Recorded on December 5th, 2016
All the trouble required to scan 35mm at home can be well worth it. The image below is a “high res” photo, scanned from a well-known film lab on a pretty high-end scanner. It’s one of the first pro scans from a roll of Tri-X 400 I shot on my dad’s Nikomat FTn with a 50mm f/1.4 lens. I was way underwhelmed when I saw it. It in no way resembled 35mm film. Blown-out highlights, smoothed-over textures, and murky, dingy shadows. I knew film should look better than this:
Shortly after, I got the Plustek scanner. What a difference. I scan in a way that preserves much more of the highlight and shadow detail, and the glorious film grain is still there. I have to tweak levels and contrast in Lightroom, but there’s a point to it because the details are still there, waiting to be drawn out. It costs much more in my time than paying the lab less than 50 cents per scan, but it’s so worth it:
I don’t think that my Plustek is better than the Noritsu or whatever it is at the lab, but I do think that the particular process and/or technician they used on that roll didn’t let the pro scanner rise to anywhere near its full potential.
Recorded on December 4th, 2016
I learned today about the magic of using coffee and vitamin C (and a few other ingredients) to develop black and white film. This is actually a thing and can give surprisingly good results. I haven’t tried it, and am probably still going to go with traditional chemicals once I finally get the gumption to process film at home. But this is good to know.
Recorded on December 1st, 2016
Here’s a roll I shot a few weeks ago and just got the low-res scans of from The Darkroom. The colors were a little faded, which I guess is because the film is 10–15 years old. About all I did to fix it was to press the Enhance (“Can you get in a little closer? Enhance!”) button in Apple’s Photos app to nudge up the contrast and saturation. Besides that, it held up pretty well. These are from Richmond, Va., Wilmington, Del., and I-95 between there and here.
Recorded on November 23rd, 2016
Thanks to this wonderfully detailed Photo.net article about scanning black and white film, which I think I’ve linked to before, I learned that one of the color channels in a scanner — red, green, or blue — is most likely sharper than the other two. After some experimentation and pixel-peeping, I found that the green one on my scanner is definitely sharpest. Thankfully, in VueScan, I can make a black and white scan from any single channel, or I can roll the dice and let the scanner figure it out and I suppose use all three combined.
Here’s what I saw during the experiment. These are all unretouched 100% crops, straight out of the scanner at 3600 dpi, and the exposure and contrast aren’t corrected. You can see more grain and details on the green one. That’s what I’ll use for all my black and white scans from here on.
Recorded on November 21st, 2016
I just got my prints back tonight. Thank you so much for the outstanding job on the processing, the scans, and the silver halide true b/w prints. Mine was the order with the completely broken-in-half Tri-X 400 that had some serious light leaks due to my accidental exposure of the film. You salvaged many more of the frames than I thought could be saved. Even the ones where I didn’t nail the exposure came out nicely. And the postage paid envelope is a very nice touch. I will put it to good use tomorrow when I send you two more finished rolls to process. Thanks again!
Recorded on November 20th, 2016
If you spend any time at all scanning your own negatives, you owe it to yourself to get an Ilford antistatic cloth. Amazon has them for $16 now, which may seem like a lot, but I’ve paid almost that much just for high resolution scans alone. In forum after forum, the Ilford cloths came up as the only one to get.
Before I had this cloth, I would scan negatives and be a little bummed at all the speckly dust I had to remove in Pixelmator or Lightroom after scanning — especially for black and white photos. A wipe with this cloth before laying the negative in the tray removes almost all the loose dust. I give them one last blast of air from a bulb before inserting the film tray in the scanner. I can spend more time scanning and gazing at photos and less time using the Heal tool.
While you’re at it, order some cotton gloves. You don’t want your greasy paws leaving fingerprints on your negatives.
Recorded on November 7th, 2016
Luckily, when SilverFast started crashing tonight, I found this excellent tutorial from Tim Gray on Photo.net about how to use VueScan for black and white scans. There are some great tips here about how to avoid clipping highlights, picking the right Buffer setting in the Crop tab, and saving enough detail without creating unnecessarily large files. I especially like the idea of finding which channel is the sharpest in your scanner, and he has a cool base Tri-X curve that I have just now used in Lightroom with good results.
I still need a better process for dealing with dust. The dust is enough to make me want to outsource all the scanning. There must be a better way to deal with it with black and white.
Recorded on November 6th, 2016
I learned tonight that infrared doesn’t pass (or doesn’t pass easily) through the silver halide in Kodachrome slide film. This hampers the effectiveness of IR-based dust & scratch removal like SilverFast uses. It starts seeing dark parts of the image as deep scratches that need to be removed. It’s still somewhat effective, and as long as you don’t crank it up too much you won’t get terrible false-alarm artifacts.
Thankfully, SilverFast has a parallel purely software-based dust & scratch filter that does a pretty good job in tandem with the IR-based filter. I’m still experimenting, but I think I’ve found a good middle ground:
Recorded on November 4th, 2016
I can’t believe how good the Plustek scanner is. It can give more resolution and better shadow and highlight detail (because I have more time to spend) than the Fuji Frontier scanner at a film lab I just sent a roll to. The only thing they can do better and faster is scratch and dust removal.
