Sunday, December 19, 2010

Film scanning with Epson V700

Since getting back into shooting film I've been doing a lot of scanning. My weapon of choice - the Epson Perfection V700 Photo scanner.

I purchased one of these scanners three years ago, when setting up my graphic design business. It was Epson's top-of-the-line film flatbed scanner at the time, but has since been superseded by the V750 (although it's only a minor upgrade).

At around $1000NZ it wasn't a cheap scanner, but I saw it as an important business investment (and still do), and now that I'm shooting a lot of film, I'm glad I opted for the best I could get.

The V700 (and 750) have mounts to accommodate 35mm, medium format, and large format negatives (or positives in the case of slide film), using a dual-scan technology for high resolution output. You can scan at some ridiculous dpi (up to 9600 I think!), but for most use about 2400dpi scanning resolution will give the best results. I have a feeling that any higher and all that's happening is the software is interpolating the data anyway - but I could be wrong about that? Anyway, a 2400dpi scan of a medium format (6x6) negative from my Bronica gives a roughly 41cm x 41cm image when resized to 300 dpi for printing - without any enlarging of the pixels. That's pretty impressive, and gives me bags of super detail to work with if I need to crop etc.

Firstly, let me start by saying that scanning film isn't a straight forward task. It takes a bit of fiddling and tweaking of the software to really get the best out of your scanner, so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get dirty! :-)

Fortunately, the scanner software Epson provides with the V700 is fairly straight forward - and powerful enough to get the job done. Many will swear by a third-party application for their scanning, such as Vuescan or Silverfast (which actually comes bundled with the Epson), but I've actually found Epson's own software to be more than up to the task.

Seen here on the left, are the settings I use most often when scanning film. The Mode is set to 'Professional' - simply to offer you more control (you're going to need it), the Document and Film Type is fairly self explanatory (you get to choose from document or film, positive or negative, color or black and white).

I set Image Type to 48 bit Colour or 16 bit Greyscale to get the most information I can out of the scan (as long as your version of Photoshop supports 48 bit images), and of course, the Resolution to 2400 (more often than not).

Then we come to the nitty-gritty of the software - the Adjustment options. With your first Preview scan, it doesn't really matter which of these boxes are ticked or not - they only get used once you hit the 'Scan' button. But generally speaking, as you can see above, I usually use 'Unsharp Mask' (and then do even more sharpening later in Photoshop), 'Grain Reduction' (I've found this works really well and I always have it ticked), 'Color Restoration' (I will tick this when scanning a positive, and almost never with a negative), and finally - 'Digital Ice'.

DIGITAL ICE is a bone of contention amongst film scanners. Many argue that it softens the scan too much - and is a pointless waste of time (it does add a lot of time to the scanning process). However, I use it in preference to 'Dust Removal' (which strangely the Epson also has) because it seems a lot less aggressive and a lot more image savvy - and does mean a lot less spotting and cleaning of the final digital file. Try some with or without and see what YOU think. No one's making you use these settings, there's no hard and fast rules. As I said at the start, you'll be doing a lot of tweaking of settings, for each and every scan, so find out what works best for you and keep doing it!

Once you've got the appropriate boxes ticked, do an initial Preview scan. As I said earlier, none of these will actually be applied - you're simply getting a very quick, bare-bones preview. I leave the Thumbnails box unchecked, especially when scanning anything other than 35mm film - otherwise you're likely to get some very odd cropped scans!

The whole surface of the scanner (roughly A4 in size) is scanned, and then from there you can select the image you want to make the proper scan off using a selection tool in the preview screen window. Clicking the Zoom tool (top left) does another quick pre-scan of just that area, and then you're ready to start 'tweaking' before going ahead with the final scan.

Back in the Adjustments panel, you will see 5 icons. The first, Auto Adjustment button is selected automatically when you do a pre-scan. It's the scanners best guess at what the settings should be - and at best is a good starting point (and at worst is damn horrible?).

The next icon brings up a Histogram where you can adjust the black and white points, and then icons for Color Correction and overall Image Correction. Open them all up, have a play, have a tweak, and see what happens to the large preview. It's all wysiwyg (what you see is what you get), and if you go too far, then there's always the Reset button.

