Scanning Color Negatives With a Camera

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by Ed_Ingold, Jun 23, 2018.

  1. I have finally had time to experiment with my long-awaited Nikon ES-2 Film Copier. It is similar to the ES-1, but uses carriers for slides (2) or film strips (6). While this solved the film handling issue, there remained the conversion process from negative to positive. There are a number of ad hoc procedures, using Photoshop or similar tools. However I found "SilverFast HDR" gives excellent conversions with little or no tweaking, and can automate the procedure to handle a whole roll of images or more. After some experimentation, my process is summarized as follows:
    • Use a daylight LED bulb, bounced off of a small white card into the ES-2 diffuser
    • Set the manual lens to 1.1:1 magnification and focus the ES-2 by sliding and rotating it on its sleeve
    • Fine tune the focus, using the lens. At f/5.6, the DOF is only a few thousandths of an inch. The lens helix offers precision focusing. The image was magnified in the camera 12x, for grain-sharp focusing.
    • Set the ISO to 100, aperture to f/5.6 in aperture priority. The shutter was typically about 1/6 second.
    • Load the film strip holder, back of the film toward the camera. Remove visible dust
    • That done, "scanning" goes very quickly. It is not necessary to focus each time, so it takes only about 2 minutes to do a 36 exposure roll.
    • Convert the RAW Sony files to DNG, using Adobe DNG Converter and the custom setting, "Linear (i.e., de-mosaiced), non-compressed." , DNG v 1.4.
    • Drag the DNG folder into Silverfast HDR, which creates a "job" containing all the images.
    • Set the first image to "Negative," 48-bit (16/channel), and the size to the raw image (7952 x 5304)
    • Copy these settings to all frames
    • Start the "job". Save to a separate directory for convenience.
    The longest part is straightening and cropping the images in Photoshop. You have to do that after scanning too. I applied Photoshop "Auto Tone" and "Auto Color", as the extent of my basic corrections.

    In this example, the same scene was shot using a Leica M9, and a Leica M3 using Kodak Ektar 100. All were taken with the same Summicron 90/2 lens. The first panel is digital (M9), the second panel was scanned with a Nikon LS-8000, and the final panel was "scanned" using the ES-2 and a Sony A7Rii camera, using a Nikon 55/2.8 Micro-Nikkor.

    There are obvious differences in color, but all are close enough to benefit from fine tuning. Very small changes in red/blue balance have a major impact on the appearance of greens.

    In summary, the process is straightforward, gives mostly acceptable results with a wide latitude for further adjustments. Using Photoshop alone is very time consuming, and tends to leave inconsistent results. The M9 I'mage is very close to the visual lily pad color, which only hints of green. The original RAW file is unaffected, so you can always go back and make changes, or "rescan" the negative.

    Mary Doo and Glenn McCreery like this.
  2. Ed - thank you for sharing your workflow. The results look great. I also photograph my negatives, but use the tone curve for further processing of the RAW files. I had not thought of using Silverfast to do this - I'll give it a try. :)
  3. Silverfast HDR ($249) is simply the image processing half of scanning. Immediately after processing, greens in landscapes are exaggerated, almost fluorescent. Using Auto Tone and Color in Photoshop brings the result closer to reality. I don't see a way to do that with Nikonscan (nor any other manufacturers' software), but Vuescan is a possibility.

    In my example, both the LS-8000 scan and the A7Rii "scan" were done with Silverfast software. Why the difference? It's hard to say. However a scanner has RGB sensor arrays, while cameras use RGGB arrays.

    I didn't address sharpness. However there is little difference between the LS-8000 and the same film "scanned" with an A7Rii (42 MP). In the past, I've used a 24 MP camera with similar results. The M9 image is much sharper, with fewer artifacts, at the pixel level. In my example, film is the limiting factor for resolution.
  4. I accidentally omitted details about white balance. Set the white balance without film in the holder. This is done as color temperature (K), first using the auto-WB function, or manually to the recorded value. For the setup I used, with a "Daylight" LED bulb, the value was 4700 K. If you use a flash, the estimated value is probably 5600 to 6300 K, but the "Flash" WB will work as is.
  5. I have many rolls of medium format (6x6) film to be scanned too. I need a different setup for the camera, namely a Novoflex focusing rail with a film holder attachment. I used the A7Rii for this job, but with a Sony 90/2.8 Macro lens. There is ample extension in the focusing rail for longer lenses, or even a Hasselblad. Because the square negative must be cropped, a maximum of 28 MP is available for the scan, compared to 72 MP using a Nikon LS-8000. The resolution is commensurate with that of the film, but not enough to resolve dye clouds. It takes me about 30 minutes, end to end, to finish a 12 exposure roll.

