This is the second part of a two-part article on bulk scanning slides and negatives using a Nikon Coolscan and VueScan software. The first part described the problems associated with scanning large numbers of analog images, and how these tools, along with the lowered cost of disk space make it possible to digitally archive large numbers of images.
In Part 2 I look at the detailed scanning setting for color slides, color negative and black and white films, as well as the scanning set-up. THE key to bulk scanning is to get very close to good color reproduction without resorting to individual frame adjustments in post scanning. And the key to getting these color settings right lies in calibrating and setting up your scanner for different films.
As highlighted in Part 1, a key issue in bulk scanning is to get consistently good digital color reproduction of the original images, with as little intervention as possible. Whilst digital color reproduction is probably the key issue, with layers of complexity behind it, an absolutely critical part of the solution for this is to have each scan as good as possible without needing post-scan processing. In simple terms, most of the slides and negatives need to be perfect, or nearly so, without additional, individual color (or other) correction. The key to achieving this lies in the initial color calibration of the scanner and films, described below. This ensures that scans reproduce color in a consistent and correct manner. I next deal with scanner calibration, slide film calibration, and negative film calibration separately.
“In all cases, turn on the scanner before opening VueScan, otherwise the program does not acknowledge the scanner being present.”
VueScan calls the color calibration of the scanner “Profiling”. It is the process to calibrate the scanner so that scanned images correspond to an absolute, objective color representation in a consistent manner. Since each scanner has color interpretation biases, due to hardware deviations such as changes in lighting with the age of lights, this is a calibration that needs to be done with each scanner individually.
The actual process is described on the VueScan website, quoted in the text box below. This involves loading so-called AT-8 reference slides, obtainable among other from Scandig or SilverFast (listed in the references at the end of Part 1 of the article). You also need the reference file that corresponds to your particular AT-8 reference slide; VueScan will ask for this. This is obtainable from the Silverfast website; the easiest is to type the reference number on the slide into Google and it will find it for you. Once the reference slide is aligned properly, and you have guided VueScan to where you stored the color data reference file, you can select Profiling/Profile Scanner, and that is it.
VueScan will offer to store the profile in its default scanner.ini file and it is easiest to do just that, although you can select your own scanner profile file name and storage location. (You may want to save the original default file for later comparison to your calibrated file.) You only need to calibrate the scanner once, regardless of what films you scan subsequently. It is an easy, quick process, which takes much longer to write and read about than to execute.
To profile your scanner or digital camera with an IT8 target*:
1. Set Input | Task to “Profile scanner”
2. Click the ‘@’ button next to Color | Scanner IT8 data and choose the IT8 description file that came with your IT8 target
3. Click the ‘@’ button next to Color | Scanner ICC profile and choose where you want to write the ICC profile
4. Press the Preview button
5. If necessary, rotate the preview image so that the gray scale is at the bottom and the letters and numbers can be read normally
6. Adjust size of the VueScan cropping mask until it matches the IT8 target image
7. You may need to readjust the target on the scanner platen and press the Preview button again if the image is at an angle
8. Choose Profile | Profile scanner from the drop-down menu
9. The ICC profile will be saved to the file name you specified
*From VueScan’s website:
Profiling your scanner is a process that I would say is essential: In my case, I run scans with and without this scanner profiling, and for my scanner, there was a noticeable color difference. With the profiling, it was very good on color accuracy, including when I did the profiling of films as well, described next. Remember, the key to bulk scanning is to get the first scan as color accurate as possible, and the key to this is profiling the scanner and the films using AT-8 calibration targets.
Slide film profiling
Calibrating the scan process for different types of film differs for slide and color negative film. I first describe the case of slide film.
Again, the key is having AT-8 calibration slides for the different films you want to scan. I obtained AT-8 standard slides for Kodachrome, Ektachrome and Fujichrome (all made by Silverfast). The Kodachrome AT-8 slide is very expensive, some $500 when I bought mine. All I can say is this was some of the best spent money in my whole film scanning expenditure. The same holds true for the much more reasonable Ektachrome and Fujichrome slides. I have a lot of Agfachrome slides, but was unable to obtain AT-8 targets for Agfachrome, and this was a problem.
The actual process of calibrating VueScan for each film type is described on the VueScan website, and is extracted in the text box below. Profiling different films is virtually the same as profiling a scanner and again it takes longer to read the instructions than to do it.
To profile your film with an IT8 target*:
- Profile your scanner (see above)
- Set Input | Task to “Profile film”
- Copy the IT8 description file that came with your target into the folder described by Output | Default folder, and rename the copy film.it8
- Press the Preview button
- If necessary, rotate the preview image so that the grey scale is at the bottom and the letters and numbers can be read normally
- Adjust size of the VueScan cropping mask until it matches the IT8 target image. You may need to readjust the target on the scanner platen and press Preview again if the image is at an angle
- Choose Profile | Profile film from the drop-down menu
- The ICC profile will be saved to the file specified by Color | Film ICC profile
If you’ve previously made an ICC profile for a [type] of film, you only need to do the following:
- Set Color | Film color space to “ICC profile”
- Set Color | Film ICC profile to the file name of the ICC file
VueScan normally reads and writes the ICC profile for film using the file film.icc. Alternatively, you can type the file name of the ICC profile into Color | Film ICC profile.
