Josh is Grumpy About Scanning Film

Josh is Grumpy About Scanning Film

1800 1013 Josh Solomon

Scanning film f**cking sucks. There’s really no other way to say it. It’s not “mildly uncomfortable,” or just “an annoying step of the process,”  or even a “necessary evil.” It straight up f**king sucks, and we all know it. I’ve got five talking points to prove it, too.

It’s Not Fun or Interesting or Cool

Scanning film is the least interesting step in the film photography flow. Think about it; every other step of the photographic process is pretty cool, or at least interesting. When you take a picture, you’re freezing time with a camera, a device that is at once a feat of engineering and a symbol of history. When you develop film, you’re mixing up chemicals like a mad scientist and using all manner of beakers and tanks to make an image magically appear. And when you print, you’re playing God and throwing light through a cool looking enlarger to recreate a moment of time on paper. That’s pretty damn cool.

Scanning, on the other hand, is not cool. Scanners simply convert a photographic negative (or positive) into a digital file. It’s about as interesting as filing taxes or accounting, which is probably why most of us prefer to pay somebody else do it. Scanners themselves are hardly attractive devices. They’re boxy, monochrome, and just plain boring. Even the cream-of-the-crop Noritsu LS-600 is about as visually interesting as a late ’90s Toyota Camry, an equally effective but bland machine. 

It’s an admittedly surface-level argument, but I think it’s a good place to start my complaining. It’s easy to find something enjoyable at every single stage of making an image on film, but conspicuously difficult to find pleasure in scanning. And at the end of the day, I’d much rather be out shooting a classic film camera than watching an Epson V550 gurgle its way through half a roll of film.

It’s Unnecessarily Confusing (and the Software is Terrible)

In an ideal world, scanning should be easy. It should be handled automatically by both the scanner and the scanning software, with room for minimal adjustment by the scanner. If changes need to be made, the software should be flexible enough for users to make adjustments and simple enough for the average photographer to understand. And just for comfort’s sake, these programs and scanners should be straightforward to use and designed with clarity in mind. And yet it’s rare to find a scanner or a scanning software that does any of those things today.

What we have instead is a field that is mired in strange unofficial rules that are developed in response to the failings of scanners, rules that nobody can seem to agree upon. To start, the raw capability of scanners are often wildly overstated by the manufacturers. Certain popular flatbed scanners which boast a max 12800 dpi only really get to that number through interpolation, which artificially creates extra pixels to increase the perceived resolution of an image, kind of like cutting a hard drug with a cheaper, even deadlier drug to lower prices. Perhaps this is an attempt to make up for the fact that flatbed scanners generally can’t resolve film grain (an essential quality to any film scanner), but it’s a terrible solution.

Because those companies can’t be trusted to report their product’s actual capabilities, forum warriors on the internet often recommend scanning negatives at the scanner’s “true” dpi, which is some depressing number like 6400 or 3200, a full half or three-quarters less the original reported dpi. What’s worse is that nobody can seem to agree on what resolution you should scan at because everybody has different scanners and is scanning different types of film and some scanners scan really slowly at 6400 and some people need to drop their kids off at soccer practice so they’re going to scan at 3200 because it’s faster and… Christ what a mess. This could all be avoided if manufacturers cut the crap and actually reported the true maximum dpi of their scanners and officially agreed upon best practices for scanning for different films and film formats.

Another confusing thing about scanners is that the programs used to scan are often poorly designed. Scanners come with a variety of different programs; Epson flatbeds come with Epson Scan, Plustek scanners come with Silverfast, and whoever objects to either of these programs inevitably ends up buying VueScan.

All three of these programs have their own weaknesses, but the main thing is that these programs don’t usually offer a simple, streamlined way to provide a pure scan of a negative. There’s usually some automatically programmed thing you have to turn off, some slider you have to push back every time to get to the one setting that really should have been there from the start. These programs also come bloated with image editing features that most people won’t use anyway, are slow to operate, don’t come with color profiles tailored for major color negative film stocks, and generally look and act like they belong to the Geocities and Angelfire era of the internet. Using scanning programs is easily the most infuriating part of scanning film, and the part that needs the most immediate improvement, if not a complete overhaul.

The Tech Is Outdated or Expensive, or Outdated AND Expensive

Most of my complaints up until now apply mostly to flatbed scanners and consumer-level 35mm scanners. Many might point to the professional-level lab scanners such as the Noritsu LS-600 and Pakon F135+ which can zip through a roll of film and spit out perfect scans in under five minutes. But these very machines illustrate two damning things about scanning; scanning tech is incredibly outdated and incredibly expensive.

Scanners like the Noritsu LS-600 and Pakon F135+ hail from the early 2000s, the last few years of film photography’s widespread popularity. They were used in film processing labs around the world for a number of years and then abandoned once those labs went out of business. Abandoned Noritsus, Pakons, Nikon Coolscans, and Fuji Frontiers found their way into the homes of enterprising film photographers who got the jump on today’s film photography revival and these photographers have since used these machines to good effect.

The issue is that it’s 2020, not 2001. Almost two full decades have passed and we’ve seen basically nothing better come from any of these companies, nor have we seen these old scanners bested by companies like Epson, Plustek, or Pacific Image, who still make scanners, I guess. None of them feature an efficient auto-feed mechanism that works as well, none of them reproduce colors as well, and very few can match the resolution those older lab scanners can provide. I was talking to James the other day about this, and while he said his consumer-level Plustek 8200 makes nice scans, he also has to sit there and waste an hour to scan a single roll of film. And that doesn’t include the fifteen minutes he spends working the images over in Lightroom afterward! This is nuts.

