I may take a break from 35mm film

As much as I love using my old 35mm film cameras, I haven’t been enjoying film lately. I’m trying to figure out why that is.

My hunch is that I have grown impatient with the delay between shooting a frame and being able to see/print/share that frame. Having been under “stay at home” instructions for months, I don’t have the creative gumption to shoot 36 frames around the house of the same people and things. It can take weeks to finish a roll, during which I lose interest.

The confusing thing is that although I’m finally set up for darkroom printing, I am only able to print from 35mm negatives. It doesn’t seem wise to get everything configured just right and then not use it, but here we are.

It’s not film itself that I’m uninterested in, but rather the long wait between exposure and print. To help with this I may limit myself to 120 and/or 4x5 formats. A roll of 120 in the Hasselblad is only 12 frames. And 4x5 is practically as fast as digital1.

The Hasselblads are fantastic, and have recently been CLA’d and work like butter. No problem there.

My 4x5 cameras are another story. The Speed Graphic has a light leak and the Crown Graphic (1947) is covered in gaffer tape, has no rangefinder, and is a beat up mess. This has me shopping for a Linhof or similar. Something more modern, less flakey.

90% of the time I shoot 4x5 on a tripod, but once in a while I do it handheld, which is silly. And yet, I often go back to the following photo. It was taken with the Speed Graphic, indoors, low-light, handheld. I love it. It’s sharp, has terrific dynamic range, and looks how I like my film photos to look. I want to make more of these.

Fusionary (2013). 4x5 Speed Graphic. HP5+

One thing about 4x5 is that I can still make prints if I don’t mind simple contact prints on 5x7 paper, like the print shown above.

  1. Well no, it’s not even close. What I mean is that I am able to expose a frame and develop it immediately. This removes the time waiting for a finished roll. [return]

Scanning film negatives with a digital camera

Scanning film negatives with a flatbed scanner is a pain. All scanning software sucks. Every one of them. Fidgeting with negative holders is a joyless, tedious drag. And the whole process is slow. So very slow.

I’ve been experimenting with scanning film using a digital camera. I’ve processed a few rolls this way and it’s working quite well. Here’s my setup:

They key to this is a combination of the MK1 Film Carrier and Negative Lab Pro.

The MK1 Film Carrier from Negative Supply makes quick work of scanning a full, uncut roll of 35mm film. I feed the roll into one end and turn the knob to reveal each frame in turn. The film is held nice and flat and it operates smoothly. I was part of the Kickstarter campaign so I didn’t pay the full price of $329, which is good because although the device is nicely designed and made from machined aluminum, that’s a lot of money for what it does.

Negative Lab Pro is a plugin for Lightroom Classic that handles conversion of the original Raw “scans”. It’s really meant for color film scans, but I also use it for black and white. I originally used it for processing color negative film scans from the Epson scanner and it did such a great job with those that it became an integral part of my workflow. It even adds a metadata section to Lightroom for adding Exif data like camera make, model, lens, film stock, etc to each frame. This is very handy and replaces my command line version which I frequently forgot to run anyway. I don’t use Lightroom for my normal Raw processing, but I keep it around just for NLP.

The other components of this new scanning workflow are a small lightbox, a Fuji X-T3 with the 7Artisans 60mm Macro lens, a copy stand, and Capture One Pro.

The 7Artisans lens was a cheap Macro option for the Fuji and it works fine. Capture One Pro does a great job at tethered capture so I can make sure focus and framing are spot on for each frame as I work through the roll.

This method of scanning a roll of 35mm film is fast! I used to have a Pakon scanner that was even faster and easier at the actual scanning process, but was expensive, unsupported, cumbersome to get working, and required that I maintain an old Windows XP laptop.

My new digital film scanning process looks like this: 1. Feed the film into the MK1 and check focus 2. Use Capture One Pro on the tethered MacBook Pro to capture a frame 3. Advance the film to the next frame and repeat 4. Import the “scans” into Lightroom 5. Crop and rotate the first scan, then copy and paste those adjustments to all remaining frames 6. Select all scans and open Negative Lab Pro 7. Convert and save TIFF copies

This entire process takes maybe 15 minutes and the results look good to me.