In this first and LONG tutorial I’m going to show you how to scan negatives, 35mm and medium format (120). With this metod I have obtained consistently really good results.

DISCLAIMER before starting with this guide: this is the method that I have developed over the years, I’m not pretending it to be the best but i consider it functional and a valid option.


What You’ll Need

We should start with a list of things necessary to our goal, keeping in mind that the options available on the market are many and usually equally valid.

  • Scanner – In most cases will be a flatbed, the classic “office scanner”. This need to have a secondary lamp, because that is going to shine through the negatives allowing us to scan them.
    I’ve personally used an old Epson 4490 Photo for years, but I’ve just upgraded to a more recent Epson V600 (amzn.to/2NeRYUq); choice dictated mostly by the increased scanning speed and by its LED light source, instead of an incandescent lamp.
    I would recommend looking in the Epson‘s scanners catalogue, from the 4490 going forward they should be all valid products to scan medium format (I’m going to use 120 film as the largest format to scan, even if with some scanners it’s possible to go beyond that).
    If you shoot mainly or only 35mm, I would suggest you to look for a dedicated scanner.
    I use a Konica Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400, is a standard in its category, but prices are going higher by the day and you can only find it used, plus you’ll have to deal with some driver incompatibility (if you want to use proprietary ones).
    I would suggest to check the Plustek‘s ones instead (amzn.to/2MoWyjc), I don’t have direct experience with those ones but I’ve always heard good things about them (they are not at the same level of the Minolta or the Nikon’s ones, but are newer products and come with software in the box).

    You could stop here if your objective is just get a digitized copy of the negative (since almost all the scanners listed above come with film trays and software), but my guide wants to show how to get the best possible results, so we’ll need more stuff!
  • Software – With the “stock” ones you can achieve acceptable results, but if you want something better you’ll have to rely on third party software, in my case this will be VueScan (hamrick.com/reg.html), it is essential to get the “Professional Edition“. The price is around 90€ and for this guide I’ll be referring to the mentioned before “Professional Edition”, because that will unlock extra features.
    VueScan is compatible with almost all scanners on the market so there should be no compatibility problems, but to be sure your scanner is supported check here: hamrick.com/vuescan/supported-scanners.html.
    ColorPerfect (colorperfect.com/colorperfect.html?) is the plugin for Photoshop that I’m going to use to invert the linear scans; has a cost of around 70€ but is worth every penny!
    From the same site of ColorPerfect you can download MakeTiff, is a free program useful to assign a color profile to our scans as a batch (it is not necessary because you can assign a color profile in Photoshop, but is a time saver because allows us to do that to more photos at the same time).

    Now we should be ready to start, maybe being mindful to have a rocket blower (amzn.to/2Ml8mCZ) to blow the dust off our negatives before placing them in the scanner.

Let’s Start

With our negatives ready, we can start the scanning process!

The first step is load the negatives in the film tray, if you are using a flatbed it is essential to keep the emulsion side up!
Film is composed by a BASE side ad an EMULSION one (applied on the base), so it is fundamental to load our negatives in the right way; determine the right side is easy, the BASE (that we want facing the scanner glass) is shiny and you’ll be able to correctly read the writings on the film border; while the EMULSION (that we want facing up) is opaque and the writings will be in reverse.

Negativo con il lato dell'emulsione verso l'alto
This is the right orientation to load our negatives in the film tray.

Once loaded our negative correctly (emulsion side facing up), we can close the scanner lid and start VueScan.

Now I need to precise something about what is coming: The settings that I’m going to show you are relative to an Epson V600, those could be different or inexistent depending on the scanner you are using.
Generally speaking this setting should be available for all flatbed scanners previously mentioned.


VueScan

We can start VueScan and choose the scanner we are using in “Source: scanner name“, did that will have something similar in front of us:

Interfaccia di VueScan
(I’m nog going to show you how to register/activate your copy of the program because it is pretty straightforward).

At this point the options that we are going to change are:

  1. Options: Professional
  2. Mode: Transparency
  3. Media: Slide film
  4. Bits per pixel: 48 Bit RGB (for color negatives), 16 Bit Grey (for b&w).
  5. Preview resolution: I suggest 600/800 dpi (this is not going to influence the quality of our scans).
  6. Scan resolution: If you have a flatbed Epson Vxxx (and previous models) there is no need to go pass 2400/3200 dpi, exceeding with the scan resolution will only bring more noise in our scans, because in most cases the effective optical resolution of those scanners is near to 2400 dpi. (With the Minolta, for example, the effective resolution is 5400 dpi, but since we are talking of flatbeds 2400/3200 dpi are more than enough.)
  7. Auto save: None (if you are scanning color negatives) Scan (if you are scanning b&w). That because with color negatives we are going to use Digital ICE to eliminate scratches and dust, saving us some work later in Photoshop. (If we have selected “Scan” on the “Auto save” setting, using Digital ICE, the scan will be saved before it could be updated with the data from the second infrared scan.)

We are done with the Input tab and we can proceed!

In the Filter tab it’s possible to set the Digital ICE (if the scanner you are using has it).
Turn it on ONLY if you are scanning color negatives (on black and white film it won’t work).
I suggest choosing Light form the menu.

