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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Scanning B&W Negatives

Anonymous asked, "What are Carl Weese's views on scanning B&W negatives with a good scanner like the Imacon?"

I've had the chance to see prints from superbly handled scans with the Imacon, done by Mark Nelson (the guy behind the Precision Digital Negatives approach to creating enlarged negatives for contact printing) and they are quite wonderful. That is partly due to Mark's skill, and a competent machine.

The good news is that a competent machine may be had for quite a lot less. I've been using a Microtek 9800XL tabloid size scanner (not at all the latest technology) to scan large format negatives. It has no trouble encompassing the tonal range of negatives aggressively developed for Platinum/Palladium printing. In fact, I generally need to bring in the sliders at both ends of the prescan to have a strong 16-bit grayscale scan. As a positive, by the way. Don't expect the software to understand a negative; it won't. Tell it to scan as positive, look at the negative on screen, and adjust the prescan to, well, look like a good negative. Now do the scan. When you've got the scan in Photoshop, invert it, and do a curve layer to bring the tone where you want.

B&W film scanned has few of the problems associated with digital capture—at least, not directly. Because the problems are with capture, and the scan started with film. Sounds obvious, but easy to overlook. Prints from an Epson 4800 based on these scans don't look like my platinum prints from the same negatives, but they look very, very, good. Better, to my eye, than silver prints would look. I took up platinum printing because I couldn't get silver materials to do what I wanted from my large format work (I love what silver enlargements look like from my Leica negatives, almost a different art form) but silver just did not do what I wanted from large format contact prints. Inkjet prints from negative scans of large format pictures come much closer to my intention than I could ever get silver to do.

Another respondent asked whether there might be some validity to the notion of "exposing to the left"—this is a great question. Within the realm of digital capture, the answer is an unequivocal NO! But it shows a nice understanding. If someone came to photography through digital capture and wanted to take up traditional picture-making with B&W (or color negative) film, the best advice you could give them for the crossover would be "expose to the left." The fact that they won't get a histogram to look at is a bridge to be crossed when encountered.

Posted by CARL WEESE


Anonymous Anonymous said...

also, rather than "scanning as a positive" you can use software such as vuescan to get a RAW (i.e. unadjusted) negative scan, then use a wonderfull little piece of software called NegPos to convert it in Photoshop

(NegPos was designed for Colour Neg scans and does an excellent job with those, but also works very well with B&W).

Bit of a learning curve - and a lot of theory behind it:

tim atherton

9:27 PM  

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