My Film Photography Workflow

Epson V700 Flatbed Film Scanner.  The nerve center of my film photography workflow
After I finish a roll of print film, (C41 process) here's my workflow:  CVS Pharmacy or Walgreen's both process C41 color or Black and white film quite quickly and cheaply.  At CVS, which is where I go 90% of the time, it only costs $2.19 as of this writing to "develop only" a single roll of 36 exposure print film. "Develop only" is the menu choice that CVS has on their cash register at the photo department and is what you should ask for so they don't scan or make prints or CDs. I scan the film negatives myself, so for two bucks a roll, CVS does the developing in about 20-30 minutes! Remind them to cut the film into strips also; this will make the film nice and flat so by the time you get home, your ready to scan with perfectly flat film! If you are at all serious about your photography, you don't want a drugstore photo lab to do any more than just develop your film.  While their photo labs are quick and efficient for developing your C41 film, they won't make any more than the most rudimentary adjustments to your prints or scans so don't even bother. Grab your ngatives and take them home for proper scanning.

Film Negatives as I receive them from CVS
I scan my film with an Epson V700 flatbed scanner.  You can buy one here or read a review here. There are a lot of good film scanners available that cost a lot less than my V700, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.  This is one aspect of my workflow where I didn't want to cut corners. The scanner is the nerve center of my workflow. Considering what the scanner does, ie digitize all the photos taken with my entire camera collection, the $575.00 that the scanner costs is in comparison not a lot of money. A typical mirrorless camera or an entry level DSLR costs a lot more than this workhorse film scanner in comparison.  I like that it can hold and process four strips of film at once (24 frames) so you don't have to continuously feed it film.  It does a great job with sharpness and shadow detail, etc.  It's on par with a Nikon dedicated film scanner that cost 3-4 times as much.  I've also heard and read great things about the Epson V600 which cost a lot less than the V700 but does a great job nonetheless. 

The Epson V700 has a dual lens system and can scan at really high resolutions and is for pros or semi pros while the V600 can scan at more pedestrian resolutions with equally good results at one-third the price of the V700. To scan the relatively small 35mm frame, you need a good scanner.  I've tried the Plustek dedicated film scanners such as the 7600Ai with great results.  These scanners only scan strips of 35mm film and are not useful for other types of scanning such as actual printed photos or larger (or smaller) film formats. They start scanning immediately thanks to them using LEDs for scanning which require no warm-up time and they scan a 35mm frame in a matter of (15-45) seconds. Most of the Plusteks however require that you manually push each film frame through the scanner one-by-one.  While this was a deal breaker for me since I shoot lots of film, I can't overstate just how superb these scanners are at scanning 35mm film. Great sharpness, shadow detail, and color rendition.   The superior (but way too expensive) Nikon Coolscan series of scanners automatically feed the film for you but cost 4-5 times as much as the Plusteks.

Flatbed scanners traditionally are not as good as dedicated film scanners like the Plustek or the super-pricey Nikon Coolscan series that originated this form factor, but the Epson V700/V750 are an exception in that they scan just as good as any dedicated film scanner and allow the flexibility of scanning other film formats like 120/220, 4x5 formats and larger.  Okay, so if you blow up a scan by 200 percent and really "pixel peap" you will see a hair more resolution or detail in a Coolscan file vs an Epson V700 scan. This is nothing that would make a difference in the real world making the V700 a really practical choice and also leaves flexibility for you to branch out into other film formats since the flatbed is not limited to just 35mm film.

Scanner Software.  This is software that is used to control your scanner. Applications such as Silverfast or VueScan are worlds better than bundled oem apps that provide very basic controls.
Professional scanning software quite literally unleashes the power of your scanner and yields
amazingly better results than your oem software.

