How to scan film – Colour

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by Bellamy /

7 min read


How to scan film – Colour by Guilherme maranhão
Well, we lost this post in the pre-vacation purge that the hosting company graciously bestowed upon me. So I have had to do it all over again. But it is here now. Guilherme maranhão is back with the second instalment on his scanning guides. In this one he works with a couple of different scanners to show different and useful techniques. Check it out.

This guide is an addition to the basic guide published earlier. In this guide we will focus on toning color images in a more practical way and will discuss two different scanners and their software, the Epson V600 and the Kodak/Pakon F135. The key word here is practical, my intention is to offer a simple, repeatable workflow that respects the natural colors of your film and doesn’t take ages to complete, making film shooting more intentional and adequate in this digital world.

Again, I explain my choices a bit, the V600 is affordable and easy to get new and used anywhere in the world, well, at least easier. It is also easy to use. Resolution is not real and film holders have many complaints. The Pakon can only be found used, it scans 35mm negative film only (color or B&W), not the highest resolution, but it is practical in any other sense you can imagine, saving precious time!

So follow the instructions in the Basic Guide to load your negatives in your scanner up until you get to the preview step. Remember to select settings that will make the resulting scans easier to deal with, more bits and enough resolution, less contrast and sharpening, a tiff file. On Epson Scan software, for example, you can access the Configuration window, that has a Color panel that looks like this:

01b_V600settings

There are three possible Color settings for Epson Scan, No Correction will leave the images positive, corrected for the orange mask, but no contrast or color correction applied afterwards. Color Sync will be equivalent to a gamma adjustment or some contrast will applied. Color Control will change color on every image, like an Auto Levels function. I usually choose the middle one, so the software doesn’t judge color beyond the conversion and at the same time I get some contrast to make using Lightroom easier, Lightroom has short range on contrast controls. Using this setting also helps with series of images on the roll of film so you can use same actions or presets later on, but is not that reliable as you can see when resulting images got imported into Lightroom.

01_gridV600

On the Pakon scanner the output is always 24-bit, so getting some decent color before hand is a must. After the scanner previews all images on the screen I usually do a Select All command and dial in some color correction to all at once. In the example bellow I added 1 unit of Red, 3 units of Green and 4 units of Blue, decreased the Contrast by 2 units and increased Exposure by 2 units as well. The red outline on the previews indicates which images are being edited.

The Pakon scanner and its software is much more able to keep an entire roll of film shot at one place with one kind of light looking like that, as you can see here. This is the ideal situation after a series of scans of images pertaining to same job. To my understanding it reads the orange mask and uses DX-code to convert to positive while Epson Scan analyses the images individually.

02_grid_F135

So to illustrate this guide I picked an image of two gentlemen contemplating life from the top of their bikes as the Amazon River passes by in Macapá, Brazil. The Pakon scanner will make my job easier, but I’ll show how the two scans (one from the V600 and one from the Pakon) of the same image come to life. This photo was shot on Fuji Press 800, a neutral film by my standards that has less than normal shadow detail, whenever possible I avoid adding black to it, as it may kill the image or make it too dark.

Will start with the one from the V600, here it is right after import to Lightroom, as I start to find the White Balance correction, it will change as we make changes to other variables. The original scan had a lot of blue and some green.

03_WB_V600

03_WB_V600_settings

Both the white shorts and the white boat had mixed lighting from reflections, the brighter clouds getting some sun light seemed better as a target. The software added too much magenta and I removed about 20 units manually. Still not the best color, but something better to keep going.

Working against what really annoys me, did some cropping, while starting to get a grip on toning.

Increased exposure a bit while holding back the highlights (this is similar to a fill light, maybe), removed some saturation (something I regularly do with V600 scans) and started to add black until a very small bit of clipping appeared. Didn’t feel a contrast curve was needed after blacks were introduced. On the other hand the contrast between skin and jeans was not really nice, looks like the colors are contaminated with each other.

04_V600_crop

05_V600-toning

Now the tricky part for the V600, Press 800 has a lot of grain, which I like a lot, this scanner doesn’t really show it, messing it up, so I avoided any noise reduction and increased the sharpening to give some grain back to the image. Higher value for sharpening and a higher value for radius will you get you stronger lines, keeping masking away from zero and detail kind of low will not let the image be only about grain.

Interesting how the ICE on the V600 left the horizontal scratch just above the horizon on this image. The ICE implementation on the Pakon software was able to get rid of it.

