I'm considering to try a medium format photography. Coming totally from DSLR background, the workflow step I'm used to is:

  1. take digital image
  2. save the image (JPG/PNG, whatever) into the disk.

I wonder how does this workflow work for film processing in medium format photography (e.g. Rolleifle), right from unloading the film from the camera to the digitalizing the image.

I don't have any darkroom processing skill.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You’ll either need to acquire film processing skills (full darkroom not required) or send the film to be processed, and then scan the negs (or have the processor scan them). \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2018 at 1:46
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I'll add that developing film in a tank is surprisingly doable, and nice to have control over the development process. Scanning at home is a pain though. \$\endgroup\$
    – steel
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 1:54

5 Answers 5


Assuming your end product is a digital image (i.e. not a paper print) the steps of your workflow are simple:

  • develop the film
  • scan the images

As for developing: it is important to consider Black & White and Color films as separate realms.

  • black & white film is on one hand comparatively easy to develop - you need just three baths (developer / stop bath / fixer), the process is robust and easily done in DYI conditions. On the other hand the process has never been standardized. There are hundreds of developers, often optimized for a specific film make and choosing the "right" one involves as much art as science.
  • color film (both reversal and negative) is comparatively more difficult to develop - still doable at home, but there is more chemistry involved and the tolerances are more tight. On the other hand the process has been standardized (E-6 for transparencies and C-41 for color negatives).

Most film photographers therefore develop their B&W film themselves, and send their color film to a lab.

As for scanning: there are broadly three options:

  • a flatbed scanner, such as Epson V600 costing low hundreds of dollars (pounds) is something you can have at home (I do), but the resolution and dynamic range is somewhat limited.
  • a high end CCD scanner, such as Hasselblad X5 costing tens of thousands of dollars (pounds) is not something you (or me) are likely to own, but with a little googling you should be able to find a processing service nearby that has one of these and will scan your negatives for you. The resolution and dynamic range is vastly improved over flatbeds, but the price and (in)convenience of having to send the negatives for the service means you will save this option only for special occasions.
  • a wet mount drum scanner is the holy grail of film scanning. It gives the best resolution, and is the most hassle to operate. A fun fact is that many of these are available second hand, and with a little eBay luck you can get one for a relatively decent price. They are a chore to operate though, requiring you to install ancient interfaces (think Firewire).
  • \$\begingroup\$ Firewire is ancient? How about SCSI cables? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented May 1, 2021 at 19:45
  1. Unload film.
  2. Take film to lab. (if you don't live in a largeish city you may need to do this by mail)
  3. Pay a little extra for scans.
  4. File the negatives for later, when you are serious enought to get your own scanner.
  5. Work on the .jpg/.tif from the lab per your normal workflow in lightroom or whatever.
  6. Enjoy your 'yuge' images -- I scan my own 6x9 with a chintzy flatbed at ~5000x8000px, and am pretty sure a better scanner would still be finding more detail at double that...

My primary reason for shooting film is to have more control and to experiment with different black and white films and different developers. So, I cannot more highly recommend that you learn to develop your own black and white at home. Use a lab for c-41 or e-6.

Developing your own B&W is easy. Unload the film in total dark or use a change bag. Roll it onto a spool for a Patterson developing tank. Then, take into the light, prep your chemicals, and develop away.

Check with you local laws on chemical disposal. Mine, for example, don't care about me dumping developer or stop but they do want to collect the fix. So, I save it for them. (They process it to get the remaining silver out of it - which is pretty toxic to the environment. There are ways you can do this at home if there is no service in your area that will collect the fix for you).

Once developed, scanning is a labor of love. If you don't love it, give the task to a lab to do.


Here is my workflow, but everyone is a little different.

I shoot and mark the rolls, if necessary. For example, if I know a roll needs to be pushed in development I will mark that on the roll.

If it is color I send it to a lab and to process and scan. I have done a lot of color and I know I don't really want to deal with the hassle and expense of color chemistry. If it is B&W film, I process it at home in my JOBO processor. I personally use XTOL diluted 1:1. I find this to be a great all around developer.

I dry my film in a film dryer I made. It is basically just a box with a filtered computer fan on the top and bottom pushing air through. I try to keep the room I process in relatively humid to help keep dust under control. This is not necessary, I used to hang my negatives to dry in the shower, but I had to deal with dust more when I did that.

