Film scanning and digital workflow

Hello film shooters!  I was reading a friend’s blog post recently and he was complaining that he wasn’t wowed by the images he was getting straight out of the scanner.  Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be!  Actually with my scanner I go through extra steps to not be “wowed” by the images straight out of the scanner, and I probably should do more, at some point.  From what I remember the regular PSI software for the Pakon scanners outputs at 8Bit (even TIFFs) though my Pakon F335 is capable of 12Bit or 14Bit I believe; this takes special software which I have never bothered to set up.

I’m not sure how everyone else scans their film, but I decided to write this to show how I do it.  Of course a lot of the time the lab is doing it for me, and while I wouldn’t complain too much about how they do it, if you have the ability to scan yourself then there is greater control over your images and it costs less.  I had my Pakon  scanner out of storage for a few months while I was living in a place where there was room for it, so I had my local lab develop my film and return the negatives to me uncut, which was less work for them and easier for me to scan.

The standard way of scanning with PSI tends to render black & white film with far too much contrast, so I manually select everything and lower the contrast to at least -20, possibly -40 depending on the film (-40 is as flat as it gets).  In the past I exported raw negative images but found that my inversions were losing quite a bit of the image; it’s an extemporaneous step, plus you’re losing all the benefits of working with PSI and Kodak’s experience that was brought to the color science of getting proper scans.  If you own a Pakon F135 (non-plus) you’re using TLX Client Demo and the only way you can get the full 3000×2000 resolution is to output raw, I hear.  But I also hear plugins like Negative Lab Pro work amazingly well.

Now probably the most annoying thing about working with the Pakon is that it was designed to only be used with Windows XP machines (I have a couple) and while that was a damn good OS and I miss it, sadly I can’t just plug my scanner into any computer, I have to have a dedicated scanning machine and then export everything onto a flash drive (formatted for Fat32) and brought over to my laptop for finishing. I have everything saved by roll and drag all 38 or so files into Affinity Photo to start working on them:

This is how a scan will look before I start to work on it:

For some reason the Pakon’s black & white scans still have some color and have to be turned grayscale, so I do that and then adjust the curves to where I need them.  This image was exposed perfectly and required very little adjustment, not always the case.

Even shooting my modified Sunny-8 rule with a non-metered manual camera I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the light so I fluff very little…outdoors.  Indoors is another story, much more guesswork there.  PSI file names by default start with AA, AB, AC, etc, so I add my own prefix which tells me the year and season I shot them as well as where this roll fits in sequentially.  So I have everything saved by roll of film in the full res JPGs, but I do a little more work to get things ready for the internet, starting with making all the images smaller.

I still use a watermark though I’m getting away from that, for right now making it much less obtrusive.  Final export includes a bit more compression to keep the file size down.

And here is the final image:

Can’t resist taking photos with beautiful women!

On vacation with a roll of JCH Streetpan 400

It seems like it’ll be every two years now, that my Ohio State friends from Blackburn House (now sadly demolished) get together for a weekend of shenanigans and nostalgic activity.  I’ve sort of appointed myself official weekend photographer (can’t trust anyone else anyway so why not?) and took more pictures with the SLR this time.  Not that they’re anything special, but it’s good to have some output to post here.

This roll of film is courtesy of my fellow blogger/film shooter (and really nice guy) Mark Ewanchuk. We were having some discussion over problems scanning it with the Pakon F135.  I’ve asked the Pakon group on Facebook, and they tell me that it has to do with being a polyester base, and that only machines with a true black & white mode can handle it (there are workarounds and patches to PSI for the F135, I’m told).  Well, my F335 is currently in storage while I try to thread my way through a housing crisis, but since the local camera store uses an F235, I wanted to see if they’d have problems with it.  I didn’t talk to them about it, but evidently it turned out fine.  They run the machine on automatic so the scans (especially those where the exposure isn’t quite on) probably aren’t quite as good as they’d be if I were doing them myself, but still good.  Mark, whatever problem you’re having with getting your F135 to scan it, I’m sorry, if you care enough to ask on Facebook, I’m sure that they could help you out.

JCH Streetpan 400 is an AGFA traffic surveillance film from the ’90s that has been brought back to life, not a brand-new film emulsion.  And in reality, we’ve probably reached the end of technological progression in chemical imaging with Kodak Portra 400 and Ektar 100.  No new R&D is being conducted so I don’t expect that there will be any more advances now.  I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing, however: we have over a century of different films that have been gone for a long time, that my generation never got to shoot with, and the possibility of delving back in time with long-discontinued emulsions is an enticing thought for me.  That’s what JCH is, that’s what Ferrania will be.  The possibility exists of a Kodak Etkachrome revival (I hope this happens, I’ve never shot Ektachrome).  It’s interesting times we live in.  The Resurrected Camera meets The Resurrected Film.

