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Wet mount scanning

squeezing the last drop out

in Film , Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Back in October, a blog post by Ctein on The Online Photographer first alerted me to existence of 3rd party fluid mounting kits for many scanners.  Specifically, he mentioned ScanScience‘s kits, based on their Lumina fluid.

I was intrigued enough to check this out, and eventually ordered a kit usable on my Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro from ScanScience. Since they are in Canada, and the fluid cannot be carried by air, it takes quite a while to arrive, and it’s also better to order a reasonably generous supply.  So there’s quite an element of flying blind here, but my feeling was, well Ctein knows what he’s talking about, what the hell.

Anyway, it arrived a few days ago, and I started playing around with it. Precision scanning is both fiddly and something of a black art. My initial impression of fluid mounting is that it certainly increases fiddlyness, and also adds several more ways in which you can screw up a scan ... or indeed a scanner, in the worst case scenario.

My initial attempts were not too successful, and I had to dismantle a 6x9 glassless holder to fit the fluid mount assembly as recommended. But after a few tries I started to get the hang of it. The main challenges are getting the right amount of fluid onto the various surfaces, and avoiding dust and dirt contamination.

The basic idea with fluid mounting is to keep the film flat, and to avoid optical path degradation which arises from various factors in dry scanning - I won’t repeat the explanations here, you can find them at ScanScience and various other resources.

The following images show the best result I’ve obtained so far. Comparing a couple of sections of a 4800dpi XPan scan of Ektachrome E100G, wet mounted and dry mounted, shows some advantage, at 100% magnification, for wet mounting.

PhotoshopScreenSnapz001

PhotoshopScreenSnapz002

At the top you can see the wet mount version on the left, dry mount on the right [CORRECTED!]. Colour differences are down to slightly different settings in Silverfast HDR - ignore these. The images have suffered a little in JPG compression, but looking at the rightmost telegraph post, and the background forest, you can see a touch more resolution. But it’s not exactly jaw-dropping.

The next example is a bit more convincing:

PhotoshopScreenSnapz003
PhotoshopScreenSnapz005

Here, the lower scan is wet mounted.  Certainly there is a touch more resolution here. Or maybe I focussed better… who knows ?

ScanScience claim a number of things, including:

- Better edge to edge sharpness: hmm. Probably, but with the “sandwich” mounting technique I’ve evolved over the years, and the relatively deep depth of field of the Minolta, I’m not - so far - seeing any benefit.

- Better contrast and detail: as shown above, yes, but we’re splitting hairs, to be honest.

- Extended dynamic range and saturation: Nope. Well, not for E6 slide film, at least. The Minolta covers the range of E100G and other low(er) contrast films quite happily, and has no issue at all with higher contrast.  However, this benefit may apply more to negative colour and black & white. I’ve yet to try this.

Hides dust & scratches: no. Absolutely not. If anything it makes things worse due to more places for dust to get in, and if dust gets into a fluid layer, it’s pretty much game over, time to remount.

So, in summary, I’m seeing minor improvements which don’t really appear to justify the cost and time.  But it’s not quite as simple as that. First of all, one thing is clear: to get any benefit at all, the image has be well exposed and sharp. Secondly, it seems that the benefits are more towards negative and larger formats.

There’s actually a lot of discussion out there on the interwebs about wet mount scanning, and by & large I’d say the overall impression is of mixed results. In particular, this discussion thread confirms my findings. Pity I didn’t do a bit more research…

At the moment I would tend more to reserving it only for “top picks”, but it’s early days yet.

 

 

Dust Free Scans

We seek the Grail

in Film , Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dust, hair, particles of whatever. They’re the slide scanner’s nightmare. Although fixing all the various blotches in Photoshop can at times be a relaxing activity, it’s still one in all honesty I could do without. And sometimes there’s no real fix.

