Here’s a camera scanning rig that I built for “scanning” 35mm black & white negs very quickly with my digital camera. I picked up an old enlarger for $5.95 at a Goodwill store (different enlarger than I used for my 120 scanning setup) and utilized the neg carrier, bellows, and focusing mechanism to build this. It’s a big old Omega C760, and the bellows/focusing unit is a solidly-built piece of equipment. Laying on it’s side, it makes a great base for shooting negs. All I had to do was attach a couple of boards to it – one to hold the camera (with a simple bolt through the board to screw into the camera’s tripod mount), and another to hold the light box (same Logan light box that I use for the 120 setup – it slides in and out of this easily so I can use it for other things) – and build some kind of neg carrier (the tricky part).
My main objective was to create a fast way to slide negs through and shoot quickly without having to carefully line up every frame. With 120 film the speed is not such an issue, since you’re only shooting 12 frames or so per roll. Shooting 36 frames on a roll of 35mm film can add up to a lot of time if you have to spend time adjusting for each shot.
So the main thing that makes this work well is the film transport that I built by soldering together small pieces of brass. The rails are made of 1/8″ L-shapes bars which are paired to make a T track, and they’re spaced apart just enough to allow the film to slide through with a slight snugness. The pieces are soldered together so that when film is slid through, the image area of the film never comes in contact with any part of the mechanism.
You can see a bit of what it looks like, and how it loads in the video clip below.
A rig like this could be built without the bellows, but the advantage of bellow is that they provide an easy way to adjust the distance between camera and film plane. Simply turning the bellows focus knob moves the whole film plane unit (including lightbox) nearer or farther from the camera. This way I can get the negative to nearly fill the frame of the digital camera. The image is focused via the macro lens on the camera.
It takes just a couple of minutes to attach the camera to the base, slide a piece of film in, and set the focus on the camera (focusing is aided by the camera’s zoom feature and focus peaking). I focus with the lens wide open, then stop down to f/8 to add a bit more depth of field just in case there’s any bowing of the film. Exposure is set manually – in most instances I’ve shot at 1/15 sec, ISO 200, f/8. I set my camera to shoot black & white JPG images at highest resolution. If I’m shooting a new roll of film that I just developed, I can shoot an entire roll in a few minutes. Working with film that’s already been cut into short strips takes longer, since you have to load each strip (and when scanning old film I spent a lot more time cleaning dust off each strip than actually shooting it).
The video below shows how it goes.
I was holding my phone in one hand here, so in reality I can go a little faster than this, but you can see that it’s pretty quick. I sometimes set the camera to a 2-second self-timer delay to make sure there’s no camera movement, but I don’t think it’s really necessary.
I keep the camera set at a distance so that I pick up a little of the border, ensuring that I get the full image, then I usually crop a tiny bit in Lightroom to even out the borders (it’s very convenient that an ASP-C digital sensor is exactly the same proportion as a 35mm frame). Keeping a little of the border visible also makes it easier to align each frame, since you can see a little of each edge on the digital camera’s LCD as you slide the neg through. Being able to capture the entire image, including the natural edge of the 35mm frame, is a big advantage this has over some other scanning methods. I’ve never gotten a commercial scan that included the entire frame – they’re always cropped.
After shooting a roll or two, I move my SD card to my Mac; copy the images; drag the whole batch of images onto a Photoshop action droplet that I previously created to automatically invert all of the images from negatives to positives; then import to Lightroom and make some exposure and contrast adjustments.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Here are some photos of the setup:
I’m using the Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 lens mounted to a Fuji X-mount adapter, along with a 10mm extension tube to allow closer focusing.
Above, you can see the focus-peaking manual-focus assist (set to red) in action.
Below: At the ends of the brass L track, I bent the corners out to make film loading easier. Once the film is pushed in a bit though, the track holds the film straight and flat, and nothing ever touches either side of the image portion of the film.
Below is a view looking inside the bellows at the negative. The wood piece at the bottom is a spacer that holds the brass neg carrier at the proper height to line up with the center of the lens, and the areas above and to the sides of the neg are filled in with black matboard to minimize any extra light coming in. That circular opening is where the enlarger lens board would have originally been attached.
I’ve considered modifying the camera mount so that I could have the option of turning the camera sideways, moving the neg closer to the camera, and shooting three overlapping images of one neg to stitch together in Photoshop for a higher-resolution ‘scan’. But for now, the 16MP (4896 x 3264) images are plenty for me.
Another idea I have is to use the dichroic lamp housing that came with the enlarger as my light source. This would allow me to adjust the color output of the light to possibly compensate for the orange mask of color negative film. Not sure about that, but might have to give it a try.
Below are some images from a roll of film I developed a few nights ago. Those black borders are the actual frame edges captured in-camera. HCB would be proud.
Here’s a close-up of the leaf in the image above to show the amount of detail captured in the scan:
Detail above is from approx. this area outlined in red:
These were shot in my Yashica Electro 35 on Arista EDU 100 film, and developed in Arista Premium Liquid Developer.
Yesterday I had the rare opportunity to leaf through an original copy of William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1844 book The Pencil of Nature, the first book ever to contain photographs.
These are actual photographic prints made by Talbot himself, the man who invented the calotype negative process. These prints were made on paper coated by Talbot and his assistants, and contact-printed in the sunlight from the calotype paper negatives that he shot in-camera (this was within a few years of what is generally considered the invention of practical photography – at about the same time that Daguerre invented the daguerreotype, which only produced a one-of-a-kind image on glass, while Talbot’s paper negative allowed for multiple prints to be made from the negative – essentially introducing the negative-positive photographic process used for the next 150 years).
I don’t want to go into too much technical detail, but you can easily find all the detail you want online, as this is an important piece of photographic history. I believe these prints are “salted paper prints”, in which the paper is sensitized with silver chloride, requiring long exposures in contact with the negative under sunlight. The negative shot in camera was a calotype (also called talbotype), which required relatively short exposures to produce a latent image on the translucent paper, that would then be chemically developed to bring out the full image.
A London publisher produced this book in six editions, in which Talbot’s actual photographic prints are glued into place on the pages. The six editions were sold separately, and as was apparently the custom at the time, the owner would have the editions bound together into a single book. The Elmer Andersen Library for Special Collections and Rare Books at the University of Minnesota has a bound copy of volumes 1 and 2, containing a total of 12 photographs (the 24 total photographs were split into six volumes – it is believed that there are only about 15 complete copies of this book still in existence). It is clear that these two volumes were bound together into one book, although little of the binding remains intact today. The cover for these two volumes is not large enough to accommodate the other volumes, so the original owner must have only purchased the first two, or decided to have them bound separately for some reason.
Thanks to my friend Matt Newberry arranging for us to view this, I got to sit with him and browse through these very fragile pages containing some of the first photographs ever made. It seemed a bit crazy that we were able to be viewing Talbot’s actual prints so close-up and intimately.
Though the prints are severely faded, they are still sharp and show amazing detail. They’re beautiful. It’s surprising that prints from such an early experiment in photography still look this good 172 years later.
My favorite image in these two volumes is probably PLATE X. THE HAYSTACK, shown at the top of this post.
Other personal favorites are PLATE II. VIEW OF THE BOULEVARDS AT PARIS, and PLATE VI. THE OPEN DOOR, below.
Photography was so new to people in 1844 that he included a slipped-in “Notice to the Reader” that reads:
The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.
In the photo below I’m holding an original calotype paper negative (slipped in a plastic sleeve) believed to be taken by Talbot’s assistant Nicolaas Henneman sometime between 1843 and 1848. More info about this negative here
The book is readily available online to read and see scanned images of the photos. I highly recommend you give it a read. Talbot seemed to foresee the future of photography both in it’s many practical uses and as a form of art.
The book can be read in full here:
Today Matt emailed me this photo below, showing Talbot and assistants contact-printing photos in the sun. Perhaps the prints that we just saw were printed in these very frames.
I recently posted photos that I had shot on black and white 120 film, home processed, and ‘scanned’ using my Fuji X-T1 camera and an old Nikkor macro lens. I’ll detail a little bit of the process below, because I think this holds great promise of being a quick and easy way to get some really nice quality scans. Below is a screen shot of a detail area from the photo above, to give you some idea of the quality and resolution.
When cropped square, these images are about 3100 x 3100 pixels. The X-T1 has about a 16MP sensor in it, and the full image size is 3264 x 4896 pixels. I didn’t completely fill the frame with the negative, so I’m cropping in a bit (plus cropping square of course in this case, since they’re 6×6 negs). I could make higher-resolution images of 120 film by getting closer to the neg and moving it around to capture several images, then auto-stitching them in Photoshop. I’ve seen examples of this online that are stunning. But for quick scans, these 9+MP images are pretty great.
So, how was this done?
First I bought a small light box to act as a backlight-source. I got a Logan 4″ x 5″ Slim Edge Light Pad, but I’m sure any would work fine. I had read that this model has a nice consistent brightness and color. And I wanted one for some other uses, anyway.
Then I had to figure out a way to hold the camera perfectly parallel to the light box. A tripod could be used, but it would be hard to align it perfectly, and to adjust height and repeat the setup. I tried this with a tripod in the past, and it’s a pain in the a**. An old copy stand would be perfect, but I had a hard time finding one for a reasonable price. So I decided that an old photo enlarger could be converted to a copy stand. I picked up an old Omega enlarger at a thrift store for $16:
It seemed a shame to tear apart such a nice enlarger, but I found that it could easily be dismantled in a way that it could be put back together if I want to return it to it’s intended use.
I added a small platform of plywood, with a hole cut at the perfect size to hold the end of my Nikkor macro lens. This certainly wouldn’t work with all lenses, but the way this lens is built (and since the Fuji X-T1 is a very light camera), it works perfectly. I used a level to carefully align the platform to be near-perfectly level with the base of the enlarger (fortunately, the enlarger had adjustment screws on the base that normally holds the neg-carrier, to make this adjustment easy).
I used a neg carrier that I happened to have from a flatbed scanner to hold the negatives flat against the light box, and inserted the camera and lens into the platform:
It may look a bit unstable, but the camera actually sits very steady, since the camera body is light, and the lens is heavy and has a portion that sticks out with nice straight sides, which slides into the hole in the plywood (I looped the camera strap around the top of the enlarger to keep it out of the way, but it would also catch the camera if it were somehow knocked off the stand). The height of the stand was adjusted so the neg would almost fill the frame, then the lens was focused. The manual focus aid in the X-T1 helps a lot for this — it will zoom in on the center of the frame and show red highlights when edges are in sharp focus, as seen below in the bad iphone photo of the camera’s LCD screen:
The room lights were shut off before shooting the actual photos, to eliminate any reflections off the film.
I tested the camera and lens combo by shooting several images of a couple negs from f/3.5 to f/22, and found that I got the sharpest images at f/3.5 to f/8. Surprisingly, this lens actually seems slightly sharper wide open at f3.5 than stopped down a stop or two. But to get a little bit of depth of field to help ensure the whole neg was in focus, even if it wasn’t completely flat, I shot them at f/8.
Here’s the lens I’m using:
It’s a Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 – a great macro lens with extremely little distortion. In these images of square negatives, there was absolutely no bowing of the edges of the images. When cropped square to the image, the edges were perfectly straight. I’m lucky that I just happened to have this lens already, so I only needed a cheap adapter to put it on the Fuji X-T1.
The camera was set to electronic shutter so there’d be no camera movement from the shutter, and set to ISO 200, auto shutter speed, and with a 2-second self-timer to eliminate camera shake from pressing the shutter button. Next time I’ll set the shutter speed manually so that all of the exposures on a roll are consistent, as that will make later Lightroom adjustments easier to apply through the whole roll.
The negs had just been dried after developing, so they were still very clean, so I didn’t even bother blowing dust off of them. The scans picked up a few dust spots, but not bad at all. I slid the negs through by hand, and had to spend a few second on each one making sure it was aligned straight in the viewfinder, and that I wasn’t cutting off any of the image. That’s where this process could really be improved — by building some kind of neg carrier that the negs could slide through and stay aligned in the viewfinder. Even so, it probably only took about 15 minutes to shoot the roll, from setting the camera height and focusing the first neg to shooting all twelve images. (EDIT: Now that I’ve done a few rolls this way, it’s even faster — I have the enlarger marked at the proper height, so setup is faster, and I can get through a roll in a few minutes)
Process updated: See NOTE at end of this post.
Then the negs were brought into Lightroom and adjusted. Here’s what they looked like when first imported to Lightroom:
In Lightroom there’s no easy way to invert the negs into positives (they should really add a simple checkbox in the tone curve panel to invert the image). You have to grab each end of the tone curve and pull the bottom end up to the top, and the top end down to the bottom to invert the image (if you can’t get this to work, click the button in the bottom-right of the Tone Curve box — this change it to a ‘point curve’ and you can move the very ends of the line). So you change this: Simple enough, but now all of your exposure sliders in Lightroom are reversed. Increasing the Exposure slider darkens the image; decreasing the Blacks slider actually increases the Whites. It’s a bit confusing. I did this in Lightroom because I wanted to work with the camera RAW image, thinking that would give me the best quality. But after some experimenting I’ve decided that the JPG images are just as good, so it’s easy to simply invert the images in Photoshop, then make all the normal adjustments in Lightroom. Next time I do this, I’ll quickly invert all the images in Photoshop before importing them into Lightroom. Process updated: See NOTE at end of post.
Another advantage that I discovered in shooting my own scans is that I can get the full frame with no cropping of the image. Here’s the first test image I shot, from an older roll of film. You can see the actual edges of the frame of the film:
And here is an overlay showing the scan that the lab did on top of my scan (tinted red). The red edges are the parts of the image that were cropped out of the lab scan. That’s a pretty big difference.
I’m looking forward to developing more film and experimenting more with this. Next step: build a neg carrier to slide the 120 film through. After that: Build a rig to slide 35mm negs through for the same kind of setup.
I’ve scanned more film using this setup and have changed just a couple things:
1) I’m setting my camera to record a B&W JPG instead of color to simplify it a little. I did some testing of B&W vs Color and JPG vs RAW, and found virtually no difference. The dynamic range is very low, so there’s no need to shoot raw.
Note on dynamic range: I’ve seen some online posts about camera-scanning, and people are concerned about the digital camera’s ability to capture the full dynamic range of the film. Here’s my take: Relax, it’s not an issue at all. The dynamic range of the scene was already captured and compressed in the film. When “scanning” the neg, the dynamic range you’re capturing is only the difference between the blackest part of the film and the brightness of your light pad. Unless your light pad is as bright as the sun, you’re not talking about much dynamic range here. I don’t get any clipping of highlights or shadows.
2) Before importing into Lightroom I do a quick inversion in Photoshop to turn the negs into positives. I created a Photoshop action ‘droplet‘, so all I have to do is drag a folder full of images onto the ‘droplet’ on my Mac, and they will all be opened in Photoshop, inverted and re-saved. It all works automatically and just takes a few seconds. Then when they’re imported into Lightroom I don’t have to mess with inverting the tone curve.
We finally moved to the second part of my son’s photography project – printing photos the old-fashioned way. We’re lucky to have a large laundry room with some kitchen counters (we had a temporary kitchen down there while remodeling our kitchen a few years ago), so it makes a great darkroom. There were only a couple of small windows to black out with plastic garbage bags and duct tape. There were a couple of ceiling light fixtures in which we could replace the bulbs with my old safelights. There were even two separate sections of counter so we could have a dry area for the enlarger and a wet area for the trays, which was very near the laundry sink. In the sink we rigged up a makeshift print washer by simply setting a very large developing tray on top of the sink, running water into it and letting it run over into the sink.
We started out by making contact prints of his two rolls of film one evening. I had some very old photo paper left from the last time I worked in the darkroom, probably 15 years ago or more. Turns out that unexposed photo paper doesn’t last forever! The pack of 8×10 Kodak RC paper came out really dark with hardly any contrast, as if it had been fogged. I had a pack of Illford 5×7 paper that fared better, so we were able to piece together contact prints of all of the negs using several sheets of that. I ordered a new pack of Illford 8×10 gloss RC paper and we looked at the contact prints for a few days while waiting for that to arrive.
He settled on a couple of images that he wanted to enlarge, and we got to work. I had forgotten most of what I used to know about chemicals and the timing of developer, stop bath, fixer, washing, etc, so we had to do some research, but it all went pretty smoothly. We spent a few hours in there to get good prints of two images, but they turned out great. The negs seemed a little low on contrast, so we used a fairly high polycontrast filter to boost the contrast of the images.
The first photo we printed was a close-up of a moss-covered tree with a blurred background of a small stream, shot in the Cascade mountains. We did a test strip to figure out the exposure time, and he decided he liked a pretty dark exposure. That print went pretty quickly and we had a nice final print in just a couple tries. I helped him set up the enlarger and focus, then he exposed the print, and I ran the timer while he worked the print through the developing, stop bath, and fixer trays, and into the wash tray.
The second one took a little longer to get the way we wanted it. It is an image of Pike Place market, with sky at the top and the market below. He liked the high-contrast look we got using the polycontrast filter in the enlarger, but it resulted in a washed-out sky when we got the exposure correct on the lower part of the image. This gave me a great opportunity to teach him about dodging and burning. We burned in the sky by exposing it for a few extra seconds while I dodged the bottom part of the image, and the building canopy at the right edge. A few tries and we had a very nice print.
He entered both photos in the 4H art competition at our county fair, and took home a purple ribbon for the Pike Place photo. Being in 4H is what prompted him to do this project in the first place — he thought it’d be a fun project to enter at the fair. Since he won a purple ribbon, he gets to exhibit it at the Minnesota State Fair at the end of the summer!
Aside: Even though the 4H building isn’t one of the most visited parts of the Minnesota State Fair, the fair itself is pretty huge — last year’s total attendance over the twelve days of the fair was 1,824,830 people! Yes, 1.8 million people. It’s a big fair. So I think it’s a pretty big deal that he gets to show a photo there.
I think the print turned out great:
It was a lot of fun, and now that I have some fresh paper and chemicals, I should get back in there and print a few of my own negs. A true silver-gelatin print is a beautiful thing!
Yes, this is still the Shot on Film blog, but in addition to shooting old film cameras, I do shoot modern digital cameras. No reason not to enjoy both. I recently bought a Fuji X-T1, and I know that a big part of why I fell in love with it the first time I saw one was because the design of it is so much more like a classic film SLR than any other digital camera I had ever seen. The shape, design and feel of it, the shutter speed dial, the ISO dial, the aperture ring on the lens (that’s one thing I wish they’d gone a step farther on — putting actual aperture markings on the lens). Once the camera is set up the way I like to shoot, there’s little reason to ever push buttons or look at menus on the LCD. I can just leave the LCD off and use the viewfinder and feel almost like I’m shooting film, except that the electronic viewfinder (EVF) shows me approximately what the actual exposure is going to look like (nice feature, I admit).
I shot some photos early one morning this week, and when looking at them in Lightroom a couple images struck me as looking like film photos. Film has a unique look and I feel like I can usually tell when a photo was shot on film. I follow a number of photographers on Tumblr, and as I scroll through the images almost nightly, I usually notice photos that I think were shot on film, and more often than not I’m correct. Of course, digital images can be edited to look more like film, such as by using the popular VSCO film packs in Lightroom.
These images shown here are the two that jumped out at me for some reason as I looked through my images today. To me they look like they were shot with my Mamiya 645 on Ektar film. Maybe it’s the rich brown tones that Ektar renders so nicely, maybe it’s the little bit of extra contrast that I added in Lightroom, maybe it’s the Fuji Provia camera profile that was applied when I imported to Lightroom. I think it’s probably all of those, but also one other thing — I started shooting very early in the morning, before sunrise, and to work in the low light I cranked the ISO of the digital sensor up to 3200. Shooting at high ISO results in digital noise in the images, and with previous digital SLRs that I’ve used (Canon 40D, most recently), the digital noise was really unappealing – these multi-colored spots that just looked unnatural. What I notice about these images from the Fuji is that when I zoom way in, the noise looks to me almost like film grain! Perhaps that’s why I thought this looked like a high-res scan of medium-format film.
Here’s a screenshot where I’m zoomed in at 1:1 on screen. Click it to view full size:
And zoomed in more. Click to view full size:
Don’t worry, I’ll be back with more film photos. I haven’t gone completely to the dark side!
My 13-year-old son just successfully developed his first two rolls of film. It has probably been close to 15 years since I developed my own film, so I had to do some research to refresh my memory on the whole process. I ordered chemicals from Freestyle Photo (Arista developer, stop bath, fixer, wetting agent, Kodak hypo clear). Once we mixed up chemicals, the process was so easy that I’m now excited to shoot some film and develop more.
He had shot the two rolls of Tmax on a recent vacation using my old Pentax K1000, after he told me he wanted to learn how to shoot film, develop and make prints. This K1000 was my first ‘real’ camera, a gift from my parents when I was a little older than he is now. I used it through high school, college and for many years after college until getting my first DSLR. It made the process even more meaningful to me by having him use that camera.
I taught him how to spool the film onto the metal developing reels, but I spooled these ones for him (inside a changing bag). That’s something that takes practice to get good at, and I didn’t want to risk these first rolls of film. Next time he can try spooling his own. I have one of those plastic spools that you rotate and it pulls the film onto the spool, but I don’t like the tank with that one, so I used the old stainless steel tank and spools. There’s kind of an art to spooling film on those metal reels, but once you get the hang of it, they work great.
His negs are now dried and hanging in the laundry room. It looks like he nailed the exposures very well, and has some good negatives to work with.
Our next step is to light-proof the laundry room and set up the enlarger to teach him how to print. It will be interesting to see how much patience he has for the printing process – and how much patience I have after being in the ‘digital darkroom’ for so many years.
I’m thankful that he wants to learn how to do this.
One of the great things about film photography is that you always have the ultimate ‘raw file’ – your negative (or positive, if you’re shooting transparencies) – to go back to and rescan as needed. Scanning quality seems to be all over the board though, and is dependent not only on the equipment used, but also (and maybe most importantly) on the technician doing the scanning and the settings used and any adjustments that they might make.
I’ve mailed my film to several labs over the last few years for developing and scanning – North Coast Photo in Carlsbad, CA; Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, KS; Citizens Photo in Portland, OR; and Precision Camera in Austin, TX. I’ve generally been quite happy with the results of lab scans, though there are some differences.
I’ve done a little bit of film scanning on my Epson V500 scanner and have found that I can get pretty good scans from 120 film, but I’ve not been happy with any scans I’ve done of the smaller 35mm film.
I’m going to start out showing some examples and talking about experiences I’ve had with North Coast Photo. I’ve been very impressed with their scanning of color and black and white negs, though I’m often torn between getting budget scans and the more expensive ‘enhanced’ scans. You’ll see the resolution differences between those below. Lately I’ve been using Dwayne’s if I want low-res scans at a much lower price, and North Coast if I want high-res scans. I recently discovered Precision and was very impressed with the scans at a price lower than North Coast (for color negs only, though – for black & white the price is about the same).
Kodak Ektar 100 film (120 format) shot in my Rolleicord III
Here is the original scan done by North Coast Photo at the time of film processing, scanned as a ‘budget scan’, which currently costs $8.68 per roll in addition to the cost of processing ($6.90/roll). According to the metadata in the file, these budget scans are done on a Noritsu Koki scanner model QSS-32_33. Scans of 120 film shot at square 6×6 format come in at around 2079 x 2048 pixels (I’ll show pixel-level detail further down the page). This is the straight scan exported from Lightroom with no adjustments at all made to it:
I was recently producing some 20 x 20 inch prints from images shot on 120 film, but the negs had been scanned as the low-res budget scans, so I needed larger files to print from. I mailed several negatives to North Coast to have them do their ‘enhanced scans’ of individual frames. The enhanced scans are done on the same scanner, but at a higher resolution, coming in at about 4824 x 4760 pixels for a square 6×6 image (I don’t know why it’s not the same number of pixels both dimensions). That’s a nice resolution for making large prints – at 20 x 20 inches, that equates to around 240 pixels per inch, which is adequate for very nice looking prints.
The enhanced scans cost $11.95 per roll on top of processing cost ($6.90/roll) if you have the whole roll scanned at the time of processing. For scans of individual frames not at the time of processing, they cost $2.25 per image (they call them ‘premium scans’ when they’re individual scans, but somebody at North Coast assured me they’re the same as the ‘enhanced scans’).
So I sent off a bunch of negs to have them done at once, and here’s the resulting scan that came back. Again, this is with no adjustments made to the image. You can see immediately how different the color and brightness of the scan is compared with the first scan:
You’ll notice a strange streak in the sky in the scan above. I hadn’t seen this streak in the original scan, but in fact there was a streak on the negative. The same streak went through several images on the neg, and North Coast said it was likely from developing chemistry dripping down the negative as it hung to dry. If they had noticed it right away, they would have rewashed the negs before doing the first scans, but it had slipped by them. Mistakes happen, so I don’t fault them too much for this happening, and I have a feeling it’s a problem that’s very unlikely to happen. North Coast wanted to fix the situation, so I mailed the negs back to them and they rewashed the negs to see if they could get rid of the streak. Being it was about two years after developing, there was no guarantee that it would work, but they wanted to try. It worked on all but one image (where the drip had stopped and had created a thicker, darker spot). North Coast’s customer service is great and they seem very concerned about making sure their customers are happy and that things are done right. I did get stuck with paying for shipping the negs back to them though.
The scan below is the second enhanced scan that they sent back after washing the neg and rescanning. The odd thing to me is how different this scan looks compared to the one above. The colors look a little different than the one above, and the exposure on this scan is much lighter:
This exercise brings me to the conclusion that there’s much more to scanning an image than just the equipment used. These were all done by the same lab on the same scanner, though the second two show a different version of scanning software used. The first one was done at a lower resolution and a couple of years prior to the other two, so I would expect there to be some differences. What surprised me most was the difference between the last two scans done just a couple weeks apart. What accounts for the variation? I would guess it’s the scanning technician and the settings they use on the scanner software.
I could probably use Lightroom to make adjustment to the white balance, exposure, etc, and get all three of these images to look pretty close to each other, but it would take some work.
There’s a tremendous amount of detail hidden in the shadows that can be pulled out if desired. Below is a crop of a small area of the lighter of the high-res scans (#1c), and the image below it shows the detail pulled out of the shadows by cranking up the ‘shadows’ slider in Lightroom. This speaks to the large dynamic range of film – it really is like a raw digital file.
Straight jpeg as delivered:
Shadows slider cranked up:
and below is the maximum detail I could pull out of the darkest of the high-res scans (1b) by pulling the shadow slider all the way up and increasing the exposure a little. Pretty good, but you can see that the scan being darker to start with resulted in some shadow detail that’s just not there. In this case I wouldn’t want to pull the shadows up that much anyway, but you can see that whatever difference there was between how these two were scanned just weeks apart had an impact on the amount of detail data that’s in the image.
Here’s a crop of part of the very first scan (1a) showing the detail in the budget scan:
and here’s a crop showing the detail in the enhanced scan (1c):
These are shown at 2:1 scaling so you can see the pixels enlarged. You can see a small amount of jpeg artifacting that shows up in the images, especially at the edges of light smooth areas like the sky, but for the most part the jpg compression isn’t bad, and at normal print sizes would not be noticeable. If the scans were saved as tif files they might be a little better, but not enough to be worth the large file size that would result. These jpg files are around 15mb each, but as a tif would be about 65mb (the jpg files of the budget scans are about 2.5 to 3.5mb each).
I think that’s pretty impressive detail. In some images it seems like you can really see the film grain as opposed to pixels. Keep in mind that this image was shot on Ektar 100, an extremely fine-grained color neg film (the finest-grained color neg film in the world, according to Kodak).
I’d like to show more examples of scans from North Coast, but to keep this post from getting too long, I think I’ll save that for another post (you can see one example of the detail in a 35mm ‘enhanced’ scan from North Coast here). My overall experience with North Coast has been very positive, and I highly recommend their enhanced scans. I’m always looking for scans that might be as good as these but at a lower price, so let me know if you have any recommendations. My first experience with Precision Camera was very impressive, so I want to try them some more – their ultra-high-res scans are done on the same Noritsu scanner at the same resolution, but at a much lower price ($11.99 including developing for C-41 color negs, but with black & white film you don’t get free developing). I’ll post those examples soon.
And I’ll also follow up with some examples from the other labs I’ve used and make some comparisons.