My first thoughts are that it doesn’t handle incorrect exposures all too well, seems to be pretty high-contrast (at least in D-76 1:1 which is what the local camera store processes), and while occasionally grainy, is quite sharp.  Not unlike Double-X, but faster–a good film to shoot with older lenses.  The newest film on the market right now, JCH Streetpan 400 is lovingly brought to us by Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter.  I’ve had thoughts about this film before, and that mostly revolves around the question of competition.  Off the top of my head, we already have: Tri-X, T-Max 400, Delta 400, HP5, Bergger Panchro 400 (on its way in 135 size), Bergger BRF400, ORWO N74, Kentmere 400, Ultrafine Xtreme 400, Rollei RPX 400, Rollei Retro 400, Fomapan 400.  Maybe more that I don’t know about.  Did we really, really, need another 35mm 400 speed black & white film?  Was that really what the majority of photographers expressed a need for?  I don’t know a lot about AGFA films, maybe there weren’t a whole lot of choices available, but I’d think something more toward the high or low end of the speed spectrum would do better and be more relevant, where there are much fewer choices.  Maybe a native-1600ASA film?  Or how about AGFA Scala?  Something more unique.  Something that fills an empty niche.

Maybe I don’t want to judge too quickly having only shot one roll of the stuff, but it’s not going to replace Tri-X in my camera.  And that’s the main problem.  I think it’s an uphill battle to convince people that they need this film, and with the rising exchange rate of the Yen, it’s going to get more expensive to buy.  Right now, expect to pay somewhere around $8.50 a roll.  I’m not saying it’s not worth it to buy, it’s just that I don’t see why we needed it in the first place.  So why should you buy it?  Because it’s there.  Because it’s there at all.  Because someone cared enough to pull a long-discontinued film out of the pages of history and give it another chance at life.  I plan on buying a few rolls soon and putting them away, just to have them, and also because I want to support Bellamy in his efforts.  I hope he is successful, and that more emulsions follow.  I just hope that next time, it’s a film that’s actually worth making is a bit more unique.

The Snow in Black & White

I’ve been busy scanning things.  Well, actually the scanning part is easy, it’s the getting things just perfect afterwards that really chews up time.  Unless someone is in a big hurry, I’ve found so far that with black & white and the F335 it’s best to just take the raw files and do all the corrections myself in Photoshop instead of relying on PSI to do it.  Unless they’re really low contrast images PSI will overcompensate, and while it’s feasible to just turn down the contrast right there, I’d rather get my black & white images just right.  And it takes lots of work.

This is Arista Edu.100/Fomapan 100 which I developed myself in the school darkroom (first roll in a year!) using D-76 1:1 developed for (I think) 9min.  I had already bought my Pakon F335 so I waited until it arrived and this was the first roll through the scanner.  edit: I forgot to add, most of these shots are in my local neighborhood, just took them as I walked along one day.  #4 was taken from the Wal-Mart parking lot.

I shot this roll in the Olympus Trip 35, more from the same roll as this.  I have to say, that little camera is quite handy to have, especially in winter.  It’s simple to use, even with gloves on, and it fits quite nicely in a coat pocket.  This is only my first roll through it, but I could already tell it wouldn’t be the last.  It’s got a sharp lens and I don’t think the Fomapan does it justice, I have a feeling this would be a great camera for landscapes with Ektar 100.  With a 40mm f/2.8 lens I would have thought that it would be exclusively an outdoors camera but reading this post has changed my mind a bit.  I suppose that with the right film, you could get away with just about anything.  Cinestill 800T, anyone?

I don’t know what to think about Fomapan.  Its grain isn’t too bad and it has a classic grain structure, but nothing really stands out to me about it, it’s hard to form an opinion one way or another.  With Kentmere 100, even though its grain is huge for an 100-speed film, I at least think that it has a fantastic character and look to it, and would prefer using it to Fomapan 100 for most things, except maybe landscapes like we have here.  I suppose the price being right, it was a good film to try out, and I do have another roll which I plan on putting through something I’m a bit more familiar with like a Spotmatic, but I don’t think it will become a standby for me.  It is however, quite cheap to buy.  One thing I remember reading (after the fact, unfortunately) is that it really should be pulled somewhere under 100, and also the developing times are too aggressive and if overdeveloped the highlights can bunch up quick.  The chart hanging on our wall said 8-10 minutes in D-76 1:1, I really should have gone for 8 (or less) instead of 9, especially with all the snow and overcast skies, but I suppose I’ll know for next time.

The Pakon F335 scanner

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The scanner saga continues, I have bought another film scanner.  There it sits atop my record collection.  As you can see, I’m a bit pressed for space these days!  What’s really nice is that this above pic of my new scanner was scanned using my new scanner.  That roll and the one from my previous post were the first to go through it.

A year ago I was excited about not having to pay out $5.00 a roll once I got my Minolta, but a combination of dust on the lens (which I still haven’t gotten around to cleaning) and the death of that Windows 98 machine led me back into letting a more professional photo lab do it and when the results are good, they’re good.  I tried using the Epson V600 available at my school, with very underwhelming results.  It seems like I was wasting hours a day trying to get my scans looking the way they should, and the used camera store was getting it right 90% of the time, though 90% isn’t 100%.

