New Scanner Results…

In my last blog I lambasted the hassles I was having with scanning negatives lately. The Lomo DigitaLIZA holder which I have used for years simply wasn’t holding the latest batch of films that I’d developed flat – sometimes to such an extent that they wouldn’t even stay in the holder itself.

I got slightly better results when I laid the negatives flat on the glass and placed a clear plastic sheet over them, but then I got the dreaded newton rings. Getting a new film holder for the scanner was apparently pretty tough, and extremely expensive just for a bit of plastic, so I placed all of my hope in a new, dedicated 35mm scanner. The outcome has been pretty incredible in some instances. Here are some examples.

First, a shot from the Epson 4490 flatbed scanner, using the Lomo DigitaLIZA holder:

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Epson 4490 with DigitaLIZA holder

For these purposes all I have done is increase the contrast, structure, and brightness slightly. I’ve not removed any dust, fixed the crop, or anything else. Be sure to click through to full size for a better look.

I remember taking this shot, and was pretty gutted when it came out like this. It was on the Camera 7 that I had just bought in Osaka, and I thought that since the sign behind the woman and child is more in focus, that maybe the rangefinder alignment was off on the camera itself.

Now let’s take a look at the output from the Plustek 8200i SE dedicated 35mm scanner…

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Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE

It’s almost hard to believe that this is the same shot. I’ve made similar alterations to this one from the Epson, but haven’t done any additional sharpening. Here, everything is far sharper, and I’m actually really pleased with the outcome. The only real difference (aside from the crop) was that I had to remove a bit of dust that didn’t show up in the other picture. Crazy.

Another example… again, starting with the Epson 4490 and Lomo DigitaLIZA combo:

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Epson 4490 and Lomo DigitaLIZA holder
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Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE

For this example, I didn’t do anything to the scans except up the contrast on both to make them less washed out. Ignoring the colour cast in the top one, the increase in definition in the bottom picture is unbelievable. I had to double check that they were actually the same shot at first as they look so different.

These were negatives that came out so bad in the first run, that I had literally almost thrown them out as unusable; they were in a pile of rubbish ready to get chucked, before I twigged that there might be a more general issue going on.

One one hand I’m really pleased that it appears to be the scanning rather than the camera (or my shooting!) which are at fault. On the other hand, I’m sad that the workflow I had gotten used to with the Epson and DigitaLIZA has shown some serious flaws… and that I had to spend a good amount of cash on a new scanner. It does make me wonder how many shots I might have lost over the years after judging them to be no good, when they could have been rescued with a scanner that held them a bit flatter.

Down that path lies madness though, and the truth is that the Epson does and has done a great job when the negatives are flat – and will still be what I use for medium format for the forseeable future. That said, I think I’ll probably be sticking to the Plustek for 35mm from here on out.

If there’s any lesson in this experience for anybody reading (and something that I should have paid more attention to years ago), it’s that keeping your negatives as flat as possible is critical to the quality of the final image…  especially at high apertures.

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