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Black and White Film Processing

glenerrolrd

Workshop Member
Because I now have the time ..I would like to do a personal project using film and my film Leicas (m4/M3) . My requirements are that I want a lab that can develop the negative s and create a very high quality digital scan at the same time . About 10 years ago a wedding photographer friend of mine “Riccis” had a lab in LA that would develop his Fuji film ,produce 2 sets of 4x6 proofs and create a high quality scan of the negatives . It was all mail order and they even sold him film so ...he could shoot film and have everything he needed for digital printing .

Plenty of places seem to still do film processing . Another group focused on printing . But to be practical for me I need the scans and I am not doing that myself . I don t need the large prints .

Looking for any experience that might lead me to a good pro lab that can develop and scan the negatives .
 

glenerrolrd

Workshop Member
Does anyone have experince with Harman Labs in California ...the appear to be the Ilford Lab and offer exactly the services I am looking for.
 

Oren Grad

Member
Several years ago now I sent a roll of XP2 Super (taken with an M4, as it happens!) to the Harman Direct operation at Swan Lab in California, just to see what they would do with it. I was pretty unhappy with the result. The negatives weren't as clean as they should have been, and the standard scans were worthless for my purposes - low resolution, badly clipped.

Although I haven't used them, the FIND Lab in Utah (https://thefindlab.com/) does process-and-scan and seems to take scan quality seriously, at least if you can take their website at face value. Might be worth a test roll.

That said, a lot depends on what film you intend to use. ISO 400 traditional (i.e., non-chromogenic) films like TX and HP5 Plus suffer visibly from grain aliasing at the kinds of resolutions you can get from the best consumer-grade scanners (e.g. Nikon 5000, Nikon 9000) or the best moderately-priced commercial scans. But to do much better than that commercially you're looking at Flextight or drum scans, which will be very pricey.
 

glenerrolrd

Workshop Member
Several years ago now I sent a roll of XP2 Super (taken with an M4, as it happens!) to the Harman Direct operation at Swan Lab in California, just to see what they would do with it. I was pretty unhappy with the result. The negatives weren't as clean as they should have been, and the standard scans were worthless for my purposes - low resolution, badly clipped.

Although I haven't used them, the FIND Lab in Utah (https://thefindlab.com/) does process-and-scan and seems to take scan quality seriously, at least if you can take their website at face value. Might be worth a test roll.

That said, a lot depends on what film you intend to use. ISO 400 traditional (i.e., non-chromogenic) films like TX and HP5 Plus suffer visibly from grain aliasing at the kinds of resolutions you can get from the best consumer-grade scanners (e.g. Nikon 5000, Nikon 9000) or the best moderately-priced commercial scans. But to do much better than that commercially you're looking at Flextight or drum scans, which will be very pricey.
Great advice ....you are correct the FIND lab is saying all the right things.

My requirements are for a project of family photographs as we are set up for a Summer @ Home with three grandkids . They are closest to a wedding photography assignment and not at all like fine art landscape . I can hope for a nice family book to document ..the year of COVID 19 . I do not expect to print larger than 13x19 and most everything would go to a boxed set of 8x10 s .

I understand what you are saying about the scans being subpar ..which is why I would pay for the XL scans and keep my expectations in check . These will be photographs about ‘moments ‘ and absolute image quality would not be the priority .
 

KeithDM

Well-known member
For high quality developing and scanning in NA, Canadian Film Lab would be a good solution. I have used them (in both their guises - UK Film Lab as was, now Canadian Film Lab) for E6 and C41 dev & scan - the results were top-notch.

PS - I have no connection with them, other than as a satisfied customer.

PPS - should have added that I carry out all my own (35mm & MF) b&w dev & scan.
 
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Godfrey

Well-known member
There's a company named DR5 that does a B/W reversal process for the best "positive" negative in B/W. For those who shoot film commercially know that a positive (E6) gives the best quality. Now you can do the same with all B/W films. Here's a link...

dr5 B&W slide . The finest in B&W - Home
There's a bit of a gap between the reality presented by history and the statements on that web page. Just this one sentence, for example:

... Recently, before the computer age most professionals were asked to shoot positives because it was the best film for the graphic process and magazines preferred it. ...
"Recently" means 25 years and more ago, when digital pre-press publication technology basically killed all the older workflows.

Professionals were asked to shoot positives for most jobs because a positive gave the retoucher, graphic artist/advertisement, and layout artist an exact color and tonal scale original reference to target for the printed, final publication. As a result, the film manufacturers refined and refined color transparency films to suit that publication process, and camera manufacturers strove to make their "professional" equipment offerings as efficient as possible in obtaining good exposure for that medium. It was always struggle, and one of the reasons B&W transparencies lagged way behind color transparency media: you could ALWAYS get more tonality and control out of a B&W negative to positive traditional workflow because B&W negative films are thinner, sharper, have a huge range of potential gradation dependent upon processing methodology and print manipulations, etc.

Transparency emulsions have always been limited in exposure latitude and highlight retention in contrasty conditions. Traditional press publication imaging often has an even more limited latitude and gamut. All of the fancy, complex lighting setups of the 1960s-1990s commercial photographer were designed to help manage those problems.

