"scanning" with a dslr; tips/advice sought.

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by michael_greer|2, Dec 29, 2017.

  1. Hello. I've read many many threads regarding methods for scanning film, and it seems that the least hit to my wallet may well be through photographing my negatives with my dslr.
    I did try and search for this specific topic, but could not find anything, please point me in the right direction if I have missed something.
    To my mind, this could be as simple as placing the desired negative on a light table, getting the camera set up to properly capture the negative and boom, done.
    how much effect would ANR glass have in this operation (used to keep the negative nice and flat on the light box)?
    I'll be using a Canon 6d. The hit to my wallet will be in acquiring a macro lens.
    I have a lot of medium format negatives of my own creation, as well as a bunch of old family ones. My ultimate goal is to do as much capture and editing as I can at home, and then print at a local facility that has a lot of nice equipment available (and yes, pay per print).
    My light box is one of the older porta-trace 16x18 models with the 4 5k bulbs. I have a tripod that has a reversible center column.
    Am I making this seem too simple?
    Any help and/or advice is appreciated.
  2. What you have described is basically what I use. I don't have a macro lens but use extension tubes on my 50mm plastic fantastic. I have made up my own light box using a large array of white light LEDs (this did concern me for a while as I was not sure is the LED spectrum was truly smooth, but it seems OK) I scattered the light using tracing paper or similar. I use a table top heavy weight tripod,and most important of all a cable release.
    I auto focus using the single centre point and stop down to f8. I don't use glass clamping as this introduces too much dust etc.
    Good luck with your shooting.
  3. Easiest method is to use a device that screws onto a 1:1 macro lens to hold the film/slide rigidly in place. Then there's no issue with vibration.

    You can also illuminate one of these devices by reflecting a hotshoe mounted flash off a white card or other surface. No tripod or lightbox required, and no messing about ensuring the camera is parallel to the film.

    There have been several threads on this topic recently BTW.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2017
  4. Here's a link to my first setup, and an explanation.
    LINK: Scanning film with a digital camera
    I have since switched to a bellows with a slide/film stage and 75mm EL-Nikkor or 63mm EL-Nikkor (I have one rig at home and one at work). For this type of work even the cheaper lens, the 75mm, works great.

    If you are going to do something that isn't automatically aligned (as with my old setup) the easy way to get the subject parallel is to set a mirror on the light or negative holder you are using, and adjust until the camera is looking straight at itself in its reflection in the mirror. Much better than levels, which I found to be universally inaccurate. I am currently using a flash pointed at my slide copier from about three feet away as a light source--it's more vibration-free than timed exposures over a light box.

    Almost everything on that particular flickr section is scanned with some version of that rig.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2017
  5. A macro lens is essential. A lens designed for normal ranges will have severe curvature of field when used with extension tubes. Using a so-called "closeup lens" in the filter ring is even worse, and greatly reduces the working distance between the lens and object being copied. You don't need anything fancy. Image stabilization is moot when you use a tripod, and manual focus is the best mode of operation. I use a 55/2.8 AIS Micro-Nikkor (about $100 used) with an adapter for my Sony A7Rii.

    Anti-Newton glass is etched so that film doesn't come into intimate contact with a reflective surface, causing Newton's Rings.This etching is easily visible at the pixel level, so AN glass should only be used in back of the film, as in a flatbed scanner. Film holders used for flatbed scanners are widely available and inexpensive. If the film lies flat on its own, tape off a rectangle on the light box and lay the negative on the glass. Only use a holder if the film is cupped or curled.

    If you have many negatives to scan, you want a setup that is easy to set up and align. A tripod and light box must be carefully aligned each time, and fine focusing may prove difficult. I strongly recommend an inexpensive copy stand, or a holder on a rack-and-pinion focusing rail (e.g., Novoflex)) for larger negatives. For 35 mm, the Nikon ES-2 film holder (mysteriously unavailable) would be my choice.

    You can't really get grain-sharp focusing with a rail or tripod column. I try to get the best focus I can, then pull out just a little, and fine-focus using the helix on the lens. This reduces the magnification, but so little that it doesn't matter. Since MF negatives will require much less magnification, focusing is greatly simplified. The same is true if you use an APS-C or 4/3 sensor.

