Ahem, Ok, I guess I have some ‘splaining to do here. Some time ago I wrote this post for 35mmc, in praise for expensive outsourcing of film development and scanning. I wrote it because I wholeheartedly believed what I said. And I still think that the time saved by having a lab scan your film is invaluable.
But then along came KJ Vogelius with his wonderfully detailed post about his scanner…. and doubt crept into my mind. Home scanning has it’s advantages!
Why do we shoot film? Well, we like the cameras, the feel of film, the look of film and the smell of Rodinal in the morning…. But we do it also because we want to keep control over our pictures. And it’s true, outsourcing the scanning process is not always entierly in favour of keeping control!
In short, I went and ordered (again) a Plustek Opticfilm 8100, not the 8200 because I prefer B&W and the infrared cleaning features don’t work on B&W film…. and what’s more, the 8200 is about 100€ more expensive. Of course I bought it from Amazon as I want to test if this really works for me this time. If not I can send it back…. sorry Amazon 😉
I scanned some of my negatives that were processed by MeinFilmLab some time ago and here I want to give you my results. Always keep in mind that a B&W film, developed and scanned by my lab at 3600 x 5400 dpi is 19€ (there are lesser resolutions for a little less money available…), not counting postage to the lab. This can weigh in heavily on the result of the comparison.
I scanned at a resolution f 3600dpi on the Plustek – I compared with the maximum resolution of 7200 and as there seems to be a very slight advantage, the file sizes are HUGE (400Mb for a color scan…). Also I scanned using Vuescan which I think is quite old fashioned, but excellent! I’ll try Silverfast (once again) but I detested it’s cumbersome interface the last times I used it and I don’t think this will change.
Mind you, the Opticfilm scans have NOT been sharpened. And these examples are processed quite quickly as I wanted to submit this comparison and get your feedback.
Here we go!
First, the cover photo for my former post, ‘DO’. Here are both versions, let’s check them out. Of course, it’s hard to get exactly matching colours. I tried as best as I could.
Plustek scan – not matching colours, but the overall sharpness is very much OK and it looks pleasing to me. I might go back to the spot to check the real colours of the scene….
And I tried Silverfast once more, and I must say that I am impressed with it’s color rendition! Handling is still sh..t of course.
‘The Shed’ had an obvious magenta cast to it in the lab scan.
The Opticfilm scan has much more natural looking color, though a bit less flashy and perhaps some light yellowish cast…. nothing you can’t change in LR. A bit of work still required here. Resolution seems very good and much less sharpening artefacts.
And the Silverfast version:
‘The Wheel’ with some tweaking in Lightroom, the lab version
And Plustek’s take on this view – finer grained (or no sharpening artefacts which in my view were very present in all my lab scans) and nice tonality.
‘Them tourists’, heavily ‘Moriyamatized’ in LR – scan from the lab
And from my scanner, I like it!
‘Café’ from the lab….
And the Opticfilm version… not much to say, the scanner did well.
And last but not least, here’s a trio of scans from the lab, the Plustek and the Canoscan 9000F MkII flatbed scanner. The Canoscan is clearly last – lacks resolution, sharpness….. I think for the same price as the Canoscan, the Plustek is very very close to the lab scan.
For me, this is clearly a point in favour of home scanning. For the cost of having a mix of about 12 color negative and B&W film developed and scanned (215€), I get a very capable scanner. In about 4 months, the scanner will have earned it’s keep. And time, well I’ll take my time to scan and I’ll force myself to enjoy it.
Thanks to KJ for bringing me back on track!
I scanned a frame made with my ‘new’ Leica IIIa and it’s great Summitar lens on both Vuescan and Silverfast – applied exactly the same development settings in Lightroom (just slight clarity and sharpening) to both files. I think the Vuescan version succeeds in getting MUCH more details out of the highlights – see the blanket and plate – than Silverfast. The shadows and overall contrast are much nicer! So to hell with Silverfast!
Only thing is, Silverfast produces a TIF of under 9 Mb and Vuescan weighs in at 34 Mb….. but disk space is cheap, no?
Here’s the Silverfast version:
Here’s the Vuescan version:
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43 thoughts on “Finding the value in home scanning – Guest post by Frank Lehnen”
I knew you’d come over to the dark side sooner or later Hamish. It’s a bit of a pian sometimes but once you get into the rhythm scanning isn’t all that bad. I had the opposite experience to you though and found Vuescan incomprehensible and Silverfast really easy to use.
I just realized it wasn’t Hamish that wrote this, sorry Frank. I must admit I thought Hamish had already bought a different scanner.
a different and much better beast he bought! No problem, Martin.
