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I'll Never Scan A Negative Again. Ever.


Alan7140
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My Epson V700 Photo has scanned its last neg. I had bought it after my Nikon Coolscan 8000ED stopped working and Nikon couldn't supply parts to fix it. As expensive as the Nikon was, and as affordable the Epson was, neither ever managed to consistently deliver edge-to-edge grain-focused scans - the only way to get that with the Nikon was by sandwiching the neg between glass in a glassed carrier, but even anti-Newton ring glass still produced those image-destroying interference artefacts.

 

Lately I became aware that the graphic arts people are using LED light panels (like the illumination panels of monitor screens) as a cold backlight source for tracing and the like. They're cheap (A4 size around $20) and the light is consistent and even, and with the panels also being perfectly flat it was a no-brainer to pop one onto my copy stand and use the Sigma sd Quattro-H with 70/2.8 macro lens as the "scanner". I know this technique is nothing new, but previous contraptions of earlier times generally used globes in a lightbox arrangement which were never perfectly even, and the heat the lights generated would encourage film to warp and curl uncontrollably if not under glass (and therefore subject to Newton rings). I'm sure that others have done what I did here, but I thought it might be worthy of mentioning anyway.

 

Anyhow, the setting up of my new "scanner" couldn't have been simpler - just mounting the camera on the copy stand as usual and plugging in the LED panel was all that it took, and I was away and scanning negs far quicker than I have ever done. I used the glassless plastic neg carriers that came with the Epson to hold the film, but should I ever get film that won't lie flat I still have the solid metal neg carriers from my Durst 1200 to keep things flat.

 

What no neg scanner I have used has ever provided has been an ability to manually focus on the neg, or had an adjustable aperture to stop down and increase depth of field should the neg still be a bit bowed. This setup fixes those two things perfectly.

 

What also came to light was something I had suspected for a long time - that the Epson certainly wouldn't have any lenses that could be described as first class, and the barrel distortion evident when flicking back and forth between the two clearly confirms that suspicion.


As for working - well what a treat it was to get scanned negs that had crisp, sharp grain uniformly over the whole image. Recently I had taken a shot with my now defunct Pentacon Six and was disappointed that the scanned neg just didn't look sharp - I blamed my incorrect focusing or maybe slightly shaky triggering - but I wasn't at all pleased with the shot because of that softness. So I decided to compare the Epson scan with the new method, and below are the whole images in reduced size, along with two 100% sections. The results speak for themselves, I hardly need to indicate which was the Epson (first) and which the Sigma (second). Note the evenness of the grain in the Sigma scan as compared to the mush of the Epson, which clearly missed focus in its attempt. I have now copied over 60 negs and absolutely every one has been perfectly sharp corner to corner. I've never had that reliability from a scanner.

 

fAYlBsb.jpg

 

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...and the setup:

oYjbx7b.jpg

 

These 6x6cm negs deliver cropped square files of around 17MP/100MB in size, which of course is pixel-for-pixel with the Sigma, no softening interpolation as from any Bayer or X-Trans sensor being necessary. Blowing them up they easily make 24"x24" with no pixelation visible, and still hold together well at 30"x30".

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Wow, what a difference a change to modern technology (and great knowledge and skills by Alan) bring. I had an Epson V500 scanner once which I used to scan film. I lacked the patience for it and the results were not good enough for me. Great article Alan!

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I've been doing something similar for a while now, using an iPad as the light source.  One issue I had initially before settling on the iPad was finding a proper fill spectrum white LED source.  Probably not an issue if you are scanning B&W, but for those with colour slides or negatives, it is something to think about.

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1 hour ago, crowecg said:

I've been doing something similar for a while now, using an iPad as the light source.  One issue I had initially before settling on the iPad was finding a proper fill spectrum white LED source.  Probably not an issue if you are scanning B&W, but for those with colour slides or negatives, it is something to think about.

 

Indeed it may not be the most perfectly balanced colour-wise, but being LED it won't be discontinuous spectrum to any degree that'll matter, particularly with old transparencies that are probably worse for wear as far as the colour layers go.


As for Negs - well the orange base in those is going to create problems; a cure for which could be to get Vuescan and open the Tiff with appropriate settings for colour negative film (the program will do this sort of pseudo scanning).

