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08-05-2012, 05:05 PM   #1
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Scan prints or negatives?

Seems like the norm is to scan negatives, but I never really asked why more people don't scan prints (other than the obvious need to actually make prints first). Does it not look as good? I understand that you can use a far lower resolution when scanning a print because you don't have to blow it up at all (usually have to shrink it actually). I wonder if it wouldn't be easier for me to just scan the black and white prints I will eventually be making in my darkroom rather than getting a fancier scanner and trying to work with the negatives.

08-05-2012, 05:35 PM   #2
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The point of scanning a negative vs a print is that you can take advantage of the ability of making a larger print anytime you want to. You scan a photo you're pretty much limited to reproducing to that size or lower. Plus some shiny coatings on commercially printed photos can make for less than great image reproduction I've found. That's why I prefer and ask for matte. That stuff can crack, make for junk on the photo as you scan it.
08-05-2012, 05:41 PM   #3
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magkelly is spot on.And with scanning prints,you seem to pick up every little imperfection,especially if it is a old print ,marks,scratches etc.Providing the negative is in good condition and free from dust before you scan,I would go this way over a print unless you don't have the original negative.
08-05-2012, 05:45 PM   #4
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Hi, PP
Here is a 6 inch by 9 inch paper print i made today and just scanned as a 16 bit grayscale .jpg on Epson V600.
https://www.box.com/s/498c8e89a503a36ff456
It is from a Ilford HP5+ and Ilford Multigrade Pearl paper and I am wondering if its a bit underexposed in the camera, or if any brighter would have washed out the windshields.
The fidelity I get with direct 35mm neg scans on this low cost scanner is not as sharp as a scan of a 6 by 9 paper print.

The best way I have for copying 35 mm negs is as per a thread I put up a few days ago "Pentax Slide copier on M43 with image stacking"

08-05-2012, 05:50 PM   #5
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Dynamic range of a print is too limited.
08-05-2012, 07:19 PM   #6
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Ideally always go back to the most primary source of the image.
In film the neg in Digital a RAW file.
08-06-2012, 09:04 PM   #7
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Prints are basically dumbed-down versions of the information available in negatives. In additon to being dumbed-down, many prints, unless made by an expert printer, are simply crappy. Garbage in, garbage out.

Some people scan prints because they intend to produce rough-looking results. That's an easy way to get there. However, there is a difference between intent and ineptitude.

Take yourself to a gallery or two and see what a fine print really looks like. If all you're doing is looking at stuff on the Web, you have no idea.
08-06-2012, 10:46 PM   #8
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I wouldn't dismiss scanning prints quite so quickly.

This is a scan of a 2.5 inch square print, of a photograph made in approximately 1935 (I'm not sure exactly how old Dad was when this was made). It was scanned at 4800 PPI, and I reduced it to 6000px in post. It'll make a very nice print 20" at 300DPI now.



08-07-2012, 09:23 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Venturi Quote
I wouldn't dismiss scanning prints quite so quickly.

This is a scan of a 2.5 inch square print, of a photograph made in approximately 1935 (I'm not sure exactly how old Dad was when this was made). It was scanned at 4800 PPI, and I reduced it to 6000px in post. It'll make a very nice print 20" at 300DPI now.


The only time I would scan from a print is when the print itself has significance as an artistic interpretation. The vintage print is question is fairly well made and therefore worth scanning. However, good vintage prints are rare. Good modern prints are also rare, in this world of automated el cheapo printing.

Scanning this particular print will produce a decent enlargement. An original negative scanned and corrected by a competent printer would make a better enlargement. A competent printer would produce something that respected the vintage character of the image while taking advantage to modern technology to enhance quality.

With the exception of images that were intentionally diffused when the picture was taken, the original negative will always contain more detail than a small print. The resolution of photographic paper is lower than that of film, so detail simply disappears. The original negative will also carry tonal information that allows more freedom of interpretation than will the restricted tonal range of a print.

FYI, I do have a bit of experience in this realm. I worked as an archival photographic specialist for 20 years. I produced thousands of copies of archival photos for exhibits and publicaitons. One of the fun parts of my job was working with old negatives, bringing the images to life with modern materials and methods.

My record for enlargement from a print was a three inch print that was blown up to 75 feet across for a major exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. I made a copy neg on 4x5 inch Technical Pan film using a developing method that I'd worked out while copying 20-foot blueprints. The image was assembled from prints made on a massive horizontal enlarger at the former National Film Board lab.

If I'd had an original negative to work from, I would have used it.

I've also done lots of scans for prints in the 12 to 18 foot range. Other than the artistic exception mentioned above, I would never, ever scan from a print for those projects if the original film was available in useable condition.

