I got my wedding pictures in the mail today. A long journey awaited them since they left the camera back in October of 1999.

1999

On October 23rd, 1999 Chuck Humbert’s studios sent out a photographer to shoot our wedding. In 1999 the gear someone brought with them to a wedding was a good medium format camera (or two) and a bunch of film. Our guy had a Hasselblad 6×6 camera. If you didn’t know this is a medium format camera that shoots roughly square pictures. 35mm film just doesn’t cut it when you need to have pictures that could get really blown up.

We got married and ordered some pictures from the studio. Like most couples that are newly married, couldn’t afford a whole lot of pictures. Of course we promised to get some printed later on. Which never really came to pass since there’s alway something better to do with the cash.

2008: Almost lost them forever

Ten years coming up quickly Ennie decides “It Is Time” and calls up Humbert. On the other end of the phone is a sound of concern: “…let me see if I still have those pictures…”

Over time the old man who was looking to retire started calling up his old customers. One bad story after another came from the other end of the line. Sobs of “he passed away years ago.” “We’re no longer married.” Lots of stories, not many good ones. He put a policy in place to recycle the film after five years and just not tell anyone.

Our negatives were already at the recycler. Gulp. Got saved by that much. If we called just a few weeks, or maybe even a few days later they might have been gone for good. Worth more for the silver content than anything else.

[Note: They said something along those lines, but I’m not sure I believe them — chromogenic color films have their silver bleached out in development. That being said, they were still about to be ground up]

A little while later they were saved. For $100 we got the proofs and the negatives all was good with the world again. Except they’re medium format and I don’t have anything that I could do with them.

2010

After a good long pause to think it over (see also: lazy) I started looking around to see what I can do with the negatives. Obviously the right thing to do is scan them, but the hardware is obscenely expensive. I could do the whole “ebay rental” and buy something, use it for a month, and resell for what I paid for it, but that would use time I didn’t really have that moment.

February 2010

I almost pulled the trigger and sent things to ScanCafe.com on day, but didn’t. I got far enough to sign up for an account though. Good thing I did because they sent me a coupon the next weekend. This was enough motivation to finally get of my butt and do something! Ennie and I boxed up the negatives and sent them in!

March 2010: India, Ho!

After a brief stop-over in California, our negatives were on a plane to Hyderabad, India where Scan Cafe has their scanning center.

We outsourced!

The film waited in a queue for a week or two and finally Rod (or Rcd? or something) picked them up and scanned them in. Not only that but put them in order too. That’s more than I was expecting! We saw the pictures online a day or so afterward and were given the chance to pick only the ones we wanted. We were boring and just got them all; they went that far already, might as well get all the bits.

April 2010: The result

They burnt a DVD and shipped the whole thing back to California. Then back to us!

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They even sent back the bits of the film they trimmed off. It makes sense when you read about their process though. They weigh everything going in and make sure what’s going out weighs the same. The bits of trimming might make things a bit off, so just add it back!

Quality

The files all look great! The normal quality (3000dpi) was plenty to see the grain of the film and I’m happy that I didn’t pay more for the extra high-res scanning. All it would have done is make the files bigger with no increase in quality. The pictures, like I said before, were all in order which is a great plus. The color and contrast are as good as I would have made them myself. I can’t complain about anything about what they did!

Total cost for 187 scans: $164.88. Considering the overall quality I have to say it’s worth it. The sorting would’ve taken me an hour or two alone. It could have been done faster, but that’s not something I can really complain about since they beat their own estimate.

The one downside (nothing they did) is dealing with the 40 megapixel images can get a bit taxing on the computer!

Overall: Great service!

I didn’t notice a few scratches of the emulsion on some of the frames, but none of them are parallel with the frame edges so I doubt it came from them. More than that, it even spanned a few strips of the frames so that makes it doublely improbable. The scratches are very minor and perhaps a pixel or two wide. They’re also light and easy to retouch out if necessary.

Take a look at the full set of scans if you want. Make sure you look at at least one original to see how big those pictures really are. Kinda scary how many pixels there are!

We can finally print out some of our wedding pictures!

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Thoughts about negatives

Even though I now shoot digital exclusively there’s still something special about negatives. This little bit of plastic and emulsion was at the photo shoot. You hold in your hand the physical record of the light that hit the film. You can hold it up to the light and see it yourself with nothing but your eyes. It’s a concrete tie to that time and place.

You can’t say that about a JPEG. The bits weren’t there. It’s just a copy of a copy of a copy.

The film looked at the picture. Now you look at it.

That makes it special.

More expensive all around. But still special.

And now our have a lot of miles on them: Cleveland -> California -> India -> California -> Cleveland.