Many amateur and professional photographers rely on professional labs for film processing and printing, and this remains true as digital photography has grown. Others do their own film processing and printing in all three film media--B&W, color negative and color positive.

Processing. With medium and large format, you can't rely on the local drug store for processing. Conventional film processing is getting increasingly difficult to find and professional labs that can process 120 and sheetfilm are dwindling with the market for their services. For both film processing and printing, explore local and mail options. Below is the most cursory summary of home processing. If you are interested there are lots of Web resources. A good starting point is the Traditional processing and printing section of the site.

B&W film processing is the simplest. Rollfilm requires a film tank, three bottles in which to mix and store your chemicals, a thermometer that will fit in your tank and a sink to wash your film in. Buy a book on B&W processing; almost any one published in the last 50 years will do, though later additions will contain information on chemical mixes that are currently available. Advanced LF photographers may used specialized chemistry and mix their own formulae. Sheetfilm can be developed in a tray or a tank that will hold sheet film hangers. The procedure and chemistry is the same for similar emulsions, though light-tight tanks are less common for sheetfilm.

Color film processing is more complex and exacting. There are more chemicals required and temperature tolerances are tighter. While possible, it is probably not a good idea to attempt color processing until you have had some experience processing B&W film.

Of course the easiest, and usually the most expensive way to get your film processed is taking or sending it to a professional lab. Often medium and large communities will have local processors who do B&W and color work for professionals. You can also get prepaid mailers from large photo retailers.

Printing. Black-and-white negative film can be easily printed as contact prints or enlargements in a modest darkroom. Processing is usually done in trays and the chemistry is similar to though not identical to that used for film processing. Contact printing requires the most modest equipment, but is usually reserved for making proof copies. Enlarging requires, of course, an enlarger. Enlargers that will handle medium format can be relatively cheap and compact; enlargers that will handle 4x5 negatives are usually large and more expensive, though there is an active market for such equipment on Web auctions. Color negative and positive film can be printed in a darkroom, but success requires the use of color filter packs or enlarger color heads and a way of analyzing color balance--trial and error or a densitometer.

Commercial labs can print from most types of film, either conventionally or using some combination of conventional and digital processing. Conventional film of all types can be scanned with medium to high end flatbed scanners and with specialized film scanners, either by the user or by labs. The resulting digital files can be edited with graphics editors like Photoshop and more modest graphics editors with fewer features. These files can be printed on photo inkjet printers that provide surprising quality even from models that sell for as little as $100. Photo inks are relatively expensive, so you may want to compare total production costs of conventional and digital printing.

A final alternative provides the best of the silver image and digital options. Scan your film and give your edited image files to a commercial lab which has LED-based printers that can "print" on conventional enlarging papers.



02/27/2009 13:17