Scanning films

  • Over the months, I've posted many old film (transparency and print) originals, and often commentators have expressed surprise at the quality of these old images. Similarly I've seen others' scanned posts that really haven't done justice to what I imagine was the quality of the originals. So it seemed opportune to offer my thoughts/tips, as an ex-photography lecturer, on getting the best out of your old (and not so old) film photographs. Here we go:

    a) good film originals (whether trannies or prints) were actually very good quality: I'm sure you remember the debate about film vs. digital, when for a long time it was acknowledged that film produced better ultimate quality than the then-available digital alternatives. Some pros still prefer film...
    b) a high-end dedicated film scanner is needed. I have scanned literally hundreds of film originals on a flatbed, and then compared them to a couple of examples done on my college's film scanner: you didn't need a magnifying glass to see the difference. So I bit the bullet and scanned them all again, using a much better piece of kit.
    c) I use a very high ppi: typically 4000, and at 16 bit depth, and with a detailed scanning algorithm that took a lot of pain to work out, including grain reduction, and so on. The files ended up 107 mg each, and so they remain, giving me 16 bit, 300dpi files of about 45 cm on the long dimension. I save them as TIFF files (i.e. no compression).
    d) I try to do the minimum of editing to scanned files; but I always put them through what it pleases me to call my "workflow", involving Nik Dfine 2, further to suppress grain in plain areas of tone, like skies, and Nik Pro 3 RAW Presharpener, just subtly to tighten up edges. (I'd recommend the Nik range of plug-in filters, as I find them more discriminating than Photoshop's own Noise and Sharpen alternatives).

    Sorry if this sounds like my being a lecturer again. I'm still convinced that film works, and scanned film can stand up to the best digital, if it's done right. I'd welcome anyone else's thoughts or comments on this matter.