Large Format B&W Scanning with the Epson V700

This post isn't about the only way or the best way to scan. Rather, this is my exploration into scanning with the Epson V700 and large format film. As my knowledge grows with different ways of scanning, so will this post. But for now, this is where I am starting.

Why the Epson V700?

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To go along with my learning curve of shooting large format with my Chamonix 45n-2 is the process of scanning my own negatives. The main driving force for scanning on my own is the cost of drum scans at a pro lab. I've seen prices range from $25 per negative all they way up to $60 per negative! I had a fair scanner, the Canon Canoscan 9000f, which did an decent job on the 35mm film. Sadly, it couldn't handle large format so I began hunting for the best scanner for the job (within my $500 budget). Research pointed me over and over to the Epson lines. Mainly, the leaders of the pack, the V800 and V850. But these are $650 and $850 respectively (as of this writing). Too much right now.

Then, a contact of mine, Gordon on Twitter, pointed me to an Epson V700 that was up for sale for cheap on RFF and I jumped at it. The V700 is the predecessor to the V800 and was able to pick it up for nearly half my budget. That's a score.

The Epson V700 handles negatives with nicely built adapters in the following formats: 35mm strips, 35mm slides, 120, 4x5 and wait for it... 8x10! Yeah, not ready for 8x10 - but the ability is now there. Damn. This isn't a technical review of the scanner, but here are a few stats for those that want to know.

Epson V700 Tech Specs

The tech specs below are taken directly from the Epson website.

Epson V700
Epson V700
  • Scanner Type: Flatbed color image scanner
  • Optical Sensor: Color Epson MatrixCCD™ line sensor
  • Optical Resolution:
    • Epson Dual Lens System
    • 4800 dpi and 6400 dpi
    • Hardware Resolution:
      • 4800 x 9600 dpi
      • 6400 x 9600 dpi with Micro Step Drive™ technology
      • Maximum Resolution: 12,800 x 12,800 dpi
      • Effective Pixels:
        • 40,800 x 56,160 (4800 dpi)
        • 37,760 x 62,336 (6400dpi)
        • Color Bit Depth: 48-bits per pixel internal / external1
        • Grayscale Bit Depth: 16-bits per pixel internal / external1
        • Optical Density: 4 Dmax
        • Maximum Scan Area: 8.5" x 11.7"
        • Light Source: White cold-cathode fluorescent lamp
        • Scanning Speed:
          • High-speed mode: 4800 dpi
          • Color 12.3 msec / line
          • Monochrome 12.3 msec / line

VueScan Software

My software of choice for scanning is VueScan Pro, available online for $80-$90 depending on their sales. I went with the pro version years ago because of the ability to scan negatives. Really, it was the only reason I bought the software. I have a handful of default settings I am using to scan, as seen below:

VueScan-Settings.jpg

Depending on the density of the negative, I'll make adjustments to the brightness. It does a great job with black point, white point and curves, but to get the most "RAW" scan, I leave them alone (usually). More or less, the scanner will make a nice base scan for me.

I scan as a B&W negative transparency at 16 bit gray (no banding) and at a massive 6400 dpi. Oversampling and downsizing increases resolution of your image. I'll use Photoshop in the end to downsize. Also, I do not sharpen during scan and I leave all the rotation for post. I don't touch number of samples or multi exposure settings. The theory is this will reduce noise in dark areas by sampling multiple parts of your negative but I've tried setting number of samples to 1, 3, 5 and 8 and haven't seen a difference.

To avoid clipping at either end, I leave the white point and black point at zero and keep the curves at their defaults. I ignore the vendor bits, as I don't want the software making adjustments I don't approve. Also, I set the output color space to gray - as this is B&W here. Finally, I keep the file type as 16 bit TIFF without compression (keeps it 16 bit as jpg will reduce to 8 bit). You can expect a roughly 1.4 GB +/- scan from this off a 4x5 negative and all the detail you need to perfect it in your editor.

Before I scan, I make sure the glass and negative are dust and filth-free. I use a Giottos Rocket Blaster just before I close the lid. For the example below, I left all kinds of crap on the negative for demonstration purposes.

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To scan, I click the preview button which will scan the entire bed. I then draw around the negative to tell the scanner to only scan this area. I zoom way in to make sure I am getting every bit of the negative and to make sure it's sitting in the holder square. Once I am happy with the scan area, I click scan and let it do its thing. The TIFF will be auto-saved to the hard drive, which I then drop into Photoshop.

Adjusting in Photoshop

Once the scan is complete, I use Photoshop to dust, curve, tone, resize and sharpen. The RAW scan off the scanner is fairly flat and most likely has a few grains of dust you'll want to clean up.

Screen-Shot-2016-03-14-at-2.12.48-PM.png

Dusting

The first thing I like to do once in Photoshop is to clean up the dust (above). Grabbing the healing brush I zoom way in to see the dust specs or stray marks on the negative. Using "[" to decrease and "]" to increase the radius, I adjust the brush to the size of the dust spec and click. This is why you want a dust free scanner bed and negative - to minimize this step.  Usually, just a half dozen clicks and I am done. Again, for this sample, I used a filthy negative to show the differences.

Screen-Shot-2016-03-14-at-2.06.38-PM.png

Curving

The first thing I like to do once in Photoshop is to apply a curve or two to bring back a realistic looking image (remember, the scan was fairly flat). I like curves as they make subtle changes when used right to have deeper shadows and brighter whites. So, I add a curve layer and name it.

First, I find a white area I want to adjust and CTRL-Click on it - which marks that point on the curve. I then drag straight up (brighten) or down (darken) to put whites where I want them. Next, I CTRL-Click on a dark area and do the same. Usually, I end up with a slight "S" curve. I usually leave midtones, but you can always add a 3rd point (or more) in the middle of the curve to adjust. You can see how the resulting image above has more life now.

sepia_action
sepia_action

Toning

For some of my work now, I want it to stand out a touch from other B&W work. So, I've begun to play with adding a slight sepia to add to the contrast. To do this, my method is to add a color balance layer, bringing up the reds and yellows and setting the blend mode to soft light.  As you can see, this alone brings its own contrast to the game.

Reducing

Next I'll save various sizes depending on its purpose in life. Printing, web  and so on. Adjust the DPI and dimensions as needed.

Screen-Shot-2016-03-14-at-2.14.16-PM.png

Sharpening

As a final step (not something I always do) I'll apply an unsharp mask to the resized image depending on any artifacting created in the reduction. There are many ways to sharpen, and this is my preferred based off darkroom printing techniques. I keep the values fairly low as you can see from this screenshot as I don't want to go beyond what was really captured.

before_after.jpg
Side-by-side.jpg

Large Format Detail

This is the culmination of all this work, getting to see how much detail you captured on your negative. Below is a zoom into the image to show that the detail just keeps on coming! I love seeing the texture in her shirt, as well as the depth of field across her shoulder (and how smooth it drops).

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 1.47.05 PM
Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 1.47.05 PM
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Untitled-3
Mt Washington Hotel 4x5
Mt Washington Hotel 4x5
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Untitled-1

So, this is what I have learned so far. It's just the beginning, so there is much more on this topic to come.