[I strongly recommend you use different file names like “Kodachrome.icc” and “Ektachrome.icc” so that you can quickly switch film type by just changing this setting when scanning mixed types of slides in the same batch.]
Every IT8 target has an associated data file that describes the exact color of each square in the target. You can select this file by clicking on the ‘@’ button next to Color | Film IT8 data.
[The data file for the AT-8 target is listed on the frame of the AT-8 slide. Just type this number into Google and it will find it for you.]
Both the .icc and .it8 files are normally located in the folder described by Output | Default folder.
*From VueScan’s website: https://www.hamrick.com/vuescan/html/vuesc19.htm#topic13
[…] My additions.
The purpose of calibrating the scanner as well as the slide films you have for scanning, is that with this color calibration, VueScan can scan film in bulk and the color will be amazingly accurate. While you will still have to deal with fading (discussed below), once you are scanning one of the profiled films, with a profiled scanner, you will hardly have any reason to adjust color in any post processing. This for me is the real trick: What effort goes into calibrating VueScan properly for your scanner and films repays dividends many times over in terms of the time saved on adjusting color on individual digital images. I would claim, without having done detailed counting, that 99% of my Kodachrome, Ektachrome and Fujichrome slides had spot on color after.
When I say this I include the effects of color balance setting and color fading settings, which I discuss later. I cannot recall a single slide (from these films) that I needed to color adjust in post scan processing. This statement comes in the context of me valuing color accuracy so greatly; to say I am obsessive about this is not an overstatement. And the key to do this on a large collection of slides is the AT-8 based calibration of the scanner and films.
While the calibration files are unique to my scanner, they are available for download from….You may or may not have acceptable results from these. If not, your only solution is to get hold of At-8 calibrations slides.
Getting accurate color with slide films that have been profiled in VueScan is a breeze. The same cannot be said for color negative films unfortunately. That is a pain, on both sides of one’s body.
Color Negative film “profiling”:
Additionally, color negative film has a base color (orange-red, reddish, greenish) that needs to be filtered out while the colors are inverted. The major problem is not that AT-8 targets are not available, but even if they were, the variation in color between films of the same type, from the same manufacturer, is huge.
Color negative films are not as color consistent as slide film. I have had films from the same manufacturer, from the same batch, age, exposed within a day of each other, processed together (sequential numbers in the processing chain), that differed so substantially that the same color scan settings were unusable.
I wasted a lot of time trying to find color film descriptions to use in VueScan. Don’t waste your time: The list of film types on VueScan’s website , is by far one of the most comprehensive anywhere, and details of this is built into VueScan.
However, this is not really that helpful, due to aging and color variations in the same film type from the same manufacturer. I wasted a huge amount of time trying to get this right by selecting proper film types and then playing with other color setting to try and get the color right. My conclusion in the end was that bulk scanning color negative film can only be done by getting color accurate for each individual film or set of negatives from the same film. The Hamrick’s provide a procedure for doing this:
Optimally setting the exposure and film base color for a particular film*:-
Set Input | Options to ‘Professional’.
- Set Input | Media
- Insert film with a transparent area
- If Input | Lock exposure is visible, clear Input | Lock exposure
- Press the Preview button
- Adjust cropping if necessary
- If Input | Lock exposure is visible, set Input | Lock exposure
- Press the Preview button again
- If Input | Lock film base color is visible, set Input | Lock film base color
For step #2 above, use a film frame that has an area that would print as pure black for negative, or pure white for slides.
*From VueScan’s website:
There is additional guidance on settings to be used here, particularly for speeding up batch scanning.
Basically, you have to execute the above procedure for each color negative film you want to digitize. While this sounds onerous, it is not too bad: Once you understand the process, it is quick to do for a set of negatives in a filing sleeve. I virtually never encountered a sleeve of negatives where there was not a blank exposure I could use for the above calibration. In very few cases there were only half or a third of a blank exposure available. By using a combination of the Align setting on the Input Tab (to move the start of the scan left or right to align with the blank exposure start point), as well as setting Crop Size to manual on the Crop Tab, it is possible to let VueScan only calibrate over a small available blank area in the film. Of course, use Preview multiple times until you are comfortable that only a blank part of the film is being scanned for the calibration. I describe this in more detail under setting for color negative scanning.
The difference in setting up to scan slides and negative films is that one has to follow the above procedure to get good color from a negative film, where as for Slide films, once the film is profiled you are done with preparing for that film type. As stated above, it is not that onerous given the improved results.