So the ideal solution would be to get rid of the dust BEFORE it gets scanned. Simple, eh ? Well, not so much. Maybe if you live in a clean room and handle everything with surgical precision, but even then you’d better hope the film was processed in a similar setting.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried scanning straight from the box. I’ve tried air blowers in a hundred shapes and sizes. Nothing really works.  Until now. I may have found the solution, or at least something close to one. It isn’t really my idea, I’m sure I read somewhere else that somebody suggested it, but anyway here it is: the Arctic Butterfly digital camera sensor brush.

I actually needed a solution to clean my Olympus E-3’s sensor (yeah, that SSWF, well it does work, but it isn’t infallible), so I decided to take a chance and ordered an Arctic Butterfly 724 from Visible Dust.

And it works.  Both for the intended task, cleaning the sensor, but far better than this, also for putting dust free films into the scanner.

Of course, it isn’t 100% effective: I’m sure there’s plenty of dust swirling about in the scanner itself, and when you’re magnifying a 35mm film strip to 4800dpi, stuff which is totally invisible under the loupe sticks out like a sore thumb in Actual Pixels view in Photoshop.

But it makes a big, big difference, and if you’re having similar problems I strongly recommend giving it a try.

 

Free Nikon F3!!

get ‘em while they’re hot

in Film , Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Want a Nikon F3? For free? Well, Rob Boyer’s giving one away right over there!

Personally, I can’t really say that I want one enough to get in the way of somebody else’s chance, although since it would involve getting back into (stomach lurch) Twitter and even (stomach heeeeeave) Facebook I’d have to want it a LOT.

I’ve got film cameras. I’ve got a Canon A1, the last of several I had, which I’m keeping because I’ve got a Canon FD 50mm f1.2L lens to put on it.  I’ve got a Ricoh GR1v which doesn’t work so well any more but still… and I’ve got a Minox GT something-or-the-other which I bought the Ricoh’s predecessor to replace!

Not so long ago I sold my last medium format film cameras, the Hasselblad ArcBody and the Fuji GW670III (mainly to fund my XPan II).  Here’s a shot off the last roll from the Fuji.  Hmm. That was a gorgeous camera.

F670 171009 lugano 04

I spend an inordinate amount of time scanning XPan transparencies to HDR and then processing them. Would I really want to do that for standard 35mm film ? I don’t think so, really. Somehow 35mm is just a little too small, too fiddly, and 36 of them at a time is just too much. Hell, I’ve got boxes full of unscanned slides even now!

I can certainly see the attraction of a Nikon F3 though…  Now, if he’d been handing out a Canon F1, this post might have turned rather differently.

 

Kodachrome

Me too! Me too!!

in Film , Friday, February 04, 2011

So, has all the fuss about Kodachrome’s final expiration date died down? Excellent, must be time for me to stick my oar in.

I used Kodachrome a lot in The Old Days™. I’ve got stacks of mouldy decaying K25 and K64 slides, shot using either a Canon FT, a Canon FTb, or an Olympus XA3. I used in the Antarctic, because it was what people who understood photography told me to use. I barely knew an exposure from an aperture ring in those days, and the idea that a lens could have a “speed” was totally baffling.  Not much has changed.

But anyway, thanks to the convergence of luck, sheer quantity, and the Shakespearean Monkey Principle, I got a couple of photos that I like.  Here’s two of them, chosen because - with a lot of hindsight - I think they have a certain quality of texture and colour which I’ve been trying to recapture ever since, and which may be credited to Kodachrome.

Damoy biscoe 1

The British Antarctic Survey ship, RRS John Biscoe, in Dorian Bay, December 1987

Curious adelies 1

A couple of Adelie penguins, off Coats Land, December 1991

Both of these slides have of course gone through a scanner and Photoshop, but have been manipulated to match the originals, or at least my interpretation thereof.

It was interesting to read about another photographer’s thoughts about Kodachrome over at my current favourite blog.  Although in general I’ve never been particularly interested in film emulation plug-ins (more about this later), I thought I might try the free demos of two of the most popular to see what they could do. So I downloaded Alien Skin Exposure and DxO Labs Film Pack and applied their respective K64 presets to a shot I took last week on the Plaine Morte glacier here in Switzerland.