Tab Filter su VueScan

In the Color tab we’ll have 3 settings to change:

  1. Color balance: None
  2. Curve low: 0.001
  3. Curve high: 0.001

The last tab that we are going to edit is Output:

  1. Default folder: Your choice.
  2. Printed size: Scan size
  3. JPEG file: Uncheck, we are going to use RAW.
  4. RAW file: Check.
  5. Raw file type: 48 Bit RGB (for color), 16 Bit Grey (for b&w).
  6. Raw output with: Save

We should be ready to proceed!

It’s possible to save this option in File > Save options…
I suggest to create two different profiles: one for b&w and one for color, changing the Digital ICE setting (color: ON – Light; b&w: OFF).


Let’s Scan

Now that we have our settings saved we can start with a Preview.
Once that is finished you should have something like this:

You need (for this method to work properly) to include some film base in the preview, that because we are going to lock the exposure using it before scanning the frame.


Select a section of the film base and check “Lock exposure” in the “Input” tab, then we can do a second preview.

Once that’s finished we’ll have to check “Lock film base color” to eliminate the orange from the film base. Now you can select the frame you want to scan, trying to stay close to the border of the image, than lunch the scan.

(You don’t need to try too hard to get the frame perfect, because we are going to fine tune it later in Photoshop.)

When the scanner has finished the scan is REALLY IMPORTANT to press on “Save“.
Because we previously disabled the Auto save, our scan won’t be saved automatically.

At this point the scanning process is complete (you can repeat this process for all the other frames that you want to scan, but for this guide I’m only going to scan this one).


MakeTiff

Now that we have the linear scan of our negative we can invert this one, because for now is a negative image.

I’m going to use MakeTiff (colorperfect.com/MakeTiff/) to give a color profile to the .tiff file of my negative.
Copy the various settings from the photo below.

IMPORTANT: If the scan is of a color negative, I’m going to set the profile to sRGB; while if it is of a b&w negative, I’m going to use Gray G2.2.

Once you have chosen a profile, you can drag and drop the scan file in and the program will strip any already present profile and apply the one you’ve selected.


Photoshop

Done that we can open Photoshop and import our .tiff file.
If you have not cropped you image enough during the scanning process this is the right time to correct it; I suggest to set the crop tool to a given aspect ratio, relative to the film format of your scan (for 35mm 3:2, for il 6×7 4:5 ecc.).

To get the best results out of ColorPerfect is important to include less film border as possible; My personal choice is to include a small portion of it, to show that the picture is a “full frame”, but is better to cut it all out of our scan before proceed.

Ritaglio immagine su Photoshop

Whit the image cropped (and rotated if necessary) we can proceed with ColorPerfect.


Color Perfect

Once Installed and activated, the plugin you’ll have something like this in front of you:

Schermata ColorPerfect al primo avvio

The first things to do are choosing “ColorNeg” and “L” near to it (for linear scan”), under it choose gamma only 2.2.
Done that we can set a “fresh start”, so we’ll start with our “clean” image, to do that press on the button that (as default) says “As Optioned > Optimized” until you’ll read “Basic > Fresh Start”.

Done that, we can try to recover the highlights by dragging the slider “A” until you’ll get a value close to zero in the box “B”.

If the image is getting too dark (because the dynamic range is to high) you can apply a compression to the highlights in the menu “C”, to retain as much information as possible, without losing them in the shadows.

Recupero delle luci su ColorPerfect
In this case I’ve applied a 0.50 compression to retain the image at a correct exposure and recover the highlights in the top of the helmet.

Than we go over recovering the shadows and the informations contained in them, activating PB Tails (clicking in the text box on its side), this will allow us to use the same slider “A” used before but this time we are going to change the value of PB Tails. Try to get a value close to zero in the box “B”.

If you have left some film border in the image (like me) this will make it impossible to reach the zero in the box, because the film base does not contain information.

Now that we have corrected the clipping in our image (both highlights and shadows), we can apply a film preset based on the stock that we used.

The menu “D” you’ll find the manufacturers and in the “E” the stocks.

NOTE: This is maybe the biggest plus of ColorPerfect bur sometimes the conversion can be not 100% accurate, maybe due to too much film border included in the scan or other factors; just change the crop and try again to see if you get better results.

Can also happen that the film stock used isn’t present as a preset (rarely) like with the Lomography ones, in this case you’ll need to create a preset yourself following the official guide present on the ColorPerfect website.

The inversion of the image is done!

You can give the OK to ColorPerfect so it will save the positive image and take us back to Photoshop, where you can do some minor adjustment (if necessary) and apply a sharpness filter to the image.


Final Thoughts

This is the result, colors are accurate and the film stock characteristics (in this case Lomography 400) are present (this film stock has more saturation than a Portra 400 or a Pro 400H and you can see it in the photo).

I’m aware that this method isn’t fast and easy but if you shoot on film immediacy isn’t a priority. I think the results repay you for all the difficulty that you faced to get them.

I’ll probably make an in-depth video on my Youtube channel on this topic, but for now that’s it.

P.S. If you decided to try this method and found some issue/difficulty feel free to let me know down here!


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