    It is necessary to crop the image closely before conversion (inversion). Film borders have some effect on the color balance, but any space outside the film borders has a profound effect.

    There is a magenta cast, typical of Fuji Reala on a cloudy day. It's hard to fix without unwanted color in the sky.

    Hasselblad 500cm + C80 lens, Reala (c 2004)
    Mt. Evans, Colorado
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2018
  6. I, too, had experimented with the ES-1 - as I only need it for slide film. So far, I did it as simply as possible as a start, to see if the procedure is good enough:
    • Focused with the Nikon 40mm macro lens
    • Used the lowest ISO available on the camera
    • Pointed it to an led studio softbox, making sure highoights were not blown off
    • The result appeared to be good, but I haven't compared it to a normal scan.
    Ed_Ingold likes this.
  7. How does the color compare to the original slide? The resolution (use a 10x loupe)?

    With negative film, you don't have the luxury of that comparison. Scanning software was designed to make that conversion as easy as possible, hence the extra step.

    You don't need anything beyond Lightroom or Photoshop for processing. "White" LEDs can use RGB elements, but often use a UV source and a fluorescent envelope as the emitter. According to published literature, the spectrum is relatively smooth, unlike traditional fluorescent tubes, comparable to an incandescent lamp.

    In the absence of ICE, dust is a continual problem. A soft, anti-static brush is usually sufficient to clean film for scanning. It helps to have a bright, point-source lamp to illuminate the surface at an oblique angle. You can see particles as small 20 microns or less that way.
    Mary Doo likes this.
  8. If you can find any of what Kodak called PTRs (particle transfer rollers), these are probably the most effective tools you'll find for getting those small particles away from the film. PTRs have a sort of "tacky" surface that grabs the particles; the PTRs can be cleaned by a quick rinse under running water (then let em air-dry).

    PTRs were used on a lot of professional photofinishing equipment in the later years. They were about the closest thing to a "silver bullet" that I've ever seen. We used them right before the film gates of package printers and the long-roll attachments on Kodak HR-500 scanners (the "500" means 500 scans per hour). Nothing else compares.

    You might find them on some surplus lab equipment; I dunno. Otherwise might be prohibitively expensive.
  9. OK, you made me take another shot at it. The colors seem exaggerated. I had tried White Balance of Auto, Fluorescent, and Cloudy and it seemed Auto came out better. Dust doesn't seem a huge problem - needed to clone out a few dust spots here and there and it was not a lot of work. Hwvr, sharpness seems to be affected negatively. Overall, I believe the scanner result of my Nikon LS4000 produced better and more pleasing results - I am unscientifically saying this without an apple-to-apple comparison. The original slide was Fuji Velvia. This sample is sharpened with Photo-Kit sharpener.

    I may experiment a little more when I am ready to decide what to do with my old slides. Hwvr, at this moment, I think I would much prefer to use my tried-and-true scanner, as I don't like the result at all. I can't quite put my finger on it but it does not look "right".
  10. Good try, but I'm talking about Kodak PTRs, specifically designed with tackiness and "hardness" properties designed for photographic film. Here's a machine set up with them: Film_Cleaner_Price_List

    If you got the real McCoy and rigged up a way to hold a single roller, I don't see why you couldn't lay a single neg down, SAME AS YOU PRESUMABLY WOULD WITH YOUR OTHER GEAR, and roll over it.

    If you were using Kodak PTRs, you probably would no longer need to say, "In the absence of ICE, dust is a continual problem." Im not quite certain, though. In the industry we always get a little "wrap" on the rollers; a single line-contact against a hard surface might not allow as intimate a contact.
  11. Your sample looks good to me. It might be a little off from the origianl, but the effect is pleasing.

    Use the Set WB function in your camera to determine the best color temperature (deg K) to use. Set everything up as you would for copying slides, but omit the slide. It's best to copy to a RAW file, which is 12 or 14 bits and no defined style or color space. That way fewer subsequent adjustments are needed.

    I don't have a problem with dust, but my film was cut and placed in archival pages as soon as I brought them home, and have stayed there ever since. Slides are usually mounted and kept in boxes or projector magazines, where they become dust magnets. If I see any dust, the brush works 99% of the time. I brush them face down so any dust drops off.

    A Kodak roller sounds like a production tool, and would be best used under a HEPA filter. That kind of contact creates static, which would attract dust in the air. I don't lay film down - I handle it by the edges. A roller would work for film strips, but mounted slides would be a problem. The roller would have to be a little smaller than the film opening, and the radius rould miss the edges and corners. Besides, coming from Kodak, they're probably unobtanium grade, judging from their current status.
  12. Yes, that's what I was saying, with "PTRs were used on a lot of professional photofinishing equipment in the later years," etc.

