Color Film Photography Isn’t Worth the Trouble

Tractor. Olympus OM2n. Kodachrome.

I just don’t get on well with color film photography. Getting color right is hard. There are so many pieces to getting a good color image that I’m considering giving up on it altogether.

Availability

The first and most enjoyable color film over the past 70 years has been Kodachrome. Transparency film in general is fun and vivid and interesting, but only Kodachrome looks like Kodachrome. And now it’s gone. Same for Polaroid. Same for my long favorite Kodak Portra NC. And so on. With the fun emulsions disappearing, so is my interest in color film photography

Processing

Minilabs are disappearing faster than film stocks. The quality of the few that remain is so hit and miss that it’s generally better to ship color film off to a pro lab. Pro labs like Dwayne’s or North Coast or any number of others do a great, consistent job. The problem is cost and timing. If I wanted to see my photos right this second I’d shoot digital, but waiting 10 days or more is not something I enjoy. Figure in the cost of shipping and it gets expensive pretty quickly. If I were more patient and cost was no object, I’d ship everything to a pro lab and have them do high resolution scans for me. Processing black and white film at home is so easy I can’t figure why more people don’t do it. To be fair, color processing doesn’t look terribly difficult, but I haven’t been motivated enough to try it.

Scanning

Speaking of scanning. Scanning sucks generally, but scanning color film sucks hardest. None of the software is anything but horrible to use. This makes getting consistently decent scans impossible. I’m sure others have figured it out, but I’m never happy with my results. Between iT8 targets, color profiles, and horrible software, I’ll take a pass. Scanning black and white negatives is more a matter of watching shadows and highlights. That I can usually manage.

Printing

Inkjet printers are damn good these days. Getting good color out of them is still too hard. I don’t want to spend time calibrating monitors or finding custom RIPs or buying ridiculously over-priced inks. Even if I get it right, it’s still a computer-generated image on inkjet paper. I’m old-fashioned and a real wet print made with light and chemicals, by hand, is much more interesting. Color printing in the darkroom isn’t worth the trouble to me.

Aside from the above, I rarely find that color adds much to most images. Unless the image is about color, I say leave it out.

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