K64 comparison

Comparison collage


Dunno about you but I’m sorta like “yeah, whatever” (<- see I can do teen talk too!). The most striking point in my view is that the two renderings are completely different. The Alien Skin version is pretty subtle, but DxO totally changes the white balance. Now, I didn’t apply these to an out of camera file, but to a version exported from Aperture and tuned to my liking. The fact that Alien Skin doesn’t alter it much might (huge stretch here) indicate that I’m subconciously applying a Kodachrome look anyway.

Anyway, neither of them interest me very much, but I will say that the Alien Skin offering seems at a quick glance to be far better. DxO’s user interface is really not very good, the installation is clunky, and it doesnt offer anything like the range of Alien Skin. Actually this ties in with my general feeling about DxO stuff.

Generally I’m a little bit skeptical about some of this film stock talk. The differences between various films (I’m talking slide film here) are often extremely subtle, especially in an outdoors, uncontrolled lighting environment, and in any case, once inserted into a digital workflow, they’re largely irrelevant.  On a lightbox I have a personal, and unconventional, liking for Fuji Velvia 100F, and I’ve used it a lot. But over the years my choice of film has generally been more influenced by ISO rating and the light levels I’m expecting to encounter than anything else.  These days I’ve fixed on using Ektachrome E100G, because it is very neutral, has a wide dynamic range (for slide film) and scans very well.

So yes, I can be nostalgic about Kodachrome too. But I’m not terribly interest in artifical emulations of it.

 

Film vs. Digital

Dead, undead, undead.

in Film , Monday, January 31, 2011

It’s funny that the old film vs. digital arguments seem to be coming around again, maybe prompted by the loss of Kodachrome and the fact that with it we’ve lost a major expressive tool.  The digital protagonists probably thought that they’d nailed film’s coffin shut, but it does seem to displaying some strong undead characteristics.

The interesting thing, based purely on random observation, is that the demographic of the film follower crowd seems to be split into two parts: the older, traditionalist group, and the much younger crowd, who are maybe looking for something more “authentic”.  For example, ex-Flickr community manager Heather Champ shoots exclusively with film.

I’ve got a foot in both camps. I shoot film in my XPan (the only film camera I’ve got now apart from an ailing Ricoh GR1) and the rest is digital. Both mediums have their advantages, and anybody’s preference is going to be dependent on a lot of subjective factors.  However, one characteristic of film, especially slide film, which I think is a big deal (as does Bob Boyer), is that the creativity happens up to the moment you press the shutter, and from then on you’re pretty much fixed. On the other hand, shooting RAW with digital - and honestly from my perspective I can see little point in not shooting RAW - from an exposure point of view essentially comes down to cramming as much information as you can onto the memory card and sorting it all out later.

And this might be the critical point: digital photography requires you to spend more and more time in front of the computer, and opens up far more options than are good for you (here’s some compelling evidence of just how tasteless things can get).  Of course these days slide film goes digital too, but there’s a very critical difference: when I scan slide film, I’m trying to get the most accurate representation I can of the film on the lightbox.  I’m not trying to fix the white balance, or recover highlights or shadows (forget that!). I’m just trying to coax every bit of subtlety of tone, contrast and sharpness I can, while preserving the colours. I already know what I want the image on the screen to look like, because I can just glance over at my lightbox to see it.

For me this is far less tedious than going through a bunch of RAW files and tweaking them - and never really feeling quite sure that I’m doing the “right thing” - for example, I almost always add about 50% definition in Aperture. Why 50% ? I don’t know, just seems that more is too greedy and less is leaving money on the table.

It can take for EVER to scan a couple of rolls of XPan film to 48-bit, 4800dpi “archive masters”, but somehow it’s a good place to be, and every now and again the results just captivate me in a way no digital image of mine ever has.

 

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