Some years ago I became curious about scanning film, as I wanted digital copies of some old prints. Research showed that the price range for scanners very quickly spikes once you start straying over that line between enthusiastic amateur and professional.

Once you step out of the world of consumer level flatbed scanners into dedicated film scanners, you’re either looking at discontinued and no longer supported tech (like the Nikon CoolScans), extremely expensive Hasselblad Flextights or, for the real pixel peeping connoisseurs, huge drum scanners requiring a science degree to understand and a truck to move. I wanted a bang-for-the-buck solution and quickly settled on an Epson V700, a high end flatbed with a good reputation.

Flatbed scanners have a poor reputation for scanning film well. Without question you’ll get better dynamic range, detail and resolution from a dedicated film scanner. However, with a little extra work and careful control over your workflow it’s possible to get truly wonderful results from something like the V700. I found scanning negatives revealed details in the highlights and shadows that simply hadn’t made it into my original prints. Quickly I was seeing decade-old travelling photos in a whole new level of detail and colour. It was like night and day.

 

V700_01The V700 comes with a range of film mounts for 35mm, 120, 4×5 sheets and mounted slides. Using these will give you acceptable results for small prints, screen-based social media. If you really want to get the best from your scanner though, you can step up your game!

Step 1:

The film holders which come with the scanner are somewhat flimsy and offer limited adjustment and control. One problem with flatbeds is that the optimal focal point of the scanning lens is slightly above the glass flatbed, and this distance varies from scanner to scanner within a range of manufacturing tolerances. To achieve optimal results, you need to be able to manually set and test the height of the scanning surface.

Betterscanning.com manufactures a range of well machined upgrades to the Epson mounts. The best of these feature an ‘infinitely adjustable’ mounting platform. By adjusting six plastic grub screws, you are able to raise the scanning platform bit by bit, testing your results as you go. It’s a time consuming process, taking the best part of an hour, but once complete you’ll know at all scans using your mount are getting the sharpest possible focus. Full details, follow the link!

Sold separately is a special glass mounting plate, one side of which has an ‘anti-newton ring’ treatment that will prevent your film from displaying those consecutive strobing ring patterns that can occur with contact of dry emulsion against regular glass. This plate fits into the adjustable mount. You simply tape the film to the glass as shown in this tutorial.

Mount

Mount station showing the adjustable screws which raise the height. Perform a bunch of tests and go with your best results! Riggs_X3_FocusSome 100% crops, check out the whiskers and fine would grain on this 120 film shot with a Hasselblad.

Step 2:

Invest in good scanning software. Both VueScan and Silverfast are well worth a look and offer way more control than the Epson interface. I’ve settled on VueScan, simply because Silverfast is resource intensive and doesn’t run well on my old PC

Epson’s software can do a decent job, but VueScan offers some great features that increase the dynamic range of your scan, maximising the capture of highlight and shadow detail by scanning multiple passes at different exposures. These settings are something I’ll cover in another article. Try out the free-to-try versions of VueScan and SilverFast, links at the bottom of this page.

Step 3: Not essential, but if you really want that extra 5%!

Fluid mount your film. Don’t be scared, it’s not nearly as daunting or messy as it sounds. In fact it’s dead easy and you can use the same mount and glass I’ve mentioned. This excellent demo video by Gavin Seim sold me on the technique and I can already see improvements; film is held perfectly flat (which can be a problem with taping awkwardly curled film), light refractions, small scratches and dust spots are reduced in the scanning process. Descriptions and links to all of the products he uses are below the video.

For fast previews and facebook sized work, the Epson standard kit is fine. You’ll never see the difference.
For large scale printing and quality digital archival, I think the extra investment and time spent is worthwhile. After all… you’re using film, you can’t be in that much of a hurry!

DogzFinal Image – Fluid mounted scan via VueScan, processed in Photoshop.

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Without shared information via the photographic community on the web I’d never have discovered any of this. Now with a little time I can make high quality scans that print beautifully – I hope that sharing this proves useful. My site will have regular updates with tutorials on home developing, retouching and post-processing, please stop by and shoot me an email!

 

Links –
Betterscanning.com
Wet scanning
VueScan
Silverfast

 

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