One could argue that consumer scanners shouldn’t be able to do the things that professional scanners can, but come on – these are professional machines from the early 2000s. This was an era when 256 megabytes were huge, the PDA was still a thing, and the Dave Matthews Band was still relevant. We’ve witnessed huge strides in consumer technology since then, but scanners have been left in the lurch. There’s simply no reason why these technologies can’t be streamlined and be made available to consumers today.

And those of us who want to hunt down an old pro lab scanner face a different obstacle – price. Due to scarcity, these machines carry astronomical price tags. Noritsu LS-600? $2000. Pakon F-135+? $1500, easy. Fujifilm Frontier SP-2000? $4000 and your firstborn child. These are machines that make Leica prices seem reasonable, and for incredibly outdated, used technology that’s super expensive to maintain (just ask my local lab on a night when he’s up to his shoulders in a machine replacing fifteen-hundred tiny springs). Calling this a bum deal would be an understatement – this is straight up highway robbery.

Scanners Suck So Bad People Would Rather Scan With A Digital Camera

The situation has gotten so bad that some photographers would rather MacGyver a DSLR or a mirrorless digital camera rig to scan their negatives. The DSLR method of scanning has become increasingly popular as the sensors can reliably resolve film grain and can go through a roll faster than most dedicated film scanners. All manner of different DIY solutions have popped up, from using an Amazon-sourced light table as a light source to repurposing old slide copy stands and macro lens attachments for accurate, flat focus. Nikon even came out with the ES-2 accessory, a purpose built slide copy attachment for the Nikon D850, in response to the widespread usage of digital cameras for scanning.

This is all well and good until we take a step back and look at the absurdity of the situation. Scanners and scanning software have fallen so far behind that we’ve resorted to jerry-rigging DSLRs, making our own Photoshop negative inversion scripts, and resorting to independently developed color profiles to make it all easier. We shouldn’t have to do this, especially considering that what is fueling the film renaissance is the sharing of film images by digital means, which keeps film scanner manufacturers in business.

Another issue with this method is that it assumes photographers have a DSLR or mirrorless camera to scan with. This might not be a problem for professionals and enthusiasts, but for beginners looking to try out film photography for themselves, this is almost as cost-prohibitive as buying one of those ancient scanners from the early 2000s. Imagine being a youngster who’s just learning how to take photographs using a film camera, falling in love with the medium, buying wholly into the “buy film not megapixels” mantra, and then being told to spend even more money on a digital camera anyway just to get acceptable scans. It’s a sham, plain and simple, and we shouldn’t have dug ourselves into this hole in the first place.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

I’ve been hinting at this in the last few points, but the most infuriating thing about scanning is that it really doesn’t have to be this difficult, confusing, and cost-prohibitive. To start, scanning programs can absolutely be developed to be better. If they can reliably find the minimum and maximum values on the histogram, offer plug-in style standardized color profiles for specific color negative films, and get an interface makeover that makes the program not look like it’s supposed to be run on Windows 98, scanning software might actually be worth buying. If scanners actually had a serviceable, quick auto-feed system a la the ancient Pakon F135+ and Noritsu LS-600, jerry-rigging a DSLR rig to scan suddenly looks less attractive. And if consumer scanners can do the bare minimum of resolving the grain of 35mm film reliably and quickly without fuss, we’d see a huge jump in the quality of film images across the board.

If all of these problems were fixed, it would also be easier to find some common ground on how to scan, and scan well. There still doesn’t exist a reliable, standardized resource on the web on how to scan properly and parse its strange jargon, but if the field wasn’t so plagued by inconsistency and hearsay then perhaps one of those resources could emerge. If scanning were made easier and more straightforward overall we’d be able to save a lot of shooters a lot of headaches.

Fortunately, there are some out there who have taken it upon themselves to try to improve the situation. Abe Fettig, the sole person behind the FilmLab app, has taken up the task of developing an app that allows regular phone cameras to scan film. The results aren’t as good as using a dedicated film scanner but the prospect of everybody owning a cheap, serviceable film scanner is an encouraging one. The folks at Negative Lab Pro have developed a more accurate way to invert color negative films in Lightroom, which is a huge step towards getting better color accuracy on C-41 while scanning at home. 

Startups like Negative Supply have created premium solutions for digitizing film, albeit at prices which are pretty high. Cheaper products like Pixl-latr offer similar utility for an every-person price. But these products again require a digital camera…

Innovation in this space is encouraging, but it really shouldn’t be on just a couple of people to improve scanning. It needs to be on the companies who produce scanners, who actually have funds for R&D and manufacturing, to improve scanning wholesale. Until they decide to do that, scanning will continue to be the lamest, most annoying thing about film photography.

Do you hate scanning film? Let Josh know he’s not alone in the comments below.

Or have you discovered a fast, easy, and fun way to digitize your negatives? Share it with him, before he has a nervous breakdown. Help the guy out!


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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon
51 comments
  • Fascinating article Josh.

    As a techie, I enjoy a challenge and this subject is the gift that keeps on giving. I have (started with) a Plustek 8100 and that seems to be the zenith of resolution overstatement. It’s also wholly manual, so 35mm requires constant attendance.