If you really do not have a blank or partial blank exposure, for example just a strip of 4 or 6 exposures, your best bet is to try and identify the film type and set VueScan for that particular film type. If you cannot identify the film type, select Kodacolor as film type. You are likely to get close but it will not be 100%.
So much for setting up for scanning. Let me repeat, the key to successful bulk scanning is in the care you take in the setting up, in order to extract as true color as possible without further attention to individual exposures. The ease with which VueScan allows one to do this is one of its primary attractions for me. I will now look at the individual settings for scanning, as opposed to dealing with the overall calibration or profiling.
Settings for Slide Scanning
I will deal with settings for slides scanning first by going through the various settings on VueScan. Mostly the recommended settings also apply to scanning color negatives, although I will in the following section deal with settings that are different from that for slides scanning. If I do not comment on a particular setting, it was left at default and/or the setting does not matter for bulk scanning. I deal with individual settings going through VueScan tab by tab.
With reference to Figure 1, Set 1 of the Input Tab options, paying particular attention to options marked in bold – bold settings are critical for archival purposes. “Don’t Care” options are left blank below:
- Options: You need to have VueScan Professional and select this option in order to scan film.
- Task: Scan to file: Important setting
- Source: LS-5000 – Nikon scanner selected. In my set-up the Nikon scanner does not show up as an option unless I switch the scanner on before starting VueScan.
- Media: Select Slide Film
- Batch Scan: On – Leave on except when you scan color negative film.
- Preview Resolution: 4000 dpi (Scanner Maximum).
- Scan Resolution: 4000dpi. Maximum scanner resolution. Check this setting as changing some settings in VueScan resets this to default. This setting is very important for archival scan.
- Auto Flip:
- Rotation: Left
- Auto Skew
- Auto Focus: Scan. I never had a problem with focus and always used Auto Focus on Scan.
- Auto Scan: None
- Auto Save: Scan
- Auto Print: None
- Auto Eject: Quit
- Number of Samples: Set here to 1. You can select 2 or more but this setting and the next two options dramatically increase the time to scan each slide. You can easily double or treble the time required by selecting 2 or 3 here. However, you dramatically increase the quality of the scan by selecting 2 samples and selecting yes to the next two options. My suggestion is that you select a 2 here and yes to both next two options if you are scanning for archival purposes.
- Fine Mode: Tick (Yes)
- Multiple Exposure: Tick (Yes). See note above. However, on some slides where the composition is making use of very dark contrast in slide films, this brings out too much detail in the dark areas and destroys the composition. See Figure 3 as an example.
- Lock Exposure
- Red analog gain
- Green analog gain
- Blue analog gain
- Default folder – Change in Output Tab.
- TiFF file name – Change in Output Tab.
- JPEG file name– Change in Output Tab.
- Default options: Leave unchecked. (If you check it, it will reset all options in the associated tab to default.)
Crop Size: Auto. I left this on Auto for all slides and negatives. I only ever had a problem with one slide where I wanted to get detail that was under the slide frame.
None of the other settings on this tab is important but it is important to check the Crop Size after changing some of the major settings on VueScan as it resets this on occasion. The Focus Offset settings determine where on the image that focus is read from. These default settings worked for me.
On File Formats
Recall from Part 1 that I scanned into 3 file formats: The files are 3 files per scanned frame, a 160-180 MB RAW (RGBI) file, a 120-140 MB RGB TIF file, and a 15-17MB JPG file. What I did was to scan into three file formats (See Output Tab options description) simultaneously:
- RAW is the VueScan RAW in DNG format. VueScan can use this as input and apply different processing to the scan (Filter Tab settings, and Color Tab settings). I primarily used the VueScan DNG files to save all scanned input data, in order to reprocess it in VueScan without doing the physical scan of the analog material again. This is a very useful feature of VueScan, and was worth my while to avoid rescanning while I was still unsure of the processing settings. I discovered that GIMP 2.8 can read these files, and use the files. (DNG is an undocumented feature and may again disappear so do not build your future on it). It is not a listed file type in GIMP: Select Open All Files, browse to the DNG files and click on it. It will open).
- TIF file is the file with Color and Filter tab settings applied. It is supposed to be the best quality I can extract at this stage without giving post scan individual processing to the image. This is really my archive file, saving the data uncompressed to preserve maximum detail in a format that is likely to be readable long into the future. TIFF format is selected as being the most likely full detail image (i.e. lossless) format that would be readable in 30 years’ time – this is a subjective judgement, and you may prefer a different option. But in TIF you cannot reverse what settings were selected in the Filer and Color tabs – that is where I keep options open by also storing in the RAW DNG files.
- JPG: I scanned 100% JPEG (maximum detail) and used the JPEG scans to determine if there was a problem with the scan. Typically I would display these JPEG images on a second (color calibrated) screen while the scan is in progress and when the batch scan is completed I would look through these images for color consistency and accuracy. I also uploaded these JPEG files to my cloud storage and shared them from there. The JPEG form images are the primary images that I view and share but they are lossy images, unsuitable for archival storage. They were created alongside the above two with 100% quality (maximum quality setting) and was used to view and judge output and share scans.
