Like anything worth doing properly, scanning film requires a little patience, a little practice and a lot of time. You can't really just push and button and expect perfect scans first time. Yet having said that, it's also not the black art that some make it out to be. A little trial and error and you'll be making beautiful scans every time.
I use an Epson V700 photo scanner, so that's what I will cover with the settings required for a decent scan. You may use something else - and you may also use different software. But generally the settings will be similar, and the process almost the same no matter what combination you happen to be using. And one final caveat: these are my observations and settings. You may agree, or disagree, with some or all of them. But hopefully they will be at least a start from which you can do your own experimentation. What I can guarantee is that the settings as outlined below give me exceptional scans to work from. Nuff said.
First it should go without saying that the cleaner your workspace the better. Dust is the enemy of negative scanning, so do all you can to avoid it. For me, this generally means wiping down the scanning glass before each use, and blowing any dust from the negative once placed into the film carrier with a blower brush. Some people use compressed air, but I find this to be overkill. Especially if you use software at the scanning stage to get rid of dust spots (which I do).
|The initial scanning menu for the Epson V700|
So to get to the nuts and bolts with Epson Scan, you need to choose 'Professional Mode'. This will bring up the options box (shown above) so you can tweak your scan. Choose your document type (in most cases it will be 'Film with Film Holder') and then Film Type (color negative, color positive or Black and White). Then, under Image Type, choose 48 bit color if it's a color image, to get the most information you can in the digital file.
Next is Resolution. This is somewhat controversial, as many would argue that the large resolutions that are claimed by these scanners are in reality only software trickery (called interpolation), and that a dpi of around 1200 is really all you need. This may be true. But after my own testing and scanning of hundreds of negatives, in both 35mm and 120 medium format, I have settled on a maximum of 4800 dpi for my scans to get the most detail. The Espon V700 will scan much higher than this, but after 4800 dpi I have found diminishing returns for the file size. At 4800dpi, a scan from a 35mm negative can result in a 100+MB Tiff file, so you really only want to do this level of scanning to the images you really want to archive and print from. Proofs of other images can (and should) be scanned at a smaller resolution (around 300 to 600 dpi).
And lastly, I check the Unsharp Mask, Grain Reduction and Digital ICE boxes. The Unsharp Mask is a matter of personal preference. I know that most would rather sharpen their images for final output in Photoshop - and I'm one of them! I also think that applying Unsharp Mask at the initial scanning stage doesn't hurt either. And the same applies to Grain Reduction and Digital ICE. Some say that Digital ICE can 'muddy' the image, but I haven't found this to be the case. Epson describes Digital ICE technology as; "a hardware-based dust removal method that is more accurate than the Dust Removal feature. Digital ICE Technology can remove dust or scratch marks without affecting the image composition. However, it takes longer to scan using Digital ICE Technology and also uses more of your system resources." I concur with this description. At 4800dpi, a 35mm negatives takes around 5 minutes to scan with Digital ICE turned on (although it will initially tell you it will take 10 minutes). I have a fairly powerful computer with 16Gig of Ram, so your times may vary accordingly.
Now all that's left to do is hit the 'Preview' button and the scanner should hum into life and do a quick 'preview' scan. Once the preview appears - probably in the default 'Thumbnail' mode, I change this to 'Normal' so I can make my own selection (thumbnail mode often crops the image in very strange places - especially medium format).
|Zoom in on your initial Previewed selection.|
|Resulting Histogram after Auto Color applied|
Also notice from the histogram that there is a couple of 'spikes' in the information on the right (highlight) end. Those white spikes are the white areas top and bottom of the preview scan as seen in the image above. They are nothing to be alarmed about, and can largely be ignored. It does, however, mean that you won't want to pull the highlight slider all the way to the right, as this will sque the result.
You will want to move the bottom 'Output' sliders most of the way left and right (the greyscale bar below the input numbers), as this will 'normalise' your highlight and shadow values. You can then tweak the sliders on the histogram itself, and you should see the image visibly changing as you do so.
What you are looking for is not necessarily a perfect final image. In fact, what you are really after is something akin to a digital RAW file - with reasonably flat tones, with subtle contrast. In other words - a file that you can work with in Photoshop that has a full range of highlight and shadow values, and a complete tonal range that will allow you to play around with contrast and brightness.
|Resulting image after histogram and output adjustments applied|
It's not 'popping' yet, but it will do once we take this initial scan and apply the rest of the magic in a more powerful editing software like Photoshop.
|The final result after pressing 'scan'.|
As I said earlier, you really only want to go through this process for your 'keeper' images. Making 100+MB Tiff scans of all your images would be fairly soul destroying - not to mention incredibly time consuming!
|Final image with 's' curve applied in Photoshop.|
If nothing else, look at this as a starting point for your own experimentation when scanning. You may decide 4800dpi is overkill for what you need. Fair enough. Or that Digital Ice isn't really worth using. Up to you. But at least, by going through my process, it may clarify 'some' of the decisions around film scanning on a flatbed, and hopefully help those who are just getting started to make some seriously good scans right off the bat? Happy scanning.