Analog Film to Digital Image Workflow
A complete guide

WORK IN PROGRESS - Introduction

This is a comprehensive guide intended to be read by a compentent digital photographer curious about the world of analog film photography in the present day. I decided to write this to distill all my own learning into a single place. It is a living document, hence its place on github.

Except for my camera and lenses, I use only the currently available technology. All equipment you read about here can be easily found at good prices. All techniques presented here are also documented elsewhere on the internet. There is nothing particularly revolutionary or novel here, just solid, practical advice that will help you avoid making mistakes and get you working in what I consider to be the ‘right’ way from the start.

Those seeking purity and predictability from their workflow should remain fully digital. For those accepting the challenge, a very satifying and unique experience lies ahead. Analog photography is many things to many people. There is the exciting lomography movement, large and medium format cameras, homemade gear, collectables and oddities to explore. This guide is for 35mm photographers, although many of the techniques will apply to all analog photography that produces a negative. Many analog photographers like myself simply want the best regular digital image we can achieve from the finest negatives we can create. Before we get started proper, to be fair to you the reader, I must set some expectations upfront…

You will not go analog it because it is easier.

Let me be clear straight off. If you can afford a full frame digital camera and have no interest in the analog process, then you you don’t need to read this. You will get a greater number of better quality images at a cheaper price (in the long run) more quickly. Everything about this workflow is more challenging, time consuming and lower quality than digital. Although you may hear arguments to the contrary, I can assure you that even a second hand Sony A7 will far outperform any 35mm film camera in terms of quality and usability. You will go analog because you are fascinated by the process, love the vintage cameras, enjoy handling the film and want to join a passionate community. You are probably also a bit of a tinkerer at heart.

There are a lot of things to think about and problems to solve.

This guide documents my own workflow, but you will find that many people use many different methods and techniques throughout the process. There is no one right or best way to do things. You must find a way through these challenges that works for you. Where are you going to store your chemistry? Where will you develop your film? Where will you scan your negatives?

As well as the physical aspects of analog photography, the film, the developing etc, there are also digital considerations. A digital camera produces a ready-to-use image for you, and records all the technical details about the image without you doing anything. This is not the case with analog film photography. The camera records nothing of the lens, aperture, ISO, location or even the date and time of the photo. I will provide solutions for these problems, and more.

The images you get will not be as ‘good’ as from a digital camera.

You may read online that film is still competing with digital in resolution, colour, dynamic range or whatever. Don’t believe it. It is true that some very slow medium format films shot with a professional Hasselblad camera, developed with expensive chemistry and under the scrutiny of a top class drum scanner will yield exceptional results. This is not that gig. This workflow is for cost effective analog film photography in the present day at the highest quality that is reasonably achievable. I have read that about 14 megapixels is as much as you can expect from regular 400 ISO film.

It is impossible to be fully analog on a digital internet

Do you intend to work entirely in the analog world, using enlargers to produce photographic prints and never scanning your negatives? If you do then I will be the first to say that I’m impressed! I’m afraid this guide does not cover the use of enlargers as unfortunately I am unlikely to ever use one. My goal is to digitise images to share with the photographic community on the internet. I do however think that the creation of limited-run enlargements from a film negative is a true art form.

The final digital images you create are an unavoidable synergy of your film negative and your scanning equipment. There is no way to avoid that fact. There is also nothing wrong in that. Remember that you will always have your negatives and you can go back to rescan the best in a higher quality or even try an enlarger at some point in the future. This text shows you how to get good results and retain control over the digital process.

How to contribute

If you would like to edit this document, then simply submit a pull requests with your edits are Feel free to fork, rewrites and republish elsewhere but please credit me if you do with a link to my flickr page. If you would like to ask me a question, make criticism or offer suggestions, then please raise an issue on github. Thanks for reading!

next: Your camera and film

James Burton on 01 August 2017