06_v600_sharpening2

08_V600_presence

The last step is to add some presence and then lower the WB correction some more as the contrast on the image had made it stronger.

macapa009

The image from the Pakon usually comes with the WB that I don’t feel the need to change. The clouds look white, so does the shorts and the boat. Looking at the jeans you see blue jeans and the same goes for skin. Someone could want a warmer image, using either some more yellow or split toning on the shadows.

My first step was to add blacks until I got a little clipping on the darker areas. Interesting to see how this film has little shadow detail and how clipping pops up in a bunch of different areas all at once.

03_F135_blacks

The image from the Pakon shows some lighter borders so I applied some vignetting tool to darken them a bit. Not sure if there is distortion or not from the Canon 35mm f/2 EF, but I tried to fix something that was bugging me in this image as well. I don’t really know why this image shows this when scanned at the Pakon.

Added some presence and saturation to give some punch to the image. Went on to crop the image and applied a graduate filter since the left side still appeared lighter to my eyes.

07_F135_presence

08_F135_crop

09_F135_graduated

Here is a before and after so far.

10_F135_BandA

One last step is to control the noise (I can see some different colors on the image grain) and to add sharpening to the image structure. With the Pakon I usually go for a lot of masking and zero detail to avoid loosing the beautiful grain it does.

11_noisereduc_F135

12_sharpen_F135

13_F135_details

Looking at the final image, I’m happier with the color on the jeans and leg you can see through the bicycle wheel. Seems more clear than the other scan.

AA023

If you got interested in learning more about the Pakon scanner, there is a Facebook Group devoted to it, it seems at the present the best online resource of used scanners and software to run this machine. It runs in Windows XP (or at least XP mode) only and for some people this is a deal breaker, it shouldn’t be, this scanner is worth the trouble of having Parallels and a Windows XP install on your Mac.

In order to go deeper into the scanning process, one can always study on how to get linear gamma scans of the negatives and how to process them in Color Perfect plugin for Photoshop, this a more elaborate and complex process, requires more expensive software and may yield better and more controllable results after a bit of a learning curve. The Pakon scanner is not compatible with this workflow, but the V600 is, although kind of cheap to be used with so much scanning effort.

I’m a Brazilian photographer based in Sao Paulo. I photograph weddings to make a living and I have been interested in scanners for a very long time. You can see some of my personal work here: http://www.guilhermemaranhao.art.br/

Thanks for sharing your tips and technique with us Guilherme. If you have any tips of your own please comment below.

Cheers
JCH

24 comments on “How to scan film – Colour”

    Carlos January 29, 2015 at 6:01 pm / Reply

    I’ve got no time for this, creating a bad replication of the original.
    Make a print, and present that on a real gallery; or use digital for the digital world.
    I have a scanner and have scanned thousands of film pictures. And it took ages of my photographic life-time away. No more!
    Go out and shoot.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great article with very useful tips. So if you want to be a professional scanning-master, this is an excellent start.

      Michael January 29, 2015 at 7:20 pm /

      Thanks for your opinion Carlos, just like a##holes, everyone’s got one.
      Next time leave the attitude though.

      Cheers,
      Michael

      John January 29, 2015 at 8:45 pm /

      I think Carlos made a fair point.
      Such a rigorous method of processing your scans almost seems to defy the point of shooting film in the first pace. It replicates the digital work flow maybe a little too much, especially the correction of anomalies like lens distortion.

      When I scan b&w film I prefer to only use levels in order to try and replicate the manipulation of contrast available in the darkroom. I think restraint in the adjustments you make is important but if this method suits your work flow then power to you.

      Great article nonetheless.

      pattyp January 30, 2015 at 3:26 am /

      dayyyuuuuuuuummmmmmm

      Carlos January 30, 2015 at 9:32 am /

      Hi Michael, thank you for the kind words and f* uself!
      kindest regards.

      Michael January 30, 2015 at 1:27 pm /

      Hi Carlos,
      Why bother to comment when you start with “I’ve got no time for this…”
      If you “”have a scanner and scanned thousands of photographic pictures”, did it take you that long to realise you didn’t like it? Why didn’t you print them like you recommend everyone else does? Maybe it wouldn’t have been so hard if there was a nice easy guide to scanning around? Gee, I wonder where you might find that? Maybe you’re just dirty that you never made it to “professional scanning-master” and so resent anyone who does it better than you did?
      Have a good day.
      Michael

      Ned January 31, 2015 at 1:34 am /

      Maybe Carlos went through the same process as me and countless others who had a big collection of slides and photos from the pre digital age?
      My children wanted them as family history and for them, in this digital age, that meant scanning to digital media.
      And yes, no matter how much time I took with the scanning, the colours on my 40 year old slides were always far superior to scans.
      That’s why when I shoot slides nowadays, I never bother to scan them.
      I use digital cameras for stuff for posting on digital media.
      Just my thoughts, as the Americans say, YMMV.