I like to keep my scans looking a little dark (as can be seen in this example), so that I've got more highlight detail to play with when I get the image into photoshop. But once you're happy with how it's looking, hit 'Scan' and wait anywhere from 5 mins to 35 mins (depending on what your negative size vs resolution vs boxes ticked ratio is). You also get to decide where to save the scan, and more importantly, what to save it as. Choose Tiff if you want the most information possible, although this will give you some very big file sizes! You have been warned! :-)

As an example; the scan shown here was from a 35mm positive scanned at 2400dpi, and yielded a 30 x 20cm image at 300dpi (for hi-res printing) - and an almost 50MB file size! Ouch!!

The above is the final scan - as "developed" in Photoshop. Takes a bit of working on, but I'm very happy with the final results. And, of course, you don't do this with each and every shot taken - just the ones you really want to scan and print out.

How do I get the scan to this final printable image in Photoshop? That's another post...  :-)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Kodak Pro BW400CN Film

One of the reasons I love film has to do with shooting black and white. Yes, I know you can shoot monochrome with digital - and convert every digital colour shot to b&w later in Photoshop - but it's not the same is it, really? Well it's not the same to me at least - someone who 'grew up' with the smell of fixer on my fingers from many hours spent in a darkroom.

I haven't quite gotten back to the darkroom stage again, but that hasn't stopped me shooting b&w. My film of choice has been Kodak's Professional BW400CN film - a black and white film that gets developed at my local lab in C-41 (colour) processing chemicals.

It's a fine-grained 400ISO film that I have been using in my Olympus Pen EES-2. The Pen cameras love the faster 400ISO film, and I've been very pleased with the exposures coming out of the Pen with this combination of film. It seems to handle a wide variance of lighting conditions with perfectly exposed images every time. And what's more, the negatives scan beautifully on my Epson V700.

The above image entitled 'Drawing Room', shot on my Pen EES-2 is a perfect case in point. It shows a tremendous tonal range, with detail remaining in both the shadows and highlights, even though it was an image with extremes of light and dark. The Pen has handled it superbly with a sharp, crisp image - even given the half-frame format. This is an image that I pre-visualised as black and white, and I knew it would make a great monochrome print when I saw the scene.

Due to it's small, compact size and unassuming 'retro' looks, the Pen EES-2 is a camera I've been carrying around with me almost everywhere. Loaded with the 400Cn film, it's so quick and easy to grab a snapshot with - especially with the quick icon focus settings on the Pen. The above image taken in our local supermarket is the kind of shot I've always wanted to take, but never bothered with. I couldn't imagine carrying my Nikon D300 around with me to get a grab shot like this - but with the Pen it was easy. Again the exposure is bang on and the overall image sharp and clear.

'Old Cromwell Town' was shot recently on my trip to Central Otago. It was a very bright, sunny day and once again I was concerned over the wide exposure range the image would exhibit. But once again, the Pen and BW400CN has handled the scene beautifully. To say I'm happy with the results from this combination is an understatement. I'm thrilled with the results - and love this Black and White C-41 processed film. The images are fine-grained, clear, contrasty and have a beautiful full tonality to them - and are a joy to scan.

I'm also delighted that while I was away down south I came across 4 rolls of 400CN in a photo store going cheap. Of course I snapped them up - and am glad I did. I also came across another store selling 120 film - and bought a roll of 120 kodak BW400CN. If it's half as good in the 120 roll as it is in 35mm then the resulting images will be gorgeous!

If you haven't tried this film before, and can get your hands on some, then I would encourage you to give it a go. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the results, no matter what you shoot with.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hawea Film Trip Results Part1.

Had a fantastic weekend away at Lake Hawea in Central Otago - where film photography was the focus. I went away on my own to attend a book launch, so for the rest of the time I was totally free to shoot where and when I wanted... luxury!

The drive down wasn't very eventful, with drizzly rain most of the way. So I consigned myself to the fact that Friday was a no-shoot, hoping that Saturday would be a different story.

I set my alarm for 5.00am, for a 5.30am sunrise. It rained heavily through the night, but when I pulled the curtains back in my Motel on Saturday morning I was greeted with a perfectly stunning morning!

I grabbed my Bronica S2, Canon EOS 50E, and Olympus EES-2 and headed out the door to Lake Hawea.

The previous days travel had wiped me out, so I hadn't really scoped out the area (and don't know the region very well). I therefore felt that the Saturday morning was a bit hit and miss. This was a bit unfortunate, since it was the best light of the whole weekend - but I still got some really good images. The best were from Lake Wanaka - shot in Black and White, on my EES-2.