    So I bought an Epson V850. The Epson and its Epson scan software is, at least, automatic. But the film holders are horrific and as you say, the list of colour profiles seems to be set for films no-one has seen.

    So then I bought two (I bought a spare for parts) Nikon Coolscan 8000s.

    Connecting them to my MacBook requires a usb-c to lightning adapter, a lightning to FireWire adapter and a FireWire cable. And then, because NikonScan only works on Windows XP I’m hosed. I can run XP on the Mac in a virtual machine, but it can’t see FireWire ports so I’m now onto VueScan.

    Whilst it works, this is a horrific piece of software. The results are now simply great but only after I sent the main board from the Nikon away to have its FireWire interface chip replaced by a guy in a lock-up somewhere who does this using what remains of the world’s stock of the required silicon.

    Don’t even get me started on the art of scanning 120 film using VueScan and the coolscan. You have to calculate the offset and measure the inter-image gap, so it can move from one negative to the next reasonably accurately. Why it can’t scan the strip and locate the images is beyond me.

    Excuse the formatting here, I’m writing on my phone.

  • Lighten up, man. You use an outdated technology to capture your images and then complain about the hardware available to digitise them. OK, you’ve had your rant, now we can all go back to enjoying our hobby.

    • Regardless of futile digital vs analog point-scoring, there are still billions of slides and negatives sitting in boxes drawers and cupboards around the world, made long before digital photography was dreamt of, that many people would welcome an easier path for digitising. I am just one such.

      There’s no doubt that the standard of scanner software in 2020 is embarrassingly bad. It drove me to Nikon’s ES-2 on my D750 (shockingly, there are people who are able to enjoy both analog and digital photography). Apart from the much better speed and usefulness of this setup, what was a very pleasant surprise was how much detail in film a modern DSLR could resolve, especially from the shadows in high contrast transparencies. I’m seeing my old fujichromes in a whole new light (literally). Combined with modern RAW processing software, it’s possible to give decades old 35mm film photographs a new and improved life.

      • Actually, I wasn’t point scoring in the film v digital debate. From the first time I took up the hobby, in 1960, I had accumulated thousands of negatives and slides by the time I made the decision to take up digital in late 2002. These covered 35mm, 120 and 5×4.

        But I also acquired my first Canon scanner, the 9900 F as it could do up to 5×4. Although a flatbed, the detail it could pull out of MF and LF is amazing, but with 35mm it’s less impressive, but my photodealer was impressed enough with some A4 prints of some of my sharpest slides. Notwithstanding, I felt I needed something better for 35mm and settled on the Minolta Scan Élite II, a dedicated film unit, with auto and manual focusing, the latter permitted focus on almost any part of the image. It runs on XP only but comes with excellent software. I stuck with this after trying Vuescan and Silverfast and which found mindnuming to use.

    • Look, most of us don’t have enlargers in this day and age. They take up a lot of space. So a scanner is our only real window into our film images, and the poor results that come from most available options right now are about the same as shooting with a toy lens on your digital camera. It’s not a bad thing to want to be able to SEE our film photos.

      • You have a point. The issue with domestic market flatbed scanners is most are not up to the task with 35mm films for the very reasons someone else posted here. Sadly, in a way, this is what the majority seems to shoot nowadays and unless you have access to one of the commercial grade scanners disappointment with 35MM scans won’t be far away. But, having said this, more than acceptable scans are entirely possible from anyone who has an insight into the dark art of scanning techniques.

        But jump to MF and 5×4 and all the woes of the 35mm shooter go by the wayside, It’s the same old story – we’d say a good big ‘un beats a good little’ un every day.

  • Thanks for this excellent article. I have largely abandoned film photography due to this lack.

    Until recently I owned the Plustek 120 and Silverfast, but frustrated by the sloth like performance of the hardware and the bloat of the software. An expert on scanning even wrote a book on Silverfast, so complicated is it.

    I have a Pixl-atr and a Sigma DP3 for the other method. DP3 might be a strange choice, but ISO is not an issue neither is in camera processing, and I always wanted to try the Foveon sensor. However there is much work still to be done, including a need for the Sigma macro lens attachment and there I have languished, even sold a couple of film cameras during the last couple of months. The whole thing is so “Heath Robinson” (Rube Goldberg in US) that I really don’t see much future in this arrangement.

    What I see is 35mm film gradually adopting a similar significance to the field camera, reserved for the committed artist, with a very small minority of folk bothering with snapshottery on a 35mm film camera.

    It is a very bad sign that when I advertised a broken Nikon 4000 scanner, there was fierce competion to buy it, the guy who bought it paid nearly £300 and he wasn’t even sure whether he would be able to make a working scanner with that purchase and the broken Nikon 4000 that he already owned.

    Lastly, for me the major issue is that (apart from Leica, Lomo and Intrepid) there are virtually no companies making film cameras any more. From a scanner hardware company standpoint, such minority manufacturers are hardly an inducement to introduce new hardware, let alone decent software. As far as I can see, processing software is limited to one man bands like the brilliant guy that makes Iridient Developer, and of course Abe Fettig, who also has software for use with any scanned file (still in its infancy), but very simple and effective.

    In other words, there does not seem to be any reason for enthusiasm by film photographers.

    “Suck” is probably a good choice by way of description.

    • You can still buy a brand new Nikon F6 film SLR. This has to be one of the best 35mm film cameras ever made (although I am sticking to my Leica M6).

