A developing film or developing it.
March 31, 2008 9:57 PM   Subscribe

35 mm photography with actual film - what do I do with it now that it's been exposed (properly I hope)?

My daughter has developed an interest in photography and we are starting with my old 35mm Pentax film camera. She is working in BW but we don't have a nearby lab to develop our film (Fuji neopan, Kodak Tri-X). Where can we send this to be processed and receive prints and/or a high quality CD with her pictures?

Is there BW film that use the C-41 process? Is it any good?

There must be websites dealing with film photography, I know several for digital but not film. Any suggestions?

Forgive me for sticking four questions in here and, many thanks in advance.
posted by Northwest to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Kodak makes BW400CN which is a C-41 B&W film that is fantastic. Ilford also makes one called FP2 that has more of a sepia-type effect. Both are 400 ISO and have a very fine grain.
posted by zsazsa at 10:09 PM on March 31, 2008

I meant XP2, not FP2.
posted by zsazsa at 10:10 PM on March 31, 2008

don't use chromogenic bw film, it's thin and just bad, you might as well shoot color then scan it and convert to bw in photoshop. Tri-X is still a lot of fun to use; if you're in the Northwest big cities like Seattle and Portland must have pro labs, just google the nearest big city name and "black and white" "pro lab" then call them or email them
posted by matteo at 10:26 PM on March 31, 2008

Not sure where you're from, but there might be places like Newlab or Photoworks near you that still develop BW. Photoworks (located in San Francisco) actually allows you to mail in your film. If there's a Wolf Camera in your area, they might be able to develop it (I've dropped off a couple rolls there before, and it's quite expensive). If not, perhaps there's a local community college with a darkroom where you can find a student to develop it for you.

I've used the Kodak film that zsazsa mentioned, and I got pretty good results.
posted by extramundane at 10:30 PM on March 31, 2008

Google's Usenet archives and the forums at photo.net have a treasure trove of "silver process" how-to's.

There are a number of ways forward -

1) Send your film out to a lab.

They will develop almost anything to your specification, and will scan it for you for while they're at it. Check forums at photo.net for recommendations.

2) Develop it yourself

Lots of people find this exceptionally rewarding, and it can be a lot of fun formulating and trying out developer-film combinations. (Sometimes it seems tinkering with pyro-gallol is keeping the large format hobby afloat all by itself.) You'll learn about how sensitivity, contrast, grain, resolution, and acutance are all interconnected and can be controlled - and this is valuable even in the digital realm.

Of course, this means you'll need a decent film scanner. Or worse, a dark room... developing film is fun. Developing your first print is like being Hesphateus himself at the forge. Empowering, addictive and challenging, and will allow your daughter to learn what makes a good print good. This is something she can take with her to Photoshop.

3) CN-process B&W - Ilford XP2 is famous for it's razor-sharpness and smooth tonality. It won't have the look-at-it-all-day character of Kodak Tri-X, tho... which is why they still make Tri-X. Also, while they will make Tri-X long after civilization collapses, one gets the impression roll film in general is on its way out, especially "niche" films like XP2. You can make your own B&W developer, color developer is something else.

4) Digital - By going this route, your daughter won't learn critical focus, using depth of field, proper exposure and how to tell if the camera isn't giving it to you, managing contrast and balancing highlights vs. shadows. Also, even a cheap DSLR will set you back as much as three years worth of Tri-X.

But, she will take a hell of a lot more photos, and learn composition, framing, editing and use of color much more quickly. (To be honest, IMO, starting with silver and then going to silicon will set her up with more tools as an artist than she would learn going the other way.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:51 PM on March 31, 2008

I wholeheartedly second developing herself. You can score a basic darkroom setup on eBay nowadays for a couple hundred bucks at most. If you go this route invest in a Leitz enlarger. There are no better enlargers and they are so cheap on eBay ($200 range) that I'm finding it hard to resist buying one myself. The enlarger will be the most expensive part of the setup besides chemicals and paper. A good enlarger makes such a difference in ease and quality and the Leitz is pretty uncomplicated and performs beautifully.

I can't tell you how many wondrous hours I spent in the darkroom as a teenager. It's an invaluable experience if she really wants to learn about photography and not just take pictures. And after working in the darkroom awhile learning Photoshop a breeze. You just can't explain clearly certain things about Photoshop to someone who has never printed in a darkroom. Anyone can pick up a digital camera and shoot pictures, but printing in the darkroom allows you to really make sense of it all. You learn about light. You learn to see the world differently.

