Back around late September or early October of 2017 I loaded up my B&H cart with every single last item I could ever need when developing and scanning my own film. Color chemicals were coming from the Film Photography Store (well worth your business), but every bottle, funnel, and random piece of equipment I thought I needed came from B&H. About two weeks later a gigantic box arrived and it had almost everything in it for my journey ahead, including a brand new Epson V600! I was ready to take the next step into freeing myself from the stronghold commercial labs were holding over us film photographers.
Fast forward to seven months later, current day, and within the past week I've sent four rolls of Fuji c200 (my favorite film) to The Find Lab out in Utah. That's who I used to send all my color work to. They never let me down before, and I trust they won't now. So what happened, then? What shifted and made me decide to send everything off and abandon the home developing and scanning game?
The first of several grievances is the amount of time I have to set aside to develop and scan everything. I shoot a lot of film, especially 35mm, and no matter which way you look at it scanning 35mm is rather time intensive. "Oh, but if you get the right scanner then it'll speed up the process." Yeah, that's true, but getting a scanner that would speed up the process that much requires a nice chunk of change, and if I'm willing to drop several hundred to a thousand dollars on a scanner then I may as well just send it off to a lab to do the dirty work. At the end of the day, I've got a lot of different hobbies and interests that I'd like to devote some time to, and pinning myself down with developing and scanning just makes me even more a slave to this medium. On top of all that, even if I didn't have other interests I wanted to dig into, there's still family, friends, and loved ones that deserve my time much more than photography could ever dream of. When I think about the end of my life, whenever that may be, I can't see myself being mad that I didn't immerse myself into developing and scanning.
Next up is the ever present issue of quality. When I look at my negatives and scans from before and after I started doing it myself I can see a clear divide. Those negatives from my lab have some kind of crazy 3D quality to them that I've never been able to achieve from my home processed negatives. Don't get on me about correct temperatures and all that, because I've tested everything and had my developing methods down to a science, but using a three step process for color just isn't the same as what a lab uses. Moving along, out of the billion hours I've spent scanning my negatives, very few have had the same quality that I was receiving from my lab. Again, I know that if I had the right scanner I could get the same results, if not better, than my lab, but spending that kind of money on a scanner just isn't worth it to me.
My third and final point zeroes in on how fulfilling it is to develop and scan everything myself. At first it was a great experience. I no longer had to rely on somebody else to do this essential part of the process for me, and I could take the time and give my negatives the attention they deserved. The gratification aspect of the process stuck around for a long while, and only recently did it begin to wane. I've always had a love/hate relationship with photography. I grew up around family albums and photos of ancestors long before my time, and I think it's such a great medium that helps define the human experience. With all that said, I devote a lot of time to it that I don't really have. There are other things that need my attention more, and as the months went on I started to realize all this. At this point I've put down my 4x5, am selling off anything related to medium format, and my Polaroids and 35mm cameras are the only things still in use. I like it that way. Those mediums are less obtrusive and don't force me to plan my life around photography. Once I realized that, the satisfaction I once got from knowing I was responsible for the entirety of my own process was gone. It hasn't been very fun for some time now, and when I have to start choosing between taking a walk outside, being with those close to me, or developing film, photography will always take a back seat.
To those who develop and scan your own film, more power to you. It's not for me, and I'm glad I realized that sooner rather than later. I admire anyone who takes the entire process into their own hands, and if I'm honest, at one time I associated doing it all yourself with a higher quality product. That's changed now, because I saw my product lower in quality, and as a result my interest grew thin. If you develop, that's awesome, but you're not superior because of it. Same goes for those of us who send film to a lab. Get off your high horse if you somehow think sending 50 rolls of film off makes you important. It just means you've got more money to blow on film than the rest of us. Plain and simple.