Scanning film with a digital camera

Sometimes people ask about my B&W "scanning" setup, which has been used for almost all of the black and white photos in my Flickr pages. It's very fast to use, and delivers better results than any flatbed scanner can. If I had a Nikon D800e the results would be even better, proportionally, if someone wants to buy one for me. :-)


I bought one of those small LED video lights with 120 or so little bulbs in it (Ebay, cheap), and put a piece of 6mm milky plastic over it, then hold the negatives in an old Omega enlarger neg carrier on top of that. The carrier is filed out so you can see the edges of the frames, and I use the carrier upside down, which means the black side is facing the camera, and I am shooting emulsion side up. The results are better this way (not shooting through the film backing), but I have to flip the images in Photoshop later. I may also be getting some benefit in the corners by facing the concave side of the film to the lens, compensating for any small curvature of field the lens has.


The camera is mounted on the column of a Durst M301 enlarger via a tripod head (the Manfrotto flip-flop one), which fits the 3/8" screw on the enlarger column used for holding the enlarger head on the elevating mechanism, and my D300 with the 55mm f/3.5 micro-Nikkor and an extension tube (I need to go just past 1:2) is mounted onto that. I have three micro-Nikkors of different vintages, from very early to the recent AF-D (most of the little professional type work I do these days involves small stuff in the studio), and they're all equal in this application at their optimum apertures. I tried a number of different enlarging lenses, and they weren't nearly as good as the micro-Nikkor, which is a consistently great lens. Some say it's the best lens Nikon has ever made, and they're as cheap as dirt on Ebay.


I put a mirror on the light source and focus on the reflection of the lens, then center the lens on the focus patch in the camera's finder by tilting the tripod head. When the lens is pointed exactly at itself, everything will be perfectly parallel. The lens is the sharpest just short of f/8, so I set it there. The light is so bright that I get very fast exposures, and vibration isn't a problem


Because the tonal range of the film is so small compared with real life, I turn the contrast all the way up in the camera. The histogram still isn't quite filled, and I expose as far to the right as I can. I get pretty good initial results with minimal processing after, and don't seem to get any benefit from using RAW. I shoot in color, and in Photoshop invert the tonality to positive, to greyscale, and flip the image to undo the mirror view I get from shooting the emulsion side, and crop to the image borders. Then I start in with the real tonal editing, which usually involves a fair amount of shadow and highlight manipulation similar to what I used to do in the darkroom with dodging, burning, and potassium ferricyanide bleaching.

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Taken on May 12, 2012