Copying Old 35mm film negatives, or My, how my style has changed!

Started Nov 20, 2012 | Discussions thread
BigBarney Senior Member • Posts: 2,722
My copying approach

bgalb wrote:

I spent several days recently copying about 700 B/W and Color 35mm negatives and some transparencies. They were mostly 30 to 50 years old, and the color had deteriorated on many.

One thing stood out starkly. How my habits of composition have changed in the digital age. I now usually leave quite a bit of leeway for cropping. But back in the days of my ancient Nikon F and baby Rollieflex, I composed nearly all exposures very tightly, with no leeway for cropping. When I copied the film strips, it was nearly always necessary to crop a little in post processing. The problem being that the originals were so tightly composed that there was just no leeway to crop without degrading the composition. It became clear to me that I substantially tweak my composition in Post Processing. Lazy habit? I guess.

Another thing I noticed was how superior a 16 megapixel digital image was to a 35mm film image. Especially the B/W images. When focusing on the film strips, I didn't need to see a significant part of the image. It was sufficient to just focus on the easily seen film grain (using 14x magnify on the E-M5). Granted, a lot of my B/W film and color transparencies were developed at home which probably resulted in less than perfect process control. The digital copies mercilessly revealed the many images that were a little out of focus and degraded by camera shake or subject motion. All in all, this copying of old images was a real education in how much technology has advanced and how poor my technique was in times past. (still is, but not so bad, today).

I would recommend this kind of experience for any of us old guys, just to see how our image-making habits have changed over many years.

Speaking as another old guy who was raised on 35mm film, I find my composing changes very similar to your own. Back in the days of film I tried and usually succeeded in getting a very tight composition, so that little if any cropping was necessary during enlargement of negative films and all positive slides could be projected as they were shot. I too find that in these digital days I tend to frame the shot much more loosely and rely on the crop tool in post processing.

When it comes to making digital copies of 35mm slide and negative film I found this review at Luminous Landscape very helpful:

The Plustek scanner does the business for me for 35mm film. My grandmother worked as a Red Cross nurse during World War 1 in India and Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and took a raft of black and white negatives which I have inherited. The format of the film was quite a bit larger than 35mm film and for this I find that my Epson 2450 Photo scanner gives more than acceptable results when compared to the contact prints she had made at the time.

I also have an Ohnar slide copier with an M42 screw thread mount. This is essentially a tube with a lens in the middle and a slide/film holding stage at one end. I find the quality of the images obtained this way is just not good enough due to weaknesses in the lens. The approach that others have taken to use dedicated bellows and macro lenses, or light boxes on copy stands will probably be much superior. I have a copy stand but at present I only use this for documents and objects rather than film.

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