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Digitizing 4x5" Negatives?


Martin B
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I was lucky enough to get a nice nearly mint Swiss Alpina 4x5" large format camera. So I started using 4x5" negative film (currently T-Max 100 film). I have an old HP flatbed scanner, but scanning the negative did not work well - the digitized files came out all too dark. Even when I tried backlighting the negative on top with a light table, the scanning remained very poor. Best I found so far was using my tripod/camera setup with 50 mm macro lens and the negative on a light table below. I took two overlapping photos which I stiched together to get the full 4x5" digitized negative. I do not want to vest into a dedicated 4x5" negative scanner at this point either (too expensive IMO).

 

Is there a better way to digitize 4x5" negatives? Any advice how to use my flatbed scanner for this to avoid to get too dark files?

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 I see no reason why the scanner should not work with 4x5".

 

The scans with my flatbed scanner were always much too dark even when adjusted in the menu settings (levels adjustment after prescan). After channel inversion in PS, the file was nearly unusable - much too low in contrast and details were totally left out. So far I had no luck to get a good negative scan with my scanner - it is an old HP 4370 flatbed scanner.

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Martin, you need a flatbed scanner with transparency scanning capability to capture negatives properly. A used Epson V700 or new V800 is going to be the minimum you need to do 4x5" negatives properly because you need at least a four inch by five inch transparency illumination window. 

 

You can capture 4x5" negatives with a proper camera copy setup and then process the images together, but you are losing so much quality out of what 4x5 format can produce it's hardly worth the effort. 

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Martin, you need a flatbed scanner with transparency scanning capability to capture negatives properly. A used Epson V700 or new V800 is going to be the minimum you need to do 4x5" negatives properly because you need at least a four inch by five inch transparency illumination window. 

 

You can capture 4x5" negatives with a proper camera copy setup and then process the images together, but you are losing so much quality out of what 4x5 format can produce it's hardly worth the effort. 

 

Ah, this explains it - my scanner doesn't have this for the 4x5" negatives. I stick to my camera setup for now - I get a very good quality this way. The one below was digitized using my photography of the negative method and is shrunk for webview to 1500 pixels in length (originally it was about 8000 pixels after the photo merge of two photos):

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I was able to digitize 4x5 by Epson V500 scanner. It isn't expensive film scanner. Two parts and stitching in PS Elements.  

 

Scan of the 4x5 contact print. Zoom in to check details.

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Heck, I have a 14-year-old Epson 3200 Photo, with built-in transparency illumination that covers 4x5 - or even 4x10. Real resolution (scanner-lens-limited) is around 2000 ppi - but still enough to get a single 4x5 scan 9500 pixels x 7500. Dismal for 35mm, fair for 6x6, quite good with 4x5.

 

USB, so connectable to my current Mac Pro tower. The Epson software is long dead, but Vuescan happily operates it (and with the .dng output option, much better). $29 for one on ebay.

 

below - from 4x5 neg, cropped 2x5 for panorama, with detail crop - scanned at 1600 ppi. (Crown Graphic with 135 Kodak Ektar - not the world's greatest 4x5 lens)

 

 

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I've been shooting 4x5 since 2001. I started with an Epson 3200 Photo, replaced it with a Microtek M1 (which I grew to hate), and replaced the Microtek with an Epson V800, which is working out very well. I probably could have stuck with the 3200 just fine, but when the V700/750 and M1 came out, I wanted something better, and, based on a few early reviews, picked the Microtek. It turned out to be a real pain to use over time. 

 

Epson made several other models that could scan 4x5" film (or larger) and you can look them all up at https://epson.com/Support/Scanners/sh/s2. The "Perfection" line is what you want to look for, and pick the "Photo" version as they'll have the ability to scan film. I know the 2450 Photo, 3200 photo, 4870 Photo, 4990 Photo, and V700/750/800/850 Photo all handle 4x5" film (and some up to 8x10" film), and there are likely others that scan 4x5, and many are available used for a good price, or possibly even free if someone's upgraded and wants to get rid of an older scanner. The biggest advantage of the 800/850 over previous models is that they use LED lights, which warm up much faster than the fluorescent bulbs of previous models, otherwise they're very similar to the 700/750. 

 

The Epson software works really well and is what I use, but most of them shipped with some version of Silverfast as well, or you can pay once for a lifetime license for VueScan. Ken Lee, who shoots large format, has a very useful page on getting much better than default settings out of Epson Scan or VueScan: http://www.kennethleegallery.com/html/scanning/index.php

 

You can find a lot more information about large format and scanning here: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/

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Martin, 

 

I strongly recommend the Epson, a used V700 would make it at a reasonable price. If the scanning workflow is not done properly you will loose all the quality of a 4x5 negative (or positive). the tonality, details, sharpness, etc. would be lost. Shooting with a 4x5 is a lot of effort in terms of time, inconvenience of the weight and size of the gear, cost (film, developing, printing, etc.), that saving on the scanning doesn't make a lot of sense. It's like buying a Phase 1 with 100 mb pixel and then using it in a crop mode with 10 megapixel... 

 

With all respect, the scanned negative that you posted above lacks contrast, it lacks details, it has light leaks, it has dust and scratches and a bunch of other stuff going on. Some of them is due to the shooting technique, others most likely due to the scanning not well done. Welcome to the club of the 4x5 shooters where we all do mistakes at the beginning of our long uphill journey... but there will be a lot of rewards down the road...  