As mentioned in Part 1 of the article, disk storage has become cheap enough that that was not a concern in keeping all three formats. I will probably lose the DNG format files as time goes by, and if I am happy with the TIF versions of the files. For now the TIF and DNG files are on disk but the JPG are also in the cloud. And yes, I have two sets of disk with everything on, one set in a very secure safe.
The settings on this tab directly affect the appearance of the JPEG and TIFF format images. These settings, as well as the on the Color Tab, are incorporated into the TIFF and JPEG image files when they are saved and cannot be undone in post processing. The purpose of saving simultaneously into DNG (RAW) file format is that one has an option to reprocess the images with VueScan, without rescanning them, to omit or change the image processing options on the Filer and Color options tabs. Doing so enables one to select different options if your first choice of options on the Filter or Color tabs were wrong. “Scanning” not from the scanner but the DNG files in batch mode is much faster than rescanning the analog images.
The setting on this tab matters greatly of how well the JPEG and TIFF images come out. Obviously, there is a great time saving if the first guess on the Filter and Color tabs options are correct. For the Filter Tab this is what I did:
- Infrared Clean: Light. In comparison tests, it appeared to me that when a slide did not need any cleaning or scratch correction, leaving the infrared clean on Light made no discernible difference in the output. For slides with slight specs of dust, this setting removed them by magic. Most of my slides were clean (no dust) because of the way they were stored, but by having this option on Light VueScan took care of the slides that did have slight specks. This is a huge time saver, as one does not have to brush or blow away dust on individual slides. I could take them out of their sleeves and without considering whether they were clean batch scan them immediately. Some slides had very slight scratch marks from processing, which this setting also got rid of. So for all my slides scanning this setting was always on Light and resulted in major time-saving overall in Project Archive Scanning.
- Restore Colors: Unticked here but I often used it (Tick, Yes). This is a tricky setting. On was required for all Agfachrome slides, it was required for perhaps half of my Ektachrome slides older than ten years (but the Ektachrome was inconsistent in its fading), as well as some of the older Kodachrome slides. The oldest Kodachrome I had were almost 50 years old and they needed color restoration. What I did was to Preview scan a few slides from a particular batch and judge the color. In Preview if you switch this option (and others) on or off it shows the result on the screen. Based on this quick test I would then either select this option or leave it off. In complex mixed lighting situations, this color restoration option sometimes failed – See Figures 8 and 9 in Part 1 of this article.
- Restore Fading: It is unselected (off) in Figure 4 but was often used and required. I can repeat virtually exactly what I said in the previous paragraph, down to experimenting with the first slide or two in the Preview mode of a batch. Again, Agfachrome required this without a question, but Ektachrome was more variable; I had to test. From my testing, it appeared that Kodachrome did not suffer if this setting was selected if the colors were still fine in the original Kodachrome. That is leaving it selected did not seem to worsen the output even if the was no fading. However, my preference was to not have unneeded processing done on archived images so I would then leave it off.
- Grain Reduction: None: For all slides, I left this off. I had very few Ektachrome slides that were push processed and were very grainy where I tried grain reduction, and from a certain aesthetic perspective it helped, but that was a matter of preference.
- Sharpen: Was left unticked for all slide scanning.
Remember that all the above options only affect the JPEG and TIFF file output. If I was not happy with the outcome, I reprocessed the RAW images from the DNG files. The same applies for the Color Tab options discussed next. It is safe to say the setting here caused the biggest headaches for me.
Every option on this tab affects the appearance of TIFF and JPEG files. The first one is most problematic:-
- Color balance: There are multiple options as follows in the drop-down list:
- None: No color correction applied
- Manual: Not used except for very problematic specific slides. Beyond the scope of this article to describe.
- Neutral: Probably the most used selection for me. I used this option many times with unfaded Kodachrome, Ektachrome or Fujichrome.
- Tungsten: Not used
- Fluorescent: Not used. Where I had fluorescent lighting White Balance (below) worked better.
- Night: Not used.
- Auto Levels. If in doubt, try Auto Levels first. It seemed to me the best correction with most often an uncanny ability to correct color. This would be my suggested start for scanning. Most of the time this got me close to the original colors in the slides. I most often left the color balance on this setting for slide scanning: I suggest you start with this option.
- White Balance: This works well, and would be the second option to try if Auto Levels do not work. However, the slide does need some white in it. In batch scanning, this setting does not work as well as Auto Levels because of the variation in slide topics.
- Landscape: Not used, and when tried I was able to do better with either Auto Levels, White Balance or Neutral.
- Portrait: Not used, with the same comment applying: When tried other settings worked better.
- Neutral Red/Green/Blue: Leave at default settings, not used in batch scan unless you are dealing with a problem film, which is beyond the scope of what is described here.
