Taking on massive 35mm negative family photo scanning project - Advice needed!

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Arkaium New Member • Posts: 10
Taking on massive 35mm negative family photo scanning project - Advice needed!

(full disclosure - I posted this to r/analog and only got a couple replies I’m still sort of desperate to figure out if I’m getting the most I can, so I’m hoping more folks are savvy and active here to share some wisdom with me!)

Hi all,

A few months ago visiting my folks, they asked for my help thinning our their storage unit hoard. In the process of removing things for goodwill, we stumbled across developed roll after roll of film. A lot of photo lab 3x5s and 4x6s, and of those, a surprising number of 35mm negatives as well.

I originally planned to flat bed scan the prints. Having watched my dad go through the hassle with a few but saving them as lossy jpegs (with tons of auto tweaks), I couldn’t stomach knowing he was spending nights doing work that would have to be redone. But then I obsessively started to research options, and realized with the negatives I could get a better scanner and get a much higher quality digital original.

So, while I understand many swear by dedicated 35mm scanners or DSLR scanning, I settled on an Epson Perfection v850 so I could still get high quality print scans too, because there are countless rolls for which the negatives frustratingly weren’t preserved.

I spent weeks organizing the photos into labeled envelops from Archival Methods, painstaking work trying to date (down to the month) certain rolls, and finally, with the scanner delivered, and with most of the photos organized, this weekend I was ready to start. Or at least, I wanted to make sure the scanner worked fine, which it does.

I have a Mac Studio on the way. Not for this project necessarily—my desktop is 14 years old—but when announced it seemed like the right system for me (after a lifetime on windows).

Ok, with preface out of the way, here’s what I’ve settled on so far for workflow, followed by questions I don’t know the answers to yet and find different takes on online… your help appreciated!!

INITIAL NEGATIVE SCAN:

I’m using the trays that came with the v850, tons of handheld rubber dust squeeze thing, nylon gloves for handling. I considered fluid mounting but it was already getting a bit out of hand.

I bought Vuescan (due to positive reviews, a successful trial, and native M1 silicon support for my new system) and have been scanning to Raw TIFF in accordance with the advice here: https://www.analogfilm.camera/scanning/linear-raw-scans-with-vuescan/

I’m scanning at 3200dpi, files are ~80mb. I’m letting it do the light cleaning but all other settings are off (again, the url above helped).

DIGITAL NEGATIVE PROCESSING:

I do NOT have Lightroom nor do I have any intention of subscribing to it, which means the most popular option for digital negative conversion (NLP) is not available to me. I wasn’t happy with what VueScan itself did for colors, processing etc., so I decided I needed a raw output I could process elsewhere.

I was going to try Capture One, since that too was part of my Mac Studio plan, but the research I did indicates it doesn’t actually have negative processing abilities? There’s some cultural heritage variant that does? What the heck.

I downloaded Filmlab but I don’t know what the heck it’s doing, everything I feed it is so dark and crushed/high contrast. Is this a trial limitation thing?

I turned to Darktable and its Negadoctor and I’m blown away. The photo shown is basically dropped in, negadoctor on, no adjustments. I think I can use it with the Rosetta compatibility layer on my Mac Studio, but it’s sort of a bummer it won’t be taking full advantage.

Anyways, I ended up with what I thought were great results for 40 year old Kodak Kodacolor VR100 film, but I’ve paused now to evaluate how it went, review the workflow, etc… before I start up in full.

My mom (carrying me) with my older brother. Wild to think this photo predates me. I feel like this scan has decent color balance, the whites are more beige/grey but nothing is blown out and there’s done of grain detail (which I totally don’t mine). But should the whites be whiter? Can I adjust that and the dynamic elements in post or is it more important my initial negative scan get me closer?

QUESTIONS:

Which leads me to some questions I hope folks can help with:

Q: Based on the above, should I be using something other than VueScan? Or is it generally a good option for my use case and scanner? A lot of people seemed to say Vuescan is simpler and has some better processing (than Silverfast), wasn’t sure if that was still the case.

Q: Is anyone familiar with Vuescan know why it’s so finicky with exposure? If I make a Raw TIFF DNG instead of a TIFF-TIFF, the negative is much lighter and makes for a much darker digital print. Literally nothing else touched.

Low res preview of what seemed to convert really well via negadoctor/Darktable, this was with DNG unchecked.

The only difference here was checking that DNG box in Vuescan, that’s it. It doesn’t seem to convert anywhere near as well, turns out much darker.

Q: I know aversion to a lifetime of paying Adobe (for a sub) might be seen as irrational, but accepting that I’m not an Adobe guy unless they offer lifetime licenses again, is there any other digital negative processing software I should be trying? Has Capture One added it and all my googling just couldn’t see it?) If Vuescan into Darktable works for me, is there anything inherently off about that?

Q: Do you see any issues with the photo I’ve shared? A bit flat and unsaturated but I didn’t touch any settings and for me, that’s quite serviceable.

###

Appreciate any guidance anyone has time to offer. This is a soul crushingly big project for me, it took me the whole day just to finally get one roll done in a way I was happy with, and now I’m just sitting here thinking about if I did everything right enough. I don’t want to have to do this again!

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