Saturday, May 21, 2016

Film Scanning Part One

Last post I wrote about how important it is to scan your own negatives. When you scan yourself, you have complete creative control over the final 'look' of your digital file. And, as we saw in the last post, this can make a huge difference in the final print (or online image).

Some people love scanning their own negatives. Others avoid it like the plague. I actually like it - but I also don't mind a healthy dose of computer work. If you really hate scanning, you could get someone to do it for you. But there goes that creative control again.

Many also find scanning film quite daunting. There's too many buttons and options. What scanner do you choose? What software do you use? It's all a bit too confusing for many analogue shooters, so they just let the lab do it for them. And while some labs do a fairly decent job of scanning, you will end up paying an arm and a leg for the privilege - especially if you want hi-res scans (why wouldn't you?).

In terms of scanning film, there are four options. Three of them require dedicated scanners, while the other is to use a digital camera and macro lens on a copy stand to re-photograph the negative. Many claim excellent results with the digital camera method, but for the purposes of this post I am going to concentrate on the actual scanning options.

Setting up a Drum Scanner
First is drum scanning. Unless you are incredibly wealthy, incredibly serious about film scanning, or simply must have the best quality scan possible, then you probably aren't going to be drum scanning your negatives. As the name suggest, 'drum' scanning involves the film being suspended in an oil solution for better clarity and dust resistance) and attached to a drum that revolves at incredibly high speeds while the scanning takes place. Some specialist labs will drum scan negatives for you, but it won't be cheap.

Dedicated film scanner from Plustek
Second, and much more affordable than drum scanners, are dedicated film scanners. Something like the Nikon Coolscan or Plustek film scanners. These units specialise in scanning 35mm negatives or slides and are used by professional photographers and designers as affordable home solutions that do a fantastic job. They are fairly compact, scan at high resolution, and are a great option if you only shoot 35mm film.

This is also, however, their major drawback. If you also shoot medium format 6x45, 6x6, 6x7 etc, then you won't be able to scan them in these dedicated 35mm film scanners. You also have to be a little careful about the age of the scanner. If you pick up a Nikon Coolscan from the 1990s you will probably have a hard time getting it to talk nicely to your iMac or Windows 10 PC.

Epson's V700 Photo Flatbed scanner
The third and final solution for film scanning is the flatbed scanner. To my mind these are the ideal solution - not only because they can do double duty as both a film and document scanner, but they are also capable of scanning 35mm negatives, mounted slides, medium format and large format negatives!

They are a lot bigger than the dedicated film scanners, so take up more space in the office. But what they lack in compactness, they more than make up for in versatility.

Not all flatbed scanners can scan film. For a flatbed to be able to also act as a film scanner, they tend to have a second scanning light for the film in the lid of the scanner. This makes them quite a bit larger than ordinary flatbed scanners. And quite a bit more expensive too. Top-of-the-line photo flatbeds like the Epson V700 Photo will cost around $1000NZ. They are certainly an investment. Yet as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. And when you consider how much a decent drum scan will cost (upwards of $50 per 6x7 scan), then flatbed scanners pay for themselves fairly quickly.

Top end flatbed film scanners like the Epson V700 or V850 advertise themselves as having 'drum scan quality'. While this may be stretching the truth a tad, the fact is you can get exceptional files using these scanners - with a little effort. In Part Two I will detail how I scan negatives using the Epson V700 Photo flatbed scanner.

Shoot film - scan the negatives - process the digital files. This 'hybrid' workflow is the best of both worlds. And at its heart, is the humble scanner. If you're a film shooter and don't own one, you might want to rectify that real soon. Just saying....

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