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Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Dear folks,

Okay, you win!

I had no idea there would be so much interest in re-photography as a substitute for scanning (truth is I had no idea there would be so much interest in this column, period).

You have all given me much more hope for the future. Rather than film “scanning” becoming impossible, it may merely be a somewhat arcane and skillful craft... like so much of photography. No longer “you push the button, the scanner does the rest” but reasonable for a dedicated-but-still-sane printer to do.**

It is doable. Doing it well is not easy. But given the high level of interest, rather than continuing to tell you how difficult it is, I should tell you everything I know about how to do it right. So, shortly after the new year, I will write a column about this.

Please understand that re-photography is not something you can just toss together and expect to have produce really high quality results. You might get lucky; you probably won't.

The best way to think of it: suppose you decided to build your own enlarger for doing your darkroom printing. People have done that, but think of all the ways that could go wrong from stability, to alignment, to uniformity and collimation of the light source, to the choice of appropriate lens, all the stuff you'd be worrying about normally in darkroom printing.

Think of film re-photography like doing enlarging, except you're working in the macro range, where everything gets fussier and more particular.

In other words, doing this is going to require a certain amount of knowledge, skill, experimentation, and calibration.

Anyway, come the new year (more or less) I'll give you my best thoughts on how to tackle the project.

**(the guys at “Agnostic Print” seem to be doing this successfully, but when you read the article linked above, you'll realize these are folks who have a major level of expertise (way beyond mine) and are willing to throw very large amounts of energy and money at their operations. I'll see if I can get it down to the level that mere mortals could tackle.)

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Mike, regarding scanning a B&W 8x10, Ralph Gibson said the following in a 2001 interview:

"I am one of those people who happens to believe that you get better results scanning from flat art, rather than negatives. You know the world is divided. There are those who think you can scan from black and white negatives and get good results. I don’t happen to share that view. I have owned a Nikon CoolScan and I still have one, but the truth is, I don’t get the results that I want. And I have spoken to other photographers who corroborate my views. I think that scanning film works better for news agencies."

Here's a link to source: http://bermangraphics.com/press/ralphgibson.htm

I have huge respect for Gibson and must give this approach a try.

Just out of curiosity , I'd like to hear a consensous answer to " how good is good enough " for film scans .

Since the largest I ever printed in a darkroom on a regular basis was 50 inches square from 6x6 film , I'd accept a 15,000x15,000 file as good enough . My b&w negs are insanely contrasty, ( I got a deal on 50" rolls of PRW ) so I need a lot of bit depth.

How big is "good enough" for the rest of you?

Maybe it's time for a poll?

Yes, but you missed another option – "photo-reproduction".

About a year ago I got so frustrated with the speed of my scanner (Minolta DIMAGE 5400) that I spent 400$ on a bellows reproduction set (belows + film/slide holder) and a lens, and now I can spend seconds to photograph my negs.

I think that this is the most trivial and economical solution for many years to come.

The only drawback I see with this approach is the complexity of making very large resolution "reproduction" – you'll need to photograph parts of the neg and then stitch the image back together semi-manually.

When talking about DSLRs for scanning, I was inferring a proper mechanical setup (one that I like is a Nikon bellows with slide copier), a high quality duplication lens optimized for the right magnification, flash as light source (eliminates vibration and good spectral qualities) and a careful setup while understanding the software process. For slides, the colors are straightforward, but the density needs to be watched out for. For negatives, the mask and negative low-contrast image are the challenges. I would say that with a good DSLR and proper raw conversion profile, the vast majority of slides do not present contrast problems. In fact, I once compared a scan done in such way with a Nikon DSLR to the entry level Minolta film scanner at 3200 dpi, the resolution being similar, but the Nikon having better shadows.

Now for larger formats than 35 mm or very high resolution, things get trickier. The only reasonable way is to stitch together multiple frames (or use a high resolution back), which requires a bit more mechanical and software prowess to get right without running into silly problems such as alignment or distortion.

Even though I use these methods myself, I'm slightly hesitant to recommend them to everyone simply because one cannot just buy a complete solution as one can with a scanner. I admit it, I'm an engineer, I have an MSc and the aspect of tweaking and controlling this precisely intrigues me. Ctein raises very valid points about the challenges in this approach, but I will point out that scanners have very annoying issues too, such as general software speed, stability and usability, compatibility quirks, slowness and the film not always being flat. My view is that DSLR scanning and dedicated scanners are now in some aspects directly competing, but neither is currently superior in all areas.

So what happens if you use a digital camera to dup a slide or negative? Will the result be a "film look" or a "digital look"?