    What I'm passing on is info from inside the industry, my personal experience that when the Kodak PTRs were introduced they were about the closest thing I've ever seen to a "silver bullet" with respect to controlling dust on film." And I've worked with just about every sort of film cleaning tool there is (with respect to photofinishing).

    The PTRs can remove tiny particles that even a shot of compressed air cannot dislodge.

    Yes, this was my point in saying, "You might find them on some surplus lab equipment; I dunno. Otherwise might be prohibitively expensive." But after you linked to the the non-Kodak "silica gel" (??) roll this sort of pushes me into having to respond. So I found the apparent supply source which I linked to.

    I can't tell if you are just purposely being silly (one might also say that your brush is also best used under a HEPA filter). But the reality is that humans and their clothing are significant sources of "dust," along with the film itself (running film through guides or handling the edges breaks loose tiny fragments). Although "clean" air is helpful in a darkroom, a HEPA filter is pretty much overkill.
  13. Silly? No! I spent several years designing clean room facilities for pharmaceuticals, and am well aware of particulate shed by humans. I can't imagine finding a dust-free surface on which to lay film strips for cleaning in an ordinary environment. Secondly, applying and removing a sticky material from a non-conductor generates a lot of static, which will attract dust present in the air. Watch what happens when you peel tape from a plastic surface with the lights out. What do you see when sunlight streams into a domestic room?

    Even a stream of air or "canned air" generates a static charge on film. If I use air to blow dust from film, I always follow up with a conductive brush. Now that polonium strips have been outlawed, the next best thing to ionized air is a conductive brush. Mine is made containing carbon fibers.

    While you can see a 20 micron dust particle under oblique light, that's several times larger than the size of pixels. ICE uses infrared light to distinguish dust particles, which are generally opaque, from dye-based emulsions, which are mostly transparent to IR. With ICE, even pixel-sized dust is detected and removed. Kodachrome is protected with a UV/IR absorbing lacquer, which interferes with ICE. Emulsions with silver particles (including BLIX fixed color negatives) are also opaque to IR.

    SilverFast lets you record the IR channel from a film scanner, when saving to a 64-bit RAW file. You can then use ICE in the rendition stage, and adjust the level of action.

    You can buy a small laminar flow cabinet with HEPA (or finer) filters, which trap particles larger than 2 microns. The cost is about the same as a decent enlarger, I don't think it's needed for film scanning, but certainly for those enterprising souls who take their lenses and cameras apart. If you remove all the dust you can see, most of the dust you can't see is removed too.

    In extreme cases, especially large areas like LCD screens prior to applying a protective glass layer, you can use a loop of Scotch Magic Tape to remove dust and fingerprints, using the same principle as the sticky rollers you describe. This brand of tape uses a hard silicone adhesive with low bleed properties. I haven't used it on film, but aside from dramatically slowing the work flow, I think it would work.
    Moving On likes this.
  14. I corrected it to read "silicone gel" in my response. As you probably know, silica gel is a rigid, porous solid, not a sticky gel. The stickiness of silicone derives from various levels of plasticizer added to the mixture, as well as the porosity of the gel itself.
  15. Ed, nice write-up. Digitally capturing color negatives drives me crazy. One technique I hit upon was to digitize using an 80b (blue) filter. 80a also works, and results can vary. Screw it on between the lens and first adapter, then do your custom WB with a blank (orange mask only) shot. I usually take a first shot with the lens cap on to make sure I have one on the roll. This helps reduce the amount of color curve compensation needed. Regarding the hardware, Canon used to make a converter called a DP-10. You can pick them up on the auction site pretty cheap. The holders are metal and actually very good at keeping the negative strip flat.
  16. The orange color is actually the product of unreacted leuco base dye, and serves a useful function in achieving a wide dynamic range. Consequently wherever there is color, there is less masking dye. All film using a version of C-41 processing has the same dye, but in different amounts. Each emulsion and exposure level needs different correction curves. Using the back end of scanning software makes most of that job easy. You just have to follow the right set of rules to make it work, but nobody seems to have written those rules down in an easy-to-follow manner.
  17. In an older post, I mentioned that the new ES-2 52 mm extension is too short for use with a Nikon 55/2.8 Macro lens. I used a Nikon K-4 filter ring extension tube to make up the difference. Nikon hasn't made those in a LONG time, and they are hard to find on the used market.

    I have a modern solution. The ES-2 comes with a long and short 62 mm adapter for a Nikon AF-D and AF-S 60 mm lens respectively. The short extension plus a 52-62 mm adapter ring works out just right. It is about 1/16" longer than the K4, which is well within useable limits. The 55/2.8 lens is not only extremely sharp, it doesn't cost very much second-hand ($120 from KEH).

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