old B&W negatives 'silvering out' and can't scan well

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by aaron_muderick, Aug 6, 2007.

  1. I have a box full of old medium format B&W negatives from the 1950's. They all
    appear to be 'Kodak Safety Film' marked. Many of them appear to have a
    metallic silver sheen on the emulsion side.

    When I try to scan them on my Epson 4990 I have difficulties. If the emulsion
    side is face up the image is completely washed out (I imagine because most of
    the light from the hood is being reflected away). If I try to scan them face
    down I get better results but still the image looks worse than if I just held
    the negative up to the light and looked through it with my naked eye.

    Can anyone recommend a good way of solving this problem? Can the negatives be
    treated chemically (refixed? washed? etc)?

    I'm curious to know the chemistry that causes this problem in the first place.
    Were they not properly fixed when they were developed?

    Thank you!
  2. Have you shut off digital ICE noise reduction? It's not compatible with silver films.
  3. Yes, digital ICE is switched off. I've seen that kind of artifact and this is very different. Thanks
  4. Do you have a darkroom or access to one? Try making a print a wet print, then scanning that if you can. Scanning a B&W print has more often than not worked a lot better for me with traditional B&W (not C-41 process) films. Take a look at the few pics I have in the gallery. They are nothing special, but all are scans from prints made on a very old Epson 1200 scanner.
  5. In response to your last line, films at this time had a higher silver content/thicker emulsion than modern films and papers. In fact, I have yet to see film from this time that did NOT seem to have that metallic shine. I have printed such negs on a Fuji Frontier system (SP/LP2500 to be exact) with no problem. Best quality would be optical printing, though.
  6. I'm afraid this has nothing to do with the "silver content" of the film, even though dumping on Kodak about the silver content of their films is such a popular sport on the Internet. All B&W negatives have an image formed of pure metallic silver.

    This is silver sulfide staining. A result of poor fixing and/or poor washing. Or even just a lot of exposure to hydrogen sulfide. (Tarnish.)

    Kodak Publication F-30, "Preservation of Photographs" says that these stains can sometimes be cleared by careful use of a ammonium thiosulfate fixing bath with the acidity increased by means of citric acid. They say mix Kodak Rapid Fixer per the instructions for films, then dissolve 30 grams of Kodak Citric Acid (Anhydrous) in a liter of the fixer. Treat one at a time in tray, agitate, remove when stain is removed, wash 30 minutes. Note that the fixer can/will also reduce the desired image, so be careful! This is a rather aggressive approach.

    You may also try scanning in color, and then convert to monochrome using the cleanest of the three color channels. The stain probably affects one much less than the rest.

    Also note that each orientation of the film results in it being a different distance from the scanner bed.
  7. I'm with John on this one. I have a lot of old negs, commercially processed in the thirties and probably not fixed or washed properly. That said, we used to live in an old industrial town where the atmosphere was thick with coal smoke, which didn't help. Many of them exhibit this silvering, though they can be printed conventionally with a little effort.
  8. Some prints also get that silvering efect, and it's usually near the edges of the print, less so away from the edges. I've read that actually a little residual fixer in the print retards the sivering. The edges tend to be more completely washed, hence the sivering. Scanners seem to go bonkers when dealing with silver grains instead of a dye image in a negative. I agree that making up some good traditional "wet darkroom" prints would be the way to go, then scan those.
  9. Wait a minute. I've been planning on building my own "guerrilla darkroom" (to quote Dante Stella) to start processing my own black and white film. But I don't have a space to setup a print darkroom, so I was hoping to use a scanner to scan in my negs and make inkjet prints from those. Do scanners really have a problem with B&W films?
  10. They don't work nearly as well as they do with C-41 (color negative) or E-6 (diapositive) films. Both these color film technologies form the image with dyes. There is no silver left after the bleach and fix steps. Film scanners work by transmitting light through the negative onto a sensor. Silver particles in conventional B&W films scatter the light around leading to sub-optimal results. Results will be better with good negatives, but nowhere near the quality you can get from a piece of color film. You can't use digital ICE with conventional B&W negatives either, for the same reason. Sorry, but that's the way it is.
  11. Honestly, I've had no trouble scanning my own B&W negatives. When you say 'sub-optimal results' do you mean that you can measure a difference or is there a difference that actually matters? Like all things, the size of your final enlargement will decide how much resolution your scan needs.
  12. Some people seem content with ink jet prints from scanned negatives. The only way to judge your happiness would be to compare a conventional wet darkroom print to a scanned and ink jet printed one from the same negative. They will look different. Is one better than the other? You decide.

    Another consideration is that both digital original capture and digital printing give a linear rendering of the tones, while neither film nor photographic paper do. Do a Google search for "H&D curve". Here's one site that explains what happens: http://photography.about.com/library/glossary/bldef_characteristic.htm

    The mid tones are close to linear but the darkest and lightest areas are somewhat flattened out with conventional films and papers. This tends to hold detail at both ends that get lost with digital, although you can play around with "curves" in Photoshop and try to recapture it.
  13. Dammit Al, I'm trying to do this on the cheap and you're foiling me at every turn! You've already convinced me to get a user M2 and 90mm Elmarit (currently saving up for that one), and now I'm getting visions of putting up walls in the basement to squeeze a darkroom in there!
  14. I send out my B&W scans for printing on B&W photo paper and more rarely on inkjet. They both have their own 'look'. Neither is the same as the contact prints I get from shooting Polaroid. I'm sure the B&W prints aren't nearly as good as what I could get if I was doing the printing myself. But, I don't have space for a darkroom. I would argue that none of the three print types are 'better' than the other. It all depends on the image and your artistic vision.

    When shooting film you pick your response curve by picking different films (Tri-X, Tmax, Pan-F, Delta, etc). When shooting digital you need to post process the images. By picking your response curve in post processing you get some additional flexibility. 12-bit digital cameras do have less dynamic range than most B&W films with toe and shoulders, but 14-bit sensors and A/D converters are coming now so the writing is on the wall. You can also bracket exposures and combine into an HDR image that can easily exceed any film for dynamic range. Really it is just 'different'...a different workflow with different possibilities.

    They all have different characteristics which are more or less pleasing for certain kinds of images. That's why I enjoy shooting different films, different formats, analog and digital.
  15. John Wilson, did you ever get your darkroom put in??
  16. Find someone who uses a drum scanner. Usually it will be a commercial scanning company, but not all scanning companies use drum scanners, so ask them first.

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