Trying to restore some 25-year-old color negatives

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by r.t. dowling, Apr 10, 2004.

  1. My mother has a lot of Kodacolor II negatives from the late '70s to the early '80s. I've scanned many of them with my CanoScan FS4000 and the results have been very disappointing. The negs appear to be faded, which results in a very dark image when scanned. Additionally, the areas of the image that should be dark (shadow areas) tend to be greenish. I'll post an example so you can see what I'm talking about. This was actually the best of the bunch. Most of them came out much darker and the colors were much more messed up. Basically, is there anything I can do in Photoshop to fix these? I've tried playing with brightness, contrast, and color balance... are there are things I should be doing?
  2. Here are a few more examples.
  3. There are two things that might be going on here. One is that the images may have faded in twenty-plus years of non-ideal storage -- a distinct possibility if they've been in an attic or somewhere else that gets very hot. The other, and IMO more likely, is that the film might have been underexposed to begin with, which with most C-41 films tends to produce a greenish cast (in my experience, anyway).

    You should be able to add some magenta color correction in Photoshop (not the "hue" sliders, but a function that works like the color correction filters used in printing color negatives; I can do this in the GIMP, which is freeware, so Photoshop ought to be able to do it as well), and might also be able to tweak your scanner settings to get more from the scan initially; alternately, you might have to settle for adjusting the levels or curves for "value" in Photoshop to stretch the contrast enough to make the images look reasonably normal -- in effect, push processing in the computer, and with the same effect of losing highlights and shadows in order to make midtones appear correct.

    Another trick you might try is sandwiching a piece of fixed-out black and white film with the negatives to act as a neutral filter; that will tend to lighten up the reversed scan without changing the color balance; it won't extend the contrast of a thin negative, but it might make it easier to adjust the color balance.
  4. R.T., There's lots you can do to improve these. But you must learn to use the levels and curves controls. The ones you've used are much more difficult to use. That said, I can't give a lesson in such a short post, but you should get a good book about photoshop and learn to use these controls. I like "Real World Photoshop" myself, though it might be a little itimidating to a complete novice. I did spend a couple minutes to show some examples though... -bruce
  5. and another...
  6. Donald wrote:

    "The other, and IMO more likely, is that the film might have been underexposed to begin with, which with most C-41 films tends to produce a greenish cast (in my experience, anyway)."

    That's what I thought at first. But my mother was (is) pretty good photographer, and I'm pretty sure she was using an auto-exposure camera when these pictures were taken. In fact, when I asked my mother about her picture-taking in those days, she said that she usually overexposed print film by half a stop. With that in mind, I think the problem is most likely that the negs have not withstood the test of time... which is quite disappointing, since they were kept in "archival" plastic sleeves in a cool, dry, dark place.

    At any rate, thanks for the suggestions. I'll look into getting a good Photoshop book.

    And I hope that today's color neg films are more stable than the ones from the late '70s and early '80s!
  7. It's times like this when I do have some appreciation for Kodachrome. ;-)
  8. In our lab I have seen the odd old film come through once in a blue moon from this era. I also have my own stuff of this age. Personally I think its just the archival quality of the films back then. Mine and my moms old negs of this era have all shifted badly in color. As for my mid 80s negs and newer, they held up pretty good. So there must have been some major improvement in film dyes in the mid 80s when VR/ VR-G came out over Kodacolor II.
  9. Have you tried printing the negs? You can adjust the color balance on your enlarger; or you can send the negs to a lab that has a careful operator who will balance them properly.
  10. I haven't tried printing them yet. I'd really like to make some decent, high-res scans of them first, in case they continue to deterioriate even worse.
  11. I have inherited all of the family negatives from back as far as the 40s. I have just finished making contact proofs of all of them, and my own negatives as well. This was over 400 sheets of paper and weeks of work, but what I found was that the majority of negatives over that whole time span printed about the same +- .10 yellow / blue or red / green and +- 1/2 stop. Even with the old Argus 2 1/4 square camera with fixed exposure. (I used a fixed exposure for all prints which was obtained by a correctly exposed negative and print)

    There was no negative fading or deterioration evident in any era.

    What I did see was this. During 2 periods of that time, Kodak and others experimented with CU film. (Universal balance) These films were outliers being about 1 - 2 stops over or under. In addition, they gave either orange or blue prints (locked beam) indicating a light source problem. The prints also indicated tone scale problems due to crossover at the extremes of the scale.

    This has been abandoned now and negative films are either daylight or tungsten.

    You might try seeing if the conversion from Daylight to Tungsten helps, or try using 1/2 of that conversion. These films were higher in speed than rated, and balanced 1/2 of the way between both light sources. It was a really crappy idea. But, that type of film balance might be your problem.

    OTOH, I won't rule out keeping. Just because mine are good doesn't prove anything about yours. I processed a lot of mine and I may have done better on the process. IDK.

    Good luck. I would like to hear what else you turn up.

