Scanning film is just a chore

My son’s college costs went way up this year. His next semester alone will drain my bank account. And his brother will head off to college next fall! I’m feeling big stress figuring out how to pay for is all. An obvious thing to do is tighten the belt. I don’t live a luxury life; I have no big expenses to cut. So all I can do is tightly control everyday spending.

Costs for my photography surely add up. I’ll bet I spent $1,000 this year on cameras, film, and processing and scanning. Fortunately, those costs haven’t come off my bottom line. I’ve been slowly selling cameras I won’t use anymore (eBay page here!), and those funds have paid for almost all of it.

Seeking to economize even more, when I sent in some film for processing recently I skipped having them scanned. I decided I’d try doing it myself. I have an Epson V300 scanner and Silverfast scanning software on my computer.

Leaves on the iron bench *EXPLORED*

Scanning these negatives myself saved me a bundle, but cost me a lot of time. I figure it took me six hours to do three rolls of film. Half of that time was spent fiddling with and cursing at Silverfast until I learned how to use it and found settings that yielded pleasing results. Now that I have that down, I figure that it’s going to take me about an hour to scan a roll of 35mm film. Fortunately, the settings I’ve found cut the amount of Photoshopping I routinely do on my images, so the net is probably 30 or 45 minutes per roll. Still, there’s no joy in scanning. It’s just a chore.

Yet I got some stunning results on these first rolls. The photo above is from a Canon EOS A2e I bought recently; review forthcoming. I went over to the Episcopal church on Meridian Street, a favorite place to test old cameras, and found these autumn leaves resting on an iron bench. This image is almost exactly how it came off the scanner; I only tweaked contrast a smidge in Photoshop. When I uploaded it to Flickr last week, it was chosen for the daily Explore feature. That always feels good!


21 responses to “Scanning film is just a chore”

  1. Rhianne (@forthedistractd) Avatar

    I think it only seems a chore at first because it such a huge adjustment in terms of time scale… It takes me about an hour to scan a roll of 35mm film too but I’m really starting to appreciate that extra time with each photo more and more. I’m even starting to look forward to scanning my photos now, which is weird haha. Like I said in my blog post last week – its definitely making me focus more when taking photos too as I know I’ll be spending more time with it later rather than just taking the photo and sending it off. The photo above is gorgeous, I can see why it was chosen :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It *is* a huge time adjustment. I’ll keep scanning my 35mm and see how I feel about it after a dozen rolls or so. Unfortunately, my V300 doesn’t do medium format so I’ll have to keep having that done.

  2. dan james Avatar

    I found scanning a chore too Jim, and gave up on it. I know if I had to scan all of my own film I would shoot a lot less.

    Like Rhianne said, it would make me think about every shot and the future time I would need to invest in scanning it. This might be good in that it would encourage me to be really sure about every composition before taking the picture. But I know when I did use to scan myself it had a really negative impact on the experience I had whilst out shooting – I was less able to enjoy it and lose myself in the experience because I had half a mind on the time I would have to spend scanning it.

    For me, photography is inseparably intertwined with walking in the countryside and escaping from daily life. I already spend too much time at a computer with my day job, so any more computer time at home is not something I want to do.

    If I couldn’t use the current lab I use and went to a more pricey one, I would still outsource the scanning. I would probably end up spending as much time out with a camera, but just take fewer final pictures, so I still had the experience of “escape”. And maybe the shots I did get would be better, knowing the extra cost.

    Following on from your camera sales to fund film, have you considered more buying just for the sake of selling? I’ve had reasonable success, enough to keep my hobby ticking over. If you buy lenses of a certain mount, then use a DLSR or digital mirrorless (I can’t recall if you have a DSLR or just your Canon Powershot?) with a cheap adapter you can easily test lenses and get sample shots that help to sell lenses more easily. I’ve done this with my Sony NEX and M42, Pentax K, Minolta and Contax/Yashica lenses.

    Again you need to monitor the time investment – obviously you need to spend time sourcing, listing and selling kit. But it might be something you could do on a small scale to partly fund your film processing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My photography has two phases: the escapist phase where I’m having a pleasant walk and shoot, and the computer phase where I’m processing photos. I manage to keep them in their compartments so it’s not too bad. My big challenge is time — I’m too busy. It’s why I’ve always had labs process and scan my film. But now that I’m economizing, I’m open to things I wasn’t before. I may even start processing my own film.

