Sometime around 1997 I started shooting digital professionally. ever since then the quest have been for a cleaner chips and better resolution. The first Fuji Nikon body was only 1280x960px, but it had a interesting optical system in the body creating "full frame" images, naturally the camera was obsolete the first week and full-frame soon became a forgotten idea, well until the last few years. In the mean time we all discovered instant gratification in our photography workflow, and we also became photoshop junkies because we had to learn how to control noise and other ways of "fixing" our digital files so they would be acceptable to the clients.
Pulling back out film cameras, the question becomes:
How do I get this film back into my electronic darkroom.?
I still have my Nikon F4 floating around and used to love working with it. So a few weeks ago I picked up a very used leica M6 and stuck some film in it. It was love at first sight. How could i forget how film feels.? But that is also the subject of another post.
But the real challenge was naturally not the film, but rather how to get it into my laptop. I checked places like seattle filmworks and other trusty companies, most will develop and scan to CD... But they also offer direct access to the images on their website, and they only make low-rez images available on the CD, after all they would rather have you place your print orders with them on the site. Interestingly WallMart did come up and offer C41 and scan.
Finally I picked up the phone and called my local camera store Samy's on Fairfax in Los Angeles, it turns out that they offer C41 processing and scan to CD, even by 4pm same day. The Samy's process to CD comes in 3 flavors, the regular is 1500px wide files, the second "Hi-Rez" is 3000px wide files costing $18 for a roll of 36. Finally there is a "a la carte" option where the fill lab will take the processed roll to the Service Bureau for high-quality scanning cost processing+$5 per frame.
The second option works for me. Process to High-Rez CD scan. Though its not a perfect world, the scans are a bit contrasty and I could easily see them revealing a bit more highlight and shadow details.. However I find that I actually enjoy the contrast and that it is very much how I like my B&W anyway.
More importantly, the ready to go scan's have saved me from getting involved with extensive post processing the way digital often demands. Im not thinking about the post-processing when I photograph, I simply photograph, seeing what I want to see, and when I get the CD I see what I got. Ahhhh. its very liberating. Only post processing is a quick crop if required and then the images are ready for print or upload.
So, to recap, my workflow is simple and easy. I settled on Kodak BW400cn because it is a C41 film, process and scan to High Rez CD at Samy's $18 for the roll. I sort and crop then store in dated folders online at ZenFolio.com. Thats it.!
UPDATE april 2009
I bought a Nikon CoolScan 5000ED and am blown away by the quality of the scans - Click to read.