I recently bought a film camera and some 35mm film. Once my film is all used, is my only option to get it developed at CVS or Walgreens and ask for a CD in order to get the photos onto my computer?

I was researching some scanners, but I realized that they scan the negatives, which would still require being developed first. Do they sell scanners that allow the film roll to be developed and digitized too? Thanks!

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    \$\begingroup\$ my guess you were wondering if there is a scanner that can develop and digitize film, not "scan and digitize", as those are the same. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 19:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aaaaaa - my workflow would kill for a machine that could develop, fix, wash, dry, and scan a roll of 35/120 all by its lonesome. Oh, and at prosumer prices too. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 21:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Corey phaseone.com/XF100MP almost that \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 22:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aaaaaa, your definition of prosumer prices and my definition are about $40,000 apart. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 23:01
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Curious why you are researching this after purchase, rather than the other way around... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 0:53

3 Answers 3


When you expose film to light at proper exposure levels to eventually get a photo it does not create a visible change to the film. The chemical reaction of the film's emulsion to light is not a visible one unless one grossly overexposes the film in which case it will go from being semi-transparent to being solidly opaque. A properly exposed undeveloped negative is what we call a latent image at that point. We must then use developing chemicals to cause additional chemical reactions that can make visible the chemical differences between areas that received more or less light during the exposure of the film.

At this point the negative (or positive in the case of some types of film) can be used to create a print or can be scanned to a digital file. Most commercial mini-labs, such as those located in places such as CVS or Walgreen's, that include scanning services as part of the developing package will run the entire film strip through an automatic scanner before cutting the long strip of negatives into several shorter strips and placing them in protective sleeves. They do it this way because it is less labor intensive to feed one long strip into a machine that can automatically advance the film through and scan it one frame at a time, similar to the way a movie projector works, than to feed many separate shorter segments into a scanner. If your local drug store, such as Walgreens or CVS, no longer has a film mini-lab in store and they send the film out for processing they generally no longer send back the negatives with the prints and/or a data disc of digital images scanned from the negatives. If you are only getting scans and no prints, they may not send you anything physical at all. Instead they'll communicate an internet link from which you can download your scanned images.

You have other options than a local drug store regarding who does both the developing stage and the scanning stage. But regardless of who does it, both stages must be done for you to end up with a digital image file. You can't skip the developing stage even if all you want to end up with is a digital file.

You can do all of the developing yourself instead of outsourcing it to a drug store or dedicated photo lab. A wide variety of developing chemicals are available as is a wealth of information about how to use them. B&W developing is much simpler and less sensitive to temperature variations than color chemistry, so most people who develop their own film start out with B&W. Many develop their own B&W film but still outsource color development to a professional lab. Since it requires fewer processing steps and chemicals, developing B&W film is also cheaper than developing color film.

Once the film has been developed, either by a lab or by you, you can then decide who will scan it and how it will be scanned. You can use a scanner specifically made to scan film, you can use a flatbed scanner with a backlight attachment, or you can hire a commercial lab to scan it for you. Many commercial labs use much higher quality drum scanners than the typical scanners used at home by the do-it-yourselfer.

Keep in mind that due to the labor savings of doing both developing and scanning with automated machines in sequence before cutting and sleeving the negatives (or discarding them altogether), having previously developed negatives scanned later will often cost almost as much or even just as much as having them commercially developed and scanned by the lab all at the same time. Also keep in mind that the quality of scans from one lab to the next, and even one operator to the next on the same piece of equipment, can vary greatly depending on the equipment they use, how automated the process is, and how skilled and involved in the process the operator is.

Taking control of developing and scanning your own film gives you more control in determining what the final image looks like. Depending on where you live, it may be your only local option that lets you keep the negatives. But it also involves a significant investment of time to learn how to do either properly as well as money to purchase the needed equipment, chemicals, and supplies - not to mention a higher quality scanner. Ultimately you must decide if it is worth the extra time and cost¹ to gain that control.