Spooky timing! I was JUST re-reading the original article by KJ VOGELIUS, then got the email to say there’s a new post… about home scanning 🙂
Home scans are looking good to me! I’ve got the 8200 sitting here, looking at me and saying “told you so!” & “stop being bloody lazy and scan some negs!”
Thanks for the info 🙂 Off home shortly to get scanning……
Have fun scanning, Bruce – Another one caught the bug, hehe
Thanks Frank. I’ve had little luck on colour, but in fairness it was slightly underexposed Etkar. Black and white seem ok but I do generally hate scanning haha. Had a long night dev’ing film last night so got a few rolls to get through!
Have fun, and keep some beers handy – that helps a lot!
Frank, an interesting series of comparisons, especially as you have compared three scanners.
We need to take into account that we all don’t necessarily see colour or hue in image the same, and our pc monitors definitely won’t be set up identically, so keep this in mind reading my comments if you find they don’t accord with your perceptions; this is something I’d expect.
I find the images of the graffiti fence very revealing and to my eyes, the plain Plustek is preferred. The lab seems to have slightly too much green, IMO, and the Silverfast is, well, just plain dull and uninspiring and with a strong magenta cast. Score 1 to Plustek.
The lab scan of the barn is has more vibrancy than the Plustek, but has produced magenta clouds, where the Plustek reveals them to be blue and does look more natural. The Silverfast version just appears flat and dull and without the contrast of the other two, and by the time you get to this scan, have you noticed a horizontal scratch can now be seen in the sky. Score I more for Plustek.
There is clearly more contrast in the lab scan of the wheel, hence the grain is more noticeable, but I find the Plustek far preferable here in its overall imaging result. Score yet another 1 to Plustek. (You can see where this is going, can’t you?)
Well, no, not exactly, as I now prefer the higher contrast for the cafe shot. Nothing actually wrong with the Plustek result, just that for the subject matter, I like the higher contrast in the lab scan. And I feel that the lab’s higher contrast also works better for the street scene at the base of the wheel. It definitely is showing up more detail. So. let’s call it a draw.
Oddly. as regards contrast, the lab scan seems to exhibit marginally less than the Plustek in the Christmas Market scene and now I find myself preferring the lab scan! This just goes to show how difficult it is doing this sort of comparison.
The Canon 9000F Mk II scan is poor in comparison. But I am going to come to the defence of Canon flatbed scanners, as I use two: the Mk 1 (original version) of the 9000F and an older, but IMO, a far better 9900F. The issue with them both is that neither excels with 35mm format scans, where no matter what I try, the scans always seem to come out soft even though detail can still be seen. But move up to roll film, or 5×4 with the 9900F, and for some inexplicable reason they transform themselves into superb performers for a flatbed. So, I’m not at all surprised with the Canon result you post here.
Thanks for a very good comparative article.
Thanks Terry, I think the Canon is (for a flatbed) a very good scanner that might even satisfy 35mm shooters if they do not print big. As for the Plustek comparison with Vuescan or Silverfast, it’s an ongoing investigation. For the moment I am quite happy with he Silverfast color rendition. Time will tell what I will prefer in the end.
Scanning is an obscure science,like alchemy 😉
I think the lab applied way too much sharpening ( and too much price) to their work. I largely prefer the Plustek scans, but will still have to fine tune the results.
“and by the time you get to this scan, have you noticed a horizontal scratch can now be seen in the sky”
Yep Terry, noticed it and forgot to edit it out in Lightroom…. this scratch is on the original negative from the beginning, not the fault of the Plustek scanner….
Frank, I bought a V750 many years ago and at first was disappointed but that was due to user error. It is true that one can buy a lot of scans for the price of a machine etc. However the ability to scan not just new films but to do so for all of my old film going back 40 years, I never bought into the idea that a scanner is a waste of time and money.
I was so glad to read your revised opinion on scanning. I use Epson Scan application. Silverfast is ok but they suck at updating it to work with later Mac OS. Why are they surprised that a Mac user would need that??
Your scans show that the DIY approach is the way to go unless time and convenience is a premium. If the latter is the case, then we’d not be shooting film!!
Right Jeremy, if money, time and convenience mattered…. we must be crazy! 😉
I like your point about maintaining control. I typically push B&W negative and slide films that my lab won’t process for me. I also like being able to process my film immediately on my own schedule rather than being subject to the lead times of a lab.
