Over the past few months I’ve been shooting more film than digital for my personal projects. I like the weight and feel of the old cameras, the sounds they make and the nostalgic process of manual everything. The process of manual everything includes developing the film and getting it into a medium that it can be viewed on. I’ve stopped getting prints and go directly for scanning to digital files. Recently I’ve been running into trouble and thought it’d make a nice series of posts.

I send my color film to a lab to be processed but I develop all black and white film myself. It takes about twenty minutes start to finish then the roll hangs to dry for at least an hour. After a roll is processed or returned from the lab I spend time scanning the images which can take a few hours if I have a couple of 35mm rolls. I do this on an older HP flatbed scanner on a Windows based laptop than I then transfer over to my Macbook. I used to go directly into the Mac but with Snow Leopard the scanner is no longer supported.

I’ve noticed that image quality has been slowly declining over the past few months. Black and white images appear muddy and require a lot of editing to bring back the contrast. Color images are just shot and I can’t get the natural color back into the images.

This week I processed a couple rolls of HP-5+ and am completely unsatisfied with the results. Knowing that this has been the case with the past few rolls, I’ve adjusted the developing time, the chemicals, temperatures, and it doesn’t seem to effect the image quality. This is when the doubt set in and I start thinking that I’m just taking bad pictures. The thing is that I can see the images and know that my exposure is on and the the shots are there, I just can’t coax them from the camera into the computer.

While I thought it was my developer of choice, Ilford Ilfosol-3, I’m starting to think it may be my scanner dying a slow death. There’s a lot of grain in the photos and I’m losing a lot of detail in that grain. With higher speed film, like the HP5+, I expect to see grain but I don’t expect the grain to chew up the images and swallow the details.

Time to do some troubleshooting! So here is my plan of attack…

I’ going to switch to a different developer. I’ve used the Ilford developer because it was easy to use and available. I’ve since found a new shop nearby with several different chemicals to choose from. I’m going to switch to Kodak D-76, from what I read it’s a better all around developer. Plus It’s better suited for pushing. I’ll go over that in another pot at another time.

The few rolls of film I shoot will go to the lab to be processed, scanned, and possibly even printed. Then I can see how the images look on the computer and on paper. Then I’ll rescan the negatives with my scanner to see where the differences are.

As I sit here typing this up I’ve thought up another possible issue. There could be light leaking into my canister while I’m pouring and dumping chemicals. I know the container is supposed to seal off light but I don’t trust it. I may pick up one of the old school metal canisters and see if that makes a difference.

The main problem here is I suspect it’s a combination of things from chemicals to scanners. I can adjust my work flow and use different chemicals if that’s the problem. What I can’t or don’t want to do is start having the lab process and scan my film scanner. It’d be too expensive. Same goes for buying a new scanner, I could probably solve a lot of problems with a newer scanner and greatly increase the quality of the images but I don’t want to throw the money into it.

So here is my first problem of the year. Because I’m not working in all digital It’ll take a few weeks to try all of the different steps. There is nothing instant about film but I’m determined to figure it out. I’ll be posting on my progress so if you’re interested, keep an eye out right here.