Traveling around on the Saturday morning did mean that I came across some locations that I earmarked for 'next time' - locations that I wanted to get to in different light. For example, I came across a field full of abandoned old cars that looked perfect subjects for 6x6, but the early morning light was creating a heavily backlit scene, and I wanted more subdued lighting. Mental note to self... "come back later that evening".

Unfortunately, Hawea has a reputation for high nor-easterly winds, and rather maddeningly lived up to this reputation by the Saturday afternoon. My scheduled trip to the abandoned cars would have to wait for another time as I resigned myself to no photography on Saturday evening.

Fortunately Sunday morning dawned calm and peaceful - and rather more subdued with low cloud cover. Just what I wanted for the cars in the field! I raced out to the township of Luggat where the cars were situated, and the conditions were perfect!

I spent a fantastic morning shooting everything from medium format 6x6 on the Bronica, to 35mm slide film on the Canon EOS 50E and b&w print film with my Olympus Trip. I still have to get the slides back from processing, and will have to develop the b&w myself at home - but the 120 has been processed and I've scanned them on the Epson V700. In a word - fantastic!

I'm really enjoying using the Bronica, and this type of subject matter and lighting conditions were perfect for it. Seems I've also got the focus issues (see a previous post) sorted out now too. Focusing and sharpness for all the scans from the negatives on the roll have been bang on the money. And I just love the images I got. I left the field that morning a very happy man - and am even happier now that I can actually see what I got.

This is my favorite image from the whole trip (that I've got back so far). I love the light, the mood, the composition (really suits the square format) and the subject matter. Maybe I could have cropped it tighter - which I can still do if I want, but have shown it here as the full image as shot. I'm from the 'old school' of photography that says you should frame in-camera (whenever possible) and I find that I rarely crop any of my images.

Sunday was also my day for traveling back home, but I was in no hurry. I literally had all day, and meant to stop off at as many places along the way as I wanted to (another luxury I don't often afford myself when traveling with others).

I discovered several small walking tracks, made it to a few stunning waterfalls, and shot another two rolls of film before arriving back home later that evening. The fern shot was taken with my Canon EOS 50E on a 28-80mm lens I bought my daughter for her birthday (she uses it on her 10D digital SLR). The film was Fuji Superia 400, which scans beautifully (and easily) on the V700. In comparison, the Kodak Ektacolor 160 film for the Bronica has a very strong Cyan color cast that can be a bit of a nightmare to get rid of.

I've called this post 'Part 1', because there are literally dozens of other images that I want to scan and post from the trip - no to mention the two rolls of slide and one of b&w that I haven't even developed yet! I know there will be some keepers amongst them as well.

To begin with, I was very nervous only taking film away for the weekend - and I did have to juggle what I took and when. For example, on the Saturday at Lake Wanaka I only had b&w film with me, where I wish that I had color - and on a couple of occasions I went on a forest walk and ran out of film! But on the whole I'm delighted with the way it worked out, and the results I got from the weekend.

Would I do it again...? Yes, I would. Only next time, I'll take more film! :-)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trip away with Film!

I'm going down to Central Otago (Hawea) this weekend to attend a book launch for a client of mine. Will also use the opportunity to make it a 'photography' trip - something I don't really do often enough!

All good so far - but the scary part for me is that I've also decided to make it an entirely film photography trip! After shooting only digital for the last 6 or 7 years, it feels weird to be contemplating not taking my digital camera away with me. Almost like going cold turkey - not that I'd know what that feels like :-)

I'm taking the Bronica S2 (of course) with 4 rolls of Kodak Ektacolor 160, as well as my Olympus Pen EE-2 (with half a roll of Kodak b&w still in it), Olympus Trip 35 (loaded with Kodak b&w T-Max 400) and Canon EOS 50E (with an assortment of Fuji color print and expired Kodak slide film). Sounds like a lot, but the Olympus cameras are tiny, and the Bronica will get used on the road, mostly for landscape work. The real workhorse will probably be the EOS 50E and color film, although I'm open to anything taking my fancy at the time.

Hoping for great weather, and even better photography! Will post about the trip when I get back...

Bronica S2 Medium Format

The Bronica S2 arrived this week and I set about giving it a good clean, getting it ready to use over the weekend.

As you can see from the image at right, it's a very handsome looking piece of kit - although it did require a good deal of 'TLC' on my part to get it looking like that.