- Color Black Point and Color White Point: Not used in bulk scanning but very useful with problematic films or slides, in conjunction with histograms. But you will need to read up on it as it is beyond the scope of this article. See Recommended Reading at the end.
- Curve Low/Curve High: Leave at default settings – not used in bulk scanning.
- Brightness: Leave at default, not used.
- Brightness Red/Green/Blue: Leave alone at default settings.
- Slide (film) vendor: Kodak selected here for Kodachrome. This and the next two settings are important if you are unable to profile these films for your scanner as described in the setting up section, e.g. due to a lack of AT-8 calibrations slides. However, you will not obtain as accurate color. If you have used an At-8 calibration slide to calibrate your film, do not bother with the following setting, they make no difference. Options here for slide medium source include:
- Kodachrome I either used Kodachrome (also used for Agfachrome, Konicachrome and ScotchChrome), or
- Ektachrome – (also used for Fujichrome).
- Reversal Film (Generic)
- Slow Saturation E6.
- Slide Type K14 for Kodachrome or E6 for Ektachrome.
- Scanner Profile: Select ICC profile here if you have profiled your scanner. If you have not, you are reading the wrong article.
- Scanner ICC Profile: Click on the @ sign and browse to the scanner profile file you created in the setup process described at the beginning. This is a most important setting for bulk scanning, to avoid endless color correction for an uncalibrated scanner.
- Scanner ICC Description: Not used so leave blank in scanning.
- Scanner IT8 data: This setting is only used in the profiling step of the scanner, leave unused for actual scanning.
- Printer Color Space/Printer ICC Description/Printer IT8 Data: All settings unused in scanning.
- Film Color Space: Select ICC Profile.
- Film ICC Profile: Click on @ sign and browse to the file created when you profiled the film (Kodachrome).
- Film ICC Description: You can enter Kodachrome here but I have not found that this information is used anywhere for example in the EXIF data, so leave empty.
- Film IT8 Data: Used to point to the IT8 data file when you profile the film (as in the setup description above) but otherwise unused.
- Show IT8 outline: Check (Yes) when doing film profiling otherwise unchecked for scanning.
- Output Color Space: Select Adobe RGB, not the normal sRGB. Adobe RGB stores a wider range of colors, important for archiving images. While you will probably only be able to see sRGB on your screens, it is important to maximize the amount of data extracted and preserved for archival scans. There are other options you can select here, but for archival purposes, I selected a color space that is more likely to be readable 30 years on that most of the other spaces listed as options. Adobe RGB seems like a good (best?) compromise for future proofing the images whilst preserving maximum color in the images.
- Monitor Color Space: sRGB.
- View color: RGB
- Pixel Colors. You can select yes (Checked) here and the Preview image will show information about the image (dust, scratches, over and under exposure areas. Interesting to look at but not useful for bulk scanning. )
- Default options: Leave unchecked.
Just about all options here are important for bulk archival scanning. As before they are indicated in bold.
- Default Folder: Set this to a folder of your choice where all scanned images can be stored. Here it is on Disk E:\. For reference below let us just say this is called Default-Folder. In practice I made this folder name depict the slide collection I was scanning for easy reference later.
- Printed Size: Select Scan Size.
- Magnification 100%
- Auto file Name: Tick (Yes).
- TIFF File: Tick (Yes). This is the main archival file you are creating.
- TiFF File Name: Any format file name (see below) but have a “+” before the “.tiff” in order for Auto File Name to work by increasing the serial number (“01” denotes the starting number, it can be anything) in the end by 1 for each scan. Here I use a subfolder TIF under Default-Folder to store all TIFF format files. As before, clicking on the @ sign allows you to browse to the default (or other) folder and create the sub-folder.
- TIF Size Reduction: 1 This means none. (You want to retain maximum detail in the files.)
- TIF Multi-page (No) Unchecked. Not appropriate for slides.
- TIFF File Type: 48Bit RGB. This is important to retain maximum detail in the TIF files.
- TIFF DNG format: Unchecked – No. The reasoning is that TIFF is more likely to be readable in the future than DNG format but this is conjecture.
- TIFF Profile: Yes (Checked)
- JPEG File: Yes (Checked). I created JPEG files simultaneously as these are the ones I share online and check for scan issues.
- JPEG File name: Same setting as above for TIFF files: I used the same file name format for all images and let the extension (.TIF, .JPG, or .DNG) indicate the different versions. Here again, I let the JPEG images be scanned into a JPG subfolder in the Default-Folder.
- JPEG Size Reduction: I selected 1 here (no reduction) to retain maximum detail in the JPEG files.
- JPEG Multipage: Unchecked.
Continuing with Figure 8
- JPEG Quality: 100%. I was trying to extract maximum quality not saving space.
- JPEG black/white: Unchecked
- JPEG Profile: Checked
- PDF File: Unchecked
- Index File: Unchecked (But if checked will create an index file.)
- Raw file: Checked. I saved the RAW scans which capture the exact scan data without applying the setting of the Filter and Color tabs. You can “rescan” these with VueScan and use different processing options by selecting on the Input tab as source “file”.
