For a few years I have been scanning film, originally my old negatives and more recently my new Hasselblad film images.
I started with an Epson 4870 flat bed and soon learned that it wasn’t giving me the quality of scan that I knew my negatives deserved. There was a trouble with a flat bed like that, it didn’t have any accurate focusing instead relying on a pre-set focus. That required the negative to be at the exact focus point the manufacturer had pre-set. Alas the Epson holders weren’t engineered accurately enough and my images were not ‘grain’ sharp. Just as in the old dark-room printing days I judged the sharpness by the film grain.
I purchased other negative holders, the ‘Better Scanning’ ones but still didn’t get consistent results across the whole negative so went looking for another way. This brought me to using a digital camera to photograph the negatives when illuminated by an LED lightbox. This was much better and if the camera was focused accurately I could shoot a ‘full-frame’ of a 35mm negative using a Canon 5D2 camera with a macro lens. I could also shoot 2 or 4 shots of a medium format negative to get a big ‘scan’, although they had to be ‘stitched together’ in Photoshop.
The LED lightbox was however a bit too dim so I decided to start using flash as the light source but it was quite hard to engineer that. This led me to getting an old Bowens Illumitran Slide Duplicator for a only £5 on eBay. I only wanted it for it’s built in flash tube and didn’t need the camera mounting, preferring to use the vertical camera stand mount I already had. Shortly after obtaining the Illumitran though I decided that stitching negatives was really a pain and I decided to go and find a ‘proper scanner’.
Now the professional ‘big boys’ use drum scanners…..but I would never have to money for one of them, the cost of a luxury car, but the next best was the now defunct Nikon LS-8000 and LS-9000 film scanners.
I bought a ‘mint’ LS-9000 for £2000….still a big sum…but getting a great scan of my images had become very important to me.
Well the Nikon could and did produce really great 4000dpi scans for negatives from, in my case 35mm up to 6×9 and it had really accurate automatic focusing of the negs. Nikon’s software was no longer supported but old machines like the Nikon are saved by Ed Hamricks VueScan programme. It’s really good scanning software that covers hundreds of different otherwise ‘dead’ scanners. The Nikon only had a Firewire 400 interface but my Windows 10 was capable of that.
Switch on the scanner, load VueScan and away I went….and the scans were pin sharp…ahh but only in the centre of the image! The Nikon holders just didn’t hold the negs flat enough.
So more research and I bought Focal Point’s ‘anti-Newton Ring’ glasses for both the 35mm and MF negative holders to make my negs flat. The 35mm ones worked very well and I got totally flat scans and the medium format 645 negatives usually worked OK as well but my 6×6 negatives still often had those damned ‘Newton-Rings’….and both versions had problems with dust. That was because there was now a negative plus 2 sheets of glass…that’s a total of 6 surfaces to clean of dust. Vuescan was good at removing dust with the ‘infra-red mode’, but monochrome negs had to be carefully cloned free of dust with Photoshop.
Now I decided I needed to do ‘wet-mounting’ for the 6×6 negatives at least. This is the method used in those super expensive drum scanners. The ‘platter’ is given a coat of an oily film and the negative laid on it. Another covering of the oily film is put on the negative and then a sheet of opaque acetate is then laid on top of form a sandwich, which is ‘squeeged’ of air so the negative sits bonded to the ‘platter’, which does indeed hold it dead flat.
After scanning the neg is removed and the oil allowed to ‘air dry’…hopefully without marks.
Translating the wet scan technique into use on a flat bed scanner like the Epson is pretty straight forward and I will continue to do this for 4×5 negatives. However a film scanner like the Nikon 9000 which loads the holder into the machine has to be handled carefully to be adapted to wet scanning. The negative holder has to have a sheet of glass for the bottom plate which is then treated with the oily film onto which the negative is laid. Acetate sheet then forms the top surface after a further oily film treatment on the top surface of the negative of course.
After modifying my old Nikon holders to allow glass plates, this did work really well…providing I had a whole evening to spare for just a couple of negatives…it was so, so time consuming, I could see I was just never going to get through the mountain of old negatives I had. I would have to keep wet scanning for my best images.
FINALLY though ….I was saved by a German photographer/engineer in Hamburg called Stephan Scharf. I spotted an eBay video in which Stephan showed a 3D printed negative holder he had developed for the Nikon 8000 and 9000’s. He had taken the basis of the Nikon holder and totally re-engineered it so that it closely and tightly gripped the negative using a strong magnetic force within the holder. Brilliant!
Stephan promised that his holder would produce a flat negative and therefore I would get the overall sharp scans that I desired. Alas 3D printing is slow, definitely not mass production and I did have to wait a few months before his beautifully holder arrived, complete with negative masks for my range of old negatives, 35mm, 645.6×6 and 6×9. Stephan doesn’t overcharge but a one off 3D printed holder will never be super cheap either…but hey this holder is so superb that I’ve sold my old Nikon holders on eBay and recovered the cost and his service throughout was just great.
The new 3D holder uses the ‘mode’ that the original Nikon FH-869GR holder uses. That’s the holder that Nikon produced with a ‘rotating glass’ carrier. It expects one negative at a time and does therefore require you to eject the holder between each scan and re-position to the next negative. This is required so each negative can be very tightly clamped for each scan, so the negative is truly flat overall.
I don’t find this a problem since I get great scans, as good as the Nikon 9000 will allow and can also shift along a set of 35mm negatives pretty quickly since Stephan produced a little ‘holding plate’ that allows this.
At last therefore the Nikon 9000 has become my perfect scanner and I can start tackling the negative mountain….thanks to Ed Hamrick’s VueScan software and Stephan Scharf’s amazing 3D negative holder system.
So it’s become possible for the ‘little guys’ to transform existing products and give them years of life, often even better than the were before. Thanks so much!