Below are two samples from a shot of Kodak Gold 400 from London in 1997. I tried to keep the captures as plain-vanilla as I could with no adjustments or scanner-software auto-correction. The first image is from an old Epson V500 flatbed document scanner. It does a lot better than I thought it would in comparison.
The second image is from the new Plustek 8200i. Stunning. In the Epson, it feels like you’re looking at a picture of a negative. With the Plustek, it feels like you’re just looking at life.
Highly recommended. I know what I’m doing this weekend!
Recorded on November 1st, 2016
If you’re in the market for a dedicated film scanner and don’t want to gamble on an old Nikon Coolscan on eBay, the Plustek OpticFilm 8200i looks like a good choice. I’ve been reading about the Plustek obsessively and this article, A case for home scanning & the Plustek OpticFilm 8200i by KJ Vogelius, is what ultimately convinced me. The key about the 8200i SE vs. the more expensive 8200i Ai is that the Ai is bundled with the more extensive version of SilverFast than the SE. The hardware is identical in either case. I figure I’ll give the included SE software a throw, knowing that VueScan is always an option if SilverFast is too onerous.
All the sample images I’ve seen from the 8200i series look incredible, revealing film grain that only Nikon and Frontier scanners can show. I expect to have to do some tweaking with each scan, but Vogelius’s comment in the thread below the article makes me feel better about that:
As an aside I’m not convinced that it’s possible or even a good idea to always get “finished” looking images straight from the scanner. It’s probably better to scan pretty flat and neutral and do colour and tonality adjustments in a dedicated tool.
His extremely detailed rolling review of the 8200i on his site is also just astoundingly well done.
Recorded on October 24th, 2016
Filmsnotdead.com is a site I return to again and again. Stephen Dowling (as far as I can tell) writes all of the posts in the “52 Photo Tips” series, and you can learn something from all of them. Always Carry Black and White makes me want to dedicate a rangefinder or a point-and-shoot to b/w everywhere I go. Pushing Film is a great option to have and I aim to try it this weekend. And Always Carry a Notebook allows one to manually record their own analog EXIF data, which you’ll be glad you have later.
Recorded on October 22nd, 2016
Random thoughts I had to get out:
I love film because it’s 100% physical and real. Light hits the film, that same film is developed, and then light passes back through it to light-sensitive paper and the image is summoned from the chemicals in it. I don’t need to waste time digitally emulating film’s grain or contrast curve. It’s not like all these things which are fake and mask what’s underneath:
- Silver-painted plastic
- Distressed furniture
- Distressed new 70s t-shirts at Target
- Tube/compressor emulation plug-ins in whatever digital audio workstation software you prefer
All I see now when I look at purely digital photos is blown highlights. Details are preserved with film non-linearly, and that inaccuracy matches what our eyes see and our brains remember.
For the longest time, I wanted to shoot 16mm b&w film. I even got a Bolex camera and shot and got processed a grand total of ONE reel before I realized how expensive the ritual was. I have an unnatural fixation on film grain and I miss it more than ever now that you never see actual film projected in movie theaters anymore. We are astronomically culturally poorer for this. Shooting still images on real film is a way to get that same fix (pardon the pun!) more often without going into massive debt.
Film photography is important because it’s something we can still do now that is the same as how it was before everything went digital, at least as far as the image capturing process goes.
Recorded on October 19th, 2016
I could read threads like this one all day:
After digging out some 20- to 25-year-old black-and-white and color prints the other night, I can’t believe how bright and sharp and rich they still look. It really brings home what they always say about digital photos being so fragile and ephemeral in comparison to analog. I still have tons of the negatives that go with those photos, and the archivist in me wants to methodically (but hurriedly) organize them in vinyl sleeves. I suspect it has something to do with the fear of death and losing the memories those photos bring back. Who would I be saving these photos for if not for me?
I have no great answers for that, but I still want to do it before any more entropy takes over.
I also want to save them because they are the original high-definition imaging format. The resolution in 35mm film is still a force of nature, and even now only the most expensive digital scanners can come close to capturing the detail and range of what is stored in those negatives.
Recorded on October 15th, 2016
I had heard of the Zone System along with Ansel Adams’s name, but with digital cameras I never really cared before. Now, with a film camera, I see the logic, although I don’t quite have my head around it yet. I do very much get why you would want to pick the part of the frame you want to get the correct exposure for and then adjust up or down from the spot meter reading for that. The Zone System tutorial from IStillShootFilm.org looks like the easiest summary I’ve seen. Need to experiment this weekend!
Recorded on October 8th, 2016
I got the first roll of Tri-X 400 back from Photoworks SF. The Nikomat FT is still in fine shape. There’s a little haze, either in the lens or the UV filter, but I’m sure that can be remedied. The rich dark tones and forgiving highlights are so nice to look at. I can’t wait to load in the next roll!