Cross Processing 35mm Film and the Costs Associated with Shooting Film

Cross Processing and the Cost of Shooting Film

By Allan Burgess

Above: Rangi II at Picton. Olympus XA. Shot on 400 ASA Fujicolour Super HGV print film.
Rangi II at Picton taken with the Olympus Mju II. Shot on 100 ASA Fujichrome Provia slide film cross-processed as an experiment.

What is Cross Processing 35mm Film 

Cross Processing means deliberately having your film developed using the wrong chemicals. 

Slide film (also called positive film, reversal film or transparency film) uses the E-6 process and chemicals for developing. 

Colour negative film (also called print film) uses the C-41 process and chemicals for developing. 

Cross Processing Film? 

There are several reasons why a photographer would want to cross process their film. 

If color negative film (C-41) is developed in slide chemicals (E-6). You often get soft pastel colors with little contrast. Some people like the strange and unpredictable results. 

Whereas if slide film (E-6) is developed in colour negative chemicals (C-41), which is by far the most frequently used form of cross processing, you tend to get darker shadows from increased contrast, and sometimes strange colour casts. Just how bad the colour casts are will depend on the type and brand of film, and to a degree who is developing it. Again, some people like the unpredictable and sometimes strange color shifts. 

Finally, having color slide film (E-6) cross processed and developed as though it were color negative film (C-41) cost about half as much at a photo lab.

In the cross-processed photograph of the Rangi II above I did it more as an experiment than anything else. Fujichrome Provia 100F is designed to produce the most lifelike colours possible. Cross-processing it is a wasteful indulgence. Looking at the two pics together the result from the cross-processed Provia slide film looks to have more kick but that may just as likely be the result of my work in Photoshop.  

The Cost of Buying and Developing E-6 

I’m using Photo and Video in the Merivale Mall, Christchurch here as an example. After my three decades of experience dealing with this shop, I rate them as the best all-around photographic store in New Zealand.  

Although this shop still processes print film on-site (a rarity nowadays), they send away E-6 slide film to be processed in Wellington. I’ll let you into a little secret. It is actually cheaper to send your E6 film to Photo and Video for E-6 processing than to send it to the Wellington lab directly.  

Here are the Sums 

Developing a 35mm slide film with the correct E-6 process to unmounted strips NZ$21.65 (That is if you drop your film into their Christchurch store and pick it up yourself.) 

Developing a 35mm print film with the correct C-41 process to unmounted strips in sleeve NZ$13.90 

Scan film and send digital files to Dropbox add NZ$10.00 (slide or print film). 

Courier your developed film within New Zealand NZ$10.00 (one or more sets of film should be the same cost). 

Also, if you live outside Christchurch you will have to courier or post the film to their lab. NZ$10.00 (one or more sets of film should be the same cost). 

Other Considerations 

Any problems associated with colour shifts from cross processing slide film nowadays are easily remedied by using the white balance control in Photoshop, or similar image editing software. It takes just a few minutes. 

The cost of colour slide film nowadays is the true cost limiting factor associated with cross processing or shooting slides. A single 35 mm roll of Fuji Velvia 50 ISO 135/36exp retails for NZ$46.50. As you can see above the cost of having it developed is NZ$21.65. For A total cost of NZ$68.15.  

When shooting slide film it works out at $1.89 every time you press your shutter release. You can add another 28 cents if you have the film scanned at the time of developing.  

Why would you be wanting to save just $7.75 To have that expensive slide film cross processed to C-41. Especially so considering you could easily use Photoshop to produce the same weird colour shifts. 

Film Has Increased in Price Considerably 

Over the past two decades, as digital photography has taken over, by far the biggest price increase has occurred with the cost of 35mm and 120 film. Gone are the days when you could purchase a packet containing 3 rolls of Fuji film at the supermarket for NZ$9.95. Nowadays supermarkets don’t even stock film. 

Recently I saw Fujifilm Fujicolor C200 135-36 single rolls available on the website for NZ$9.95 but I don’t know if they still have it (you also have to factor in delivery costs).  

A few years ago, it was possible to purchase expired 35mm film on at very low prices, but not anymore. I once purchased 20 rolls of expired 35mm Fujichrome Provia 100F on Trademe from an Air New Zealand airline pilot for about NZ$40.00. That would have been at least 15 years ago. I always kept it in the fridge. I have a couple of rolls left and it still exposes and develops beautifully.  

Why Shoot Slide 35mm Film 

If you have never viewed projected slides, you will be amazed at just how crisp they can be and how rich the colours are. When projected onto a large screen, they have a considerable impact that cannot be matched by a 6×4 print. Nowadays you can buy a quite inexpensive modern projector that can be attached to your laptop or even an SD card to project photographs and video onto a wall or screen 

Because you can. If you are a slightly older person, it is nice to shoot transparencies and relive your halcyon days. It which case dam the expense. 

Slide film is much less forgiving than print film when it comes to exposure. You have to get your metering spot on to avoid the disappointment of under or overexposure.  

Thirty years ago, I shot with a Nikon 801 and later an 801s. These cameras always produced perfectly exposed slides and negs. As the editor of a fishing magazine at the time, my Nikon 801 got a lot of very rough treatment. I shot at least 6 films a month for years and although it looked beaten up it never failed to work perfectly.  

It was always a good feeling on the return journey knowing I had the film in the can. I guess when you are an old film shooter you just get a buzz out of shooting film that is difficult to explain to those who have only made images with their mobile phone. 

Allan Burgess

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Allan Burgess

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