In my search for a relatively easy-to-use scanner I came across a few reviews to the Pakon F135+ scanner back in the fall, which was used by many minilabs across America for years.  In fact, that local lab that I’d been going to had one, so I’d already fallen in love with the look. Support these days is nonexistent but there’s a very nice Facebook group to help people out with troubleshooting so I joined that in anticipation, and have been very impressed with the images people have been posting.

There was Company A, that was selling them off on the Bay for $300 so I decided I needed one.  A had a ton of them at one time and offered a 6-month warranty to exchange any unit that did not arrive in good and working condition, so it was too good of deal to pass up.  It being the end of the year I had no money and had to wait until the next round of student loans came through in the middle of January, and I kid you not, 3 days before I got it Company A ran out of scanners.  There was another seller, Company B, out of Florida that had been selling as-is and untested 135s for slightly less than A, and as soon as they knew A had run out they started jacking their prices up.  At one point they were asking almost $1200 for one and they weren’t accepting returns.  Now Company A has more in stock and they ask $750 for them.

While I am a bit miffed at certain sellers taking advantage of a panic to gouge their customers, I suppose they have as much right as anyone else to make a profit, and really, it was the buyers who allowed the prices to go up nearly 400% in the space of a few weeks, by agreeing to pay whatever the asking price was.  I refused to be a part of the rat race, but silently fumed thinking that if only I had had the money together before Christmas.  Anyway, things worked out fine after all, I remembered seeing a dozen of the F335 models selling on a government surplus site that hadn’t sold a month previously (reserve a little too optimistic?) so I bid on a few of those, won two of them, and I paid a hell of a lot less than 135s are going for right now.  I do kind of wish that I had bought more than two, then I could have made some profit myself, but all said and done, with one machine in really nice condition and a backup in the closet, I’m pretty much set for life when it comes to scanning 35mm film.

So, the Pakon: it scans at ~2000dpi so it’s not winning any awards in the resolution specs category, but again, this (the comparison of the dog photo).  I’m just not impressed with the performance of flatbed scanners, or any scanners that are made these days, it seems like scanning technology peaked nearly 10 years ago and then Nikon dropped all film technology, Konica/Minolta went under and was bought by Sony.  Neither Nikon nor Sony seem inclined to make anything that might compete with their digital camera lines.  Back in the “good old days” 5400dpi really did give you just that, these days it seems manufacturers can claim ever-increasing specs with little to back it up but more pixels: nothing is ever any sharper or more detailed.  With an image 3000×2000 or thereabouts that I’ve been getting from my lab, I’ve still been sizing it down to 25% of that size before I post online and that still leaves quite a lot of detail and size (on my 1024×768 CRT monitor at least).  At 3000×2000 I can still print at 8×10 very comfortably and it’s a fine size for digitizing quickly every image.  If I ever wanted to print larger or had something important to show, I’d pay for a better higher-resolution scan somewhere else.

What the Pakon really gives me is my time back.  It scans a whole roll of film in under 3 minutes and if it’s uncut I don’t have to touch it the entire time.  The software was a pain in the ass to set up, true, and only runs on Windows XP machines.  I had to partition the hard drive of my new-old computer before installing the Pakon software, but I just followed the instructions given here and everything went smoothly.  As it is it’ll pay for itself in 120 rolls, but I’ve spoken to friends here and there who would be interested in having some negatives scanned, I’m sure I could make my money back pretty easily by starting a local film scanning service.

I wish I could say to go buy one immediately but this isn’t 2014 anymore.  The price is still nearly triple what it once was, so I wouldn’t recommend that everyone snap one up, but if you’re someone who shoots a lot of 35mm color negative and black & white, and scanning it yourself is getting to be too much, the Pakon F135+ is definitely something you should look into.  Here’s a brief overview on the different models:

F135 max res 1920×1200, 8bits per channel, color negative and black & white (can do 3000×2000 if not using PSI software so I’m told, but you won’t get the automatic color correction, and all my information is 2nd-hand so take it with a grain of salt)
F135+ max res 3000×2000, 8bits per channel, color negative and black & white
F235 max res 3000×2000, 14bits per channel, color negative, color reversal, and black & white, has a halogen light that is prone to failure (all other models use long-lasting LEDs as their light source)
F335 max res 3000×2000, 16bits per channel, color negative, color reversal, and black & white

Of these, only the 135 and 135+ models are readily available, 235s come up every now and then, I’ve only seen the 335 come up once since I started looking so good luck finding one.  And no, I won’t part with mine.  If you’ve come later to the game than even I have, I’m sorry.  The price for a 135+ right now seems to be around the $750 mark, but if people are willing to wait out these high prices they’ll probably fall a bit again.  If you’re still not convinced, there are plenty of other reviews that have cropped up in the last few months:

http://www.dantestella.com/technical/f235plus.html

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/08/01/kodak-pakon-f-135-plus-film-scanner-review-by-logan-norton/

https://trevor365photo.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/pakon-f135-first-impressions/

http://iftimestoodstill.net/2014/10/13/the-pakon-f135/

https://jcstreetwolf.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/the-kodak-pakon-f135-scanner/

http://baty.net/2015/02/the-kodak-pakon-f-135-plus-scanner/