Epson V700 scanner versus Nikon D800+Nikkor 105mm Macro . And the winner is ?

Epson V700 scanner versus Nikon D800+Nikkor 105mm Macro . What would you expect?

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W , boy in the Woods from a digital copy of a Medium Format Tri-X Pan negative. Early 1990s .France.

To Scan or to Copy ? That is the Question.

I have fair sized analogue archive, a mixture of 35 mm and roll film negatives that I processed and enlarged myself. I invested a few years back in an Epson V700 scanner  and have been frustrated by the results especially with 35 mm film but even with roll film . Wet mounting the negatives or sending them off to be drum scanned was never going to be an option for me so of course I became highly interested in the possibilities of using a camera to copy the negatives in the hopes of getting better results.

I have asked myself if the results that I were unhappy with could be as much down to my poor operating skills as to the limits of the V700 and of its native software.

This alternative was only economically worth exploring for me, because-with the exception of a cheap A5 lightbox-I already had the kit I needed: A Nikon D800 and the Nikkor 105 mm macro. A few years ago I was given a copy stand but I’m sure a camera stand could do  ( a bit of a faff but feasible ). And as for the negative holder, I just used the V700’s

I know I said I was more frustrated by my results with 35 mm negatives but nevertheless I chose to carry out my first attempt with a roll film negative, because I new it was  a “good negative”. It is an image shot with a Mamiya C330 twin lens camera ( which I used to call affectionately my coffee grinder because of the noise it made when you armed it ):not the sharpest animal on the block, prone to vignetting, but one I could afford. It was captured on Tri-X pan. Because I was always keen to get good details from the shadows to the highlights, I used it at 100 ISO instead of the recommended 320 and developed accordingly which incidentally reduces the graininess . I’d never printed this image but that’s another story:the negative told me it would be good and that I at least would really like it.Other reason for the choice:it is a very clean negative and its subject matter is little prone to revealing minor dust and scratches , uneven development or uneven lighting by the light-box.

This could of been a whole different ball game with a wide open sky or a snow scape, or with a colour negative (mental note:try it with those types of negatives ).

Once I set up the camera and 105 macro , with the negative in a holder,emulsion upwards, just resting on the light-box ( battery operated, rated 5000 C° ) in the subdued light of my study , I realised I could get quite close to maximise the resolution offered by the camera and took two overlapping images of the negative that I planned to stitch in Photoshop (CS5 ). I set the camera to aperture priority mode at f5, thinking I had dialled in ISO 100 when actually it had reset itself at ISO 1000 (I’d inadvertently set it to auto-ISO mode and it had cranked itself back up ) ! Shutter speed for those settings was around 1/640th  of a second:well enough to avoid mirror shake that I didn’t bother to put up.

This generated two files that I imported into LR 5 that I opened as Tiffs ( Adobe RGB , resolution 300 16bit depth LR preset) in PS 5. I am sure that PS experts might of gone about editing this image differently but this is how I went about it to my satisfaction.

Editing Steps

Opening files in PS 1rst part

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2nd part of neg

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Stitched using PS and inverted:pretty soft but the information is there.

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Duplication of that layer then blended to the first one using “multiply” at 100%

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Levels adjustment layer:it’s starting to come to life.

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A few adjustment layers on, nothing I wouldn’t of done in the darkroom using good old burn and dodge,and sharpened using the high pass filter layer ) and cropped I obtained with out resizing a 60 cm by 60 cm image at 300 ppi.

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Et voilà, with the full tonal range I was after. Good enough for me.

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Roll film scan

To be a fair test, I scanned with the native software of the Epson to produce a Tiff file of similar dimensions taking care to not use any of the in-house scanning options ( unsharp,grain reduction,backlight,dust removal ), that in my experience create more problems than they solve . After careful editing of the scan in PS, I achieved something very similar !

ImageSlight differences are due to my processing;nothing to clearly say one option is better than the other.So I thought, hang on, let’s do it all over again taking care to use the D800 at ISO 100. A few minutes later this is what I achieved:

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The only significant difference is that it needed no sharpening.

35 mm film  scan and copy

At this point , I thought it was time to compare with  a 35 mm negative. There’s no exif file to tell me how I processed it, but from memory, in 1986, I used Tri-X 35 mm film at ISO 400 and developed to the Kodak’s specs: “faster” film but at the cost of dynamic range (shortened ) and fineness of grain. I chose the following image because it seemed to display a good range of tones if slightly underexposed in the shadows:challenging to print in a wet  lab but not impossible either.

Now  I couldn’t get  close enough to cover more than the sensor. I took a few different expositions and settled on this negative that seemed to present as much information as possible.