Yeah, almost like digital 😉
Hi Frank, nice to see these comparisons, it makes me wonder… I have been looking at buying a scanner but there are two drawbacks for me: if you don’t shoot a lot of film there is a risk that the scanner (or software) is outdated before you have a break-even. Second, I don’t develop the film myself and the choice of labs is limited for develop only. For example MeinFilmlab and UKFilmLab don’t offer that service. But you made me think again 🙂 .
That s’easy, sell your digital Leica and shoot film only!
Just kidding 😉
But I love my digital M! 🙂
No, it has enchanted your soul, it has a bad influence on you. Let me take it from you for free and you’ll see the light again…. That’s 50€ for the Voodoo session!
Aukje – I wouldn’t worry about it except if you’re buying something out of warranty that might break. The resolution requirements for a scanner doesn’t really change over time as you’re close to the practical limits of film resolution already (for dedicated film scanners that is).
As for software I also wouldn’t worry. Silverfast is updated every few weeks. Vuescan is probably an even safer bet as it works with pretty much every scanner made and seems to have good support too.
As K J has pointed out, a scanner will either work or it won’t and unlike the software of a digital camera which is usually not fixed before the camera is released, a scanner has less to worry about. The main thing you want it to do is carry out a scan which is good enough for your needs and at a reasonable cost.
You will see that somewhat bizarrely older dedicated film scanners still fetch good money. The reason being there are so few affordable modern quality scanners available today. For example, my Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II, vintage 2000, will set you back about the same as the Plustek 8200 series is new. Look at the other Minolta and Nikon Coolscan models, which will set you back even more as they offer higher resolutions. The problem with some of these, and is why I opted for the Scan Elite II is it connects by good old USB. Most of the competition at the time requires a SCSI board and connectors, or Firewire. Who uses SCSI nowadays? Mac users will be OK though, but many Windows PC’s lack Firewire.
The second problem is not so much scanner software, but whether the driver on older scanner models was ever updated to later operating systems. This affects my scanner, which only works natively with XP. I trialled Vuescan on my W7 64 bit pc but it didn’t produce any better quality scans, which proves the point that you don’t have to worry about a scanner’s software not being updated. The only meaningful update is thus the driver for the latest OS. As the Minolta scanner software is far more advanced than Vuescan, I got round the driver issue by buying a small 12″ Windows XP laptop. The scanner connects via Photoshop Elements and I carry out the basic scans on the little laptop and then copy them over to my main pc for post editing.
Can you justify the expense if you do so relatively little film work? That’s for you to decide. But for those, such as I, and who have built up literally thousands of negs over half a decade, it is a labour of love and accessing images that I can no longer print myself. And it brings back fond memories as well.
Thanks for the clarification, Terry. I am going to reconsider this, again. I just got some scans back from the lab, and I think they are quite grainy. Seeing Franks results makes me now wonder if it is the lab or the film (HP5+). So Franks results give me food for thought…
By the way, I am quite shocked at the added grain in the lab version of ‘The Wheel’. I would not have expected that!
That’s from oversharpening!
Haha. Wow Frank. You came around quick! Welcome back to the dark side 😉
Very informative comparison too. Nicely done! Matches my experience in that the lab scans look pretty appealing at first glance but lack some subtlety and flexibility. Of the Plustek scans I mostly prefer the Vuescan ones actually.
I’m curious; did you use the Negafix profiles in Silverfast? I just scanned my first full colour roll (also Superia 400) with the Plustek the other day and I’m leaning towards maybe the generic profile being a better starting point for that film.
Yeah I came to the dark side because they have cookies… 😉
You make me want to reconsider the Vuescan versions…. Terry made a similar remark.
I used the Negafix profiles for the films – did not try the others yet… will start some evaluation over the next weekend I guess – wife and kids will miss me 😉
Nice comparison, and I agree with others that the Plustek delivers the best results. I use the Plustek Opticfilm 120 which delivers stunning results both with 35mm and 120 negs. That said, using Silverfast is a challenge, to say the least. It’s positively awful. Shot my first rolls of 6×9 on a Fuji 690 and can’t wait to get those scanned.
For me, the challenge is one of cost and availability. It takes me between 30 minutes and an hour to make raw 12-bit TIFF scans of a roll, depending on whether I’m using multiple exposures; and whether I’m paying attention. I use a Canon SCSI scanner on an old mac running VueScan, and edit in Aperture. Retro, I know – but I’m usually shooting 1950’s film through a 1930’s lens in a 1980’s camera. I figure I’m beyond hope on being anything other than ‘retro’!
