Scanning film: Go Positive!

The most difficult step after developing a roll of film is scanning your negatives. Difficult because it is a time-consuming task with not always the desired results. Nevertheless, with a few tips and tricks you can achieve good results faster, better and in a more pleasant way.

For several months, like many others, an Epson scanner (V600). Of course there are many other good scanners, but to keep it affordable, I chose the Epson. Advantage: The Epson is a native negative scanner. This means that frame holders are included for both 35mm and medium format. The scanner can also scan infrared to remove dust and scratches from your negatives and that saves a lot of work in editing.

Scanning is a matter of patience, a lot of patience. If you think you can scan a roll of 36 images in 10 minutes, you will be disappointed. Count on 2-3 minutes per negative, depending on the chosen resolution. How does it work?

Allow the scanner to warm up for a few minutes, while preparing your negatives, that is, make them as clean as possible. Wear soft gloves and try to remove any dust with an anti-static cloth. Also use a blower to keep both sides dust-free when you place the negative strips in the holder. The legible side (the negative numbers) is placed on the scanning plate. Also first wipe the scanning plate with a cloth so that no stains or dusts are visible. Don’t forget the infrared plate in the scan lid!

Now the software has to come in action. The Epson includes excellent software, but more options are included in bundles from Vuescan or Silverfast. After two months and extensive testing, I think the included free Epson scan is the better and the easiest. More on that later.

Each software starts with a prescan that gives you a preview of the negative strip. You scan in ‘negative’ mode. In all packages you can manually create frames where you draw a mask over the negative. As soon as it is active, you can adjust the color, lighting, resolution etc. per negative. Additional options are sharpening and removing dust and scratches. Titled ‘Digital Ice’ in the Epson software, e.g. iSRD in Silverfast. This is without a doubt the best feature of the software.

It is best to check and edit all negatives separately. You also need to set the resolution. Personal preferences naturally play a role here and the destination of the final scans: printed photos, online albums, websites. A higher resolution means more time to scan and a much larger file! In practice, a resolution between 2400 and 3600 dpi is far sufficient for most applications. Choose ‘Tiff’ (24 bit or higher) as export format, since it gives you the most dynamic range to edit in software like Lightroom or Photoshop. Now you can let the scanner do its work by scanning per negative or do the entire ‘batch’. Feel free to have a coffee or tea, because a strip of five negatives gives you at least 15 mins rest. My Epson has a double negative holder, so that takes more than half an hour. With medium format the same principles apply but you can scan only 1 stroke of negatives at a time (4-5 photos). Once the scans are ready, you will have high-resolution tiffs that are easy to import into Lightroom or Photoshop or similar packages. You will also only see here how well Digital Ice does its work with dust and scratches.

Although this method is sufficient for most scans, there has been a new software, or better a plugin for Photoshop, that shows much better results: Negative Lab Pro. Instead of scanning negatives ‘as negatives’, this plugin allows you to scan the as positives and export them as ‘real’ RAW files to Lightroom and only there make all adjustments in lighting, colors and sharpness. This prevents deviations in colors that are applied by the used scanning software and the result remains as close as possible to the properties of your used film roll.

You scan the films the same as in the above steps, but with the setting positive (just like with slides). You also export as TIFF or preferably as DNG (RAW) with Silverfast or Vuescan. The Negative Lab Pro plugin converts your negative in Lightroom into a positive image where you have control over all settings. I myself tested the plugin with all three software packages and Epson Scan gave the most neutral and sharpest results. Digital Ice also works very, very well with the plugin. It also saves a lot of work in preparing the scans and makes scanning a much more rewarding step in processing negatives.


Negative Lab Pro



Epson V600

One Reply to “Scanning film: Go Positive!”

  1. Kudos to this reviewer for actually telling it as it is – The comment, “Scanning is a matter of patience, a lot of patience” is to be praised for being the first time ever, in any review, that I’ve read this – it’s a basic fact about scanning as anyone who has done it, well knows.

    A few years ago when I decided to give up the darkroom (at my advanced age, it’s too much time wasted I would rather use to do more important things, like work on reducing my in-house stocks of vintage red wines), I looked carefully into the available 120 scanners and finally chose the Epson V600, which along with the in-house software has served me well for eight years and several tens of thousands of roll film images, mostly slides.

    As any scanner knows, there is a ‘fine art’ to producing good scans with film. While the Epsons are not really the best for 35mm, with a little care, a lot of patience and experimenting, surprisingly good results can be achieved. For the smaller images my Plustek is better, but my V600 is no slouch when it comes to fast-tracking an entire 36 exposure roll of B&W film into images good enough for web posts. For my needs I found digital ice is best turned off as, for me, it produces images that need too much post-processing (sharpening and color adjustments). With care I can get first-time results usable without any extra work other than now and then cropping and now and then a little sharpening. I scan mostly in TIFF and like the reviewer, have found the Epson software to be perfectly satisfactory for my needs – as someone who occasionally sells ‘fine art’ prints and stock images of architecture, this is really saying something in high praise of ‘branded’ software like Epson produces for its V scanner range.

    In all, this review is well written and presents a lot of information in a sensible and intelligent way. I’m sure all who read it will get something out of it as I certainly have. reviewer, many thanks!!

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