VueScan and Silverfast are far and away the two best choices and provide controls not available in any bundled software. The most significant feature is that of multiple exposure film scanning which increases the dynamic range and shadow detail of your photos in a huge way. The learning curve is big with these apps and while I have used them both extensively, I prefer Silverfast AI. VueScan makes more sense: it costs less, does everything (almost) that Silverfast can do, and provided unique features such as contact sheets.  So why did I pay 4 times more for Silverfast AI?  Two words--Control & Results.  While VueScan is capable of yielding great film scans, Silverfast AI's results are notably better.  Silverfast yields just a  little better resolution, nails the color better, has increased shadow detail and does everything just that much better for me to prefer it over VueScan. Also the interface, while not easy to learn, I prefer over VueScan's.

Digitizing your Film.  So what happens during the scanning process is that your film, which is mounted in film holders and placed in your scanner, is first pre-scanned, which allows you to check for framing, exposure, sharpness, dust removal and such.  You can also set the resolution which determines the megapixels and enlargement options for printing.  Film is always going to have some sort of microscopic dust or fibers no matter how diligent you are about cleaning it prior to scanning which is why good scanning software provides controls for the Digital ICE or iSRD. These are two tremendously effective technologies which remove dust and scratches from your film scans. By using an infrared light or "channel" which is built into most scanners in addition to the red green and blue color channels, dust and particles are scanned separately and thus isolated and then excluded from the final scan.
Multiple-pass scanning increases dynamic range much like the HDR function on some digital cameras (or exposure bracketing) by combining multiple scans taken at different exposures to bring out detail in shadow areas and to prevent bright areas from clipping or blowing out. Sharpness controls like USM (Ultra Sharp Mask) are in place for super sharp film photos.

At this point you view an enlarged frame that allows you to make these adjustments, moving on to the next frame and so on.  Once all of your adjustments and tweaks have been saved by the software, you hit the scan button and then go make some margaritas!  Depending on the scanner, resolution,
and scanner software, this batch scanning process of 24 photos (in the case of an Epson V700/750)
takes from 10 minutes (for really small photos) to 2 hours! Some scanners hold only 6 or 12 frames so your mileage may vary.  I usually scan at about a 7 MP resolution which is more than enough for flickr posts and such.  My settings typically take about an hour for about 7 MP photos.  I don't think film Megapixels and Digital Megapixels are quite the same.  Once your film is digitized, you handle it just like a digital photo through IPhoto, Lightroom ,Aperture or Photoshop.

-Film contains tons of detail and information so a good scanner is key to realizing all of this data.
The Epson V700/V750 flatbed scanners have a dedicated set of lenses just for scanning film at higher resolutions. Dedicated film scanners do nothing but scan film so their lenses are optimized for film scanning.

Patience.  In a hurry to see your photos?  Don't be.  Film Photography doesn't happen instantly as we all know, but this actually is a good thing.  I find myself paying a lot more attention to what I'm doing when using film because it matters. I mind my light, my exposure settings, and all the elements that must come together to create the photo that I envision.  Your mind or creative inclinations are now free to roam since your preview screen is your imagination.  You're no longer limited to that dinky little 3.2", 1.2 million dot monitor.

Flatness.  It is imperative that film be completely flat in order to achieve a nice even scan. I've found the best way to achieve this is to have the film cut into strips and placed in a film holder page.  Usually by the time I get home from CVS, which is where I develop my film almost exclusively, the film is perfectly flat.

Which Resolution?  I find that scanned film resolution is different than digital sensor megapixels so ignore the megapixel count and just think about where your scans will be shown.  Most of us publish photos on Facebook or Flickr so you really don't need more than a couple of megapixels of resolution  to display them properly.  It's pretty silly to think that I need to scan a 24MP negative just to display my daughter's birthday photos on Instagram!

Post Process.  Like I mentioned earlier, Adobe Lightroom is my post processing software of choice. Apple offers Aperture and iPhto which are both perfectly adequate, but if you really get into this photography thing Lightroom is much more powerful and runs so well on the mac.  It's a great tool for cataloging and organizing photos and even for posting to flickr and other social media websites.  I won't get into too much detail on how lightroom works because yopu can find out all about that here, just suffice it to say that the "engine" behind Lightroom is an absolute fluid and athletic powerhouse.