The only thorn in my film photography side so far is scanning the negatives. There are too many choices and I want to know that my method is getting the most from the negative but is relatively simple and easy to repeat. After a lot of research and experimentation, I think I’ve found a procedure for scanning B&W negatives. I just need to figure out the best way of scanning C-41 negatives; so far I’ve found scanning colour negatives needs way too much tweaking to get the colour balance right. I’ve read a lot of different articles, tried Epson Scan, Vuescan and abandoned SilverFast (it won’t even connect to the scanner and now it just immediately crashes when I try to load it!!) and I’m still scratching my head. The best result has always been from Epson Scan but I still find myself with really inconsistent results (some really poor) and I have to mess around with the RGB levels in the scanner software way too much. I think I’m going to try scanning as a positive and following a guide on Feeling Negative. I’ve read a lot about ColorPerfect and negfix8 and I think the time has come to try them.
So my black & white scanning procedure with an Epson V700 is as follows:
- I use Epson Scan software with all the enhancement settings turned off (including the sharpening)
- The following settings: B&W negative Film, 16-bit grayscale (Despite what some say on forums I didn’t see any great – if any – improvement scanning in 48-bit RGB and ditching two of the channels in Photoshop. I came to this conclusion after a LOT of flicking between the two versions!), 6400dpi (I’ll down-res this to 3200 dpi later for a slight improvement in sharpness)
- Using the ‘normal’ view rather than ‘thumbnail’ I draw a rough select box around the first frame I want to scan then, zooming closer, I make a more precise selection to exclude everything except the exposed image
- I then click the ‘Auto Exposure’ button, which is usually a pretty good starting point
- Opening the ‘Histogram Adjustment’ window I change the ‘Output’ values to 0 and 255 and move the white and black points to the right and left of the histogram graph – I don’t want any (or at least not too much) clipping at this stage. I adjust the midpoint until the overall brightness looks about right (erring on the side of brighter than I need it to be)
- I then either set up the other frames in the same way (by taking a copy of the previous frame) or start the scan. It’s a bit tedious zooming into each frame and tweaking – is there a better way!?
- Load the images into Photoshop and down sample them to 3200dpi (I’ve read that the EPSON V700 scans are optimum at 3200dpi but scanning at 6400dpi and down sampling showed a little improvement compared to scanning at 3200dpi)
- I adjust the levels in Photoshop – I found that the ‘Blacks’ slider in Lightroom does not seem operate in the same way as adjusting the black point of Levels in Photoshop. I want the blacks to clip slightly and if a large adjustment is required, the result in Lightroom is horrible!
- I add a local contrast by using a High Pass filter – Radius: 20 pixels on a duplicate layer, set the layer blend mode to ‘Overlay’, and the opacity to 25% – I’m going to reconsider whether or not to do this in Photoshop. I like to have a non-destructive workflow and so I don’t like to flatten the original image. Adding the High Pass filter layer adds to the file size significantly and for little return. I should probably just use the ‘Clarity’ slider in Lightroom instead.
- The rest of the tweaks are performed in Lightroom and are specific to each image. As this is film I try to keep the tweaks to a minimum: Dust removal, capture sharpening, scanner noise reduction, some slight contrast tweaking using curves
Here’s an example output from my B&W negative scanning process:
Canon EOS 3, EF 50mm f/1.2L, ILFORD HP5 PLUS (shot at ISO 800), processed by Peak Imaging, Scanned on Epson V700