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09-09-2009, 11:36 AM   #1
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Grassroots film photography

Hi folks,

I'd like to start a thread on grassroots film photography. What are some good strategies for getting things in film done cheaper, quicker, or better without necessarily sacrificing too much of the other two?

I'm wondering about this because after a renewed interest in film and acquiring a couple of older cameras (MX and an ME super) to goof around with I'm finding that the film photography process is much more frustrating than it used to be, particularly from a cost and convenience point of view. I really like using film and film cameras. Almost nobody seems to develop film anymore, and those that do use crummy, poorly maintained machines. Getting from the moment of the shot to the printed photo on the wall is feeling too difficult to be worth it to a casual film shooter.

Not to dismiss suffering for ones art, but there has to be happy medium between developing and printing my own BW film at home in the bathroom, v. sending out every roll to a pro lab, waiting two weeks to get a contact sheet, then send the negative back out for a $$$ print.

To start the ball rolling, here's some things I've learned in the last couple of weeks:

1. All mini labs scan your film and make digital prints from the scans, the quality of the prints has been horrible every time I tried it. The negatives seem fine but I don't have a scanner and the in-store scans are not very high res, ~2Mpix.
2. KEH "bgn' cameras are in *way* better shape than I expected.
3. You can get a pack of 8 A76 compatible batteries at a store called "Dollar Tree" for $1. The brand name is Sunbeam.
4. You don't really need a light meter if you can about 5 conditions/numbers from the rule of sunny 16
5. Store brand film (Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, etc.) is actually a big name film with a different package since so few companies make film anymore. Very cheap.

Any other tips or thought for the grassroots film photographer?

--Steve

09-09-2009, 07:36 PM   #2
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I'm in the same boat as you, albeit more on the Medium Format slant. What I've found:
  • Yes, KEH is pretty good; they are very conservative at grading, and typically you get more than you paid for.
  • Invest in a film scanner. Yes, it's a huge investment to start, but this was you control half of the process.
  • Develop your own film. Caveat: If you do this, you can't use ICE in the scanner -- but you'd be spotting in the darkroom anyways, so this is a moot point.
  • Expired film really isn't that bad. If you use expired colour film and scan, you can easily do the colour corrections in Photoshop/Lightroom/Aperture in the digital pipeline.
  • Craigslist, and to a lesser extent, Kijiji (or the Canadian version), is your friend.
I love film, however the post-processing of it is time consuming when compared to modern digital counteparts. I'm moving towards a hybrid environment: shooting and developing film, and going digital from there (scanning, and then using a high quality archival quality photo printer for prints).
09-09-2009, 07:51 PM   #3
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To add...
  • Don't be scared of cheap film, such as Foma. For snapshots, it's hard to beat at the price.
    Buy bulk rolls and roll your own.
    Look out for short date film at places like Freestyle. Put em in the fridge/freezer once you get them.
    Buy Arista film. It's just rebranded Fuji/Kodak.
    Wait for sales at Walgreens on Studio 35 stuff, and stock up. For C41 color, it's hard to go cheaper/better.
    Don't look at prices for the newest scanners. The Epson 4490 works just fine for $50. Look for refurbs from Epson and/or sign up for their mailing list.

Edit: Make sure everyone you know knows that you're into film stuff! A buddy of mine just got a Canon FD setup for free from a friend of his.
09-09-2009, 08:59 PM   #4
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And...

1.) Shop around for the best minilab setup. About ten years ago I moved to Fuji film and then found the Fujilab system at our then-new Costco to be the best combo available. Our Costco is still top notch.
2.) Ask the minilab folks about the scan resolutions they use. Their quick low-res files are simply for fast small snapshot prints like 4x6's. They usually can include their full-res scans on a CD for a small fee. The full-res scans I've received (both Fujilab and Noritsu) from my Reala films have been of excellent quality.
3.) Another vote for rolling your own.
4.) Buy film in bulk. When I still shot Reala I bought packs of 20 rolls at a time from B&H with the total cost being about half that at my local stores.
5.) Pace yourself. On a good day I can get 5 to 10 shots I really like regardless of how many frames I shoot.
6.) Cheap is not necessarily bad. I found the higher ISO Fuji Press film to be as nice as the Superia stuff but less expensive.
7.) Keep it simple.

