The art of scanning II
Arca Swiss with Mamiya 6×8 roll film back, Rodenstock Apo Grandagon 4.5/45mm Fuji Provia 100F, scanned @ 4.000 ppi @ 48 bit with a Nikon Coolscan LS 9000 and VueScan, scan size 11.732 x 8.690 pixel · image © 1999-2011 by jens g.r. benthien
cut out 1:1 = 100% of the upper left part of the coffee machine in front of the bottle cooler
cut out 1:1 = 100% of the boutique window behind the café
cut out 1:1 = 100% of the straws at the right side of the juice machine
cut out 1:1 = 100% of the train tender on the counter next to the napkin holder
You have a great analog camera, fantastic lenses, and a fine grain film. Now you want to transfer the film – be it slide or negative film – into a digital format, a file. Welcome to the hybrid process!
You either have a flatbed or a dedicated film scanner. Both will be sufficient for different tasks. While standard flatbed scanners have a limited resolution and a low Dmax, film scanners deliver a considerably higher resolution and a Dmax of 3.9 to 4.2.
Let’s compare the two groups.
Image courtesy of Epson
Flatbed scanners: resolution around 2.000 ppi to 2.400 ppi at a maximum, Dmax is around 3.2. I know, I hear you screaming ‘But my scanner delivers 9.600 ppi and a Dmax of 4.1′. Forget it. Don’t trust the theoretical values on the paper. If you shoot 35 mm or medium format, don’t expect too much from these scanners. They are perfect to scan for a web presentation or for prints up to 30×45 cm (roughly 12″ x 17″). All Epson, Canon, Microtek and other flatbed scanners fall into this category. There is one exception: The Creo, but that’s definitely another class (and price tag!). If you shoot 4×5, 5×7, 8×10 or larger, these scanners are a good choice. A scan @ 1.200 ppi from a 8×10 negative is breathtaking.
Image courtesy of Nikon Corp.
Film scanners: resolution around 4.000 ppi, Dmax 3.9 to 4.2. In most cases they deliver what’s promised on the printed material. OK, if the final resolution should be around 3.800 ppi, don’t worry. With scans from these scanners you can print at almost any size. Again, here is an exception as well: The Imacon. If you are willing to spend around 18.000 Euro or trade in your car, go for it. Is it worth the extra cost? I don’t know. Unless you need to scan 9×17 or 4×5 and larger and with the highest quality on a constant basis, I doubt it. All Nikon, Minolta and Polaroid scanners fall into this category. I don’t mention Pacific Image or Reflecta scanners here, because their scan quality doesn’t even come close to the other brands.
Other scanners: Out of competition are the drum scanners. They are the Ferraris in the arena, but hard to get, carrying a price tag which is higher than what you’ve paid for your home. Fortunately there are some good scan studios who run these scanners with savvy operators, so before investing into a heavy weight like this I’d use their service for selected images only. Any film format scanned with these beast will be mind boggling. In the US you might contact Lenny Eiger, in Europe High End Scans.
Great. What are you going to do now? Turn on your scanner, start your scan software, insert the film and scan? Hm, that’s a really bad idea, because you’ll end up with dust on your scans. First of all you need to keep the room where you are scanning meticulously clean. Second you have to ensure there is enough humidity in the room to prevent dust. Third you need a film cleaner like this one:
Image courtesy of Kinetronics
This particular model (StaticVac) will clean anything from 8 mm to 70 mm film. There might be other devices on the market, but I’m using these because they have a proven track record and they are used in the movie industry as well as in professional labs around the world.
If you are working with a flatbed scanner, make sure the glass surface is clean. Insert your film strip, set the options of your scan software and hit OK.
I don’t have any insight into other scan software packages than NikonScan (which is obsolete) and VueScan. Because I’m always striving for the best, my choice was VueScan after I’ve tested Nikon Scan and Silverfast from Lasersoft. VueScan really makes your life easier and delivers fantastic results, once you have calibrated your scanner and film and set up your own ‘templates’ – believe me!
On the iNet and in forums you’ll find many discussions about the ‘optimal’ scan resolution. Sure, you can calculate the necessary resolution for your intended purpose, but IMHO it doesn’t make sense. Let’s say today you’ll scan for a print @ 8″x12″. Great. But what if you want to print a larger version in one year? You’ll have to rescan the image. Because the scan process takes a specific amount of time, I’d always opt for the highest resolution to keep the ‘master’ in my archives. This saves a lot of time if I plan to use the image for different purposes in the future. Just make sure you’ll save your images in the TIFF file format at 48 bit. Any other format is a waste of time.
That said, I’d scan @ 2.000 or 2.400 ppi on a flatbed scanner and @ 4.000 ppi with a film scanner. Do the math: a screamingly fast external firewire 800 hard drive with 2 TB is around 200 Euro, that means roughly the value of 2 to 3 working hours. Considering that you need 20 minutes to scan a 6×9 slide with the LS 9000, it translates into the bare fact that the external hard drive will be the same cost as 6 rescans. Not worth the hassle.
Now the ‘big surprise’: After you’ve scanned your images, you might run into trouble, because you’ll discover that your Photoshop Elements doesn’t support images with 48 bit color depth. But don’t panic, you definitely don’t have to upgrade to the monster with the name Photoshop CS. There is an alternative which costs less than your PS Elements: PhotoLine. It’s around 60 Euro or 70 USD. I’ve posted a short review here.
Using PL, you can do all retouching, scaling and cropping you need, and much, much more. However, I guess you are not using film because you want to insert a new sky or push and pull endless buttons, but because you want a great image with a large tonal or dynamic range. So there is no need for an expensive software on your machine.
Another great software is LightZone. If you need just basic retouching and light and shadow adjustments, cropping, scaling, this one is a perfect addition to your toolbox. Currently they have an offer for only 99.95 USD instead of 199 USD.
Even if it may sound weird, but because scanning is just one step in the whole process, you should follow a few basic steps already at the very beginning of the imaging process:
- Use a fine grain film if you need large prints
- Use a tripod
- Learn to know your camera
- Know your light meter or camera metering system inside out
- Strive to meter spot on – only images with a perfect exposure will result in fantastic scans
- Cover your scanner to avoid dust if you don’t use it
- Clean the slides or negatives with a film cleaner before scanning
- Figure out the best settings for your emulsion and save them
- Scan with the highest resolution (realistic and effective!) your scanner delivers
- Save your file as a TIFF @ 16 or 48 bit color depth as a master file
- Do not touch or modify your master, make a copy before you start working on it
For more information about the resolution of dedicated film scanners, read this article: resolution of film
If you don’t want to invest into the hardware, you should check Find-a-Scan-Service. The site currently lists
- 3517 local scanshops
- 1169 scanning companies
- 961 mailorder services
- 2131 cities in 31 countries