Scanning Film

I’m sitting at the dining room table with my film scanner attached to my laptop. I’m using VueScan from Hamrick software to scan in some negatives. There is something about the slow process of film that is very reflective and analytical. I’m taking this chance to record the process I use when working with film.

Firstly, the scanner I use has a frame that is designed to hold a strip of 6 negatives or another frame that holds 4 slides. When I get the film developed I just get them to develop and cut. This is the cheapest option as it just involves bathing the film in the appropriate chemicals, cutting and packaging it. The biggest advantage to getting it cut is that the developed film is delivered to me in a flat envelope. This means the film has spent a bit of time being flat which makes it easier to load into the flat frame of the scanner. When I’ve had uncut film, it is transported in a roll which makes loading the frame notoriously fiddly.

Loading the frame gets easier the more you do it. I’ve found that just handling the film by the edges with cleans hands means I keep it looking pristine. If I need to move the film in the frame a little, I use a micro-fibre cloth to grab the film with. Once the film is positioned correctly in the frame I use a blower to shift any dust then I load the frame into the scanner.

I use VueScan to drive the scanner. I’ve tried various other tools but I’ve stuck with VueScan as it gives me the best results with this scanner. The biggest bonus with VueScan is that it knows how to drive the scanner directly, so there is no driver hell. Now that I’ve managed to get my head around VueScan’s settings I can achieve the best result every time.

Here are the important VueScan settings I use when scanning various types of film:

Negative Colour
Input Tab:
  • Media: Colour negative
  • Bits per pixel: 48 bit RGB – this gives VueScan the best amount of latitude to play with
  • Scan resolution: 4000 dpi – this is the highest resolution of my scanner
  • Auto focus: always
  • Number of passes: 1
Crop Tab:
  • Crop size: Maximum – I prefer to save to cropping decision till later
Filter Tab:
  • Infrared clean: Light
  • Restore colours: No
  • Restore fading: No
  • Grain reduction: Light
  • Sharpen: No
Colour tab:
  • Colour balancer: Auto levels
  • Negative vendor/brand/type: I set these values to compensate for negative film’s orange colour cast
  • Output colour space: sRGB
Output Tab:
  • JPEG file: Yes
  • JPEG size reduction: 1
  • JPEG quality: 100
Black and White
Input Tab:
  • Media: B/W negative
  • Bits per pixel: 48 bit RGB – this gives VueScan the best amount of latitude to play with
  • Scan resolution: 4000 dpi – this is the highest resolution of my scanner
  • Auto focus: always
  • Number of passes: 1
Crop Tab:
  • Crop size: Maximum – I prefer to save to cropping decision till later
Filter Tab:
  • Infrared clean: None
  • Restore colours: No
  • Restore fading: No
  • Grain reduction: Light
  • Sharpen: No
Colour tab:
  • Colour balancer: Auto levels
  • Negative vendor/brand/type: Generic – this is to let the film’s character come through
  • Output colour space: sRGB
Output Tab:
  • JPEG file: Yes
  • JPEG size reduction: 1
  • JPEG quality: 100
Colour Slide
Input Tab:
  • Media: Slide film
  • Bits per pixel: 16 bit Gray – this gives VueScan the best amount of latitude to play with
  • Make gray from: Green – since green is the most likely to carry the best detail
  • Scan resolution: 4000 dpi – this is the highest resolution of my scanner
  • Auto focus: always
  • Number of passes: 1
Crop Tab:
  • Crop size: Maximum – I prefer to save to cropping decision till later
Filter Tab:
  • Infrared clean: None
  • Restore colours: No
  • Restore fading: No
  • Grain reduction: None
  • Sharpen: No
Colour tab:
  • Colour balancer: Auto levels
  • B/W vendor/brand/type: Generic – this is to let the film’s character come through
  • Output colour space: sRGB
Output Tab:
  • JPEG file: Yes
  • JPEG size reduction: 1
  • JPEG quality: 100
  • JPEG black/white: Yes

I use JPEG over 16bit TIFF as I’ve found that when VueScan does it’s automatic processing it pulls out as much contrast as is possible. The extra depth gained by TIFF files has minimal effect, so I’d rather save disk space than store detail I don’t require.

This is my recipe for consistently getting the best out of slide scanning. If you have any other hints or tips, feel free to comment below.

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