- Raw file name: Same format to this setting as for TIFF and JPEG file names. I used a subfolder DNG in the default folder to save the DNG files.
- Raw file size reduction: 1. This means no reduction. Ensures RAW files is complete.
- Raw file type: 64Bit RGBI. Save the Infrared channel information as well as color data.
- Raw output with Scan. An important setting to ensure Raw data is saved not after processing is applied.
- Raw save film: Unchecked.
- Raw DNG format: Checked (Yes). Changes the Raw file format to DNG and not TIFF.
- Description: Anything you want. This and the next two entries become part of the EXIF data in the scanned image. I used this space to enter the type of film in, a date range, and a specific subject description of the original, or batch of originals. Adding EXIF data afterward is very laborious compared to adding it in here.
- Copyright: Your or photographer’s name. Part of EXIF data.
- Date: Creation date of the original image for EXIF data in digital image. I scanned slides in batches formed by date so the subject description and data was constant for a whole batch. This was for me the fastest way of getting slides scanned and getting the EXIF data recorded.
- Log file: Unchecked.
- Default options: Unchecked.
The settings are as shown in the figures. Most are optional for bulk scanning apart from the suggested settings I found helpful highlighted below.
- Auto load option: Yes
- Add extensions: Yes
- Warn on overwrite: Yes
- Warn on not ready: Yes
- Warn on no scanner: Yes. However, if you switch the scanner on after starting VueScan on my systems you need to restart VueScan anyway to get the program to register the scanner properly.
- Beep when done: 3: Useful when doing batch scanning with auto eject selected (Input tab).
Settings for Color Negative Scanning
Scanning color negatives broadly have the same principles and setting, with a few notable exceptions, than those for slides. I will only deal with the exception particular to color negatives here. These differences primarily occur on the Input and Color tabs. Where a setting is not specifically addressed in this section, it is the same as that for slides dealt with above.
Color Negatives Input Tab Color Tab
With reference to Figure 11, the critical settings are:-
- Media: Color Negative
- Batch Scan: List. If you select auto the scanner will not auto eject the film strip.
- List: 1-4 for 4 frames per strip or 1-6 for 6 frame strips.
In Figure 12 the Lock exposure is selected, as well as Locking Film Base Color. This was done after the film was calibrated in the manner described in the box “Optimally setting the exposure and film base color for a particular film”.
I found this approach virtually imperative. Where I did not have a black exposure on the film, this was very difficult, and I had to resort to selecting the film type (see color tab) based on the film identifying marks. But you will not get as good color reproduction this way as you will get by “profiling” color negative films as described above. If you do not have a full frame that is blank, but only a partial frame, you can position the partial frame in VueScan by using the Frame Number setting in Figure 11, combined with the Frame Offset setting, to position VueScan over the required piece of blank film (Switch Off Batch Scan List). Frame Offset setting worked for me by interpreting the figure used as millimeters. You also need to set the frame crop setting to Manual on the Crop Tab. By playing around with these settings you can normally do a preview of any piece of the unexposed film available, even if it is small and not a proper frame.
When you are done with the calibrations, you need to reset the Crop Tab to Auto, reset the Batch Scan to List, and Frame Offset to 0. Don’t worry if you forget: Your scanning will fail and after forgetting a few times you will remember you read it here first. Figure 12 represents the settings after you have done such color negative profiling in the manner suggested above.
Because of the above approach, even if you have to select the film type in the Color Tab (see below), you are bound to do color negative batch scanning per film. Henceforth, when I refer to batch scanning in VueScan in connection with a negative film, it refers to scanning a whole film, not multiple films. When doing slide scanning, batches can be up to 50 slides per “load” (of the SF210 bulk loader for slides) but color negatives need to be done in film strip “batches” and it is best to run as many strips as possible with a single set of settings. This in practice means all the film strips from one film.
Color Negatives Filter Tab
There are only two setting of importance here:
- Infrared Scan: I selected medium for virtually all my color negatives, as opposed to light for color slides. Something in the processing and printing of color negatives caused more damage in the form of longitudinal scratches than in color slide processing. Both my slides and negatives mostly were processed via the same professional lab, but negatives required more repair than slides, in the form of scratches. Hence the Medium setting.
- Restore Fading: Selected. I essentially always got more true color with this selected for both slides and negatives, but color negatives had much more issues with fading that slides. So just leave this on.
- Grain reduction I seldom used, preferring the grain on the original film when I had used high ISO films. Even when push processed slide film was scanned, I preferred the grain of the film so I hardly ever used this. But this is a personal preference setting.
On Color Archival Stability
My oldest films an slides date from 1969, 48 years. The bulk of my slides and film date up to 40 years ago, and as young as 12 years ago. This is what I found in scanning them:
- Every brand, make and type has fading. This includes Kodachrome.
- The 126 format Kodachrome (Instamatic types) fared worse the 135 format Kodachrome, by a large margin.
