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First Film Scans – Happy Days

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

For quite a while now, almost since I first took up photography, I have been shooting film along side my digital. None of my cameras are particularly amazing, nor are any of the old manual lenses on my film cameras any better than the modern lenses I have paired with my EOS 500D. But the whole process of loading a roll of film and knowing that every single shot has a cost associated with it, the cost of the film, the cost of chemicals to develop it and the significant investment of time at every stage of the process from blank film to processed negative gives film a sort of romance that can be intoxicating.

For two years I’ve been shooting black and white, and more recently colour film, saving those rolls up and storing them in my freezer thinking I’d find somewhere that does bulk discounts on film processing. After weighing up the costs and having a lot of gear donated to me I ended up buying the chemicals to develop my own. This does involve an initial investment in some equipment, but in the long term means I can process my colour film for as little as $2.50 per roll, and my black and white film for even less than that compared to $5 per roll for colour film at a “local” minilab.

Optex Digiscan 1

So over the last month I have been working my way through a freezer full of film that has been waiting for development for quite some time but in all my wisdom I neglected to seriously consider what I would do with those negatives. I have an enlarger, but without a dedicated darkroom I have nowhere to process paper prints, so I had to look at digitising my film.

My first choice was also the cheapest, and in retrospect not the best choice at all: An Optex Digiscan 1 negative and slide scanner. Boasting a 5 megapixel CMOS sensor and a $20 pricetag I was almost giddy when I took it home at the opportunity of finally blowing up my negatives to a decent size and seeing what I had taken. Sadly when I got it home I found out that support for the scanner under Windows 7 was not the best, and spent several hours fiddling before the scanner would appear in my imaging software. But driver issues I can look past. It’s not fair to judge older peripherals based solely on driver support 3 or 4 years after they were released, particularly if they are a small market item as this was.

After getting it working I loaded my film into the provided negative carrier and slotted them into the scanner, fired up Irfanview and started scanning. The first thing that hit me was the speed, or rather the lack of it. The scanner would sit there, and you could slowly watch your image resolve on the screen at a low resolution and eventually stabilising, at which point you can save your image. Basically, it’s a webcam in a little tower with a backlight shining through your film. Imagine my dismay then when my results were this amazing:

Optex Scan Example

Note the giant black dot towards the right of the frame. That is a relatively large chunk of dust stuck to the sensor, in a scanner that had never been used before. I was not impressed.

It was at this point I decided I wasn’t going to beat around the bush, and order a decent scanner. After some research (that is googling photo scanners and then looking at scanned photos from those scanners on Flickr) I decided on an Epson V330. Sadly, where I order all of my computer parts had the V330 on backorder, and it stayed like that for almost a month so after waiting and waiting I canceled my backorder and ordered a Canon CanoScan CS9000F. There are no other words to describe it: It’s bloody amazing. Not only does it have a questionable resolution of 9600dpi and film carriers for both 35mm and 120 size film, it’s only $350-$399. I couldn’t be happier. My only complaint is the amount of time it takes to scan film at 4800dpi: about 25 minutes for 12 images. That’s an hour and a half per 36 exposure roll of film. But the results are leaps and bounds ahead of the cheap ebay scanner:

CanoScan 9000F Scan Example

So that’s it, I’m now slowly working my way through the pile of negatives I’ve had sitting here and it’s pretty much like christmas at the moment seeing all of these photos properly for the first time, some going right back to the first first photos I took with my first camera, a Canon EOS 1000F.

Praktica LTL - Pentacon 50mm f1.8 - Fomapan 100 in Ilfosol-3