Grassroots film photography. My first thought was of using my K1000 for macro grass shots out in my yard. Now that's an idea.

09-10-2009, 05:12 AM   #5
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I only really have one...

#1 Don't be afraid to go full manual. I shot the first two rolls on a newly purchased MX without a light-meter and all but two shots turned out. Once you figure out some basic rules of thumb it's really not that hard
09-10-2009, 10:15 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by tendim Quote
I love film, however the post-processing of it is time consuming when compared to modern digital counterparts.
Hm, I know people who spend a week post-processing their digital in a graphics editor. They are "digitally painting" their fabricated picture.

I'd say we shoot film because we are willing to go the extra step for more light range, a different look and feel than everybody else and for the joy of shooting manual cameras. And for those who find that inconvenient, too difficult or takes too long to learn and perfect their development times, there is automagic digital.

Last edited by tuco; 09-10-2009 at 10:30 AM.
09-10-2009, 05:38 PM   #7
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using gaffing tape to clog up anywhere that light leaks in, since i dont have the extra $100 to get my seals replaced.

and if you go to wolf/ritz and whatnot, a lot of them are trying to get rid of old european and japanese accessories(filters, adaptors etc)......but their selection of film is about as good as walgreens...or worse many times

junksales are good too. i know a guy who runs a junk business out of a public storage unit who has a hook up on old developing equipment (knows a guy who was bought out by Ritz)

and you might be able to find an old junk-gem camera too. im still hoping for a canon af35ml at one
09-10-2009, 10:38 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by schwarzundweiss Quote
using gaffing tape to clog up anywhere that light leaks in, since i dont have the extra $100 to get my seals replaced.

and if you go to wolf/ritz and whatnot, a lot of them are trying to get rid of old european and japanese accessories(filters, adaptors etc)......but their selection of film is about as good as walgreens...or worse many times

junksales are good too. i know a guy who runs a junk business out of a public storage unit who has a hook up on old developing equipment (knows a guy who was bought out by Ritz)

and you might be able to find an old junk-gem camera too. im still hoping for a canon af35ml at one
Learning to do your own light seals is good, too. The material's not expensive.

I've got one of those Canons. Flash tube's blown, but I'm pretty sure it works perfectly otherwise. It's in really nice shape: must have become a closet-sitter when the flash stopped working. (Been looking for the part in a worse-off camera so I could maybe make a gift of this one, but haven't had much luck. Might be willing to do a trade. Possibly for darkroom stuff or something. )

09-11-2009, 04:34 PM   #9
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Wow, some great replies so far.

Costco refused my rolls of film the other day. They won't even send them out.

Anybody ever use the snapfish thing at Publix?

I did some more reading on this and other boards and it seems like a viable film strategy lots of people do is to get the rolls developed at a minilab without getting prints or even a contact sheet prints then preview/scan at home. From there, its be the same as a digital workflow (lightzone -> upload to Costco for prints in an hour, that kind of thing).

Without calling each minilab near my house, do they typically offer a bare-bones processing of my roll of film without prints for a few bucks less than the price of 4x6 singles?
09-11-2009, 04:53 PM   #10
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90% of my film shooting is in B&W. For these I develope at home. Most I develope in Caffenol C. Hows that for grass roots? It's a mixture of coffee, Vit C, and washing soda.

When I do shoot colour, I get it developed at a one hour lab. I get the role uncut, and then cut, scan and sleave the shots myself.
09-12-2009, 05:35 AM   #11
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The best tip I've come across for film processing:

Flat negs. They're rare and beautiful things, right? No Newton's rings on your scans or prints (and no shagging around with ANR glass inserts or things like that,) no blurry scans.

They're also a bastard of a thing to get. With a near-constant googling for the past two years, I never found much on it that'd get you flat negs fast. Sure, plenty of people saying "I just stick 'em in that large print version of War And Peace for six months, and they come out flat as a tack," but who wants to wait that long. And I'm sure we're not all blessed with the same climatic conditions as the guy who "just hangs them up in the cupboard, same as I have for the last forty years. I've never had a problem with curled negs. You must be doing something wrong."