- Ektachrome was more variable in color consistency with respect to fading than the Kodachrome. Some 12-20 year old Ektachrome showed no fading, as did some old and some later Kodachrome.
- Fujichrome preserved well, at least as good if not better than Ektachrome, and often as good as Kodachrome.
- The best Chrome? ScotchChrome, by a long shot. It had the most brilliant color, with no fading at all. However, my sample of this E-6 film is small.
- The worst Chrome? Agfachrome, by a HUGE margin. I could not find an AT-8 Agfachrome calibration slide, so getting color right on this was difficult. Additionally, many of these slides have faded almost into clear sheets. Unfortunately, I have a huge number of these slides. I scanned these trying Kodachrome or Ektachrome color profiling (ICC) settings. Seeing Agfachrome on the menu put me into a bad mood before I started scanning any batch of those.
- The best color negative films were probably Fujicolor and Kodacolor. The bulk of my color negatives were Fujicolor and they generally scanned well, if one profiled the film as described in the main text. Kodacolor was not a problem. However, all color negatives benefited notably from selecting Restore Fading. It appeared to me that prints from these films (which were always on Fujicolor paper – the lab I used only that?? ) retained their color better than the negatives. Figure that one out: That was not the dogma preached 30 years ago: Prints were supposed to be less color fast than negatives. Kodacolor negatives printed on Kodak paper that are 50 years old have however faded virtually out of existence.
- The worst color negative film in terms of archival stability? Kodak Portra NC 160, by a huge margin. Unfortunately, I switched to this film for a majority of my film shooting over a period of a decade or more (about 1995-2005). This film fades unevenly, fades more at the ends of strips near the open end of the filing sleeves, and generally just $%$%^& up color over time. I switched to this to get the neutral colors I was looking for in desert scenes, which now are various shades of magenta and yellow. That is not the main problem, the main problem is that this fading is uneven over the frame, so only painstaking local correction can retrieve an image. So from me a big thumbs down for this film’s archival stability. If you have anything on this film, scan it immediately. I have scores of this film unexposed in a deep freeze. I will not use them. (Prints made – on Fujicolor paper- from these negatives made long ago are still superb.)
- Definition of a week in hell: Scanning Agfachrome slides and Kodak Portra. If that is what you need to do, read another article and forget my name.
Color Negatives Color Tab
This is the fun part with color negative film. Probably your most frustrating settings are all on this tab. I will do my best to help, but you may have to experiment to get the best out of the scan. Remember, you can scan and save the data in RAW format, after which you can use VueScan to read the RAW scan in, and apply the various processing settings on Filter and Color Tabs. In other words, the setting on Filter and Color Tab are not made part of the RAW data stored. What I often did was to use reasonable settings for these tabs, and if I did not like the results, came back and redid the processing by using as input the RAW data created in the first round. Obviously this makes scanning longer, and I tried to get it right on the first round, but if not, this obviated the need for a physical rescan in round 2 processing, saving time.
The settings I used are:
- Color Balance: Auto Levels. This worked well with most color negatives provided the negative was kind of average, with a mid-range of mid-toned colors. Any funny lighting (think monochrome color, sunsets) may befuddle VueScan here. Alternate settings I used were White Balance (it helps if there is some white in the negatives), and Neutral. Neutral was useful for some monochromatic desert scenes. None of the other options under this setting was that useful, but with highly problematic negatives I tried everything. The useful thing about these settings is that if you do a Preview scan, changing these settings immediately changes the appearance of the preview. In this way, I used VueScan to experiment with the first 4 frame film strip of a particular film, until I was happy, and then let run the rest of the film strips through with the same settings. Experimenting in this way also works for the settings on the Filter Tab, as well as the settings I discuss below. So this method is your fastest route to determining a 90%+ color accurate setting for your batch.
- All the settings from Black Point to Film Base Color Blue are left at default settings. You need to use these if you cannot profile the color negative properly or if the above settings do not yield desired color results. My advice is that you will probably be better off making these kinds of adjustments in Photoshop or GIMP. I did not use them, except for important, very problematic films, and then it was a case of intelligent experimentations. That is, not batch scanning.
- Negative Vendor, Brand, and Type are settings you need to use if you cannot “profile” the film as described above. Otherwise, leave these settings at default. The settings do not affect the processing if you have locked the base color as described above.
With reference to Figure 15, there are two setting to check:
- Scanner Color Space must be on ICC and Scanner ICC profile must reference the scanner profiling file you created in setting up the scanner. This is the same file as for slide scanning. (To experiment, try using the uncalibrated/un-profiled version of this file, before you profiled your scanner, to see the effect it has on one of your scans. In my case it was a very obvious difference, on a scanner that had been serviced by Nikon.)
- Output Color Space: Adobe RGB: As for slide scanning, to preserve the maximum color gamut in the scans, while balancing against future obsolesce of some of the more exotic color spaces. You will only be able to see sRGB on a monitor, unless you have a highly specialised monitor.
