dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

Inside outside, Where have I been?
Out of my brain on the five fifteen!
Outsource, insource, leave me alone

"Hybrid workflow..."  Do you ever wonder why they don't call it the "bastardized workflow?"  Not to suggest that intentionally shooting film for the purpose of scanning is in any way like an illicit congress between a longshoreman and a prostitute... uh oh...  the cat is out of the bag!  There are two reasons to scan film.  One is that you have old negatives that you want to put on your computer to manipulate, put on facebook, email, print, etc.  Another reason is that you might not want to admit to yourself that you have really disengaged from film photography but want to keep a bunch of negatives around "just in case."  You don't have to admit to the latter if you don't want to.

Why scan?

There are three reasons to scan negatives.  First, the long-range future of analog photography - particularly 35mm - is not bright.  New film camera sales are nonexistent, the range of films, papers and chemicals being sold today is one-half to one-third what it was 10 years ago, shelf space is shrinking, prices on all conventional materials are rising, Ritz/Wolf (one of the biggest buyers of Fuji Frontier minilabs) is in Chapter 11, one-hour processing is slowly but surely disappearing from mass retailers, and you might not trust what is left.  In sum, it means that a window is closing and that it won't be long before anything having to do with film is going to be a do-it-yourself exercise.  There is nothing wrong with that, but when you are the only person who can do something, it begins competing with your other priorities.

Second, the manufacturers of film scanners are not going to make them forever.  There gets to be a certain point where not enough people are buying scanners to make them worth making.  Nikon already reached that point with the 9000ED, arguably the best medium-format film scanner on the market.  Once it becomes difficult to get good and relatively inexpensive film scans, it's the end of the line.  You'll be looking at those slides with a flimsy, distorted plastic viewer against the daylight fluorescent lights in your living room.

Finally, your E-6 and C-41 film is rapidly degrading because, as Kodak correctly notes on every film box, "color dyes fade with time."  The Ektachrome-process slides are great for projection but poor for long-term storage.  They're turning green.  The C-41 negatives, as you were probably warned by the original box, are turning various colors.  Your Anscochromes are already finished.  Although there are great products like Kodak's Applied Science Fiction Digital ROC to fix some of this, it's never 100% what it used to be.  So if you are going to do something with color film materials, please don't wait.

The back catalog

Digitizing a back catalog is a time-consuming and frustrating process in direct proportion to the number of film frames or strips you need to scan.  But it is very important to arrange for it now, because your opportunities to do it are only going to become more limited.

If you have not tried to scan massive numbers of frames yourself, be warned that you are not likely to finish a project like this in your lifetime.  The types of scanners and software that most people can access are slow and clumsy.  Getting through a slide and negative collection spanning decades could take virtually forever, and at that point, there still remains the issue of dust-spotting black and white negatives and attempting to do some basic corrections to the images.  Unless you are retired and no longer shooting pictures on film, you realistically will never complete a project like this in time for the results to be useful to you.  To make matters worse, when you're gone, your kids will probably blank that hard drive anyway.

It is highly advisable to outsource mass scanning projects.  Both Scancafe (based in Bangalore) and Digmypics (based in Arizona) do a servicable job - definitely good enough for any application up to an 8x10 reprint.  And let's face it - most pictures that most people take don't merit more than a new 4x6 print to replace the faded 3.5x5 one in the album.  Both Scancafe and Digmyprints use off-the shelf scanners like Coolscans and Dimages.  You can look at the pricing on their respective sites.  Scancafe charges largely depending on the file format; Digmypics charges largely on resolution.  Scancafe will let you "delete" up to half the gross number of scans and receive credit; Digmypics allows you to delete an unlimited number.  Turnaround time is 1-3 months at Scancafe and about a month at Digmypics.

Scanning into the future?

The practice of shooting film just to scan it seems a little bit odd.  Film has certain operational advantages over digital out in the wild.  Film cameras don't need as much in the way of batteries, changing from one frame to the next eliminates dust problems that might creep up with digital, and film's good dynamic range maximizes the chances of a good shot on the first try.  But unless you're going to the ends of the earth, doing develop-only with the idea of scanning later only increases the trouble and risk.

First, it is very difficult to get a better print - using any method - than in the hour the film is developed.  The film is not scratched (yet) by sleeving or transport, the film can all go through the printing machine in one piece, and there is zero chance you will get over-sharpened images.  And if you don't like what you see when you come back in an hour, you can make the lab do it over.

Second, scanning at home may cause grain aliasing to make your pictures look worse than they are.  Grain aliasing comes from scanning at a resolution where the film's grain is exaggerated by its crossing the Nyquist frequency of the scanner (which, in reality, only really has one "hardware" frequency).  Bad scanning is endemic on the web - no screen-size picture from Tri-X should ever look grainy - but it's often just a fact of life.  The grain aliasing occurs in the scan, and changing the "resolution" in the scanning software doesn't make the situation better.  Given Photoshop's apparent indiscriminate preservation of detail in image size reduction, it can often look worse at the end.  Minilab machines like Frontiers and Pakons generally do not exhibit this in scans because they are not set up to deliver 4000dpi-plus resolution.  Their less-aggressive hardware resolutions (5000 pixels and 3000 pixels over 36mm of frame width - 3500 and 2000 dpi) do not invade aliasing territory.

Finally, home scanning is horribly time-consuming.  Using Digital Ice (the only thing that will prevent you from going insane from spotting negatives) makes the process take even more interminable at the time of scanning.  One way or another, you'll be feeding strips of negatives (or stacks of slides) into the scanner, running the scans, waiting, and then reloading.  Doing this on a massive and systematic basis will waste a lot of your time scanning a lot of pictures that had they been printed as 4x6 pictures, you would have thrown them away.  And will you ever get around to it?  Life is too short to sit in front of Vuescan or Silverfast.

Dust to dust...

Sorry to say that there is no easy answer to this except that scanning can be fast, cheap or good - and that you can choose any two out of those three.