Using any of the labs near me will charge about 6 euros to scan a roll. That’s 5mpx jpeg, with no editing; and burned to CD. In other words, useless and expensive. About the largest from-digital print I’ve done from it so far is an 8×12, but that came out beautifully despite my 1990’s scanner and the extravagant expense of a roll of Agfaphoto Vista 200. (Fujicolor C200)
Sure, my time is worth more than 6 euro’s an hour… but my photos are also worth more than the quality that their scanners output. That in itself, is enough to justify my effort.
Grace, you got me! A SCSI user. :D)
Most people will, more than likely, assume because our scanners are around year 2000 vintage, the quality will be on a par with a contemporary digital camera. But as you know from experience, they aren’t. They have high quality optics and providing the scanner is mechanically working OK, this is what contributes to their ability to produce quality scans and, if needs be, editing can be done post capture in imaging software of one’s choice.
A feature of my Minolta and which I overlooked in my post to Aukje, is that the neg/slide tray is motorised. The tray is introduced to the scanner and is then drawn in for up to 6 quick pre-scans. I can then choose which image to work on, either all 6 in sequence, or any one out of sequence. If I select, say, pre-scan 3, the sled drives to position 3 for full scanning. Also what I value is that focusing is AF in normal mode, but can choose to focus manually and, if necessary, select any part of the image for the scanner to focus on. This can be very useful for any neg which resolutely refuses to lie flat in the holder, or I definitely want a particular part of the neg to be absolutely nailed for focus. I like this lazy way of doing things; once the sled is loaded I can sit back and control everything from my laptop thereafter.
What does time matter when it’s a hobby?
I updated my post with a new comparison between Silverfast and Vuescan at the end of the post – take a look and decide for yourselves…. for me there’s no question!
At least for B&W.
I too find VueScan to be able to recover much more highlight detail on B&W than SilverFast (as long as the white point is kept almost to the minimum!), but the latter produces better results in colour for me… someone else in here says its shed scan looks dull (which it does), but judging from the overcast lighting, I’m guessing that’s the culprit!
True, but lately I switched to digitizing negatives with a digital camera… even better than scanning!
Frank, do you apply input sharpening to your scans? I recall reading about this some time ago and after a little digging found I where I’d come across it. It is part of a scanning article in imaging-resources 2009 review of the Epson V600 scanner and in which they have a short course on scanning, the complete article can be found within the review here:
Terry, when I had the Canon flatbed scanner I used input sharpening but with the Plustek scanner I find it’s not necessary. The scans are basically OK and I just sharpen slightly as needed in LR.
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Hi everyone, I’m new to this blog but I have a couple of questions/comments. I recently got into film photography and up until now, I’ve been using Thedarkroom.com to develop and scan my film, so I never gave much thought to the whole process. But recently I decided that I didn’t want to pay $20 to develop and scan each roll, so I decided to get the plustek Optifilm 8100 and pair it with Vuescan. The scans that come off of the Plustek look nice, but they don’t really look like the ones from the lab. Now, I’m not a pro or anything, so I don’t know how film is supposed to look, but I always considered the lab scans to be the “right” look for which ever particular film I’m using. Having this bias, it seems to me that although the Plustek scans look ok, they aren’t what I consider to be the “right” look for that particular film stock. After scanning, I have to spend 5-10 minutes post processing the scan in either Capture One, Affinity, or PS (I still haven’t decided which one is best) to make it look more like the lab scan. This brings me to my great dilemma. If I have to spend so much time post processing this digital image, then what is the point of film photography? From what I’ve been told, the greatest benefit of film photography is the colors. Everyone tells me that the colors just can’t be reproduced digitally and that every type of film has it’s unique look. But if I have to sit there and mess with white balance, levels and colors, then doesn’t that just defeat the purpose of film? Because If I can do that, then I can make any picture look however I want; I can make a Kodak picture look like a Fuji picture. Isn’t the whole point of film that you get colors and other characteristics unique to the particular type of film you’re shooting with? if you get prints made from the negatives, are those the “true” representation of the film? I’m sort of at a crossroads with this. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
JC, please don’t take it the wrong way, but digital capture gives you far fewer problems than shooting with colour negative film, and the digital process has somewhat spoilt you as colour capture with digital is much easier than with film. You simply can’t throw a colour negative into a scanner and expect the sort of result you’re used to with your digital camera. and which has done most of the hard work for you.
