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 It was Epson's top-of-the-line film flatbed scanner at the time, but has since been superseded by the V750 (although it's only a minor upgrade).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...  :-)

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