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Carry On Scanning

still dithering

in Scanning , Sunday, August 31, 2014

Since my last post mourning the apparent demise of my faithful Minolta film scanner, I have tried every kind of arcane trick know to the Internet, and a few more besides, to bring it back to life. It is sometimes possible to get it to revive, but there’s no pattern to it. I managed to extract a full-blown, medium format 16x sampling megascan from it, too, but soon after it relapsed. I have to face facts, I’m wasting far too much precious time on this.

One reason why it has been so much the focus of my attention - apart from a 15 year film archive, which can always benefit from my improving scanning skills - is my current project to refine a set of Antarctic landscape panoramas.  I’m trying to get the colour profile exactly as it should be, which to my way of seeing needs to be delicate, slightly subdued, but still allowing the often astonishing colour to speak.  But not the overblown, digital look that plagues so much photography (Adobe Lightroom default profiles have to take of the blame for this). Of course, photographing on reversal film means that I’ve pretty much defined the look before it gets anywhere near a computer, but there are still opportunities and decisions to be made in the scanning and post-processing stages.  The ideal is to transfer what I see on the light table on the screen, and then to print, but that’s very hard to achieve, especially without a drum scanner. And when I’m engaged in a long stretch of batch scanning, sometimes my initial post-processing attempts are not ideal. For example:

Xpan antarctica06 06 old

I’m not sure what I was thinking of here. The contrast is too strong, and the delicacy of the colours in the ice is lost. I’ve also pushed the sky and sea too much towards neutral.

The revised version is much closer to the Ektachrome, although with less density. In the processing, “less is more” certainly applied. Note, in both cases, reducing down to web sized JPGs is introducing some exaggerated tone transitions, especially in the sky.

Xpan antarctica06 06

Fortunately, using the Silverfast archive workflow I can go back and re-work the post processing without needing to do new scans. Unfortunately, for most of my Antarctic scans I used the Scanhancer to try to eke out the last bit of pixel-peeping quality, and this has not worked out to well. The coupled increase in exposure times seems to have greatly exaggerated shadow noise, possibly due to an ageing scanner CCD, and a few near invisible scratches on the Scanhancer itself have resulted in bands of shadowing on the scans, which was not immediately noticeable, but which are almost impossible to fix.

So going back to the scanner quandary, unless I decide to give up, I have three choices: try to get the Minolta fixed, which seems unlikely, track down a good, working Minolta DSMP or Nikon Coolscan 9000 at a sensible price, or take a chance on a Plustek OpticFilm 120. Although the inter webs are full of whining about the Plustek, two reviewers who actually have some track record have been less negative: Mike Pasini (“we achieved our finest scans of the test images we’ve ever managed. But it wasn’t easy.”), and particularly, Tim Parkin, who is something of a scanner guru (“the OpticFilm is definitely has the potential to be a great scanner and I can only recommend if you have the wherewithall to play around with creating a custom film holder”). Another strong argument is that the OpticFilm is currently in production and support by a company for which scanning is a major business activity. Well, I’m going to dither for a little longer, but I’m leaning towards the OpticFilm. Especially as it supports 6x12 film format and alledgedly could be persuaded to scan 6x17.

 

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.