      Laszlo Juhos January 30, 2015 at 1:30 am /

      Wow. Could you be a little more rude? This is some useful information for those who like to shoot film and scan. So it’s not for you. Move on, do your own thing, and leave those who like these sort of thing to do their own.

    Chouv January 29, 2015 at 8:17 pm / Reply

    I agree with Carlos.
    Even though those tips are good, it is a very time consuming process and the reward is not that great.
    What you can get from a color negative scanned with a non professional scanner is a bit disappointing, and correcting those ****ing colors is a pain in the ass.
    You loose a lot of what makes analog photography attractive.

    If I had a place for myself, I’d rather buy an enlarger and print the negatives, then scan them to share online.

      Sean February 4, 2015 at 7:31 am /

      Thats why I suggest a combination of two programms called colorperfect and the famous vuescan software. Colorpefect has cost me 70€ recently but for my workflow its worth it. You scan it as a raw, which makes it for some scanners very easy too just leave them doing without being hours and hours in front of the scanner to tweak colour etc. then you use Colorperfect as a Photoshop Plugin to use the Rawfile and use the Filmpreset. In my impression its already really close to what you are used to professional labscans, then of course it cant be wrong to check wb and do a little bit of punch here and there, i mean you can still use hours of improving if you like, but you got with a rather short amount of time with this two programms already very nice results. The problem is mainly to find out about the right technique, this was the most timeconsuming issue, actually learning how to scan (and iam still learning about it). If you once are able to create a good workflow its far easier than most people think. And thats the reason why its great to have such Articles, or you will become frustrated as Carlos one day…..
      With slides its again another thing, which brings me to idea I have to write about bellamy, which could make slide scanning aaaaaaaaaaaalot easier for all of us….

    Rui Esteves January 29, 2015 at 10:31 pm / Reply

    Scanning is a pain, color film even more.

    Great article. As soon as Epson stop being dicks and solve my V600 problem, I’m going to put you tips to good use.

    Benson Tran January 29, 2015 at 11:54 pm / Reply

    When I scan film, I don’t usually make corrections in Lightroom. In my opinion, the charm and appeal of analog is lost for me if I go into Lightroom with my scans. Really good article though!

    edgar January 30, 2015 at 5:47 am / Reply

    Good tips. I use a Nikon coolscan 9000 to scan. At first I would let the scanner make the change for me. I thought the photos looked good. Then I bought color perfect and started to do the linear scans. So much better. If you can do color perfect, its worth it.

    Rollbahn January 30, 2015 at 8:15 am / Reply

    Scanning colour is such a pain to get right.

    I have tried Color Perfect with a Sprintscan 120, V700 and then Coolscan scans and now I own a Pakon and an Imacon but can never get it looking the way I like the colours on the Fuji SP-3000 scans and to a lesser extent the Noritsu.

    The Fuji whites/greys and blacks are spot on and you don’t get that those terrible skin tones etc – you generally can pick a V600/V700 scan a mile away unfortunately. The pinky hues in the concrete, the overly red skin tones, Of course it’s all subjective and judging from Flickr most people are happy with the output.

    It’s a shame no-one has come up with a consumer grade scanner that gets things close to where they should be straight out of the box. I guess that situation isn’t going to get any better now either :)

    I’m going to give darkroom printing a go and see how it goes. That’s a whole other steep learning curve but it will be fun to try a purely analogue path. Meanwhile it’s off to the lab with the Fuji SP-3000 for my rolls.

    Michael January 30, 2015 at 1:32 pm / Reply

    Back on topic now.
    I found I never got proper colours until I profiled my scanner using an IT8 target from Wolf Faust and Vuescan software. I profiled it once, colours come out perfect every time. I highly recommend it to anyone who scans colour film.
    Good article, thanks.
    Michael

      Jun Z January 30, 2015 at 4:14 pm /

      Hi Michael,

      Did you use the reflective target from Wolf Faust? I just got the Fuji print target, and I was wondering if you could point me toward some resources on using it with VS.

