Never before in film’s long history has it been a better time to be a film photographer. Ironically, advances in digital technology, like scanners and software, has made film relevant again. Scanners can harness all the nuances in film far better then you could with optical enlargers or printers decades past. Software can process scanned negatives and reveal a lush world of texture and color. It is because of this technology that I often think today is the golden age of film photography.
For those of use who don’t have access to a darkroom; enter the world of the ‘Hybrid Process’. Seemingly counter intuitive at first, the hybrid process is ideal for film. Digitizing film will keep you fully invested in what you already know—but with an analogue twist. The upstart cost is high, but so is buying a new DSLR every 5 years or so!
The finer details will be covered in a future blog post; but what you’ll need to get started is a fairly current computer, a scanner, and software—like Photoshop. Photoshop was very expensive in the past; but with CC available now and Adobe’s pay-by-month program all the software you need will only be a small annual bill. All scanners come with stock software, however, I firmly believe that purchasing professional scanning software performs much better. Buy VueScan software for a cheap high-quality alternative to stock software; buy SilverFast software if you can afford it. Finally, negative processing software, like ColorPerfect, is highly recommended to buy. My workflow at the time of this writing is: VueScan > ColorPerfect > Photoshop > Lightroom.
My very well used Epson V600 scanner
Scanners are not too expensive. Spending $25o will buy you a very decent Epson film scanner. Film cameras are not either. $100 dollars (or cheaper) can make for a very nice and capable camera. Buying film and processing will be expensive however. Processing and printing 4 rolls in a pro lab will cost you around $60.
Two Kodak photos—one Ektar and the other Portra, will look very similar in appearance if printed optically—even from a pro lab. These two films actually have very different ways that they expose color. Portra gives accurate neutral colors and Ektar is full of high saturation and false colors. As far as normal 5×7 or 6×4 prints go I can’t see much difference between these two films. Now, if Portra & Ektar was enlarged in a darkroom and printed on high grade paper the results may be completely different…stick with me here.
These pro lab prints above show little difference between Kodak Ektar (left) & Kodak Portra (right)
Although these two hot rods are not the best example; after scanning and processing the Ektar photo on the top is very purple than the warmer and more neutral Portra photo on the bottom. What is very evident in comparison to the prints is that the bluish cast is not even present. There are many variables in film. I have some Ektar photos that are extremely purple. Digitizing film is very effective at harnessing the unique looks of all the different films on the market.
The difference in look between film and digital is clear. I describe digital as “surgically precise” in detail and color while film exhibits an organic painterly look. Both mediums have their place. I just prefer film with my fine art photography.