Sunday, November 22, 2009

Scanning film on a Sunday night

I know that my future includes or should include endless hours of scanning film. In theory and often in practice the results of scanning film are far superior to scanning prints made from that film.
I have years and years of film and prints that I SHOULD catalog and organize and preserve.
Scanning prints is fast. I have three (hooked up) flatbed scanners and can load them up with prints and do four to six at a time. Prints, by which I mean typical colour 4 x 6 or smaller images do not have a lot of detail in them. Pretty much any scanner is reasonably capable of doing a good job and recovering all of the information in the print. I usually scan at 600 dots per inch which guarantees getting everything. There is not a lot to be gained by higher resolution, the detail is just not there.
Film is another story. A roll or two is about all I can stand doing in an evening. And, remember that I am no perfectionist who removes slides from the mounts and scans them in oil on a glass plate.

35mm slides shot with a decent camera can contain a lot of detail. I can scan at up to 5400 dots per inch to pick up all of the grain details.
Decent camera is a relative term. Tonight I scanned some shots done with a disposable (one time use) camera, some with a point and shoot (Olympus that conveniently printed the date on the negative) and some with a single lens reflect (Canon FTb). The disposable negatives are awful. The point and shoot shots were pretty good and the SLR shots were excellent (when I had the camera focused properly -- something that worked much better with younger eyes). I had forgotten how often we used disposable cameras, especially on trips where we didn't bring a camera. They are ok for making small prints but that is about it.
Dust is a big issue with scanning film. When I scan a print I am unlikely to blow it up very much. Dust is visible and fairly easy to remove. On film, tiny bits of dust show up as large defects when scans are enlarged.
There is some help from technology. Kodak has a product it sells to scanner manufacturers called Digital ICE (Digital Image Correction and Enhancement originally developed by Applied Science Fiction which was bought by Kodak). Digital ICE works in scanners that have both visible light and infrared sources.
I have a film scanner (the now discontinued Konica Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400II) that uses Digital ICE.
Digital ICE does not work perfectly with the slide film that I generally used, Kodachrome. Kodachrome was a special Kodak slide film that has a cyan layer that absorbs infrared light.
The point of Digital ICE is to get rid of scratches and dust. This is a big timesaver with both negative film (used for prints) and slide film.
Nikon has a scanner (Coolscan 9000 ED) that it claims can handle Kodachrome.This is very attractive to anyone who has piles of Kodachrome films lying around. Unfortunately it goes for $2729 in Canada. That is almost three times as expensive as the slide scanner I am using now so I may go on getting rid of dust manually.
I also use a third party product called Vuescan. This is software which can operate almost any scanner and which seems able to do a pretty good job with most kinds of film. Because a lot of scanner models have been discontinued and do not have up to date software, Vuescan can be very useful since it can run under current operating systems such as Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6. Vuescan can be set to work with Kodachrome; it seems satisfactory.

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