      Thanks,
      Jun

      Michael January 31, 2015 at 4:06 am /

      Hi Jun,
      A web search of the two should land you there, I think it’s on the VS website. The target I use is N121111, it just looks like a mounted slide, it’s not reflective.
      Cheers,
      Michael

    Ned January 30, 2015 at 6:13 pm / Reply

    Carlos actually made 2 comments in his opening post. The latter complemented the article and the former questioned the logic of shooting film then scanning it.
    I tend to agree with him on that.
    I suppose it all depends on the target audience for your photos.

    murhaaya January 30, 2015 at 8:22 pm / Reply

    Yup, scanning is time consuming and scanning color is pain in the ass especially. I never know what are the “true” colors. But certainly less hassle than printing it in the darkroom, every single picture.

    When I see the scans from the local fuji lab, even though they have oversharpened grain, they are usually just nicer than mine. I have Nikon 5000, scan with VueScan into DNG and then I play with the scans there. But I still feel that there is a color cast, too green, to magenta, can’t seem to get good skintones … after a while I loose all senses of right colors and take a step back.

    To address a point raised rudely in the beginning of the coments. I see a value in scanning the pictures. It is cheap, in general quickier than printing (takes me about one hour to do one fine art bw print on 50x60cm when I account for setup up and cleaning up the dark room) and provides the photographer with way to share and back up the photos. Scanning film is like having a digital camera, that has a soul, can last many years on a single battery (or even operate without any batteries), shoots at almost any temperature and does not weight a ton with an added option of printing photos in the dark room… well what’s not to love here?

      Rollbahn February 4, 2015 at 11:48 am /

      My thoughts exactly – my father has the Nikon 5000 and the scan quality is excellent but it’s the same old issue with colour after Vuescan and then into PS or LR. While the Fuji scans are normally always over-sharpened and highly compressed (which is just a setting that can be changed), the colour is pretty much always spot-on straight off the scanner.

      As you quite rightly point out – there are so many options with film and scanning is just one of them. You can choose to do so many things from processing through to scanning, printing in the darkroom – endless fun :)

      I have recently been printing more photobooks of my work for my personal use. It is amazing all the things you worry about looking at a scan on a 27″ iMac screen melt away once you see your images in print. Even the lowest res Fuji scan from the local lab looks great in print. It serves as a reminder that it’s always about the image and less about the pixel-peeping.

    Guilherme Maranhão January 31, 2015 at 6:38 am / Reply

    I believe this is not a very rigorous method of processing scans, I like to believe this is a very practical one. I haven’t been able to find an easier route that leads to usable results so far, specially with the Pakon.
    About crossing a line and using Lightroom and correcting anomalies, I guess it stands together with finding the “true color” of a picture, I believe each photographer is entitled to set his own rules for his work. These rules control how the work to be done interacts with available technology and that’s usually what makes the challenge interesting to the photographer.

    Jaime Acosta February 1, 2015 at 6:53 am / Reply

    Just today I came home with a cheap flatbed scanner. I got myself a copy of Vuescan and spent some time getting things right on some BW negatives that I’ve developed at home.

    Sure, it’s a pain to get things right on just one image using a scanner, but I can’t fathom building a darkroom at home, blacking-out every window, installing sinks, plumbing, getting safety lights, an enlarger, gallons of chemicals, etc., followed by valuable time spent setting everything up, mounting the film, exposing the paper, dodging, burning, dipping in one tray, then the next, then the next one, and then hanging, drying, mounting or whatever the hell you do, etc, etc.

    To each his own, but I feel a hybrid workflow has many advantages.

    Mike March 8, 2015 at 7:05 pm / Reply

    The comments on this article are a microcosm of the Internet: caustic comments full of absolute nonsense.

    @Carlos – perhaps this workflow is not for you. Fine. Wet print all you like. Some people don’t have the space or ability to make wet prints, especially of colour film.

    @Michael – you can’t IT8 profile negative film. Can. Not. You’re thinking of slides.

    @murhayaa – there is no “true colour” of a negative film. Interpretation of the negative has always been part of the process.

    The posted workflow isn’t bad (I personally prefer the ColorPerfect/Lightroom method), but this level of criticism is ridiculous.

    Eric December 3, 2015 at 3:48 pm / Reply

    Lab scanners = film curve + paper curve
    Consumer Scanners = film curve

    You can edit your negative, raw scans until you’re blue in the face. They will never look like Frontier, Noritsu or Pakon scans.

    With consumer scanners it’s best to stick with B/W or slide film. They can do a fantastic job on those types of films.

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