Converting slides and negs to digital -- what's worked for me

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by cooltouch, Sep 19, 2009.

  1. cooltouch

    cooltouch TPF Noob!

    Sep 14, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Houston, Texas
    For years, when I wanted to digitize a slide or negative, I used my Epson 3170 flatbed, and scanned the slide or neg at an indicated 3200 dpi, using the bundled Epson software. It was "good enough" until the scanner started producing a rainbow-looking streak across the image, about 1/3 of the way in. I tried cleaning it, but it didn't do any good.

    At 3200 dpi (indicated), the 3170 did a reasonably good job of scanning negs and slides, and an outstanding job, to be honest, scanning medium format. Here's an example. The photo was taken in 1984 with a Yashica Mat 124G. I believe the film was Tri-X. Exposure unrecorded, but figure the sunny f/16 rule, so probably 1/500 at f/16 or 1/250 at f/22. The Epson 3170 was set to scan at 2400 dpi. Some mild unsharp masking and contrast enhancement were done. The image was reduced to the size you see and converted to .jpg.


    So anyway, the Epson 3170 worked great for medium format, But I wanted something better for 35mm, so following are what I have tried. I thought I'd share my results here, and get your comments, if any.

    HP 4050G flatbed scanner. Does 35mm slides/negs, medium format, and 4x5. Comes with clunky, non-intuitive HP software. Optical resolutions up to 4800 dpi, or so HP claims. Results: dismal. Even using Vuescan or Silverfast, the HP 4050G's output did not equal the output of my 5 year old Epson 3170 in terms of sharpness and overall image quality. It was quite a bit worse, in fact. I bought it new, and returned it a few days later.

    Epson 4990 scanner. I bought this one used. Came with holders for 35mm negs, 35mm slides, medium format, and 4x5. 4800 dpi max indicated optical resolution. Mine came without software, so I d/l'd Epson Scan from their website. Results: better than the Epson 3170. Sharpness slightly better, Dmax noticeably better. It was nice being able to scan so many slides or negs at the same time. It does a great job with medium format. I haven't had a chance to use it with any large format films yet, but I know folks who have, and they love the 4990 for scanning 4x5. Overall, I've been very pleased with this scanner. A frequent complaint I have read is that the film holders are flimsy. Well, they're plastic, and most plastic is flimsy. But they get the job done, and I haven't had a problem with them.

    Opteka slide duplicator. I decided to take a chance with this. Saw a comparison between the Opteka and a decent scanner on Flickr that helped me make up my mind. For a 1.6x crop body DSLR (in my case a Canon XS or 1000D), to produce a full-frame dupe, requires a lens with about 80mm focal length (slightly less, really, so a zoom will work best) and ability to focus somewhat closely. Can require a fair amount of fiddling about if the lens's front element rotates, and also if there is any play in the zoom barrels. Results: Surprisingly good. Noticeably sharper images than those produced with the Epson 4990. Contrast tends to increase, and shadow detail can block up somewhat, which is a problem even when duplicating onto film. Turning contrast setting down on the camera helps some. My camera does not provide a 100% view of the image, and as a result, I often get black borders around the image, which I then have to remove through cropping. It's fiddly, but it produces the best results of all the imaging devices I've tried so far, and will likely provide even better results when I get a better zoom to use.

    HP PhotoSmart HS-20 film scanner. A friend gave this to me, so I can't complain about the price. Up to 2400 dpi indicated. Scans 35mm negs and slides, up to 4x6 prints. Comes with clunky HP software. VueScan works very well with it (d/l'd the trial version, will probably buy a copy). Silverfast does not make a version for the HS-20. Results: When scanning negatives, it does a very good job. Slight but noticeably better detail resolution over the Epson 4990. When scanning a slide, however, there is no apparent difference between the two, sharpness-wise. Color cast with the HP software is horrible, and requires a lot of post processing to get it looking right. With some scans, I was unable to correct the color to where it was even close to being acceptable. Vuescan does a good job, however, and results in a color balance even better than the Epson 4990.

    For examples, I've used an image I took back in the 1980s of an abandoned building in Santa Monica, California. Canon F-1, Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro, Kodachrome 64, exposure unrecorded. I was using a polarizer, as can be evinced by the deep blue of the sky. This is a very high contrast image which includes the film's Dmax and almost its Dmin, thus a good challenge for scanning. I increased the contrast for the Epson and HS-20 to more-or-less match the contrast of the Opteka image. Also, apparently converting the images from .tif to .jpg has caused the shadow detail to block up quite a lot.

    HS-20 with Vuescan:

    Epson 4990:

    Opteka slide duplicator with Canon EF 28-80/3.5-5.6 III:

    Combination of the three. The Opteka and HS-20 crops are 100%, the Epson is at 50%. The Opteka is slightly sharper, the Epson and HS-20 are just about the same, sharpness wise, even though the Epson scan was at 4800 dpi and the HS-20's scan was at 2400 dpi.

    Yesterday, I modified the Opteka so I could insert strip film into it. I have hundreds of unmounted slides, and I also want to try duping negatives and reversing them in PSP or PS. My mod works, kinda, but not very conveniently. I'm mulling over version 2 currently. I'll let you know when I've come up with a final version.


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