      VueScan does what it does, but there is a dark side if you ever send in a technical support request. The VueScan “team” is to software support what Basil Fawlty was to hopitality! They are so shockingly rude, and start with the attitude “blame the user”, it is borderline comical.

  • Dear Josh. Scanning is digital microphotography. This is a very sensitive thing. Think of it. Micro. This means you should deal with a micro movements, dust, high resolution optics, micro vibrations. Every time. Machines that can properly do it are very expensive. My scanner costs now 7000 and was 40000 in 2000s. But it can resolve a grain. It weights 70 kg and contains rodenstock lens and glass. This is fair.
    Also proper copystand for the dslr, have many nuances, and can’t be cheap. Right color temp of the backlight, backlight distribution, film feeding and holding, light blending, macro lens. Take it all into account.

    There is no way to make software controlled handheld plastic fantastic. You can’t fool the physics even with the AI. Prepare to pay normal industrial price, which seems expensive for the young lads

  • I love a good rant, so: Hear, hear! to everything you said.

    I started developing and scanning my own b/w film so that, in time, my per-roll cost would shrink. My favorite lab now charges upwards of $20 to develop and scan a roll of b/w! But I don’t find anything about the process to be enjoyable. At least the developing is neutral on the enjoyment scale — I do it, it doesn’t take much time, and unless I’m careless I get consistent and decent results.

    But scanning does simply suck. I have a CanoScan 9000F Mk II, which does 35mm and 120. The bundled CanoScan software was okay to use and its scans were barely acceptable for social media sharing but that was it. I had used SilverFast with my old scanner (Epson V300) and hated every minute of its awful interface. I would have soldiered on with it except that SilverFast requires you buy a full license per scanner WTF? So I bought VueScan this time (which will work with any scanner I point at it forevermore) and am pleased that its interface is merely poor.

    I immediately got better scans from VueScan, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually good scans. They’re good enough to use on my blog and for snapshot-sized prints. 120 scans are noticeably better than 35mm scans. But I shoot 90/10 35mm.

    Another blogger I follow upgraded from flatbed to Plustek last year for 35mm and his scans improved dramatically. I’m likely to try a Plustek next.

    And then there’s the time it takes. I scan at 2400 dpi using three passes, which means I can sit here for most of an evening scanning a roll of 35mm. If you forget the sunk costs for the developing equipment, chemicals, and the scanner, and you forget what my time is ostensibly worth, well golly: my per-roll cost is nominal. Except I can’t forget all of those costs. In the end, taking on dev/scan of my own film has merely traded one problem profile for another.

    I get it: we’re using what is now a niche medium, and there is therefore minimal investment in the technologies surrounding it. Applause for the companies who still make film scanners — a dwindling number — Canon doesn’t appear to anymore. Applause for the software developers supporting film scanning. If there were enough of a market, more competition would enter, and theoretically it would mean better quality all around: in hardware, in software, in scanning results. But that’s the rub: the market is just big enough to support the players currently in it, and that’s about it. This is what we’ve got. We can only make the best of it.

  • Thanks for this article.
    I am glad to read that I am not the only one to think that sdigitising film is an horrible experience!
    I am using an Epson v600 which, a part the rubbish software and the quite appalling holders, I can’t complain to much.
    I use Silverfast as a software, and it is quite automatised. Is basically a matter of load/unload the negatives into the holders.
    I have to admitt that I do this process in the quickest way possible because I really don’t enjoy it. Infact I want to learn printing, I just can’t wait.

    Just yesterday I had my first attempt on using my DSLR on a tripod. I am not sure I will give it a second go. To me, was even worse than the scanner!
    Also, when I think that I have to post pro all the images, I get depressed.

    Yeah, the digital side of film fotography (strange to write this) is not really for me

  • The other problem with DSLR scanning is its particularly ineffective for medium format. Shooting 6×6, DSLR scans are often about half the resolution as 35mm, which mitigates a major advantage of the format.

    And the fact that people are still running G4 PowerMacs to hook up to their vintage scanners is ridiculous.

    I wonder if the new Raspberry Pi camera module with a c mount could be used as the basis for a lower cost scanner that wouldn’t require a DSLR.

  • Scanning is the the black hole of hybrid film to digital photography. Much like calling tech support for a computer problem or trying to find out why your damn hearing aids just decided to stop ‘hearing.’ Yup, two out of the three happened to me this week.
    Oh, and the bulb burned out in my Beseler 45 MCRX. At least I could replace that!

  • Avatar
    Charlotte – 35mm October 9, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Hear, hear! I’ve outsourced the developing and scanning of my film to FilmDev, entirely. I realised the impending faff of having to soup, dry and scan all the images I was taking was putting me off – this is meant to be a hobby! Now the kind people at FilmDev do it for me, and for a very reasonable price too. Problem solved. I did previously have a Nikon Coolscan V, which was the least painful scanner to use, but sold it to buy a flatbed Canon, to accommodate medium format-sized film. Huge mistake!

  • Hey Josh, long time lurker, first time caller. Scanning film is terrible. About a year ago, I scanned some Kodak Tri-X on a run of the mill Canon Printer. Looked like someone took sandpaper to the negative. This year, I got a cheap light box, some clips, and latched on a vintage Minolta macro lens and the results were 100% better. It’s tedious to do, a pain in the ass really. Makes me want to send my stuff to Darkroom and be done with it. You’d think someone would have a better process by now. I’ve been using a Plustek feed scanner to take care of family prints. If only someone had a simple option like that.