    Ron Mowrey
  12. Alternate TWAIN programs like SilverFast and Hamrick VueScan ( can make scanning color negatives a lot easier. They have large libraries of the characteristics of various color negative films, and can get you a lot closer to start with.

    I'd expect that VueScan is the better choice in this case, since they have Kodacolor-II in the film library. (Silverfast is weak on vintage films.) Also much cheaper. Demo versions are free.
  13. There is an interesting point here.

    The old negatives don't scan in very well, but I have printed old negatives with the same filter pack and exposure as modern negatives and get good pictures.


    I hear more complaints about scanning negatives, but the quality of a negative is equal to or better than most transparencies.

    Again, why?

    I have negative scans from EK from over 10 years ago that are superb on digital CD. They were testing the system back then and I had a lot of scanning done. Yet today people are having problems.

    I have faded Ektachromes that scan just fine. The 'restore' option kicks in and fixes things right up.

    Another interesting point is that I have tried to print Kodachrome and Ektachrome on "R" paper and Ilfochrome, along with other methods, and although they are 'equal' to the eye, they print with vastly different filter packs, but I can scan them side by side with good results.

    I do know that the dyes and curve shapes of color negative have been very stable over the years. Masking and d-min have varied along with speed ratios, but the dyes in reversal vary quite a bit. Lambda max and half band width of reversal dyes vary a lot, whereas negative materials do not because the negatives are intended for consistant printing.

    This problem, of scanning negatives seems very odd to me no matter whether it is an old negative or a modern one.

    Anyone have any ideas?

    Ron Mowrey
  14. Okay, I might have missed it, but did anyone mention using Photoshop's Auto Color command? That would be the first thing I would try. Also, check out digital ROC at
  15. Jon wrote:

    "did anyone mention using Photoshop's Auto Color command?"

    That was one of the first things I tried. To be honest, it actually made most of the photos look worse.
  16. I would second the recommendation to try ASF's Digital ROC program. You can download it on a trial basis to see if it works for you. It is specifically made to restore contrast, color, etc. on faded color images.
  17. You need to pick up a good book on Photoshop photo restoration. Also do a google search;
    you'll find links like these:
  18. Photoshop's "Curves" is the tool you want. The learning curve is a bit steep, but I've yet to find a colour problem that can't be fixed with that and the "Hue/Saturation" tool.

    Forget colour balance and brightness/contrast. They're just playtoys for kiddies.

    BTW, you need to scan and work in 48bit mode to avoid posterising the final result. Only change to 24bit mode to apply any filters after you've finished all the colour work.

    One more tip: LAB mode lets you adjust colours independently of the overall contrast of the image, but it's not essential to use LAB mode for the kind of correction you need.
  19. The original Kodacolor was balanced for clear flash, 3800 Kelvin light rather than daylight. Thus it worked fairly well in both daylight 5500K and room light around 3000K. With the ever more common electronic flash, and the eventual complete switch to blue flash bulbs, Kodak and others started balancing their films to daylight 5500K.

    If you think that digitizing all your old color is the solution to permanance check out the stability of your storage media. 5 years seems the consensus, then recopy everything again. Also consider whether you'll be able to even access that information in 20 years time. Have you tried to play your parents old 8-track music tapes? Where will you buy a new player? You might have boxes of CDs with images but might not be able to buy a computer that reads CDs in 10 years. Good luck. Shoot Tri-X and live without color.
  20. > If you think that digitizing all your old color is the solution
    > to permanance check out the stability of your storage media.
    > <snip>

    I don't agree with this argument at all. Once an image is digitised then it will not degrade any further. There are two issues regarding the problems with digital media both of which are quite easily avoided. Firstly the issue of reading file formats and secondly where we store our data.

    File Formats:

    This may have been a problem 20 years ago, but file formats are largely standardised and open these days unless you are using some obscure proprietary file format. The only computer files I have on my system that I can't read are some old Timeworks DTP files I created around 1990 on an Atari ST. If anybody ever produces a converter for them then I will be able to read them. Certainly all the graphics files formats from that time are readable by decent programs.
    To suggest that we won't be able to read Photoshop files in 20 years time is foolish to say the least. If nobody else produces a program to let you do so, I promise you that I will and I will make my million from it.

    Storage Media:

    You are correct to suggest that media will not last for a long time. I certainly wouldn't like to try reading floppy disks or CD-ROM's from 10 years ago, but the fact is that we don't have to. We keep on creating more data but fortunately hard disks just keep on getting bigger. If you are relying on CD-ROM's to backup data then you should probably ask yourself if it wouldn't be a lot easier to buy a 200GB hard drive and use that instead. Once you have filled it up, or if not in 5 years time, buy a bigger drive and copy all the data to that and keep filling it up.

    The problem of archival life should really only be a problem for users who are creating many hundreds of gigabytes of data per year and can't afford to keep the data in online storage.

    rgds, Stephen

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