In my current life I'm scanning and printing my work for galleries. Standard print size is 24x30 inches. Oddly enough, I scan from film, not prints.
08-07-2012, 10:37 PM   #10
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Hi John,
I concur. If you have film in-hand and the intent of the scan is archival, gallery, museum, or other discreet purpose - and you have the equipment, and time to do it properly - then by all means use the negative. I prefer to scan from film too. And if you have $15,000+ for a drum scanner, or access to one thanks to your employer, then scanning a print would indeed seem foolish.

I am certainly impressed by your achievements and long experience in the darkroom. But, to amplify your point about using the original when possible - if you really want the best quality digital image, then you should skip the scanner completely and shoot medium format digital.

Egos aside, I don't believe that the OP's inquiry is in consideration of the requirements of fine art work. It reads to me they wish to find out if they can economize on equipment by scanning the B&W prints they are already planning to be making.

I simply stated that good quality can be gotten from scanning prints. Today's flatbed scanners have enough resolution to produce highly useable images from prints. But to start getting quality high-resolution scans from film, especially B&W, you really need to spend upwards of $500 on the scanner itself; whereas you can spend $175 on a more modest scanner and enjoy high enough quality scans from a 4x6 print to share the photographs online, or even re-touch them to satisfy your digital creative urges.
08-08-2012, 06:15 AM   #11
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Actually for the home scanner with old family photos much of this is a irrelevant .
The decision is made for you - you work with what you got and rarely will you
Have both a decent neg and print to work with.

My own experience when scanning prints is that almost any scanner will do within reason.
When scanning prints, all else being equal, I see no practical difference between the V700 scans
and those made with a 70 buck Canon MG6120 Inkjet Photo All-in-One Printer.

The only shot I could find of my Grandparents on my Father's side asking all family members for a decent shot - about 1910.

Original and after much PP using Photoshop CS5 extended. Considering everything I'm glad to have this much.

Last edited by wildman; 08-13-2012 at 11:39 PM.
08-08-2012, 07:27 AM   #12
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With only a cheap flat bed scanner I did tests and concluded it is not capable of sharply scanning 35mm bw negs due to the oval cone of uncertainty in the optical side. Moreover that type of blur (different in x and y) can not be fully corrected by unsharp mask.

I noticed that the same scanner was producing good reflective copies of 8 by 10 inch work sketches so I started scanning paper prints.
Of course detail is lost and there are artifacts in developing the paper prints, but anyway I like to spend occasional Sunday afternoon to make some enlargements as best I can. Sometimes I scan those paper prints if they look good and the cheap scanner produces excellent fidelity on prints as Wildman mentions.
I think sharpness fidelity is more necessary than contrast fidelity, particularly on a larger monitor.

So why use a cheap single row scanner for negs when we work with what we have- top class sensors , good lenses and automatic image stacking?
As mentioned in above post, I adapted the Pentax Slide Copier using the Rogonar S 50mm enlarger lens projecting the 35 mm neg onto the M43 sensor, and stacking 6 images for contrast focus across the plane. That gives sharper image of the 35mm neg than the flat bed scanner moreover those images respond to a very small amount of unsharp mask.
This 3.6 MB tiff is sharp enough to show the HP5+ grain in the overcast sky, and I think, the loss of lens sharpness in the edges.
https://www.box.com/s/d937b48d7e59c2541153

But this method is rather time consuming and only suitable for the occasional roll of film.
08-08-2012, 12:51 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Venturi Quote
Hi John,
I concur. If you have film in-hand and the intent of the scan is archival, gallery, museum, or other discreet purpose - and you have the equipment, and time to do it properly - then by all means use the negative. I prefer to scan from film too. And if you have $15,000+ for a drum scanner, or access to one thanks to your employer, then scanning a print would indeed seem foolish.

I am certainly impressed by your achievements and long experience in the darkroom. But, to amplify your point about using the original when possible - if you really want the best quality digital image, then you should skip the scanner completely and shoot medium format digital.

Egos aside, I don't believe that the OP's inquiry is in consideration of the requirements of fine art work. It reads to me they wish to find out if they can economize on equipment by scanning the B&W prints they are already planning to be making.

I simply stated that good quality can be gotten from scanning prints. Today's flatbed scanners have enough resolution to produce highly useable images from prints. But to start getting quality high-resolution scans from film, especially B&W, you really need to spend upwards of $500 on the scanner itself; whereas you can spend $175 on a more modest scanner and enjoy high enough quality scans from a 4x6 print to share the photographs online, or even re-touch them to satisfy your digital creative urges.
I certainly agree that you don't need an expensive scanner to produce good scans from prints. The main limiting factor in terms of quality tends to be the print itself. .I also agree that for amaterur level purposes such as online sharing scanning prints is OK.