I got this off a post from photo.net, whose URL is now lost to my memory. Part of it's been extended from my own experience, though.

All right, here it is:

1: Get a large hotpack. You know, the ones for sore muscles. One you can heat up in the microwave. One of those flexible or otherwise squishy ones. The gel ones would be great; I use one that's a cloth bag filled with wheat. Make sure it's big enough to cover your negative sleeve.

2: Dry, cut, and sleeve your negs.

3: Heat up the hotpack. Not too hot. Just hot enough so it's really warm, but still comfortable enough to rest on your skin for a good while.

4: Place the hotpack on the sleeved negs, which should, of course, be laid out flat in a single layer on a flat surface. Spread it out flat, so it's level; so the weight is evenly distributed. Both the heat and the weight are equally important in flattening the negs.

5: Leave it for half an hour.

6: Take the hotpack off, and place the negs in between the pages of a book. When you take the hotpack off, you'll be amazed at the perfectly flat negs. But they mightn't stay that way, depending on what brand of film you used, what the weather's like, and a dozen other factors. If they're still warm, there's a great chance of re-curling. The book let's them cool while holding them in shape.

Et voila, flat negs in under forty-odd minutes! Perfectly flat, hopefully, maybe even permanently! But since this method's so easy to use every time you want to scan/print, it's not much of a hassle.

What causes film curl is the emulsion - specifically, the gelatine that holds the silver and dyes together - dries, and therefore contracts, at different rates acroos the film. Softening the gelatine with heat lets it become pliable, and thus lets you flatten it out with weight.

I might be repeating what's already known, but, dammit, this was a big problem for me. Really, when I tried this the first time, I swear I could hear Handel's Messiah being sung in the background.
09-12-2009, 09:30 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Steve-O Quote
Without calling each minilab near my house, do they typically offer a bare-bones processing of my roll of film without prints for a few bucks less than the price of 4x6 singles?
They should be able to (Walgreens does for sure). $2.14 is the basic neg-only processing fee...plus tax of course
09-12-2009, 11:41 AM   #13
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If you're going to have the lab scan your film it sometimes helps to know the lingo:

Most minilab operators will offer two settings for scan resolution: "4-base" and "16-base". "4 base" is approximately 1024 pixels across the width of the film, 16 base is 2048. (64 base is approximately 4096 pixels across -- if you can get it).

For 35mm film (135 in lab-speak) that works out to

4 base 1024 x 1536
16 base 2048 x 3072

16 base for 6x7 format from 120/220 roll film is 2048x2510 (from the lab I use), etc.

Note that because exposures on 6x4.5 format are vertically oriented, a 16-base scan of 6x4.5 has fewer pixels (2048x1536) than a 16-base scan of a horizontally oriented image format.

Oh yeah, the term "channel" is sometimes confusingly used to refer a particular set of film-response settings for all color layers.

IMHO I have the lab return film sleeved and uncut; I cut these into strips and store flat (with sleeving) in printfile ultima pages. I suppose that's not exactly grass roots.

Last edited by troyz; 09-12-2009 at 11:50 AM.
09-13-2009, 03:46 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by tendim Quote
[*]Develop your own film. Caveat: If you do this, you can't use ICE in the scanner -- but you'd be spotting in the darkroom anyways, so this is a moot point.

B&W don't work with ICE. Colour neg and slides should work with ICE, home developed or not. Or have I missed something?


I can second the tip to get your own scanner, as said you take care of more of the process and that brings more control of the results. However small the fee for scanning at a lab is you will at some point reach the total price of a scanner. And the scans are as good or better.
09-13-2009, 04:57 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Jimfear Quote
B&W don't work with ICE. Colour neg and slides should work with ICE, home developed or not. Or have I missed something?
Nope. E6 and C41 work with ICE, as there's no silver left in them after development. However, little chunks of silver (help) make up the black tones in BW film.

ICE works by scanning the neg/slide in the infrared spectrum - the dyes in colour films are transparent to IR, whereas dust (and to a lesser extent, scratches) are not. So it compares the IR scan and visible spectrum scan, then runs a healing brush over the differences.

Silver ain't transparent to IR. So ICE just sees BW film as being made of dust. Dunno what happens with Kodachrome, though.
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