A Few Simple Mistakes

My first proper film camera came in 2008, an Canon EOS 500. Its a cheap, AF SLR by Canon which uses the same lenses as the digital series. I had no idea about the different films or emulsions but I did research on a few names via flickr and bought myself a few rolls of Ilford Pan. What a lovely film and what deep contrasts. I still remember my first roll when it came out.

Now for a film-illiterate person, films like Nova are godsend. They are incredibly cheap (I remember getting them for Rs.25 a roll) and their quality is quite decent. But this was leading to another major issue which I didn’t foresee.

Via Wikipedia
Via Wikipedia

So whats the problem? The problem is that cheap films are actually very expensive in the long run. Thats because they are unreliable. Where they save in cost, they lose in terms of grain, performance, latitude and color balance.

I’ve gone through so many expired slides, color negatives and cheap black & white emulsions that I now realise that its fun to shoot with them and expect something very new to appear in your pictures but it also will pull down the quality of your work. As its not something which can be controlled, these films will perform as they like, without warning changing colors or tones.

Another issue comes from bad scanning. Usually you could find 35mm film scanning in your local lab (This is specifically about Indian labs, the labs in other countries to my understanding are a million times better).

These pictures were shot in 2009 when my father retired from the Airforce. When I initially saw the scans, I thought that the film has destroyed all the pictures. Its just now that I can see what I really shot. Now looking back at these images, I do feel the quality is still low for a 100iso film, it has too much grain and really bad latitude (in comparison to Tmax which I use now).

The one on the right is scanned by a local lab and the left is scanned by me. Massive loss in details, over sharpening and increased contrast is usual for bad scanning.
The one on the right is scanned by a local lab and the left is scanned by me.
Massive loss in details, over sharpening and increased contrast is usual for bad scanning.
If you notice the re-scan has improved tones and contrast but there is a odd glow in the images which is because of the film emulsion. This can be reduced a little by sharpening but can not be fully removed.
For some reason the images from the local lab have a lot more structrure in their scans. If you notice, my scans are now a lot more raw and flat.

So just a few recommendations :

  • Try to not use cheap expired films. You might just go out and land on something spectacular and the shot might not appear on the film because, well, its just like that. Its great to learn on expired films or cheap films but don’t depend on them for regular use. Buy film in bulk, that reduces the cost substantially.
  • If you can’t afford a scanner, try to either make digital images via a simple digital camera setup and a light box OR get together with friends and pool in for a scanner.
  • If you’re going to be shooting something important, might as well invest in the quality of film because these images lost would be a lot more damaging than a little extra money.


6 thoughts on “A Few Simple Mistakes

  1. Hi Akshay..

    This is a good one..with the comparisons of scans..
    Through one of your earlier editions, I have head of Idea Creative in Mumbai.
    I have already contacted them using your blog as reference.
    Just the other day, while on a google search I came across a scanning agency going by the name of Scan Corner, based Hyderabad.
    Just in case you know of them…I would like to know what do you think of their work?
    Your inputs are much appreciated as always.


    1. Jim,

      I have heard of these people, Scan Corner and they seem quite professional. But I’ve never worked with them so I can’t really vouch for them. But I have had friends work with a few other people (listed below) and they have had a good experience :

      – Printers Devil / New Delhi
      – Harry, Nizzamuddin / New Delhi
      – SV Photographics / New Delhi
      – Idea Creative / Mumbai

      Printers Devil in Delhi, actually has a Imacon Scanner so you can expect great results from them.

  2. Well I would not recommend not to use expired film at all. It also can be quite a big improvement in quality in terms of uniqueness as it is possible that a really cool ditch of color appears. The simple solution is not to expect anything from this film. This way you won’t be disappointed if the film could not capture the image as it should. But you are happy if it worked the way it should and if there appears a cool effect it is like a cool gift.

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