In my opionion it is as simple as:
1. Use camera to take photo
2. Develop the film
3. Scan film
4. Post process digitally
Now the details needs to be filled in.
First, just to mention it; digital photography fits in there too – steps 2 and 3 above is what you do in e.g. Adobe Camera Raw.
If you have not learnt to do more than 1. (and stayed with JPG files for digital) then you have actually handed over large portions of the process to a professional (be it a “Wal mart” operator or a real pro). The machines and individuals involved affect your photography – you have no control over the process, unless you try to influence it a bit – e.g. by telling that you wish to have the film pushed / pulled / crossprocessed or similar. But even then the end result still will be affected by others judgment and guesswork, if not some kind of automation, be it software or whatnot.
Doing 2. yourself relly doesn’t need to be cheaper – i depends on your choice of development method. Rodinal is one of the cheaper choices and “stand development” may well be the easiest too. From that example the cost, time and choices vary greatly – and most importantly will be affecting the result in many ways. Having the final word on how your pictures should be treated is one of the great things here.
Going digital as early as possible (step 3) means using a scanner of some sort. Flatbeds are the cheap and versatile choice, a bit depending on which hardware you choose. To get the best possible results you need to understand the pitfalls. Also you need to know some basics of color theory, device profiling and digital editing. Before yu have learnt that you’re just doing random work – which may well end up look good, using automatic settings or not.
If you consider the output of a decent flatbed to be “too low quality” then you’re probably aiming at billboards(?) or wall papers and other large format output – as any print of size lesser than or equal to ISO A4 (almost 8×12″) WILL NOT allow you to actually display that kind of detail. A well done flatbed scan at 1200 dpi of a good 35mm negative WILL print very nicely on an A4 sheet. Don’t forget to take circle of confusion and correct viewing distance into account.
A hint; 12 inches at 300 dpi requires 12×300 = 3600 pixels in the image.
Now find a machine that does print at least 24 bit color FOR EACH PIXEL at 300 dpi or more.
Step 4 is where you may affect the final result most, after actually deciding how to take the photograph. This step has many similarities with the work that can be done using wet printing in a darkroom. Some things are very similar others are only digital – others yet can only be done in the darkroom.
3 and 4 could of course be replaced by wet printing, much of the choices for film development applies here too.
From the above you should understand that taking a photograph and handing over the undeveloped film to a professional is hardly allowing YOU to decide how the end result should look.
Photography may be expanded to a lot more than pressing that button.
Print size and viewing distance:
The mathematics behind it:
The REAL resolution of a scanner: