Snow, part 2

Just a few more snow photos from the second roll of film shot that same day.





Rolleicord III, Acros 100, self-developed, camera-scanned.

Snow comes to Minnesota

A nice snowfall recently gave me the opportunity to take a walk and give my Rolleicord some much-needed exercise.






Not terribly exciting photos, but it was fun shooting them and developing the film at home. I guessed at the metering using the sunny-16 rule, and it worked well. The film did a nice job picking up the subtle detail in the very bright sunlit snow (while remarkably still holding shadow detail as well).

Shot on Fuji Acros 100; home developed in Arista Premium film developer (1:9, 7  min @ 68 deg).

Camera scanned using same setup described in the previous post.

I just developed a second roll shot on this same walk, and that’s now hanging to dry. Will fire up the ‘scanner’ again soon.

Camera-scanning 120 negatives


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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 1.05.13 PM

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:

2015-08-12 15.35.07

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).

2015-08-17 22.37.58

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:

2015-08-17 22.37.25

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:

2015-08-17 22.36.49

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:

2015-08-27 14.03.11 2015-08-27 14.03.40

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:

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 2.57.06 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 2.59.59 PM    to this:  Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 3.00.47 PM

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.

Update: I’ve now built a nice rig for 35mm neg scans, too.

Como Park Conservatory


A few weeks ago we spent a nice evening walking around Como Park taking photos as a family.  My wife wanted to learn to use our Fuji X-T1, and my son was carrying my old Canon DSLR, so I went old-school and carried my Rolleicord.  After our picnic dinner on the lawn, I loaded a roll of Fuji Acros 100 black and white film, and we set off for the Conservatory.  We intended to go inside the conservatory and back out to the beautiful Japanese garden, but found that both were closed for the evening, so we just walked around the park.  With all of us taking photos, I enjoyed for once not being the one slowing down the rest of the family.  I had no trouble finding subjects for my 12 images on my roll of film, and enjoyed the slow process — if I would have been shooting digital I probably would have taken a hundred shots and ended up with about the same number that I liked.








I developed the film myself the night before last, which was quick and easy since I had chemicals premixed and ready to go. This is the first time I’ve developed 120 film, and it’s even easier than 35mm because you don’t have to mess around with opening the film canister — you just unroll the film right off the spool (inside a dark-bag) and onto the developing tank reel.  I let the film hang to dry in an unused room where it’d be unlikely that much dust would be flying around in the air, then last night I “scanned” the images.  I say “scanned” in quotes because I actually shot photos of the negs using my X-T1 with an old Micro-Nikkor 55mm manual-focus macro lens.  The process was quick and easy, and the results are stunning. I’ll be writing a post soon about my process.

Camera: Rolleicord III
Film: Fuji Acros 100
Processing:  Arista Premium Liquid Developer, mixed 1:9, 7 min. @ approx. 68 degrees F.
Arista Indicator Stop Bath; Arista Premium Liquid Fixer; Kodak Hypo Clear; Water wash; a couple drops Arista Flow wetting agent; hang to dry with no wiping.
Scan:  Fuji X-T1; Nikon Micro-NIKKOR-P.C Auto 1:3.5 f=55mm (at f/8); Logan 4×5 light pad.

Apple Orchard – Super Ricohflex


Shot with my wonderfully ever-unpredictable Super Ricohflex.

I love nearly everything about this camera, including it’s swirly circular bokeh (see background of apple photo below) and odd focus problem that throws parts of the images into focus that shouldn’t be. Look closely at the bottom photo for one example of this — the image is focused right around the kids, but an area very close to the camera in the lower-left corner of the photo is also in focus. I see this in many images from this camera when focused in the distance. I’m guessing that the lens is slightly tilted, thus acting a little like a tilt-shift lens. The fact that the lens focuses by turning probably adds to the randomness of where in each image that odd focusing occurs.

These were shot on Portra 160 and developed and scanned by Precision Photo. Nice high-res 5000 x 5000 pixel scans.





The dark art of film scanning

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).

Sample image
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:

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 11.34.22 AM

Shadows slider cranked up:

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 11.35.15 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 1.11.49 PM

On resolution

Here’s a crop of part of the very first scan (1a) showing the detail in the budget scan:

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 11.39.12 AM

and here’s a crop showing the detail in the enhanced scan (1c):

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 11.39.44 AM

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.

Riley – Mamiya 645


My loyal hunting partner, Riley.

Mamiya 645, Kodak Ektar 100