¹ You'll never buy the chemicals, which have expiration dates, in large enough bulk quantities to get them for the same prices as large labs can. You'll probably also never utilize a very high quality scanner enough to lower the cost-per-image-scanned to that below the price that a lab will do it for you.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do "modern" film processors bother with a normal dye-injection and fixing process, or do they scan the negatives in a way that can capture the images without such things (e.g. selectively develop red-sensitive layer, scan it, bleach it, and then do likewise for blue and green layers)? If the film is going to be destroyed after scanning, I would think such an approach could save cost. \$\endgroup\$
    – supercat
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 21:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...and don't forget to mention that fixer is nasty stuff that you really don't want in your house unless you're totally committed, have good safety equipment and ventilation, and cheap hazmat disposal. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 0:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LeeDanielCrocker Good gravy, what kind of fix are you using that requires that kind of handling? \$\endgroup\$
    – Blrfl
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Last time I developed film I was using stuff called "Quickfinish" I think. I don't think it's even legal in the US. But even ordinary fixer will eat holes in your clothes and requires hazmat disposal. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 18:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LeeDanielCrocker - our local water plant doesn't like fix simply because of the leftover silver in it, which is considered bad for the environment. But, because it's silver, there are companies that will come take it away for you. They'll get the silver and handle the rest of the disposal. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 7:28

Color Negative films are developed using a process called C-41.

Color Positive Films (slides) are developed using a process called E-6.

What's the difference, you ask?

As Michael said, the pro labs (and even Walgreens) are, at this point, using automated equipment to do the developing and scanning. For a run-of-the-mill development job, they're probably very similar in results, barring any quality-control issues the drug-store may have. (I trust the pros to be better about maintaining consistent quality).

However, if you want anything done special, like pull or push processing, cross-development, or color correction done on the scans, then your only choice is to go with the pros for quality results.

And honestly - going with the pros isn't always more expensive. In my area, it's actually cheaper. The Photo Shop does C-41 development for $3.75 and $11 for full-roll Hi-res jpgs.

That's a grand total of $14.75 for dev and scan from a pro photo lab.

Walgreens boasts the dev and scan for $14.99.

So, check your area and if there is a dedicated photo store and lab, support it instead of a big box drug store.

As for black and white - there is a plethora of different films and developers and they all can impact the resulting photo.

The difference between developing film in Ilfotec DD-X vs Adonal is striking. If you do get into BW film - I cannot more highly recommend doing the developing yourself - as choosing a film & developer combo is the art.

  • \$\begingroup\$ There's not much difference between drug store and pro labs for standard C-41 development. If you want custom development times or other variations from the norm, the pro labs tend to have better mechanisms in place to guarantee that your specific instructions are followed when the film is developed. The same is true of scanning. If you want a standard color profile for the film in question there's not much difference. But if you want color correction shifts, which tend to work better for scans if the amplification of the channels is set at the time of the scan, the pro lab is better. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 19:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark - true story. updated my answer to reflect this point. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 19:57

I recently bought a film camera and some 35mm film. Once my film is all used, is my only option to get it developed at CVS or Walgreens and ask for a CD in order to get the photos onto my computer?

'Big Box Photo' means no negatives and a lo-res scan available either online or on a CD. To get negatives you'll need to visit a 'professional photography store' (Film Lab) where you can get high resolution scans too.

Source: "Did you know retail and drug stores are no longer returning your original film?".

I was researching some scanners, but I realized that they scan the negatives, which would still require being developed first.


There are some easy shortcuts to developing, with which numerous people have reported good results. More info below.

Do they sell scanners that allow the film roll to be developed and digitized too?

Probably not one's you can afford (~$250K). Even a Minilab uses two separate machines, an all-in-one machine is for high volume.

For low cost you'll want to develop 'in the sink' and scan using a conventional or purpose-built film scanner.

Video: How-To: Develop Film with Coffee and Vitamin C (Caffenol)

Video: Developing Black and White Film With Beer

Video: How To - Develop Color and B&W Film in Room Temperature - The Easiest Way - Written Tutorials - B&W or Color.

Video: How to scan film negatives.


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