Thoughts on the perfect scan - is it that important?

Started 5 months ago | Discussions thread
Mike Engles Contributing Member • Posts: 584
Re: Thoughts on the perfect scan - is it that important?

Some kind of person wrote:

I'm at my second attempt at digitizing my family's old photos. My first attempt ended after scanning less than ten rolls of film because I found it near-impossible to get acceptable colors out of my color negative scans without spending an inordinate amount of time adjusting each image, and in the end I simply burned out.

So, just for fun, I decided to scan a couple of color prints, and compare them to their negative counterparts. And I've come to realise a couple of things. First, the cameras and lenses that were used to shoot all those old pictures were simply not able to resolve any more detail than what the regular prints show (as would be expected. None of my family ever had photography as a hobby, so it was all simple consumer cameras). Second, after calibrating my flatbed scanner, I can get good colors far easier and faster from the prints than I can from the corresponding negatives, more often than not feeling like the straight scan is good enough without any additional adjustments.

In a way, I feel a slight sense of defeat, having invested hundreds of dollars worth in a proper slide/negative scanner, thinking I was going to get the most out of each photo, only to find that I'm much happier with both the workload and the end results when scanning the regular old prints using the old flatbed scanner (at least, after calibrating it).

That's not to say that it was entirely a loss: our slides were scanned beautifully, something the old flatbed couldn't have done nearly as well. Also, some of the more recent rolls of film shot right before my transition to digital have had their prints made with some kind of digital wet lab process, so while the colors look great, you can actually see pixelation on the prints if you look close enough or scan them at 600dpi or higher. For those couple of rolls, I'll probably grin and bear it, and do proper scans of the negatives. For all the rest, it'll be prints from now on.


I think that you have hit on a very good and practical idea.

There is not much more to be had from most family pictures as they were taken not for any sense of quality, but as a record of an event and usually in a hurry.

Prints and slides have a great advantage in that you can see what you have just scanned and compare directly. Slides were unforgiving as you had to expose correctly as well as focus. Negatives were very forgiving, mainly because there was a huge industry printing negatives, which spent a lot of time and money to even out exposure problems in the negatives to give people results that they were happy with. Domestic scanners do not have this kind of investment, but I imagine commercial scanners do. That is why you have to do so many corrections so negative scans. I have done 10 years of my family scans, but I did have an advantage in that I also printed some of the negatives in my darkroom to make enlargements and always knew about the exposure variations and the hoops one had to go through to make a print as good as the machine prints. I did eventually make better prints, but only after a lot of time and expense. Negative scanning is a vast learning experience and takes a lot of time to get right, but it can be done.


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