I’m annoyed at Kodak (again)

My photography is completely digital—except for the initial exposures, which I still do on film. This isn’t because I like film; it’s because I don’t have the cash for a digital camera with comparable resolution, and because color negative film has far better exposure latitude.

Exposure latitude is very important to me, because everything I do is natural light. I just don’t like fill-flash, even when it’s exposed perfectly. It makes the photograph look artificial and flat. Sure, it gets rid of shadows on people’s faces, but in real life we see shadows all the time.

So I expose film—usually Kodak Royal Gold—and then get Kodak to develop it into a negative strip. I chop the strip and run it through the film scanner, hand-optimizing the scanner response curves for each frame. A 35mm negative has a lot more information than can be shown on the screen, and by tweaking the curves I can bring out shadow detail, prevent loss of contrast in highlights, and use more of the available contrast for the bits of the image I want.

With a digital camera, you’re stuck with the information captured by what is effectively a scanner, and you don’t get to adjust response curves. In fact, it’s worse than that: my film scanner measures 10 bits of red, green and blue in every pixel. By comparison, a digital camera has only 8 bits of resolution per color channel, and each pixel is actually only measured in one of the three primary colors—the missing information is interpolated in software.

Anyway, the reason I’m pissed off is that the trained chimps at Kodak just stuck the roll of developed negative unprotected in a dusty piece of carboard tube, then put that in an envelope. So my negatives are covered in dust, and probably scratched to hell as well. What they should have done is put the negatives in a strip of protective paper before rolling them up.

Of course, the only reason I bought my own scanner was that Kodak screwed up producing Photo CDs for me, and managed to badly scratch one of the discs. They can’t be trusted to expose prints properly either, as you probably know if you have a camera. But there’s really not much you can fuck up when simply processing a strip of 35mm negatives—these days it’s pretty much a matter of sticking the film in one end of the machine and taking it out at the other end. I didn’t even ask them to cut the film into pieces.

Trivia: My grandfather invented the machinery used to automatically clean and dry 35mm film after processing. I spent a week working at Rank Film Labs as part of a work experience scheme, and got to repair several of those machines.

I think I’m going to see if I can find some place locally that actually does the film processing themselves. Since I’m only getting the negatives processed, I can probably afford to pay pro prices.

I missed out the final step, of course. Although I have a color printer which can produce output comparable to one-hour photo labs, I find it far more easy and convenient to order prints from Ofoto. I quarter the resolution of the negative scans, then compress to JPEGs of around 100-150K each. The end result is true photographic prints that look better than 3-day optical prints from the local photo stores.