My first shock was when I removed the lens to clean it... what a mess! The metal casing around the lens itself was beginning to corrode, quite badly in places, and my heart sank when I first removed it and surveyed the damage. I don't think it had been used for a very long time. Makes me wonder what the internals of the camera itself are like - but I'm trying not to think about that :-(

Some Isopropyl Alcohol on a soft cloth rubbed over the corrosive spots seems to have done the trick on the lens housing itself - and the rear glass element has just the faintest hint of a fungus on the very edges, so I'm hoping that I've caught it early enough so as to arrest its development? But really, for the price, I can't (won't) get too concerned about it.

Apart form a few small areas where the leatherette was starting to pull away from the body, the rest of the camera is in pretty good nick - and everything seemed to be functioning as it should. A few dabs of a strong epoxy glue on the leatherette worked remarkably well, and the body itself was looking great.

Next I tackled the big issue that many have with these S2's - the viewfinder. In most cameras of this era (1960s), the material used to make the camera light tight (usually foam) has now all but disintegrated - leaving a very sticky mess behind. Underneath the glass viewfinder on the S2 is where the trouble lies, but fortunately it's a simple fix.

The viewfinder hood pops off easily, and the dark metal frame keeping the ground glass secure is only attached by two small screws. Remove these (carefully) and the black frame slips off (by moving it slightly forward and up). I replaced the foam with some thick black velvet, cleaned up the remaining gunk around the edges of the ground glass, carefully removed and blew dust off of the fresnel screen (do not touch this with your fingers), put everything back into place, and screwed the frame back down. Viola - cleaned viewfinder.

From reading on the internet, the other problem that the Bronica S2 has with its finder is when focusing to infinity. It seems that viewfinder calibration wasn't Bronica's strongpoint on the S2/S2A, with some even reporting that this problem was apparent with models shipped direct from the factory?

Others had suggested that replacing the foam would 'fix' this issue (although that can't be true back when they were new?), so I tested the camera out after I had replaced the foam. Setting the lens to f2.8, and then moving the focus out to infinity, the subject in the distance should 'snap' into focus. Well, mine didn't actually 'snap' into focus, but it seemed sharp-ish!? I figured for the landscape work I was going to start with, the focus would be 'good enough' for f16 to f22, so left it at that (for the meantime).

The above image was one of the first I shot on my Bronica S2, using Kodak Extacolor 160 color negative film - and at f11 it seems plenty sharp enough (albeit with quite a bit of sharpening applied in Photoshop after scanning the negative on my Epson V700 Photo scanner).

I got up at 5.00am to get the early morning light out at Lake Brunner - although there was a lot of mist around which precluded me from getting any really stunning sunrise images. Traveling around I came across Carew Falls at a little settlement called Mitchells, about twenty minutes drive from Moana. I'd never heard of Carew Falls before (despite living most of my life on the West Coast), so I was very excited to come across a magnificent waterfall after an easy twenty minute walk.

With only the 'standard' 75mm Nikkor lens on the Bronica, I couldn't really fit all of the scene in with the 6x6 format (the jury is still out on what I think about the format), so I went instead for a closer detail crop. Despite not normally shooting this way (my natural inclination is to go 'wide' and fit everything in), I still think this image works well, and is one of my favorites from the roll I shot that morning.

I had a great morning shooting with the Bronica - slowing down, using a tripod and light meter. It felt like real photography again :-)

I finished up the roll (of 12 shots) back in Greymouth at Coal Park - about 6 hours after venturing out that morning! I was exhausted, tired and hungry... but also exhilarated and excited about my first foray back into medium format.

My local Kodak Express developed the film for me, and I scanned the negatives on my V700 (I'll talk more on scanning in another post).

All-in-all a very positive experience... except for my niggling doubts over the camera's focusing issues. I never really shook the nagging sense that things just weren't quite in focus enough looking through the finder - even though I new at f16 this wasn't going to be an issue on film. Further reading over this issue on the internet bought to light another possible fix - which I tried out immediately. Turns out that as well as the black frame around the viewfinder, Bronica also placed two metals shims underneath (top and bottom) to help with the focus-to-infinity. Over time, these need to be adjusted - and in some instances removed completely, to allow for proper focusing. I chose the later option and removed them completely, re-assembled the viewfinder and 'bang' beautifully sharp focus at infinity! Simple as that. I'm now a very happy camper.   :-)