 

But yes - I'm only interested in B&W, and as can be seen, this setup works perfectly for that. The speed of doing things this way is also mind-boggling compared to a scanner dragging its heels and humming away drearily. :D

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10 hours ago, crowecg said:

I've been doing something similar for a while now, using an iPad as the light source.  One issue I had initially before settling on the iPad was finding a proper fill spectrum white LED source.  Probably not an issue if you are scanning B&W, but for those with colour slides or negatives, it is something to think about.

 

Interesting, what did you find worked best?

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5 minutes ago, Anthony said:

 

Interesting, what did you find worked best?

 

I started off just trying to use domestic LED light bulbs, before settling on the iPad with a lamp app.  At the time it seemed like the light bulbs were non-continuous spectrum and were causing problems with trying to correct the colour cast of colour negative film, although some films I was working with at the time I now realise were quite degraded.  I may revisit the light bulbs with some batches of film I know are good.  

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1 hour ago, crowecg said:

 

I started off just trying to use domestic LED light bulbs, before settling on the iPad with a lamp app.  At the time it seemed like the light bulbs were non-continuous spectrum and were causing problems with trying to correct the colour cast of colour negative film, although some films I was working with at the time I now realise were quite degraded.  I may revisit the light bulbs with some batches of film I know are good.  

 

I use ordinary domestic LED bulbs (as mentioned, LED is continuous spectrum, although not necessarily full spectrum into the IR and UV - but that really doesn't matter when talking film or photographs for copying in which the gamut is somewhat attenuated at extremes from the actual breadth of the visible spectrum), five globes per side in home-made reflective aluminium housings faced with polarising gel mounted to the wall at 45° on each side of the copy board on my copy stand. I've never had a problem with colour balance.

 

In earlier times I used frosted tungsten household globes, and again, no colour problems, even though they were around a very yellow 2400°K. So long as the light source is consistent, the camera's AWB usually compensated OK.

 

The copy stand is set up in the darkroom and the walls and ceilings around it are painted matt black. Therefore, even if any extraneous light could get in, it can't affect the light balance which is solely provided by the copy stand lights, and nothing extraneous is reflected onto the work. Photographic lamps like Philips Photocrescenta  produced too much heat which would buckle the polarising gel as well as make the operator feel they were in a sauna. LED has now thankfully totally removed that problem - even the ten 75W tungsten globes made working conditions less than desirable.

 

Needless to say when actually using the stand when copying photos (and using this neg copying setup), the room lights and safelights are all off. You'll be surprised how little spill from a dissimilar source can mess with colour accuracy, the key to which, as I've mentioned, is to have but one consistent form of lighting. My darkroom also has a light-trap entrance and no light from outside reaches the copy stand area, even if people walk in or out during operation. This was one of the benefits of buying an old schoolhouse - the open floorplan of two classrooms meant that I could design and build a bespoke darkroom/copyroom without having to fit the confines of a normal domestic room. From the braced and doubled-up wall studs where the enlarger is fastened to the low ceiling height and aforementioned light trap everything was built for purpose. :)

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2 hours ago, crowecg said:

 

I started off just trying to use domestic LED light bulbs, before settling on the iPad with a lamp app.  At the time it seemed like the light bulbs were non-continuous spectrum and were causing problems with trying to correct the colour cast of colour negative film, although some films I was working with at the time I now realise were quite degraded.  I may revisit the light bulbs with some batches of film I know are good.  

 

Thanks, I will look for a suitable lamp app.

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I came across an article a few days ago describing a similar technique (see here).  He recommends using an Artograph Lightpad which he claims has a daylight colour balance.  He describes techniques for colour negatives, colour reversal and b&w films and his images look pretty good to my eyes.  Note that the Artograph Lightpads a more expensive; the 6x9 version is about $130 locally.

 

Peter

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6 hours ago, PFrank said:

I came across an article a few days ago describing a similar technique (see here).  He recommends using an Artograph Lightpad which he claims has a daylight colour balance.  He describes techniques for colour negatives, colour reversal and b&w films and his images look pretty good to my eyes.  Note that the Artograph Lightpads a more expensive; the 6x9 version is about $130 locally.

 

Peter

 

Interesting read - as I originally mentioned, I have no doubt that  others have used these light pads for the purpose of copying negatives (it just hasn't been mentioned on this forum as far as I can make out).