It's certainly possible to make corrections to scans of prints, but sooner or later you hit the wall of the inherent limitations of prints relative to original film when seeking truly high quality.

My main concern is that less experienced people might confuse adequacy for amateur/casual use with genuinely high quality. I've seen some very strange myths perpetuated on Internet forums over the years. I just don't like to see beginners steered into potential dead ends in terms of developing their abilities.

The OP has the option of scanning from film or from prints. If the intent is to go beyond minimal snapshot quality, scanning film is the bettter choice.

A cheap flatbed with some film scanning capabilities (V500?) would allow the OP to scan prints, with the option fo learning to scan film at a beginner level.

I continue to shoot a lot of black and white film because I enjoy the process, and because I have the skills to produce high quality results fairly easily. For newcomers to photography, I view digital as the best learning tool, with film as an option for those who wish to invest in the specialized skills required once they understand how imaging in general works. Personally, I would have no problems going totally digital for my new work, and may have to do so for health/weight bearing reasons.

John
08-08-2012, 01:31 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by wombat2go Quote
With only a cheap flat bed scanner I did tests and concluded it is not capable of sharply scanning 35mm bw negs due to the oval cone of uncertainty in the optical side. Moreover that type of blur (different in x and y) can not be fully corrected by unsharp mask.

I noticed that the same scanner was producing good reflective copies of 8 by 10 inch work sketches so I started scanning paper prints.
Of course detail is lost and there are artifacts in developing the paper prints, but anyway I like to spend occasional Sunday afternoon to make some enlargements as best I can. Sometimes I scan those paper prints if they look good and the cheap scanner produces excellent fidelity on prints as Wildman mentions.
I think sharpness fidelity is more necessary than contrast fidelity, particularly on a larger monitor.

So why use a cheap single row scanner for negs when we work with what we have- top class sensors , good lenses and automatic image stacking?
As mentioned in above post, I adapted the Pentax Slide Copier using the Rogonar S 50mm enlarger lens projecting the 35 mm neg onto the M43 sensor, and stacking 6 images for contrast focus across the plane. That gives sharper image of the 35mm neg than the flat bed scanner moreover those images respond to a very small amount of unsharp mask.
This 3.6 MB tiff is sharp enough to show the HP5+ grain in the overcast sky, and I think, the loss of lens sharpness in the edges.
https://www.box.com/s/d937b48d7e59c2541153

But this method is rather time consuming and only suitable for the occasional roll of film.
OK, let's digress a bit.

I think use of digital cameras for film scanning has a lot of potential, particularly in high volume archival applications. There are a number of possible approaches. Gear such as the Pentax Slide Copier is one. Another is the use of a slide copiers such as the Bowens Illumitran. There is also the use of macro lenses on a camera mounted on a copy stand, with an appropriate light source. (Enlarger film carriers are very useful for this.)

Late in my archival career I tested the latter two methods, and found the macro lens approach better in terms both of quality and productivity. My testing was conducted with a Kodak DSC14n full frame body and a Micro Nikkor 60mm.

(One issue with some slide copiers is that they use cooling fans, which can produce vibrations as the motors age. A solution might be to remove the halogen light sources and replace them with LED panels.)

After testing I copied 1200 medium format transparencies for access and for fairly high quaility publication applications. The labour savings on that one project relative to scanning on an 8000 ED paid for the camera body.

I also converted to the Kodak/Micro Nikkor combo for standard quality print copies, retaining scanning and large format film for exceptionally large output requirements. With the advent of the 36 megpixel DSLR sensor, I see little ongoing need for large format film for copying prints, at least not for most archives.

In my view the major weakness of digital cameras for film copying is the lack of good sofware algorithms for conversion of colour negatives. I've heard that Adobe is supposed to be working on this for ACR.

A secondary issue is the lack of Digital ICE in digital cameras. However, scanning is available as an option on a case-by-case basis where the benefits of Digital ICE outweigh the additional time required for scanning.

Note that I am a strong advocate of keeping original photographs after they have been scanned. They serve as a non-volatile backup, and can be re- scanned if major advances in technology make it worthwhile.

John
08-08-2012, 05:23 PM   #15
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So scanning even large prints is lower quality than scanning negatives, got it.
I would never deliberately shoot anything with film with its primary purpose being posting online, just one extra step for quality to degrade.

I just figured if I make a nice print with the darkroom I might want to share it on here and for that I think the scanner I have might do the job. Eventually I will look into something for scanning film, but I much prefer to keep the digital and analog worlds separate as much as possible, the film stuff is just for fun.
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