Thoughts on the perfect scan - is it that important?

Started 5 months ago | Discussions thread
citizenlouie Senior Member • Posts: 1,146
Re: Thoughts on the perfect scan - is it that important?

Autonerd wrote:

I've read a lot of comments here about the best way to scan, reproducing true colors from the film, whether post-process color balancing is a good thing or not, etc., etc.

In reading all this, it occurred to me that something has been forgotten: The fact that, in the pre-digital days, color correction was, I believe, a part of the C41 color-printing process. IIRC, the machines did it (by operator or automatically? not sure) and I know we had that option available to us in the darkroom. (Though in my color print class, I don't remember doing it much, if at all.)

We mustn't forget, after all, that C41 negatives are as orange as an Oompa-Loompa.

Same for exposure -- there was so much latitude built into the films that your exposure and balance could be off by a stop or two and the prints still looked good and probably great. That's why 35mm point-n-shoot cameras became so popular -- you were almost guaranteed good results. Worlds better than disc or 110 or 126 (all of which I owned, albeit as a kid).

Same for B&W -- a not-quite-perfect exposure could be compensated for in the printing process. That's why we did test strips. Otherwise we'd just print everything at the same (enlarger) exposure.

Color slide was the exception, because what you shot is what you got. And even then we didn't necessarily want real-life accuracy. That's why we shot Fuji Velvia. What Paul Simon said about Kodakchrome was right: "Makes you think all the world's a sunny day."

To me, photography wasn't so much about how I saw the world as it was about how I saw it and wanted it to be seen.

So I have to wonder if this obsession with *exactly* reproducing film with our scans is really important, or if it's just the film analog (heh) to pixel-counting.

Recently I got some healthy negatives from a roll of FP4+ and thin negs from Arista Edu 200. My scanner produced beautiful scans from both of them. Thank you auto-exposure. At first I thought this was a cheat, but then I realized, no -- that's exactly what I would have done in the dark room. Test strip and pick the best exposure.

I want my B&W negatives to reflect what I shot, but I've had to ease up on myself about adjusting contrast and brightness -- things we could do in the darkroom with filters or different paper.

The point being negatives didn't have to be perfect (or perfectly printed) then and don't have to be perfect (or perfectly scanned) now. Except slides.

But I have a feeling that the quest for that perfect scan is the urge to avoid the manipulation inherent in digital. In digital anyone can dress up a crappy shot; in film you have to shoot just right. Except back in the days you *didn't* have to be totally right. You just couldn't be totally wrong. (Except slides!)

After all, isn't Photoshop merely the darkroom of the present? It just makes the process a crap-ton easier and faster. (Certainly too easy for me, and beyond contrast and brightness I don't bother.)

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe my views are outdated. I understand some color print films are specifically made for scanning. So maybe they do need perfect reproduction.



Depends on what type of photographer you are.  I am a landscape photographer for the most part, so yes, pixel level perfection is necessary, as it would allow that 3D pop.  If you're capture the moment type of photographer, it's the moment you're capturing, not the realism.  Even if you're a landscape photographer, there are different schools of thought.  I am "Representational" school of landscaper, so "I am bring the scene to my viewer" (quoting Ansel Adams, though probably not verbatim), so paying small attention like this is part of my philosophy so it would look exactly like the way it looks as if the viewer is experiencing the scene (which is ironically why Ansel Adams didn't shoot color film, because he always felt it was just something not quite right).

If you already spend so much time and effort (not to mention the equipments you chose for the job) on your photo shoots, why let your scan be the weakest link.  I hope that makes sense.

Most street photography, for example, does not require pixel perfection.  So when I see people arguing for equipments, but they're shooting some genres that are not requiring special equipment, I often wonder why.  Spend more time and money learning the techniques that your genre of photography requires rather than on the equipments.  Modern smart phones are more than good enough for memory preservers.  It's the concept/essence/moment they're shooting, not technical perfection, which adds very little value to that type of photos.

From what you said I think you understand fully how exposure works and know the value of good enough.  However, certain type of photography does require properly exposed photos will give that natural 3D pop.  If it's exposed incorrectly, and used software to correct it, it'll introduce noises, and that does subliminally alter the realism of the photo.  As I've been using COVID-19 breaks 4-8 hours a day, 6-7 days a week to rescan my photos (obviously yes, perfectly scanned photos are that important "to me" personally), I discovered that film grain, however small at pixel level, does affect how you see the photo.  I was working on making a sprocket frame that I could apply to my photos more effeciently so I can have more freedom applying it to my film photos rather than scan it individually.  So I used to charcoal gray background, same color as the scanned copy (using eye dropper tool so it's the exactly same shade of gray), but I can immediately spot the difference.  Because of the grains, the texture of the image is different and your eyes WILL register it, though I can't see the grains individually.  That would also contribute to the perceived tonality and sharpness of the photos, all that of course, would affect that 3D pop (or whatever the mood I was trying to achieving) that I personally spend the last few years of my life learning and trying to replicate.   Besides, when you scan your photos, you can scan it as TIF, which allow you more freedom to do tonal curve, which further help you achieve the mood and 3D pop you are after.

While some exposures are indeed my mistakes that shadow areas were clipped (I noticed negatives tend to clip shadow rather than highlight, the opposite behavior vs slides or digital, so keep that in mind if you're using Zone System), but quite a lot of them I noticed it was because lab did not know which part is the middle gray in the frame.  Lab doesn't know my philosophy when I exposed each frame, so the way they scanned it clipped quite a lot of shadow areas.  I am the photographer, naturally I know how to scan the films to fufill my philosophy on each scene I was capturing to give that particular look I was envisioning when I clicked that shutter in the first place (some are intended to have high key and some have dark key, but lab technician doesn't know that!  And I know they used strong contrast tonal curve because I was able to reproduce the lab's look when I played with the photos in Lightroom.  Strong contrast is BAD for my type of photography).  So yes, perfect scan is important, because it's part of making the print (The Print is one of the  three Ansel Adams books).  Now I think of it, scanning is very much like the enlargement process, where you might have to expose for the proper zone to extract the most of the detail.

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