So, back to basics. You’ve read and been told that colour negative films don’t all reproduce colours the same, they have a colour “signature” all of their own. Have you ever wondered what the orange mask does? Why is it necessary? Without getting too technical, the cyan and magenta layers aren’t pure in their response to light, and so the orange mask sort of modifies the light so these layers behave as they should when light hits them. Now you may have noticed that this mask varies from one film manufacturer and film type to another. When you send you film to a lab, they colour analyse this mask and set their enlarger/printer settings to neutralise it and leave just the three colour layers to form the image colours. Now you will appreciate that the corrections applied will vary from film to film, and if a lab, say, gets this wrong, the prints you will get back won’t be right for that film, although many users never notice this, until they get prints from a quality lab. This will explain why prints from High Street photo finishers offering bucket shop prices often fell below what the film was actually capable of.
Also, you will need to set your own reference point as to the colour accuracy of film, this is not the same as the film you prefer. You may prefer a film that is somewhat less than neutral, and if this is so, then when scanning it you may first have to find your own colour settings, or profile.
Now we come to your problem with home scanning. I get the impression that you are expecting your first scans to come out perfectly without having had any experience or understanding of colour film. You are disappointed with your results because it is so much easier with digital cameras. Now think in terms of the photo lab providing colour prints from film, and the colour analysis that is invariably necessary to get the best from a variety of films. You have to approach scanning very much like a darkroom technician with film. To help, software such as Silverfast, can provide a pre-set, or profile, for specific films and this will provide you will a basic setting. Now, if your film has been correctly exposed and and you are using the right film for daylight or tungsten light, then this setting will be a good starting point, but final adjustments to taste will probably still be necessary in your editing suite of choice.
You asked, in the face of the problems you faced and the work you needed to put in, what is the point of film? And by corollary, why scan it? Those who shoot film will tell you it is a different experience to digital capture, it is more “hands on” more deliberate and, in many cases, more rewarding, plus they simply prefer the “look” of film. If this really appeals to you, then you will need to put in the work to gain experience of it all. And don’t forget, you don’t need to scan every negative.
Don’t let your initial disappointment put you off. There is no free pass to getting good results with film; those that achieve this have worked hard for it.
Thanks for writing JC and welcome to the world of film! I see you struggle to get good results from your scans and I have to say that with color film, I have a hard time too when I use Vuescan.
As good as it is for b&w, it simply is very hard to get good color out of it. For color scans with my Plustek 8100 I vastly prefer Silverfast, though it’s a nightmare to get used to. When I set the right film in the Negafix-module of Silverfast, the colours are quite OK right out of the scanner. I just use a bit of Unsharp Mask right in Silverfast and the results are good to go. Perhaps just a bit of tweaking in Lightroom is all it takes.
But then I am not a great fan of color film….
Anyways, give Silverfast a try, spend some time with it to learn it’s basics and get back to me with your results!
I hated that piece of software before, but I am coming slowly to like it and to prefer it to Vuescan…
Hi Frank, thanks for the advice! I tried a demo version of Silverfast but I couldn’t even get the scan to look sharp! it looked horrendous! But I have seen some people’s results using it and now I’m sure there’s something I’m doing very wrong! I’ll give it another try and let you know. I really hope it’s not a fault in the scanner that’s giving me weird colors. Thank you, once again!
I think it’s not your scanner! I just scanned a roll of Fuji Superia 200 (terrible film…) which was a test roll for my ‘new’ Olympus Trip 35 and the results were fine with SF.
Just set it to a resolution of 3600 dpi (more does not get you much better results). In the Negafix section select your correct film. Use USM sharpening, but only at ‘less sharpening’ setting and leave the rest OFF.
Here you can see some of the scans: https://whyfilmcameras.com/2017/03/16/olympus-trip-35-the-photos/
Hi Frank, I went back and gave silverfast another try and let me tell you…….I’m glad I did!!! I feel so much better now knowing that I can scan my own film with accurate look and color and not have to pay $15 to scan a single roll! I watched some videos on youtube where they walk you through it step by step; it really couldn’t be any simpler! Their film profiles are pretty much spot on. The only things I adjust are the black, white and neutral points with the pippette and that’s pretty much it! sometimes I might raise the exposure a tiny bit, but I hardly ever do that. Silverfast is far superior to Vuescan. Vuescan just cannot process the colors like Silverfast can. All my scans are either looking just as good but most of the time even better than the lab scans in terms of color. Anyways, for anybody reading this: don’t waste your time and money with Vuescan.
Glad it worked out OK for you! When you get over the convoluted user interface of Silverfast, the results you get are great.
Too bad it’s expensive and if you change your scanner you have to buy a new license…. but that’s the price of quality
hi, I’m so happy I did, a different and much better beast he bought! No problem and the price o quality is very best thanks