    Inverting color negatives is a bit fussy. You must use a white balance measured from the empty holder, and lock it down. The orange mask will bias the conversion to blue if auto-WB is used. Photoshop "Curves" has an option to convert the color to positive, but doesn't work very well. I use "Levels" to optimize each color before inverting the luminosity (ctl-I). Fine adjustments to color balance will still be required. Each type of emulsion or change in lighting presents it's own, unique challenge. In truth, even dedicated film scanners ( have a Nikon LS-8000 for MF) don't do much better at this stage, but make film handling and setup much easier).

  6. SCL


    I've been doing this for a couple of years in this fashion. all honesty, to determine if t will work for you, just give it a try since you already have the necessary equipment Once you've found the quirks in your system and determined whether or or not it is good enough for your needs is a good time to run it by others.
  7. There is an earlier thread in which we discussed setups for scanning 35mm slides or negatives with a DSLR at, "DSLR negative scanning ". Try searching "DSLR scanning" in Digital Darkroom for a number of other threads.

    I appreciate Ed's description of inverting color negatives, since this will be a future challenge for me with DSLR scanning. I mostly use Photoshop for editing images, which according to Ed, should be suitable. But, I wonder, is there any applicable software that has been developed specifically for the task of inverting images of color negatives? It seems like my VueScan software might work, but I see no way of importing an image to VueScan that has not been produced by an actual scanner that the software drives.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2017
  8. SCL


    Glenn, Vuescan does invert, but in order to use it you need to have a scanner attached to the pc.
  9. I did not sandwich the negatives/slides between glass. They were flat enough and using a smaller aperture, like f11, improved depth of field, so if curvature existed its effect was minimized or negated. And if I used glass, it would greatly increase my chances of getting some really sharp dust bunnies.

    My easel was a real Rube Goldberg setup, using the "glass" from an old XRay box I had with a painter's spot behind it. I found a place where the light was very even with no hot spots. It is not rocket science and getting started is the most intimidating thing.
    One thing I would definitley recommend is to tether your camera to the computer so you can see on a big screen what you just shot. I used an app, German, I think, called Sofortbild. IIRC it was freeware and very handy.
    I think the shooting is the easy part. You can adjust your camera to get the best image you can SOTC, but the post will take far more time than the shoot.
    I did 35mm slides, 35 mm negatives, color and b&w, I have not tackled my MF stuff yet, again getting started is the hardest thing.
    Once you get everything set up the shooting goes pretty quickly.
    Lightroom inverts negatives.
  10. I found a youtube video on "Converting a negative file with vuescan". It is not very well presented, but does indicate at the beginning what to input. I do not yet have a DSLR scan of a negative, so I tried inputting a positive image to see if VueScan would convert it to a negative. It does, as shown below.

    Steve, thanks, I turned on my scanner, although I am not sure that I needed to?
    vuescan negative input.jpg
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2017
  11. The next step is to convert the VueScan output file back to a positive by changing the VueScan input to the file that was just output, as shown below. This is a partial "scan" of the central portion of the image, probably because I indicated a 4x6 in. print rather than larger. Since this is an initial test, there will probably be much tweaking needed to maximize the quality of a "scan". One advantage of using VueScan for negative conversion is that the software allows the choice of many different negative films. I chose "generic" for this test. - Now I need to make an actual image of a negative with my DSLR to further pursue this method.

    vuescan negative reconversion.jpg
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2017
  12. anita and friends yellowstone 1.jpg

    Here is my first attempt at using my DSLR to "scan" a 35mm negative and invert it in VueScan. The film was Kodak Gold 200. I used a flash to illuminate a white sheet of paper as a background, and so chose the white balance to be "flash". My camera setup is discussed in "DSLR negative scanning"

    Input to VueScan was fairly straightforward, except that there was a choice of Gen 1, Gen 2, Gen 4, or Gen 6 for Gold 200 in the color input. Not knowing which it was, I chose Gen 4. The other three choices did not seem to make much difference in the results. I edited the output jpeg file in Photoshop CS5. The main adjustment was to use curves to reduce green in the image. I also adjusted brightness, contrast and sharpness.

    My conclusion is that using VueScan software to process DSLR scans of negatives is a fast and efficient method, although the resultant images will most likely need a little further tweaking in Photoshop, Lightroom, or a similar program.
  13. A constant light is easier to use than a flash, and much faster to set up because auto-exposure can be used. Auto-exposure helps correct the original exposure, particularly underexposed sides and overexposed negative film. Wince both the camera and film are supported, and digital has no reciprocity failure, you can use a tungsten light, including a halogen lamp, if you set the white balance appropriately.