  • Josh,
    Fun article but I’m guessing you never spent all summer in the darkroom making hundreds of color 8x10s with a Kodak Model 11 color processor. Yeah it help that I had an omega heater/thermostat and a color analyzer, but there was definitely nothing cool about it once you got past 10 prints… 2 mins dev…1 min blix…. I still have nightmares.

    TZ

    • Well said. We seem to have forgotten how soul destroying this is. Then you get the scratches on the prints from the tongs, dust spots that can’t be easily removed using Photoshop. And I’m colour-blind (red/green) so it was a particular nightmare for me.

      However dismal scanning is, it’s not (usually) performed in an environment laden with chemical fumes, or in the dark. And the resultant scan can be cleaned up digitally prior to printing.

      • I suppose that the difference is betweeb being an hobby and not a job.
        I would be more than happy to spend time in a darkroom (time by time) rather than spend hours in front of a monitor.
        Again, because is a hobby. As soon as something became a job the “game” change.
        🙂

    • Yes! Back in the pre-digital days I started out developing and printing my own film, then worked as an assistant and B&W printer. I miss some things about darkroom printing but not the chemicals and the sheer tedium of having to do endless test prints to get a burn or dodge right.

      I shelled out for an Epson V-750 Pro and I’m generally happy with it and Epson Scan. My one problem has been with color correction. I have almost no experience printing color and sometimes get completely stuck when trying to do corrections in Photoshop.

  • Plustek’s consumer options are actually great scanners. They work very well and produce high quality images reliably. Silverfast is a bit of a challenge at first. And it doesn’t handle imperfectly exposed negatives very well. But for the price, it’s good. The MAJOR problem with Plustek’s scanner (I’m using the 8200 as mentioned by Josh in the article – but this applies to all of their consumer-level scanners) is that the speed is abysmally slow. I’ve spent whole evenings sitting at the desk just scanning negatives for articles on this site. It’s so tedious, and I can’t imagine it would be very difficult to create an automated version of the Plustek, but I’m also not an engineer.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts on scanning. At this point I think I just want the Nikon D850 and the ES-2 attachment…

  • I started shooting black and white film about six months ago with the idea that it could help improve my photography… I suppose like mountain biking up hills improved my karate, and teaching science to screen-addled teenagers improved my understanding of science. There were barriers of course, number one being I don’t have the space or time or money for a darkroom and all that it would entail so a scanner (an epson v600… and refurbished at that) was my only option. I looked into dslr scanning but I would have had to pick up a macro lens and a stand and then there’s the footprint issue…alas. However, I can’t wait for the negatives to dry so I can scan them. Yes, sometimes there’s dust on them and yes, my dslr images ALWAYS have greater resolution and clarity (and are in focus because I’m old and need bifocals) but getting the digitized results is almost as high on the fun hierarchy scale as hearing the shutter flop open and close (rb67). I’m still terrible at using the spot meter and choosing zones and I’ve uttered many a power word getting film loaded onto a reel in a bag… but scanning time is the best time. To each his own and provolone.

  • Avatar
    shootfilmridesteel October 9, 2020 at 10:03 am

    Scanning is the part of the process that sucks all the fun out of it. I finally gave up and jumped on the mirrorless bandwagon after my V700 gave up the ghost, and catching a couple things on sale made it the cheaper option. I will admit that I still wish I had the kind of money that meant I could outsource the whole thing, but it is better and significantly faster than a flatbed. I still soup and scan myself so I can apply the cost savings to offset the rising price of the pro stocks at Kodak. Plus I seem headed to another attempt at 4×5, so nothing in my world is getting cheaper anytime soon.

    So Josh, I’m right there with you. If you find yourself in the mountains, ping me and we’ll have a beer to commiserate.

  • When I first got back into film a few years ago, I enjoyed scanning. Well, I didn’t exactly “enjoy” it, but it *was* cool to see the images pop up on my laptop desktop. I was using — and continue to use — an Epson V550.

    Now, I dread scanning. I put my head down and grind through it, but as B.B. King sang, “The thrill is gone.”

    A year or so ago, I upgraded the OS on my Macbook Air, and Epson’s software no longer worked. Epson offered a free SilverFast 8 download for everyone in my position. It took a while to get the hang of it, but I did. (Thanks, YouTube.)

    That said, I look forward to the day when scanners and their software enter the current decade, and scanning becomes a little less of a chore.

  • There is a good reason why Pakon scanners are so pricey, as they can scan an entire roll in five minutes…albeit with ancient software. Very glad that I bought mine for a little over $200 back in 2013, before anyone knew how good they are..

  • I will try to keep it very brief. In the analog era I loved shooting with film and all the post-processing – dark rooms, chemical baths, enlargers etc …
    Years later, that urge for analog returned and I bought the necessary gear again, with the exception of the darkroom, which became an Epson 600V scanner.
    After about half a year (or less), the Epson 600V had killed all the love that remained.
    What I learned from it:
    The way of shooting with 35mm film, carefully looking at and approaching the subject, choosing the right shutter speed and aperture, focusing and capturing, all that was actually what I loved.
    I have found love for photography again, only because of the digital I had started working differently, so now I photograph digitally but in the analog way.

    • One thing I have tried with a digital camera that simulates the experience with a film camera, is to do everything or almost everything manually. That means pick an iso setting (no autoiso), no autoexposure, and no autofocus. That way the experience is very similar to using a film camera, though there is the advantage of an immediate image that can then be altered or changed or redone.