 

The one thing I will comment on that article is the suggestion for levelling the camera square to the copyboard by using a bubble level, which will probably not be good enough when talking about such a wafer thin plane of focus at the magnifications used in copying film, particularly B&W where the appearance of the grain is important and should be sharp all over the image. While adjusting DOF with aperture can be helpful, there is no substitute for keeping the actual plane of focus sharp over the entire area being copied (hence the importance of also keeping the film flat).

 

I use a laser leveller which a specialist supplier built for me, however an adapted laser plumb bob will probably do. By placing a polarising filter on the lens to give it a flat, reflective surface, and placing the laser device on the copyboard facing upward to the lens, lining up the reflected laser image to centre precisely on the source means that the camera is exactly true to the copyboard (whether the copy stand is level or not itself). If it isn't centred the return image will be seen to the side of the source point, which makes it easy to adjust the camera to the correct spot. This is why I have a RRS adjustable bracket on the MP4 copystand head (as seen in the photo) in order to facilitate the fine adjustments necessary.

 

The laser centring device is the white box with red circles at the base of the stand in the photo of the setup. The centre of the large circle is the light source, the red collar enables the return dot of the laser to be moved to the centre without spreading the dot as plastic would. The small red circle is an instantaneous press/hold on/off switch. The black lines on the device enable it to be centred under the exact centre of the camera's optical axis , and match to the lines drawn on the copyboard itself.

 

Needless to say the camera (if mirrorless) should be turned off during the operation, and the viewfinder (if DSLR) should definitely not be looked into while the laser is on. To avoid accidental eye damage the unit came with that instantaneous on/off switch, even though this makes adjustment of the camera position more awkward when one hand is occupied holding the switch down. It only takes a brief moment for the laser to wreck an eye.... 

 

Experience has shown that this levelling should be checked every time the camera is remounted. Even with a permanent L-bracket and an Arca clamp on the copystand head, the camera will mount in a slightly off-plumb position as often as not.

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A few of questions Alan (or others here who have used this method) if I may:

 

These LED panels are made up of thousands of LED photosites just below the platten / top surface (see attached image).  Is there any sense that these may show up as very faint background motling effects in the images taken by the digital camera?  I do realise that the depth of focus around the negative plane is sufficiently shallow as to render them as a blurr, but I am still wondering if their presence could still manifest itself to some extent. I have a stack of 35mm / 135 format negatives to scan/image and I would not want to introduce any unwanted artifacts as part of the digitisation process.

 

With your laser focussing aid, could the same effect be achieved with a really well collimated LED light source that is maybe a mm or so in diameter?  I have used laser gear in another life, so I am very cautious with such equipment. I really like the method itself.

 

Thanks in anticipation.

A4 LED Artists Lightboard copy.jpg

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I do use a spacer to put a gap between the light source and the negative, although that does add to the task of making sure the negative is parallel to the sensor.

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I had worried about that myself, but in actual practice it proved to be inconsequential - with the neg held in the plastic neg holder from my Epson V700 Photo, the distance from the neg to the surface of the light pad may only be in the region of millimetres, but that is plenty far enough at the sort of magnifications involved to throw any patterning that might occur so far out of focus that it will all blur uniformly together, even at an aperture of f/8-11.

 

Using the Epson neg carrier keeps everything aligned as it is designed to sit flat on the scanner's bottom glass - the light pad fulfilling that role as the base for the holder in the copy-stand setup.

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As for the laser level - anything reflecting a focused beam of light should work - the laser is just intrinsically more simple and accurate as its pinpoint is very tight and you can make the tiniest adjustments easily. There's little harm that can be done with the low wattage light in my leveller - it's barely bright enough to be seen in anything other than dim light, and with a mirrorless camera there's no chance of the actual laser beam exiting inadvertently from the viewfinder. Of course the usual caution of avoiding inadvertently pointing the laser adirectly at an eye applies - which is why my device has a press-hold 'on' switch, which is only easy to turn on when the casing is flat on its back on the copy stand and can thus only point directly upwards.

 

I suppose any sort of lens collimator could be adapted to be used like this, but the laser tool that I'm using was built from electronic kit parts available at hobby electronics stores by the look of it (probably Tandy back then). The critical thing is to get the reflecting mirror that changed the horizontally mounted laser to a vertical exit beam accurate at 45°, or alternatively these days its easy to obtain small glass prisms that do exactly that with perfectly aligned surfaces with a flat mounting surface. I guess in the pre-mass-production-China, pre-Internet, pre-eBay world during which my unit was built the use of a mirror was the practical solution.

