I spent part of the holiday learning how to scan film with a camera and how to process the files from the scans. Fun.

Note. Not back from vacation. This post was originally published on the 3rd of Dec. but somehow got lost. I'm reposting it... See you in the new year.

When I sat down to distill my archive of photographs into a manageable collection it dawned on me that in addition to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of digital files I also have tens of thousands of various film frames. In fact, the first 25 years of my tenure as a photographer were, of course, all done on film. And a large amount of the work was done on black and white film. In the early days of PhotoShop and digital post processing I worked with a Nikon CoolScan 4000 to scan the 35mm images I wanted to play with and depended on a series of ever improved flatbed scanners to create files from medium format and 4x5 inch pieces of film. Neither of these methods was particularly efficient of fun so after a while I just gave up and took the occasional handful of negatives and/or slides over to Holland Photo and had them scan the film on one of their Noritsu machines. Again, since I couldn't put my hands on that process I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the results. I had become far too conditioned to spend time doing my own tweaks and improvements during the course of the process. How could I not, having spent two decades hunkered down in my commercial darkroom?

With an ongoing wind down of commercial work since the pandemic I once again turned my attention to the idea of getting my favorite images scanned and out into the wild. Further motivated by the high resolution cameras that have come onto the market. I recently took a big plunge into researching how other people handled their "camera scans." (camera scans is my reference to placing a piece of film into a film holder, putting that on a very good light source and then photographing that frame with a high resolution camera body and a macro lens. After some DIY trial and error I broke down and ordered a Negative Film Supply negative holder and one of their high CRI/TLCI LED light sources. Those, along with a sturdy copy stand are the bedrock of my new scanning methodology. And I find it all works quite well. 

There is one caveat that must be voiced. You have to clean the dust off your negatives/slides before you scan them because every little spot and speck shows up. The worst is scanning black and  white negatives because there is nowhere for the dust spots to hide. Clean film is your friend. Clean film is your time saver. 

It's interested to note that everyone starts out their film scanning/camera scanning with the presumption that the highest megapixel camera is the best route to success. Of course, this all depends on your final target. But I have found that 24 megapixels digital cameras that have a good "multi-shot" high resolution mode are very good choices. Especially if that's what you have in house and don't feel like splashing out a lot more cash for what is really, mathematically, a relatively small amount of improvement. 

The lead photo of this post (above) was shot originally on Agfapan 25 medium format film. I think I did a good job processing it (Rodinal 1:50) and washing it because it's clean and stain free after 40 years of storage. I camera scanned this using a Panasonic S5, the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Art Series Macro lens and the above mentioned Negative Film Supply gear. I brought the raw file into Photoshop and inverted it (adjustments menu) and then worked on it by adding some contrast and some basic tweaks. It took about five minutes for me to get it just right. Much less time than my old flatbed scanner took to do a worse job....

I use the camera in the Aperture preferred mode. I set the aperture to between f8 and f11. ISO is set at 100. I use a blower brush on the front and back of the negative to get off as much dust as possible. I use a daylight WB. The LED is bright enough to give me a shutter speed of around 1/160th of a second. I've been using the camera set to multi-shot, high res and raw. So far it's been a good way to work. 

Of course I am manually focusing since we're down at near life-size. I have to say that some modern conveniences such as focus peaking are most welcome. It makes getting focus much easier. 

Since I already owned the cameras, the lens and the copy stand I've only had to come out of pocket for about $300 worth of additional gear. But, unlike cameras the film holder and light source don't become obsolete and are not "objects of desire" so it's all pretty much a one time expenditure which, I hope, will provide years of entertainment and material. 

A camera scan from a medium format color negative of Lou. Original photo 
done with a Hasselblad 500 CM + a 180mm CZ lens. The lens has the worst 
bokeh of any lens I have ever used and I blurred out the background a bit so
you would not have to see the harsh highlights caused by a five bladed aperture/shutter. 
The film was Agfa Portrait which was a lower saturation negative film.

From the Spanish Steps. Photographed with a Mamiya 6 camera and a 150mm lens.
Exposure info not recorded but the edge print of the film tells me that it was
captured on Tri-X film (TXP-6049). 

this was originally photographed on a rare film stock. It was Agfa Scala 200, a black and white positive transparency film. It was quite contrasty and sometime rendered reds too strongly. But it's a fun look and even more fun to scan. 

This image started life on Verichrome Pan film.
A nice and long toned black and white negative film; kind of an opposite of
the very contrasty Plus-X that was also popular at the time.
shot on a Hasselblad; I just check and found the little "Vs" in the film edge.

I'm breaking the scanning into projects. First up are my favorite old black and white negatives from multiple trips to Rome. Then I plan to dig in and scan tons of portraits --- family and friends; interesting other people. It's an interesting rabbit hole. Already having much more fun than I thought I would. 

Questions? Sure. 

For the aggressively pendantic. I'm currently calling the conversion of analog film to digital files "scanning." Call it whatever the heck you want. But it's not a straight copy shot anymore. That train has sailed....

This image was "copied" directly from four dimensional "real life" directly through the camera sensor and onto a solid state memory card. It required additional steps for me to be able to post it here. 

Give me a break.

Film scan from Agfapan 25 MF negative. ISO 25.