  • Good, fast, cheap – pick two. That was the choice my software development organization offered our clients. That has also been the choice with scanning, right from the very beginning, and it’s not likely to change. My setup for 35mm is very good and super fast but it is based on a Leitz BEOON copy stand, which is very hard to find and costs at least $400m when you do, and a used Fuji X-E2 that I bought for $250, so it is not cheap. My view is that life is to short to scan 35mm with a Plustek or an Epson.

  • I love this article. I hate scanning film so much I actually prefer printing my B&W negatives in the darkroom. For me, that is less frustrating and time consuming. I don’t enjoy the time spent using a scanner, managing the digital files, making all of the corrections in Photoshop…

    I outsource scanning color to a lab but that is so expensive.

  • This. Absolutely every bit of this. I’m getting out of 35mm because of scanning. 120 is great, but 35mm is a waste of effort, much as I love the cameras. There’s no reason we should be fighting over overpriced, outdated, beat-to-crap scanners from 20 years ago. I shouldn’t need a SCSI card to get a high-res scan in 2020. The tech is ancient, at this point.

    And if I’m going to scan with a DSLR, I may as well just use a DSLR to shoot. Think about it. You’re just putting your negative through a CMOS filter under a Bayer filter. That’s no better than a digital camera. You’re just adding more steps.

  • Well, yes and no. Personally, developing film is no picnic either. Face it, there are a lot of variables from start to finish in producing an image. Film type, exposure, development, scanning and/or printing, and postprocessing are all potential sources of variation and frustration. Not to be completely cynical, but digital photography bypasses some of these variables and certainly is much faster. I use a plustek OpticFilm 8100 scanner and VueScan software and am reasonably satisfied with the process and results of scanning.

  • Whoa, I thought whole point of film photography was to “slow down” and “be more in touch with the process” and all the other hipstery rationalizations for using an inconvenient, wasteful technology that produces inferior results so you can tell everybody you’re special. If all that is true for you, why shouldn’t the digitizing step be part of the bag o’ hurt? Just keep posting about your sufferings, and soon struggling with a cantankerous, obsolete scanner and computer will impress your bros and baes just as much as struggling with your cantankerous, obsolete cameras and weird East European films.

  • I swear I was waiting for you to mention the Cameradactyl Mongoose as another scanning solution, especially as it’s currently in a Kickstarter campaign. Maybe another article after you have time to review it?

    • I’d be happy to give it a try. Will reach out to the creator. We’ve worked with him in the past. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • I am someone who loves Josh articles/reviews, and I reat them several times … 😉
    I like to take photos, … so I have found a good way :
    I have found a exceptional pro lab which provides to me perfect scans which could be also be made in a very high quality with a Hasselblad scan for the best of them. This lab is wonderful for film processing and scan : https://www.rewindphotolab.com.au
    This one of the best lab in the world from – Sydney NSW Australia.
    I do not like to stick on a computer to fix my images, I prefer to take more, the scan they give to me are perfect. The price I pay is the price I do not waste in a computer and with a scan : scan or DLSR.
    Thanks Josh

  • The whole reason I got into analog photography is that I couldn’t get a decent print from a digital camera. I know people can get good prints, you probably can, but I couldn’t. I do a full analog process with traditional chemistry. I like the fact that at no point do I need to think about resolution or if my editing software is up to date.

    I know it is not to everyone’s taste, some wouldn’t have the patience but for me it works. My goal is a clean clear print. If I want an digital version I can scan the print in a flat bed, but I rarely do.

    My best to all. Charlie

  • So, since I only shot film and I love the quality of 120 and 4×5, back in 2014 I did a major financial effort and bought a brand new Flextight X1. Simple, fast, easy, good!……and discontinued 😞.

    Last December Hasselblad took it off their website, announced they won’t be updating the software (which already does not run in the newest Mac Os) and mentioned that they will service them as long as they have spare parts (which might not be for long).

    Not the life cycle I was expecting when I spend 10k in this (awesome) machine…

    Anyway, switching to wet colodion!

  • Nice article. But having recently begun my journey back in to film and inevitable scanning. I quickly came to the conclusion that using a vuescan .dng(raw) file from both a Plustek 7500i and a canon 8800f and using either of negative lab pro in LR or Grain2pixel in PS. I’m getting through scanning pretty quickly. What’s an odd hour here or there?
    What I have found is though regardless of scanning tech/age is that if you have an ultra modern pc ie fast processor large RAM then processing of the raw data happens so much quicker.

  • Hey there!

    I am exactly the youngster that just got into film photography and now wants to cut cost (because there’s a reason the hashtag « #staybrokeshootfilm » exist on IG) and also have more control on my end result after my lab butchered a Lomo purple and damn WTH life!!! I AM actually contemplating the idea of buying a DSLR thinking this could improve my skills too but this is f**** stupid! 2020 is already a pain and when you find light in all that despair it comes back spitting in your face with 1500$ gear that requires VM and 5 hours of work and you just want all of this to end by swallowing your MD rokkor 45mm with maple syrup (see what I did here?). Anyway really happy to curse with y’all. Can’t wait for one company to understand the matter AND the money to be made and release a non outdated but still 800$ film scanner.