Then scan my B&W on an Epson V700. It is a flatbed scanner that does a pretty good job for it's price. There is a lot that you can do to make this a REALLY great scanner. 3rd party negative holders, ANR glass, different software, etc. But a lot of that is more expensive than I am willing to deal with.

I scan at 1200 DPI, 16-bit greyscale. I can go higher, but I don't on my initial scans. I can always come back and do it again.

For color I usually just have my friend at a local lab scan it for me, since he is already developing it and he does it for me for free. But even if it wasn't free I would still probably not scan my own color because the software for the Epson (and literally ever other scanner I have ever used) kind of sucks. It can be difficult to get the colors you want. So I let someone else handle that for now.

Now I have digital files I can bring into Lightroom. When I bring them in I make sure I tag the files with the camera, lens, film, and process variations (if there are any, i.e. pushed +1, cross-processed, etc)

For the negatives, I buy sleeves from Climax Photo Supplies and label the sleeve with the year, camera, lens, and process variations.

For the editing, first I cull, then crop, then adjust color and contrast. But that is generally about it for color film.

B&W is a little more involved because I have to remove dust from the scan.

You're probably asking "Why do you not have to remove dust from color film?" Basically, film works by little pieces of light-sensitive material being suspended in emulsion on the film. For color film, part of the chemical process of development basically stains the emulsion, then the light sensitive silver gets bleached out of the emulsion, leaving just the stain. That is what we see on the film as the negative.

For B&W it is a little different. A lot of silver gets left on the negative after processing.

Why does this matter? Most modern scanners have a for of something called digital ICE. This uses an IR scanner in addition to the regular optical scanner to determine where little pieces of dust are on the negative and compensate for that in the software. It usually does a pretty good job of this. But because there are so many little pieces of silver left on B&W negatives, you end up with the scanner trying to "clean" most of the image up. It just doesn't work. So for B&W film the scans need to be cleaned manually.

There are a lot of ways to simplify this process or adjust it to fit your needs but this is a good balance of convenience and loving the process for me.

My recommendation would be start off by sending your film out to a good lab. My personal recommendation is Boutique Film Lab. I know the guy that runs it and he does a great job and cares about putting out quality work.


I wonder how does this workflow work for film processing in medium format photography (e.g. Rolleifle), right from unloading the film from the camera to the digitalizing the image. I don't have any darkroom processing skill.

Unloading film on a Rolleiflex 3.5E-E3: If you press the shutter again after 12th shot, then the crank most probably will wind up.

Buying a Drum Scanner can cost a few thousand dollars, getting somewhere to scan negatives for you can start at $20 per negative. Developing at a Lab can get expensive quickly too. You'll need to decide how often you intend to take photographs and whether it will be less expensive to invest in the equipment and learning to use it versus getting someone else to do the work.

You might want to read this article on the B&H website: "Scanning without a Scanner: Digitizing Your Film with a DSLR" - this is the conclusion:

"Looking at the 100% crops of the black-and-white image, my first impression is that I’m truly, pleasantly surprised with how well the DSLR’s [Nikon D800 fitted with the AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens] detail holds up when resolving the finer details of the image. While the [Epson Perfection 4870 flatbed scanner] flatbed scan looks fairly muddy and none of the grain detail is really resolved, the DSLR was able to pick up some of the acutance of the film and separate similar tones more clearly. However, comparing the DSLR image to the scan from the Imacon [Flextight 646] is again a pretty dramatic difference, with the Imacon able to fully resolve grain detail to provide a much sharper, clearer appearing image. However, the DSLR certainly is no slouch in making out the minute details. In the end, the Imacon scan offers a lot more room to adjust the image before it degrades, and will hold up better to printing than either the DSLR or flatbed scans, but for Web and portfolio purposes, the DSLR is a definite contender.".

In short film is more expensive and may or may not be more rewarding than digital. Film can do what digital can not, and vice versa. It's an all-in or all-out deal, you'll eventually want to prepare to invest more time and money as Labs go digital, away from film, and the remaining few charge a premium.

Between digital and post processing you can fake film reasonably well nowadays, particularly since some cameras (Fuji) have a number of film simulation modes. You can even get Lightroom presets that will simulate film presets for your digital camera, but you won't get the same result as film; certainly easier and less expensive.

There are other answers on this site about developing film: How do I develop color negative (C41) film at home?


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