even bring the film in. I usually go with develop only to help cut the cost from a bunch of prints (plus I scan everything myself). I pay $3.50 per roll of color and $4.50 per roll of b/w.

I hope this helps address some questions that others may have about getting started with film photography. It’s really not scary, expensive, or difficult. Find yourself a knowledgeable film developer and they’ll take care of you.

I ended up finding a great place just a few miles from my house. The guys at Foto Finish Digital can handle all my 35mm, 120, and 110 format films. They even do black & white and small quantities of cross processing for me. They can enlarge up to something like 30″ on a few different types of paper (though I still need to try this out with them). I’m totally happy that I found such a cool place nearby.