    • Wow, and I thought my hearing aids buggered up we’re a problem (sir, you can’t take a picture. Sir? SIR?!) 😂
      Bulk load your film ( with the exception of travel); it’ll give you new demons to curse. Get an enlarger and set up a work area temp or perm.) Money better spent than on a dslr. You get the ultimate solitude experience to deal with COVID-19. And, if you’re so inclined to follow quack cures, a variety of chemicals to try!
      Thanks for your rant. I loved it!
      Dan

  • I have no issues with scanning film. Digicam, macro lens, Nikon ES-2 holder, negativelabpro.com (which just received an amazing upgrade).
    Results are awesome and quick. At resolutions far higher than commercially offered.

    For medium format film – the above but replace the ES-2 with a copy stand and digitliza film holders.

    You need to change your workflow.
    😉

    35mm film (B&W home developed in Cinestill Monobath DF96)

    Delta 3200 @ ISO 1000 developed as 3200:
    https://flic.kr/p/2jQeYZh

    Arista 100 shot at 400, developed as 400:
    https://flic.kr/p/2jPpv16

    Silberra Orta 50:
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/5bdbze

    Kodak ProImage 100:
    https://flic.kr/p/2jMCUNm
    https://flic.kr/p/2jMWK26

    Fuji C200:
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/xrmRif

    120 film:

    6×4.5
    Hasselblad H1, Ilford Delta 100:
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/58NPqu
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/c9q9a5
    Kodak Portra 160NC:
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/7RL8B6

    6×6
    Lomo LC-A 120 w/ Fuji Superia 400
    https://flic.kr/p/2jJGnEL
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/X0Xy6D

    6×9
    Fuji GW690III w/ Kodak Trix320:
    https://flic.kr/p/2jJn2HP

    Even does pano E6 Film!:
    Fuji Xpan2, Kodak E100
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/073K3L

    Aaaand 110 film!:

    Rollei A110, Lomo Tiger:
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/96xND9

    ok 110 film is a complete pain in the a$$, as it is so tiny. But the rest? I find it enjoyable, even meditative. Turn down the lights, put some Rob Zombie on the play list, and get into the groove..

    Stay safe and keep well Josh!

    Huss

  • Josh, I took a darkroom class the summer of 2019 so I could print in the traditional way. The pandemic forced me to get a scanner v600 because the darkroom I used closed for awhile.

    At first, scanning was a huge pain and took more than an hour for a 36 frame roll because the scanner would pause too long after each frame. Then, I found out about a patch, and now I can scan in much less time. My biggest problem now is curly film. I avoid Tri-X and Fuji.

    • Get your film in and out of your camera – plastic does have a memory. Keep wet time to a minimum. Try a wetting agent, like Kodak Photo-Flo or Sprint’s End Run. Accurately mix to specific instructions or you’ll be dealing with greasy film on the surface of the base or streaks. Hang your film to dry with sufficient weight to hold it straight for 24 hours (dust free, of course.) Shoot HP-5.

  • I am nowhere near as experience as the rest of you, but I have had two Epson scanners, the last being the V500. I wanted to digitise my family historic photos plus all the ones that I have taken on film of various film sizes. My Dad even had photos taken on quarter plate, but I could only scan the photos, not the negative in that case.
    The incident that made me rethink the scanning approach, was when I tried to scan a photo that my Dad took in 1910 of himself aged 10, repairing his boots. He also made the camera himself.
    My scanner, via the computer, sent a message that it was impossible to scan the image, because of the poor image quality. But, I thought that I could see the image well, including the bricks in the brick floor that my Dad had sat both his last and himself on. So, I took a photo of the photograph, remembering that was how photocopies were made years ago. I used a high quality digital camera.
    That photo was transferred quickly to my computer and I edited it. The final image was relatively superb, and far more detail could be seen, than my eyesight had been aware of.
    So I went back through all the photos that I had painfully scanned, with time taken to achieve all the precision that I could get. I photographed the photos. The results were amazingly superior to the scans, and the process was far quicker.
    I kept the scanned images and the photo copied ones side by side on my computer for comparison.
    My problem comes in that I have a lot of old negatives, some of which I have scanned, and most have no corresponding prints.
    Should I try to get them all printed, and then photograph the prints, or put up with the inferior scans. Or are there any projectors that I could use to project the image onto a superb screen, and then photo that.
    I took one photo of an old studio photo, which was about 8inches by 5 inches, of my mother aged about 7 years old in 1912. She was standing with her parents, brother and sister. I enlarged the image of each person’s head and neck, on my computer, to fill a 3inch square frame. The quality was amazing.
    Scanning could not match that at all.
    Has anyone else tried this, please, or am I just being stupid and missing something.

  • Hi All, after 10 months of trying and testing (with a few breaks) I have achieved the results which I am satisfied with: Epson V550 (scanned direclty from the glass, 2400 ppi) + Silverfast 8 (unsharp mask deactivated, only histogram manipulation) + Lightroom (for sharpening and overall setup contrast/exposure). It failed with my previous attempts (ANR glass with the out-of-the box Epson mask, elavated by different heights). Best regards from Poland 🙂 Marcin

  • I agree, scanning is a hassle. I have had decent luck using the batch scan function in Silverfast astride the “Job Manager”. With the job manager I can remove lousy shots not worth scanning from the group of images before starting the batch scan. I usually scan at 3400 and 18 images doesn’t take very long to scan. A good option is to have a few extra film carriages to immediately scan another set of images while importing the scanned set into the processing program. This speeds up the process. For color film, I fiddle with the whites and blacks and white balance using the eyedropper tools before scanning. I have been using Capture One rather than Lightroom since I find CO much better for removing inevitable magenta or other color casts. That said, a small adjustment of the hue to the green bias in LR will remove magenta cast. Silverfast is prone to crashing. I have tried DSLR scanning and conversion using Negative Lab Pro for color, but it’s a hassle to get good colors from the process, although I can’t say I have a lot of practice.