      I’ve considered buying gear just to sell it. I have enough trouble keeping my eBay page going just from my collection as it is. I don’t own a DSLR but my wife does so I suppose if I were to trade in lenses I could use her D3200 to test them (with adapters).

      I’m hopeful that after my son graduates in the spring and he’s around less that I’ll be able to put that time to other uses, including funding the blog and my photography.

      1. dan james Avatar

        I’m sure you’ll work out solutions that work for you Jim. I only really have your phase one, the escapist phase, I don’t like the computer processing phase and try to keep it to an absolute minimum.

        Using a digital camera with old lenses has its charms and it does give a quicker route to getting to know a lens and its performance before you decide whether it’s worth investing a roll or two of film on.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Great point. Perhaps this will finally lead me to get a DSLR of my own.

          1. dan james Avatar

            I really like my Sony NEX mirrorless and it wasn’t expensive (I bought it used for about £130).

            I have very little experience with DSLRs but I have a Canon EOS 500 film camera (named the EOS Rebel XS in your part of the world I believe) that’s small, light, and super adaptable in terms of vintage lenses. I imagine the Canon EOS DSLRs are a great option, and they’ve been around for years so should be very cheap to pick up, if you’re looking for a very affordable and plentiful option to get started with.

  3. DougD Avatar

    Not quite there myself Jim, but we’re looking into tuition for our 16 year old son and it’s rather shocking. And I remember being offended when my engineering tuition went over $1500 per semester :)
    Luckily we’ve been able to save some ahead of time, and thankfully haven’t had many bumps in life during the past 15 years. Some of our church buddies have 1 child in university, three in christian high school and 1 in elementary school. Their finances are circling the drain, but it’ll start to improve next year when there’s no more elementary school tuition and they get a volume discount on the high school.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My engineering-school education cost about $60,000 all tolled in the late 1980s. My younger son wants to go to a private school that costs $41,000 each year. Fortunately, they want to give him a $50,000 scholarship (spread out across the four years), which will help.

      1. DougD Avatar

        Mine was probably $40k all in during the same time period, but wow that’s a huge number for your son. That’s worse than the Accounting program Derek’s looking at which is $10k the first year then $20k for subsequent years. + fees + housing + books +++

  4. Mike Avatar

    An option to consider would be using your dslr to scan negatives. That is quick and cheap and would handle any format. Lots of info on line on the subject.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That would assume I own a DSLR! Margaret does; I suppose I could borrow it.

  5. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Beautiful scan! I wish I had your patience to scan my own negatives. While I enjoy processing my own black and white film at home, I simply don’t enjoy scanning.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh, I wasn’t patient. I just persisted. Holy cow did it take forever. I’m sure it’ll take less time as I get better at it.

  6. kevinallan Avatar

    Jim, it’s worth thinking about the quality gains of scanning your own, not just the time lost. In the UK, the lower priced scans would be quite low resolution; with your Epson you have the option of creating bigger files, possibly tiffs, which will withstand some further polishing in post-processing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, many of the labs deliver lower-res scans, like 1536×1024. That’s so tiny! Old School Photo Lab defaults to 3072×2048 — now you’re talking. The scans I’ve been doing are in that general size vicinity. When I scanned the first roll of film I made TIFFs but holy wow did they consume a lot of space. I switched to JPEG on the next two rolls. I’ll reserve scanning to TIFF for when I really want the lossless scan.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Don’t you have to have a Win 98 box (or virtual box) to run it? I’ve looked sidelong at them more than once.

      1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

        Windows XP. I’ll admit it is a minor hassle setting it up, but if you follow directions properly it won’t be difficult. Join the facebook group first, do your research and start looking at examples, get all the info and support you need to set it up that way too. It looks better than a flatbed at any resolution, at less than 10min a roll. The Pakon will give you your time back.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Sounds good to me. If I can run a virtual XP box on my main computer that would work. What resolution can I get from a Pakon? I’ve seen these on eBay and have been a little put off by prices, which is why I haven’t explored further.

          1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

            3000×2000. My best advice is to join the Pakon users group on Facebook. People sell them on there occasionally, or you could go the ebay route (AAA Imaging is the most reputable seller and they do accept best offers I’m told). You need to be proactive about it though, one just sold at auction on the 17th for $550, which is probably the best price you’re going to get for an F135+ model, at this stage. Non-plus models can be found for under $400 I think.

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