Travelling With Film, Part III: Buying and Processing

As we have discovered in the previous parts of this series, travelling with film overseas is not difficult. The simplicity of a mechanical camera and single lens can make the process of photography more than the just the lugging around of technology. Less is more. Now we look at how and where to buy film and how and when you should process your film. 

Plan, plan and plan
The internet is a wonderful tool. What began life as a decentralised telecommunications network designed to withstand an all-out nuclear exchange between superpowers can now be used to locate stores on the other side of the globe that sell and process film. And to watch cat videos. 

Before departing, I search out shops and labs, note their services, opening hours and add their locations to a Google Map under my Google account. This way I can log in to Google Maps on my smartphone and find the same locations saved when out and about. I can also save maps for offline use, particularly handy when travelling in foreign countries.

As this was my third visit to Europe in recent years, I had already done most of this work before. Still, I consulted my existing list of camera stores and labs and re-checked the details to ensure they were still open and provided the services listed. Unsurprisingly, as in Australia, a number of labs had relocated, closed or ceased film processing entirely.

Buying Film
I took some film with me, but only enough to get myself going. As I was arriving in Berlin on a Saturday afternoon, I had to make sure I had enough film to tide me over until Monday as most shops are closed in Germany on Sunday.

I could have taken film over from Australia, but I made the choice to make my major purchases in Europe because a) film is generally cheaper and b) there is a much, much, much better range. 

On Monday, I made a beeline for Fotoimpex, probably the best analogue photography shop in Europe. I was like a kid in a candy store: Adox, Rollei, Agfa, Foma and of course Ilford, Kodak & Fuji. The range and price is second to none. Needless to say, I spent too much on film… 

Although I bought some new and interesting films to try, I stuck with Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400 for the majority of my shooting. Given it was a European winter, 400 gave me enough flexibility to shoot handheld as the short days reached their end.

To avoid dealing with the hassle of passing your unprocessed film through airport security (although as discussed previously, the risks are minimal), I usually get as much processed while travelling as possible. This is not always possible or even advisable in certain countries where quality processing cannot be guaranteed, but if travelling in developed countries, it should be pretty straight forward.

In Western Europe, for example, most major cities have at least one decent pro lab that can handle C-41 colour negative, E-6 colour slide and Black and White in various film sizes.

The only issue I encountered was having enough time in a single location to get my film processed. When I first visited Europe in 2009, service times at many labs were around 2-4 hours for C-41, B/W or E-6. Due to declining demand, most labs now offer a 24 hour turnaround instead.

Additionally, there are still plenty of smaller 1-hour photo shops that can do C-41 in roller transport machines for a reasonable price. 

It’s also worth doing a quick search for recommended labs in each city. A quick search for “film processing [destination]” in your favourite search engine should suffice, otherwise you can take a look at forums such as APUG

Photonews hosts a list of “Analoge Fotolabore” in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It is also worth brushing up on the local words for processing services and simple instructions like “do not cut”, or “push 2”.

If you’re travelling in Germany, here’s a quick glossary of words you’re likely to encounter: 

  • Fotolabor (photo-lab-or) - photo lab
  • Filmentwicklung (film-ent-vick-loong) - film processing
  • Kleinbildfilm (kline-bilt-film) - 35mm film (literally “small picture film”)
  • Mittelformat (mitehl-format) - 120 film
  • Dia (dear) - slide
  • S/W Schwartz Weiß (shhvartz-vice) - B/W Black & White
  • Brutto/Netto (brew-toe/neh-toe) - Incl. Tax/Excl. Tax

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