The simple fact that used Nikon scanners are now selling for more than they cost new - and they were then the most expensive around! - is more than enough proof that all the arguments of "film is dead" are just utter marketing nonsense by digital camera peddlers.

If anyone with half a brain actually picked up the build license for the Coolscans and did a re-badged version, they'd see immediate returns.
Of course, it's not that simple. Vuescan is not better than the latest Nikonscan for the Nikon range. In particular, it can't do a quick auto preview of all images in a strip. Which makes Nikonscan the only viable alternative. And it hasn't been updated in eons.

Primefilm has done something similar with the old Kodak 7200dpi scanners, which were quite good. Their 7250 "Pro" model is quite good, with D-Ice, and still made although the drivers suck. Vuescan fortunately works really well with that one. And they also do a MF scanner which is almost as good as a Coolscan 9000.

And if the Kaisers of this world finally saw the light and put out a 12Mpixel - or higher - full sensor digital scannner with reasonable focusing and flatness control, D-Ice and raw output, things would indeed be on the mend.
Unfortunately, some utter idiot has convinced them that 9Mpixel is the max anyone might need for film conversion. Which is completely false, and I got plenty of proof of that.

And no: flatbeds simply do NOT match a good dedicated scanner, no matter what. Never did, never will. At least not at a price point that is accessible to the common mortal!

Perhaps the most important thing about Ctein's OP is the length of this thread of comments, which means there's an anxious and untapped market for a good scanner that costs less than an Imacon.

Like Ctein, I like inkjet prints from scans of negatives even better than my darkroom prints – though I admit we're in the minority.

I have a temporary solution, which is to make workprints with the cheapest of flatbeds, Canon 9000-something; I then prevail upon a friend who has an old Imacon, and old Mac with SCSSI port, to make exhibition prints. But what I really need is a Nikon 9000. Please, Nikon, get the tooling out of the warehouse?

I had high hopes for the PrimeFilm 120, but was disappointed by the erratic quality control reported by early purchasers from B&H. Nobody, as far as I can find, has reviewed this scanner, perhaps waiting for Silverfast to come up with quality software.

Together, though, I think we've shown how many TOP readers are concerned about scanner availability, and I wish some reliable manufacturer would take note.

As I think I've posted previously, I have always had a belief - perhaps delusion - that one day, when I have more time, I will go back to film for the majority of my photography, as I find the cameras and the results (in B&W) more appealing to my taste. The little bit of film shooting I did this year, on a weekend when the family were away and I could get some space and peace to develop, confirmed this for me.

But the gradual disappearance of film, chemicals and now, crucially, the technology I need to finish the work, suggests to me that this looks increasingly unlikely. My ageing Acer ScanWit and Epson 2450 are still more than adequate for my needs (I don't have Ctein's quality demands), but I seriously doubt that both will be in working order by the time this project becomes tenable. (And it's not as if I've made much progress with the existing backlog of negatives.)

This has a knock-on impact on current purchasing decisions, as I'm contemplating renewing my digital kit and wondering whether to stick with Nikon, and thus hold on to a brace of cameras with lenses that work across DX and 35mm, or bite the bullet and go mirrorless - in which case I might as well cull the film gear to make room (both physical and mental).

Perhaps if I were being realistic, I'd see that the latter, combined with suitable post-processing software, offers a more suitable destination than a retro future that looks increasingly impractical to attain.

Another vote for vuescan here. Ed Hamrick keeps it up-to-date in the sense of running on new machines and operating systems. I use it with my Minolta 5400 scanner and am also trembling for the day when the scanner breaks.

This thread might be of interest:

(it was to me)


have you tried contacting Bellamy at japancamerahunter.com or Dirk at japan exposures.com? If someone in Japan is still working on these scanners, they should be able to connect you with that service.

Dear toto,

If they're faithful to the original they'll look like "film."

pax / Ctein

I own both a V750 pro and a Nikon V ED, so I can compare resolution on site. For my 9x6's and 9x8's I use the V750 and it's a nice machine up to an optical resolution of about 2600 dpi, which will get ME where I want to be. The filmholder sucks a bit.....but that can be corrected via Betterscanning aftermarket products or using the Kami fluid wet mount, which increases the resolution a bit. For my 35mm I use the Nikon....and Nikon still services these scanners. If you are desperate for a new scanner Ctein I suggest you take a deap breath, look very freindly to your local bank manager, and checkout this site:


And do it fast since prices are rising. I wonder at what price Nikon will step in, since at a cool 10 grand in dollars.....I guess they should be able to make a profit even building small series.