    Personally, I use a daylight (5600K) LED bulb in a desk lamp. These bulbs are actually fluorescent bulbs, activated with a UV LED. Unlike ordinary fluorescents which have an irregular spectrum, LED bulbs are smooth, comparable to incandescent light, wither ehe exception of a spike in the near-UV (480 mu). I reflect the light using a white card, for better light distribution.

    Scanning software like Vuescan (above) and Silverfast can process and invert a negative image as a "RAW" scan file. I've had mixed results, but practice is perfect.

    Open sky and other light sources can produce off-colors which are very difficult to remove without distorting other colors. The example above leaves faces wth a cyan tint. If you remove that, the sky turns pink and grass brownish.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
  14. This can be done. If only a small number of slides or negatives are done, using the camera as a "scanner" can work well enough.

    But there are some drawbacks if you wish to do the job "well"

    1. Ordinary camera lenses have curved focal planes. Reversal of the lens can help but the best lenses are copy lenses, specifically designed macro lenses, or even enlarger lenses.
    2. Vignetting in the form of light fall-off is another problem with conventional lenses
    3. Color balance is always a hit-or-miss matter, although AWB on the camera can help.
    4. Setting up for a single slide is one thing. The number of repetitive motions necessary to do a thousand slides is altogether imposing.

    A dedicated film scanner solves these and other problems of using a camera to copy.
    If you must do it with the camera here are some tools available for that.
    Modern Photography 1986-03

    But I still say even the inexpensive flatbed scanners will be much easier in the long run.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
  15. The device I use is made by Sunagor, but unfortunately seems to be out of production now.

    It's a simple variable length tube with a film/slide holder on one end and a 49mm filter thread on the other. It can be adapted to fit almost any macro lens via a stepping ring. There's no lens in the tube.

    I see similar things on eBay with a CU lens fitted, but the lens can be unscrewed on some models.

    Having used flatbed and dedicated film-scanners, I can categorically say that DSLR copying is much faster, and with a > 20 Mp camera the results can have better definition than those from any flatbed.

    However, 8 bit JPEG output from the camera isn't suitable for inversion and/or colour correction. You need to work with a RAW file.
  16. Thanks for the suggestions Ed. I will next try an LED daylight bulb illuminating a white card for comparison with flash.

    If I start with a higher resolution RAW image (as Rodeo suggests) rather than a jpeg (I save both a RAW and a jpeg my Canon 5D IV), convert the RAW to 16 bit jpeg in Photoshop, and then input it to VueScan, the skin tones come out smoother and without the cyan tint. Also, the initial overall green tint is much diminished.

    JDM - you are right about the need for a good macro lens. I do not have your patience to scan a thousand slides or negatives! Hence only a small fraction of my fifty plus year film photo collection will ever be converted to digital.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
  17. Correction - I converted the RAW file to a 16 bit tiff file and input it into VueScan. The output was a jpeg file (output could also have been a tiff file).
  18. Hello. I'm not sure what me deal was in the past, for some reason I never used the term "scanning" in my search. Sigh. Thank you all for the information.
    JDMvW; Due to all of the film sizes I have, I would be "forced" into at least an Epson v700. I will keep my eyes out on my local sources for a used flatbed, but for now, I am driving on with the copy stand method.
    To those who linked/suggested the devices that mount directly on the lens, the is not one I am aware of that will do 120 film.
    Ed_Ingold; Thank you for the info. I ended up finding the Canon 100mm f2.8 macro locally for a good price, so that's the macro lens sorted. I have a line on a copy stand as well. (I'm not under any time crunch, so I can bumble around looking for equipment). I never shot very much color film, but you raise interesting points regarding the reversal, etc.
    Thanks to everyone again for the advice/info. I may close this topic since there were/are other threads of similar content.
  19. Ahhh! I missed the mention of medium format before.
    My Canoscan 9900UF does a good job of scanning 120 and 5x4. Not exactly speedy though.

    I did come across a multi-format copying device at a camera fair. Basically a sloping table with a light box at one end and a sliding camera platform at the other. It came with a variety of filmholders. Unfortunately I can't remember the make or model, but I'm pretty sure it's no longer in production.

    Then there are Bowens Illumitran copiers that come up for sale online from time to time. It should be possible to construct something similar out of plywood and an old flashgun. With no fancy-looking (and needless) meter of course.
  20. A "raw" scan in Silverfast, and presumably Vuescan, is simply a 16 bit TIFF file that is not processed nor converted. The chief advantage is that you can try different processing schemes without the need to rescan the film.

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