 

all the best, 

Lorenzo

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Martin, 

 

I strongly recommend the Epson, a used V700 would make it at a reasonable price. If the scanning workflow is not done properly you will loose all the quality of a 4x5 negative (or positive). the tonality, details, sharpness, etc. would be lost. Shooting with a 4x5 is a lot of effort in terms of time, inconvenience of the weight and size of the gear, cost (film, developing, printing, etc.), that saving on the scanning doesn't make a lot of sense. It's like buying a Phase 1 with 100 mb pixel and then using it in a crop mode with 10 megapixel... 

 

With all respect, the scanned negative that you posted above lacks contrast, it lacks details, it has light leaks, it has dust and scratches and a bunch of other stuff going on. Some of them is due to the shooting technique, others most likely due to the scanning not well done. Welcome to the club of the 4x5 shooters where we all do mistakes at the beginning of our long uphill journey... but there will be a lot of rewards down the road...  

 

all the best, 

Lorenzo

 

Thanks, Lorenzo - the photo which I posted above is my first 4x5 negative which I shot. As you pointed out, I made a few first timer errors there - the main one already happened when I pushed the 4x5 film into the film holder the first time. The film must have caught the wrong rail at the end of the insertion, and when I closed the lid, the film must have been pushed backwards by the lid. Therefore I lost about 20% of the frame in my composition shown above (on the right side) which was never exposed. Likely due to the incorrect film insertion I also got a small light leak on the negative which is seen as brighter area on the lower left. The inconsistent sky pattern on top of the frame could have been caused during my tray development process where I might have grabbed the border of the negative to turn it around several times (with nitrile gloves used). Last but not least I overexposed one stop from the measured indirect metering which proved to be beneficial on 35 mm film, but wasn't the right thing here on 4x5 - the negative is slightly overexposed and lacks some contrast. Digitizing-wise, the dust particles were brought into the picture but otherwise it was the negative as it is. The lack of details is caused by the lower contrast in the negative and because I downsized it for web viewing purposes.

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Martin - amazing how the faulty film loading produced a nice black square hairline border as well.

 

More seriously, yes, leaf shutters have a couple of quirks. They CAN run a bit slow (springs weaken with time), and, due to opening from the center, can produce more exposure at small apertures than at medium or large apertures (the center of the lens is uncovered for a longer time than the "average" time of exposure as the shutter travels all the way out to fully open, and back to fully closed.)

 

http://www.kern-photo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/wpid-leaf-shutter-lens-images-04-2013-01-9-00-55.jpg

 

I always close down another half stop when my Hassy leaf-shutter lenses are set to f/11 or smaller. As a side note, you can get some interesting DoF effects using LARGE apertures, as the shutter itself changes the "aperture" during its progess. In effect, you get a whole continuum of different DoFs, from pinhole to f/4-5.6, overlaid on one exposure. Makes for very smooth transitions from sharp to unsharp.

 

Plus, older (which doesn't have to be "much older" - up through 1985 or so) lenses usually have less effective coatings, and thus less macro-contrast, and thus produce more open shadows than, say, Solms-y modern Leica lenses. So there is less need for overexposing/underdeveloping to hold shadow detail. A plus IMHO, which is why I love C lenses for the Hassy, and c. 1980 Mandler lenses on my Ms. At least in bright contrasty sunlight.

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Martin - amazing how the faulty film loading produced a nice black square hairline border as well.

 

More seriously, yes, leaf shutters have a couple of quirks. They CAN run a bit slow (springs weaken with time), and, due to opening from the center, can produce more exposure at small apertures than at medium or large apertures (the center of the lens is uncovered for a longer time than the "average" time of exposure as the shutter travels all the way out to fully open, and back to fully closed.)

 

http://www.kern-photo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/wpid-leaf-shutter-lens-images-04-2013-01-9-00-55.jpg

 

I always close down another half stop when my Hassy leaf-shutter lenses are set to f/11 or smaller. As a side note, you can get some interesting DoF effects using LARGE apertures, as the shutter itself changes the "aperture" during its progess. In effect, you get a whole continuum of different DoFs, from pinhole to f/4-5.6, overlaid on one exposure. Makes for very smooth transitions from sharp to unsharp.

 

Plus, older (which doesn't have to be "much older" - up through 1985 or so) lenses usually have less effective coatings, and thus less macro-contrast, and thus produce more open shadows than, say, Solms-y modern Leica lenses. So there is less need for overexposing/underdeveloping to hold shadow detail. A plus IMHO, which is why I love C lenses for the Hassy, and c. 1980 Mandler lenses on my Ms. At least in bright contrasty sunlight.

 

As usual, again very good advice from you, Adan! Yes, the hairline was added in post processing

! I was not aware that it is the other way around with a large format camera to underexpose at smaller apertures instead of overexpose like with a Leica M camera. Very good explanation! Interesting also what happens at large apertures with the shutter.
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check a company in your town, that does drum-scanning. once you have seen a scan like this, nothing else will do. at 4000dpi, you get a 1700 MB file.

 

I would not suggest to have every and each negative drum scanned. Beside the material, if not prohibitive, cost, the space used on your hard-drive for negatives that will never be printed would be just ridiculous. 

 

The purpose of scanning your own negatives with a flatbed scan at home is to be able to work on the files and see if they have potential. A scanner like the v750 allows for very good prints at least up to 16x20 and often larger. The negatives that will be printed larger than 16x20 are most likely a minority of your negatives and in my opinion only for those negative a drum scan makes sense. 

 

And yes, I totally agree that a drum scanned 4x5 negative can blow the mind of someone that has never seen it before. The final rendering of the print is at pair and often better than a 60+MP digital back. 

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