Greetings, Ed (and all the luck with the firewire/scsi adapter, smart action Ctein)

P.S. All the best seasons whiches to Ctein/Mike and all the readers and writers of The Online Photographer. Keep up the good work.

I'm another gone-back-to-film who is worried about my Minolta Scan Dual III packing it in one of these days. Before reading this thread, I had imagined that I'd be the only one doing things like holding off on an OS upgrade due to Silverfast compatibility. Should have known that I'd find like minds on this site.

I'm still a hobbyist(amateur) on 135 and 120 film and bought the canoscan 9000F for making low res digital contact jpg's to pick out the best shots from a B&W 135 neg roll. Same for 120 B&W negs. I'll print them later wet in the DR. C41 rolls 135 are still processed by my lab and they give me 36 fine 15x10cm prints without any PC work involved for 4,5€. I scanned my 135 slides on low res for PC viewing but gave up this awful time consuming process last week in favor of going out and enjoy life and (!) erased all the earlier crapy low res slidescans from my HD not needing a new HD soon by doing so. When I want a good print I'll send it to a lab, when I shoot slides I'll pop them into my projector and archive them afterwards. I decided: analog stays analog like in the old days, digital jpg's end up on the HD and will be printed on chrystal archive paper for having a look at them without any electricity and PC switched on...

Epson Perfection V750-M (or its successors) for 90% slides + drum scanning for 10% where the best quality is required?

From my experience with microscopy, wet mounting makes a big difference in image clarity - so appearance of wet mounting for flatbeds looks very promising.

It's worth a look into the Flextight scanners. I bought a used one a few years ago. It was about $8000. As a professional, you probably want the best and something that is both easy to use, likely to have software updates and tech support. I never used the Minolta and it may be a dream, but I suspect it doesn't compare well with a Flextight. You of all people, who sells prints for a goodly sum, is an expert in one of the most time consuming and costly photographic printing methods, should realize the value of tools that get the job done well. I'm afraid your article just comes across as a complaint about the cost of and lack of scanners to choose from. That's how it is. I think that with your reputation, Hasselblad would lend you a Flextight to review and publish your results. I hope that you'll pursue that option. Your photographs deserve it. Best, Barry

One more vote, Ctein, to hear your take on how to set up a camera to photograph slides & negatives.

Too late to make any constructive contribution to this excellent and extremely informative comments thread, but I thought I'd step-in and add my name to those of us hoping for a better choice of film scanners in the future.

Through dogged persistence (downloading the entire list of US Nikon dealers, and contacting them in alphabetical order) I managed to buy a new Coolscan9000 last year, just before they were discontinued and prices skyrocketed. Even before that, many (supposedly) reputable dealers were selling their consignment of the scanner at a large premium on ebay, instead of in their own stores.

As said, since then the price has spiraled. This certainly suggests an underlying demand. It's obviously too much to hope that film manufacturers could somehow cooperate to purchase the technology from Nikon and rebadge their excellent scanners. As Nikon wants consumers to stay on the digital treadmill (a guaranteed future cashflow) they probably won't ever revive this long-lived equipment at any price.

Here is experiment. After my Nikon 9000 broke second time in less than 3 years after scanning few hundred images during these years I don't want to repair it. I took the only functioning part of it - glass carrier, inserted 35mm negative and placed it on the light table. I mounted 5DII on tripod with macro lens giving me 1:1 magnification and took a picture of the negative. It is not 9000ED, but close. I can see the grain. With 6x7 negs I was taking 6 shots per image and stitching it. Looks good.

"The copy-stand approach is extremely difficult to do well."

You might want to try it before you knock it. Photographing film negatives with a DSLR is no more difficult than any other kind of careful macro photography, and depending on your originals, the results often are better than any type of scan, because of the inherent differences in the image chain.

My "problem children" were always 35mm negatives made on high-speed silver-based black-and-white films; I could never get really satisfactory scans of them despite trying a variety of film and flatbed scanners from several manufacturers (Canon, Minolta, Kodak, and Epson among them.)

DSLR "duping" with a diffused light source produces a much better result with these types of originals: dust and emulsion damage, which are exaggerated by a scanner's highly collimated light source, are better controlled, and "grain aliasing" is far less of an issue. If I'm losing any detail, it's only in the sharpness of grain edges, and that's detail I don't care about.

And of course switching to a DSLR-based imaging model lets you jump off the sinking ship that is film-scanner technology, and instead transfer to an option where quality and choice are increasing rather than decreasing.

If you're going to do a lot of duping, you might even want to pick up a used 35mm slide copy setup such as an Illumitran or Chromapro; these once-very-expensive units are now being retired at throwaway prices (at least those that aren't literally being thrown away!)

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