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Thanks Alan and thanks CrowCG - much appreciated. 

 

I will get myself an LED panel and build myself a leveller gadget.  I have an Epson V700 and a 1640, both came with the plastic accessory frames to hold down the negatives, so I am already part way there.

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Hi there,

I've been using a similar setup for quite a while, which has gone through a few iterations..  And before plowing on, I can attest to the incredible quality of photographed negatives, especially with sensors without a low-pass filter (which smudges fine detail) such as the D810 or Sony A7RIII.

 

Firstup was using an ipad with a tripod mounted over it.. it was one of the older ipads (non-retina) and the light pixelation was horrendous, so much that I had to add a spacer to avoid the image looking horrible.. a sort of false grain shadow below the image grain. The spacer was a roll of large scotch tape and the negative holder which sat on top of it was a medium format slide mount, or in the case of my 35mm shots a negative holder from my Canon scanner. 

The next improvement came when using a retina ipad with a much less pronounced "grain" structure, but I still wasn't happy, and obvious alignment issues between table, roll of scotchtape, tripod and camera..

I had quite a lot of substandard scans though, until I covered the stray light around the negative with a black piece of cardboard with a cutout, just channeling the light to the negative.  This helped improve contrast a lot.

Lastly I've invested in a Kaiser slimlite plano LED panel with a much more gentle light distribution, which avoids the ipad issues with the screen going off just as you've got everything parallel!  The tripod is also on it's way out, as I've ordered a Nikon PB-4 focus rail which will get bolted onto the wall (I don't have an enlarger stand and no-where to get one easily in Africa) and finally the piece the resistance a Leica R mount 100mm macro lens (without focus helicoid, lives mounted on a bellows).  I'm retiring the 105 f2.8 VR which is overkill for this type of work. 

Suggestions for others wanting to do something similar is to have a repeatable set-up.  If you don't have a lot of space try and find a corner of a table somewhere where you can set out your equipment in a consistent fashion.  My solution, as I mentioned, is to bolt the focus rail on a wall above my desk where the light table will live.  Using an arca swiss style release clamp means that the only thing you'll see is the clamp when not in use, and if you mark your equipment it shouldn't take more than a few minutes to set up.  Microfocus using a camera with a tiltable LCD is a must, and a focus rail is very nice for getting it just right. 

Another note - if you don't have a lot of separation between your light source and the negative then don't stop down your lens too much, otherwise you'll get negative as well as light source below it in focus, and you'll get the teltale light pixels as well!

For larger negatives you'll have to keep them flat.. I've tried with a very clean piece of glass over the negative but not below it.. Seems to avoid newton rings, although flatness is not absolute..   Once you've got everything measured, it's quite quick to shoot frame after frame.. Just check micro-focus every few frames.. don't want to find a whole run is out of focus because you bumped something.. Personal experience dictates!!  I would LOOOOOOOVE to have an enlarging stand as per Alan7140, but my solution works for people with limited space and access to materials. Well, sort of.. Still need an focusing rail.. and a LED pad. But you get what I mean.  Output?! Simply fantastic.. Lightyears ahead of my Canon 9000F, and way better than my previous epson scanner. A lot faster too.

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I have further re-arranged things to utilise my long dormant IFF copy stand that I used to use with a Nikon F4 to make 35mm film copies last Century. Being that the Sigma 70mm macro lens needs to be pretty close to the copy board for magnifications at or near 1:1, the stand's adjustment gets the rig closer to the board than did the MP4 stand pictured previously.

 

I have also changed the means of supporting the film by using the neg holder from my Durst Laborator 1200 enlarger. The format-specific inserts are made of heavy, flat metal which holds even the curliest film dead flat, and therefore focusing is only necessary once at the beginning of scanning of a whole film. It also is easier to move the neg holder around under the camera if multiple closer sections of a medium format neg are taken to stitch together for a truly high resolution end result (100 MP+ is easy when doing this).

 

As well the holder itself is solid metal and cannot distort like the plastic Epson film holders could, and the film plane also sits about 12mm above the light source, which means any dust of scratches on the light panel are so far out of focus that they do not affect the "scan" at all.

 

To accurately level the camera I have attached the leveller assembly from my Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2 panoramic head which I rarely use these days. As per usual, photography involves continually adapting and improvising until manufacturers catch up. :D

 

QvUdHaI.jpg

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