Dealing with film is a completely new experience to me. The number of variables that have been added to the equation in producing a good image have increased dramatically. The camera used, a 30 year old Canon AE-1 Program, is the least of the issues — though this is not to say that it’s a small one. It has quirks and characteristics that make it unlike any camera i’ve used in my adult life. You would think that this alone would be enough to throw me off. But that’s just the start.
Shooting film is like a Pandora’s Box. The deeper you go into it, the more you realize you don’t understand, the more you need to learn and, often, re-learn. It’s more than going back to the basics of light, subject and composition. The whole workflow changes in very drastic ways.
Scanning is the topic that i’ll talk about today. The way negatives are scanned into a digital format, either TIFF or JPG (or if you use the excellent VueScan, you can even scan to Adobe DNG), have a huge impact on the way the image turns out.
The scanner used by the developer i entrusted with my negs is the Epson Perfection 2450, a pretty good scanner by any accounts with the tradition of Epson optics and software. The results were not bad, but i felt that the tones, while pleasing, lacked punch. Blacks weren’t quite black, and whites were a tone of light grey. The result was a flat-ish scan that needed some work in Lightroom to balance out. I was wondering whether this could be improved right out of the scanner. So i went hunting for alternatives.
The collective wisdom of friends and the online opinion was that the Epson V600 and V700 were excellent scanners, and i found them in a nearby gadget retail outlet. But the price range was way beyond what i was willing to pay for an experiment. I was instead convinced by the salesperson to give the CanoScan 9000F a shot. The price was right, the online reviews seemed to be positive and the salesperson was pretty. So i was sold.
I’ve never scanned film negatives before, so there was a bit of a learning curve. Thankfully, the bundled software, ScanGear, was easy to use and the scanner easily configured and controlled from the Mac. I was scanning within minutes of plugging in the power supply. Without trying too hard to figure out all the advanced options, i just hit “Default” and let it rip. Less than 3 minutes later, i had two strips of negatives scanned out at 2400dpi. Just by looking at the results for the first time, i was wow’ed.
See for yourself. The first image is from the Epson Perfection 2450 and the second is from the CanoScan 9000F.
From the Epson Perfection 2450 (Delta 100)
From the CanoScan 9000F (Delta 100)
The contrast was much greater, the blacks truer to black and the highlights extremely well controlled and bright. The only thing i did in Lightroom was to remove a few specks of dust that were on the negs, appearing on the scans as small white dots.
The next two were shot using Delta 400 XP2, underexposed by a stop. The natural response of the film is deeper contrasts to the Delta 100, especially when underexposed this way. But even then, the difference between the two scans is very noticeable and has a significant impact on how the subject of the image is displayed.
From the Epson Perfection 2450
From the CanoScan 9000F
Unlike digital where the processing choices determine the final outcome, the film workflow adds at least two extra variables — the film used and, as it quite obvious from the comparisons above, the scanner and the scanner software. To my eye, while the CanoScan 9000F produces punchier scans, it borders on going overboard with the contrast; further experimentation is required.