Most community colleges have basic photography courses to teach her the darkroom basics and if she likes it she can set up her own darkroom in the bathroom. Summer is coming up and a photography course would be a fine diversion for any teen. That is, if she is a teen. If she's not a teen and you live in a big enough city you could probably find a workshop/day camp for kids she could attend.
posted by wherever, whatever at 1:40 AM on April 1, 2008

4) Digital - By going this route, your daughter won't learn critical focus, using depth of field, proper exposure and how to tell if the camera isn't giving it to you, managing contrast and balancing highlights vs. shadows. Also, even a cheap DSLR will set you back as much as three years worth of Tri-X.

Uh... unless you actually go the cheap-DSLR route. Not arguing with the final point on price, just making sure nobody's getting the wrong idea. (Incidentally, the cost of a darkroom will in fact put you well on the way to aforementioned cheap DSLR - though it will not get you there.)

Incidentally, while doing your own development is pretty cool, there are still factors to consider like "do I have space to set up a darkroom" and "does said budding photographer find satisfaction in the work." I love photography, but I'm really glad I don't have to develop everything on my own - it's just not where my interest lies.

C-41 BW film is obviously not perfect, but I'm going to disagree with the dismissive comments toward it. For a novice learning the ropes it's perfectly valid, IMHO.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:36 AM on April 1, 2008

If you are in a relatively decent sized city just look in the yellow pages under Photofinishing or Photofinishing-Custom Laboratories. A local camera store would also most likely have access to a lab. If you truly don't have a lab within the vicinity then check Photo.net film and processing forum for some ideas of places where you can develop film through the mail. In the future do as zsazsa suggests and use a chromogenic film.
posted by JJ86 at 6:01 AM on April 1, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all for your responses. We can get to a lab in Portland but round trip is 1.5 to 2 hours and can only be done on Saturdays. The local labs just send the film out, I may as well do that myself and eliminate the middle-man. We'll try some C-41 film for "everyday" playing around.

Developing our own sounds interesting, I've never done it but once we have our negatives we could scan, then send out for custom printing if we find one we truly love. I'll look at the forum noted above.

The entire photo processing all the way through printing is very satisfying (did a little bit in college) but I imagine that if she pursues this we will end up digital at some point. Although a large format camera is something to think about.
posted by Northwest at 8:58 AM on April 1, 2008

Sounds like the exact same setup I and many many other photographers learned on. Still have my Pentax but the darn meter is broken. One way lots of photographers go is to use photo mailers. Just did a google search and found These guys. They look pretty reasonable and give you the option of digital scans.

I also wanted to chime in on the C-41 BW. I have used it pretty frequently and have had great results from it. I know some wedding shooters that shoot it exclusively. Good wedding shooters too. The nice thing about it is you can drop it off at a one hour place and see the results pretty quickly. Great if you are just starting out and learning.

I think the nice thing about starting with film is that it slows you down. Makes you think about what you are shooting because you only have 24/36 frames. And it costs money for each frame. But if she really takes up an interest and wants to pursue it further I would really suggest a pro-sumer DSLR. There are some pretty reasonable bodies on craigslist on a regular basis. The instant feedback on photos can really boost the learning curve.
posted by WickedPissah at 9:20 AM on April 1, 2008

A half-and-half route: Send the exposed film out for developing, then do printing yourself. I do this because I am not confident enough in my darkroom skills, afraid I'll somehow screw up and lose the entire roll of images - and doing the actual printing is the really fun part anyway. I've had mostly good results with Clark that WickedPissah links to. Then I just have the prints they send to use as a reference for my own printing.
posted by zoinks at 10:43 AM on April 1, 2008

XP2 is nice film. It's not true black and white, as Matteo notes, but it works quite well and you can get very nice results.
posted by chunking express at 12:50 PM on April 1, 2008

The key to chromogenic B&W film is getting it printed on B&W, not color, paper. I suspect this is why some people have been impressed and others disgusted by it.

If it's printed on color paper on an analog machine, you generally get some variety of subtle (or not so subtle) green/sepia/yellow cast. Rarely does it come out pure white, and often the black saturation is diminished also.

But if you print it on B&W paper, it looks pretty darn fine. It's also decent if printed on a modern digital printer (a "Lightjet" like the Fuji Frontier used in many minilabs) if the operator prints it in monochrome mode.

Back in the day, I used to work in a minilab with a decent analog printer, and we had real B&W paper (processed in the same RA chemistry) that we used when people brought in B&W film. I don't know how many places are likely to offer this anymore, but it might be worth asking about. It makes a huge difference.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:50 PM on April 1, 2008

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