I'm mixing analog with digital photography — I tend to take better photos when I can't look at a small digital screen, unconsciously forcing me to take the picture before I shoot instead of checking afterwards if it succeeded. I also like the grain film gives me. However, most shots aren't worth spending much time in the darkroom, and scanning them is a lot faster. I'm wondering how best to convert the film to digital.
Scanning at lower than maximum (non-interpolated) resolution of my image scanner tends to exaggerate the contrast of the grain and screw up the mid-tones because of that.1 On the other hand, the resulting size of the scans are major overkill in most cases (I don't print them at A0 size), so I want to downscale the pictures. However, the grain confuses most methods and results in loss of detail and/or loss of the characteristic grain. For example, bicubic sharper tends to result in a "bigger" grain than the original. Now, the best compromise I've found so far is simply using bilinear interpolation, but I doubt that this is the best method to preserve both overall details and the look of the grain.
In short: when processing the scanned negative, how do I "best" preserve both image quality and the characteristic look of the grain?
As Stan Rogers pointed out below, there's a difference between truly scanning the grain of the film, and scanning the "grainy" character of film at lower resolutions. This question is about the latter; Stan Rogers explains how to do the first.
I'm looking for alternatives to the standard photoshop options to try out, and reasons for each. Is the fact that every film has a different grain characteristic a problem? Are customised advanced noise reduction methods perhaps an option?
1. I'm using a Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400, using the software provided by Minolta.
As requested, here is a scanned picture with different resise methods. Just scanned this, scanning a B&W negative to get better tonality range. I turned off grain dissolver, automatic dust and scratch removal, etc, for obvious reasons. On the right the pictures are upscaled again with Nearest Neighbour. I set the 8 bit scan to 16 bits before downscaling, assuming it reduces risks of banding if I choose to mess with curves, channel mixers, etcetera. No other modifications (ususally I first retouch dust & scratches, and in the end channel mix the picture to B&W, then switch to 8 bits again).
Note that the browser probably downscales these pictures yet again, click for full size! Direct Link