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The negative as “scanned” ( copied is the word ) by the D800

And below, as scanned with the V700, after much playing around with tone curve , brightness and contrast settings to get a fairly flat negative at a dpi of 1200, I obtained  this:

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The negative scanned by the Epson V700

 Both copy and scan differ in contrast but contain information across the range of tones. After careful editing in PS and bringing them on par with respect to size and resolution, I produced these two images:

ImageMother and Child, from a 35mm Tri-X pan film, Paris mid 1980s

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Mother and Child, from a 35mm Tri-X pan film, Paris mid 1980s

 There are slight differences, but ascribable to my processing. I know these are just screen shots but I assure you there’s no obvious difference. What was noticeable is that the copy negative was sharper than the scanned negative. The image is fairly grainy but it was easier to bring down the grain using selectively the reduce noise filter without destroying the crispness on the copy version, than to sharpen the scanned version. ( If you must know the top one is from the scan and the bottom from the copy. )

Conclusions

I believe in good enough; I don’t blow up images to hunt out differences I couldn’t spot with my naked eye at print size and appropriate viewing distance. And as far as good enough is concerned both techniques allowed me to get as much information from the negatives as possible and to convert them into workable digital negatives.

I scanned those negatives years ago but didn’t produce half as good images from them as I have today;that’s why I wasn’t blown over by the V700 and had high hopes (and was pretty convinced) that the D800+105 mm macro combo would outshine the V700.

I was wrong because I didn’t factor in that LR and PS have evolved since I purchased the V700 and so have my set up and skills.The only major advantages  the D800+105 mm macro combo has over the V700 are speed and sharpness. It takes a few minutes to scan a negative at high resolution and a few more to set up scanning another whereas with the camera-lens combo it takes seconds to scan and seconds to set up to scan another:a very good reason to opt for the camera-macro combo if you’ve got loads to do.

As ever a tool is only as good as it’s user, and as far as this user is concerned, both produce workable digital negatives from my 35 mm and roll-film negatives,except that using the camera is much faster.If you have a similar camera -macro combo but no scanner, I wouldn’t rush to buy one,as far as black and white negatives are concerned:just get a cheap light box and use your camera stand to copy the negatives.

I hope you found this interesting. I am not a photo savant, so it is highly likely that I haven’t quite grasped all the pros and cons of the issues at hand here and welcome all helpful comments ,knowledge, insights and experiences .

Christophe Chevaugeon ( all text and images )

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Comments

  1. St.Clair Charles says:

    Wow, this beats the discussions on any of the LinkedIn groups of which I’m a member. Clear and to the point about process. And I agree with your “good enough” comment (my dissertation advisor once told me “done is ten times better than perfect” and she was right). We sometimes beat a dead horse trying to perfect a photo when we are the only ones who know it isn’t perfect. Thanks for this post, Christophe! Cheers! Charles

    • Thanks Charles. I do enjoy the digital black and white photography group managed by the extremely knowledgeable Keith Cooper. His website Northlight Images is a treasure trove of information and reviews that he generously shares…Keith is clearly a savant but we share the good enough approach…realistic high expectations. The portrait of W and of my good friend and of her daughter, in the spirit of this blog, matter to me very much; now that I no longer have a darkroom, nor by the way do I wish to have one ever again as much as I loved it, converting them to digital is very important to me, hence this account.
      As always, Charles, thanks for your input that I value very much. How wise, ” Done is ten times better than perfect. “

  2. Best ever discussion/explanations/how-to ever. Thank you! I’m definitely going for the macro/camera/light box to unleash my old negatives back into my life and work space w/o the chemicals! Thank you!! And I loved the pictures you chose to show in the narrative. Well done all around!

    • Edie, I can’t tell you how happy I am that you found this “how -to ” helpful. Thanks also for the kind words about the photos. I enjoyed having a stroll on your site. I look forward to discovering in the future some of your archives from your analogue days. 🙂

  3. Hi,
    Wonderful comparison as I have both scanner and DSLR equipment as mentioned. You are correct about 2014 meaning PS and Scanning Software. I found that using the scanning software to produce a DNG file (RAW) and working on it in PS (just as we would a RAW file from the D800e) gets you where YOU want from the negative. Just as you pre-visualized the final image. Turning everything OFF in your scanning(I use Vuescan) gives me all the information contained in the negative. Using the latest version of ACR just about gets me there and finally a few tweaks in PS.
    I have tried the 35mm D800e 105 macro lens combination. Its fine, as you found. Just that the V700 with the betterscanning ANR glass is just easier for me.
    Thanks again for the article.
    Regards
    Anthony Green

    • Hi Anthony,
      thanks for sharing your experience and your encouraging comments ( this is my first attempt to share a hands on experiment ). It reassures me that you’ve come to similar conclusions…I saved my scans as TIFFS and will look up saving them as DNG files in the future.
      really appreciate your input.
      Kind Regards
      Christophe

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