    The Epson film holders are not good. The 35mm are very fragile. It is hard to mount 120 film into that Epson holder, the width of the film is greater than the width of the holder I usually trim a small sliver off of the long edge to solve this problem for flatter film mounting.

    I have tried the ANR glass method for 120. The set I have has snap in holders applied in between each frame. It too is a hassle and I find myself having to handle the film too much resulting in more dust accumulation and if I am not wearing gloves, more fingerprints. My glass set will only handle 3 images at a time, meaning I have to cut the film into 4 sets of 3 and I then have a “blank” in the storage sleeve.

    If the exposures are all reasonably the same, working on one image in Silverfast then using the apply settings to all images before scanning saves time in post processing.

    Silverfast’s dust removal option works reasonably well, but I haven’t been able to figure out the fine-tuning or use of the “vectors” there from being too lazy.

  • Good rant. Nothing more to add. 🙂

    Plustek btw recently released a new 120 scanner. But also around the 2000 euro. So that one is not cheap either.

    If you need inspiration for a next rant. Just think about the face that there are almost no new analog camera’s being made anymmore and the F6 just got discontinued.

  • I don’t really get what the big deal is, seems to me a lot of you are just overcomplicating things. Let me outline two cheap, fast and hassle free ways to scan 35mm:

    You can get a refurbished Nikon LS-4000 which does whole rolls of 36 in one go for around 400 EUR. (For those who say you can’t, I’m talking about the SA-21 mod which is super easy to do yourself) Just stick the uncut roll in, do an index scan (1 minute) and then do the actual scan, walk away and one hour later you have a whole roll scanned at gorgeous 4000 DPI, sharp corner to corner The only caveat is you need a Firewire port, well they make those as seperate add-on cards for PCI and Laptop ports.. Really not a big deal IMO. These Nikon scanners by the way are built to last and have plenty of spare parts out there.

    Or go the copystand route. Get a second hand stand (why buy these new, people are DYING to sell them locally often. Think about it, if you’re Joe Bloggs who’se not into photography these things are massive paperweights and people will give them away for 5% what you pay for one new.), Sony A5100, Nikkor enlarger lens, film holder and high CRI lightpad off amazon. You can do 36 shots in about 10 minutes this way at 24MP. Batch reverse in Negative Lab Pro, whole post process for 3 full rolls takes me around 50 minutes. The cost? Under 250 EUR if you’ve got a bit of patience and know how to play eBay.

    Bottom line is you shouldn’t be spending over 500 for a fast and easy solution. The market is flooded with cheap 24MP mirrorless and crop DSLRs from the last 5 years, and lucky for you thats all you need in 35mm anyway. (more MP gives sharper grain and often looks worse IMHO. It certainly does not give any more detail)

  • Imagine being a youngster who’s just learning how to take photographs using a film camera, falling in love with the medium, buying wholly into the “buy film not megapixels” mantra, and then being told to spend even more money on a digital camera anyway just to get acceptable scans. It’s a sham, plain and simple, and we shouldn’t have dug ourselves into this hole in the first place.

    Yes, yes it is. Which is why most photographers, skip the film part, spend the money on a digital camera and use software based film styles and film grain in post. I shot film and digital but the “buy film not megapixels” mantra is a sham, plain and simple.

  • I’ve been using epson scan to scan a negative film in a way to get a negative as the output of that software then using Negative Lab Pro to convert it to a positive. This works best in my humble opinion because NLP is easy enough that a beginner to get use and get great results while also having the ability to be bent to the will of a pro (or in my case a student with more time to fuck around with the programme than I should).

  • I was in the darkroom back in the mid-80s. Hated most of it. I’m not a wet lab kinda guy.
    My least favorite part of film photography is printing in the darkroom. I’m *thinking* about getting back into developing film on my own…that’s a different process and a lot more fun for me!
    But this is my current workflow:
    I ship film to a lab in the US, and they develop the film and and provide low-res scans of each frame (included in the price of developing) and upload them for immediate access and also provide a CD when they send my developed film back.
    I use those scans like a contact sheet, for filing, and also for picking out the best frames (if any!) for full-on scanning with my Nikon 9000. I bought the used (serviced) 9000 since it will do medium format as well. I use NikonScan on Win 10, and I scan the negative as a positive (“RAW scan”), and bring that in to PS for conversion with the ColorPerfect plug-in, and sometimes use Kodak’s ROC on top of that…the Kodak software is still out there for download if you look hard enough 😉
    I am really pleased with the results I get with this workflow. Admittedly, it took several years to work out the kinks to get the results I wanted. All part of the hobby, I figure.
    One thing I realized the other day…when I took my son’s senior portrait with my digital cam, there were moire effects visible in the image. I couldn’t get rid of them (the weave in part of his clothing interfering with the sensor’s pixels.) You NEVER see moire effects on film!
    To comment on another comment: I’ve never seen a picture of a picture look better than a properly handled scan of an original negative.
    Keep on scannin’! (But a man’s got to know his limitations, LOL.)

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

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