All that said, I enjoyed using Agfa Scala when it existed and also Polaroid 35mm B&W instant film when it existed. The limitations of their tonal range and latitude presented entertaining challenges, which expands creativity. It led to some wonderful results along the way, but I'm somewhat reluctant to suggest that they were actually better than I could achieve with a more traditional B&W process, or that it represented "the best film for the graphic process".

This "dr5" process might prove similarly entertaining and good quality results, but it should be undertaken with the knowledge that it is a niche process and workflow, up to the skills and creativity of the photographer to find his/her way through and take advantage of.

Hate to sound like an olde fahrte fuddy-duddy, but I really despise marketing gibble-gabble posed as factual dogma. :p It's very misleading and tends to establish expectations that are impossible to meet.

G
 

jdphoto

Well-known member
The reversal process for black and white should be exposed as if your shooting slide film, regardless of which b/w film used. Carefully exposed images will scan easier because of similar black and white points. Low grain and high contrast is also one of the benefits of b/w positive negs. Not looking to start a debate as this is just a suggestion for another b/w film process.
 

Shashin

Well-known member
I have processed B&W positives. It is not a difficult process--you simply add a bleach step, a fogging step (either chemically or just with light), and a second developer. ISO is also rated lower. As mentioned above, you will limit your DR/latitude. They are beautiful, but I have found the advantages of the negative process outweighed the aesthetic of a B&W positive. But if you have never shot B&W positives, I would certainly try it.

As far as positives being preferred in professional circles, that was exclusively for color. Chromes (as they were called (Ektachrome, Kodachrome, Fujichrome, etc.)) were more consistent and had a faster turn around (you did not have to get a good print). However, B&W were taken from prints and could be reproduced very well.
 

glenerrolrd

Workshop Member
I was always taught that the key to B&W processing was controlling the build up of contrast . Unlike color slide work where the film type defined the level of contrast and if that was you end point ( a slide ) ..you needed contrast . I learned this in the darkroom using Velour Black Variable Contrast Paper ..for which my father was the DuPont Technical Rep.

The Leica Monochrome M10 which I use ..produces a beautiful linear (flat ) file that you can process to perfection . Contrast creates the perception of sharpness but it can be easily added in post processing . A linear contrast curve should not be confused with an unsharp rendering .

I would agree that there is a happy medium to find with film and this will come when I test Fuji Acros II against Tri X Pro and Hp5+. It very hard to argue against Tri X but rapid contrast build up is its weakness .
 
I think Richard Photo Lab is the LA lab your friend mentioned.

North Coast, near San Diego, also does that (and has Ken Rockwell's endorsement).

Rick
 

TimothyHyde

Subscriber Member
I've used several labs around the country and have settled on two, both of which do reasonably fast, inexpensive, and quality work of developing and scanning, both 35mm and 120, C41 and B&W. Also E-6, but I can't testify to the output for that process. Both of these labs put your scans online for you to download, then physically return the negatives.

The Darkroom (https://thedarkroom.com) in San Clemente

And my current favorite (because of their wonderful scans of my Portra 400 120), Indie Lab in Montgomery (https://www.indiefilmlab.com).

Tim
 

dave.gt

Well-known member
I've used several labs around the country and have settled on two, both of which do reasonably fast, inexpensive, and quality work of developing and scanning, both 35mm and 120, C41 and B&W. Also E-6, but I can't testify to the output for that process. Both of these labs put your scans online for you to download, then physically return the negatives.

The Darkroom (https://thedarkroom.com) in San Clemente

And my current favorite (because of their wonderful scans of my Portra 400 120), Indie Lab in Montgomery (https://www.indiefilmlab.com).

Tim
Ah, thanks for that link, Tim!

I was looking for that very thing, a closer lab that does good work, but I had no idea they even existed. I have a backlog of film ready for developing and I simply don't have the time or energy anymore to do my own.:(

This will solve a lot of problems for me!:thumbup:
 

glenerrolrd

Workshop Member
Back again with some experienced gained with Film labs . Because of limited travel I have shot a lot less film than I anticipated . Most of my experience has been using Leica M3/MP bodies but I also picked up a Leica R6 (which is a superb camera ). I shoot slow and process one roll at time by sending the film to a lab . I try to get the highest quality scans offered by the Labs and take TIFFs if I can get them . My subjects are primarily my grandkids playing golf or tennis .

Tried Four labs :

Indie Film Lab
The Darkroom
The FIND lab
Ilford
Have not tried Richard s which is highly recommended by some .

All four labs were decent with little to separate them ...I like the Indie Film Lab for now but I should do more tests . None are perfect but then neither is my work .

Cost is expensive if you plan on shooting a lot

Postage $5/roll and $10 to get back negatives .
Develop and Scan ..about $40 if you want XXL and TIFFS .
Film ..$10-12 Roll .

Experience

Norititsu is better than Frontier for best quality B&W ..by a lot .

Quality isn t close to what I can do with my M10M and post processing with Topaz AI . Have not perfected NIK with MONO files .

Acros 100 II is the most pleasing to me and my go to film . I love the aesthetic . Film for grandkids is perfection !

Working with FILM means get it right in the camera ....no saves in post processing .

I will probably continue with film for grandkids photos but probably not for my street and travel work . I would have to really up my craft skills to get the results I can easily get from my MONOs .

Thoughts

Don t want to mess with film development but I may get a scanning stand to do one off high resolution scans .

Would enjoy any insights on how to produce a contact sheet of my negatives without going full analog .
 
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