The remainder of the settings for color negative scanning are the same as for color slides, discussed previously. Black and white film scanning again is similar to color negative scanning, with very few different settings required, highlighted in the next section.
Settings for Black and white negatives scanning
The main setting son the Input Tab (Figure 16):
- Media B&W negative
- Bits per pixel: 16 Bit Grey
- Make grey from Auto. You can experiment here but Auto worked best for me.
On the Filter tab, you can leave Light or Medium restoration using the infrared channel in place with VueScan, even for silver based B&W film. One is not generally supposed to get a good cleaning and scratch repair using infrared with silver based B&W (or Kodachrome) but VueScan does a superb job even in these cases. So just leave it in place. On the Color Tab there are a few changed settings as well:
- B/W vendor: Kodak
- B/W brand: TMAX-100
- B/W TMAXCI=55
Not knowing better, and scanning a relatively small number of B&W films, made me use the above settings for all films, even the C-41 B&W films. It is probably a case of not being as exact in my demands as I was for scans off Kodachrome, for example, but B&W was virtually without any problems using these settings.
Remember to change the file type settings to greyscale files on the Output tab as well.
This is it as far as settings are concerned. In my scanning, I encountered some problems that I want to comment on, in case these solutions help someone to overcome the same problems.
Some of the problems I encountered are listed below, with a comment of how I overcame them.
Slides Scanning Problems
Mixed slide types
My slides were filed by subject matter, meaning I ended up with slide sequences that were mixed types of slides, e.g. Kodachrome and Ektachrome mixed. What I did was to batch slides by film type: I would scan slides sequentially in a particular topic, but then scan, for example, 10 Kodachrome, and then 5 Ektachrome slides, however, they appear in the sequence, while keeping the Output setting to store files using the same number sequence as in the original physical number of the slides. This is most easily done by just changing the film ICC profile as appropriate in the Color Tab. Also, under the Comment field in the Output Tab, I recorded the film type of the slide.
This was a problem if they were not marked on the frame. If there were many, I examined the film by taking the frames out of their mounts, but I sometimes I was unable to find a film manufacturer. In general, I was able to then get by using the Ektachrome ICC profile on the Color Tab. But this slows one down.
Agfachrome – Aging
I discussed this in the comments on the archival nature of the films. In general, Agfachrome could be saved by playing around with color processing settings, as the whole frame was affected, and once one slide was scanned in an acceptable manner, other slides from the same film were done with the same settings. Kodak Portra was not so easy to deal with.
Color shifts – Aging
In my experience, all films had this, some just worse, and there was not pattern to this. I more than once had films from the same batch, exposed one after the other, and processed one after the other (processing identifiers in sequence) having different color fading. I had this for color negatives as well. And needless to say, they were all stored together. The answer was to leave fading correction selected on the Filter Tab, and try different settings on the Color Tab until you get a satisfactory result. Once I had that for one or a few frames of one film, the rest would be the same. In particular, Fujichrome, Kodachrome, and Ektachrome only required fading correction to be set, and with the correct ICC profiling file selected large batch runs were possible. But color fading is one of the primary reasons you will want to scan your slides as soon as possible. If you have old slides, you will almost certainly have fading. I had despite very careful archival storage.
Slide gate adjustment
The SF210 bulk slide loader of the Nikon Coolscan has a rotating thumb wheel to adjust the gate thickness through which slides are loaded into the scanner. This needs to be set for the thickness of the mount that you are working with. I read the cardboard slide mounts do not work with this bulk loader, but for me it worked fine with the right gate size selected – select by putting a slide in the gate and adjusting the wheel until it can be easily moved but is not loose. What did not work was that this setting would go off after scanning many slides. I think my SF210 may have something wrong there but the wheel moves by itself from vibrations. Just watch this: If the gate opens too much, two slides will be pushed in the scanning position simultaneously, or one will get stuck in the gate with funny noises calling for your attention. (By the way loaded slides on top of each other give interesting possibilities for doing multiple exposures easily. But use the manual slide loader, not the SF210).
Fading on color negative films were worse than with slides. Play around with the setting on the Filter Tab until you get an acceptable color back, and then scan the rest of the film. It takes longer to describe this than to do it in practice. But again, you will have fading, expect it. Sometimes I was unable to get the right color back by using the Filter setting alone, and you have to then see what you can change on the Color Tab. It is difficult to give more guidance on this than I have already given when I discussed the settings.
Uneven Color changes
This is the worst kind of problem, and Kodak Portra NC160 was the culprit. I may just have mentioned this previously, but I can’t get over how this film has spoiled my scanning experience. I know I am repeating myself but beware of this one. No proper solution found yet except ranting and raving.
Color damage (Edges)
Again Kodak Portra is the worse culprit, but it did occur, to a much smaller extent, on some other films as well: Fading at the open-ended ends of the filing sleeves, where humidity and air more easily can get the film strip. Such uneven fading is very difficult to correct with the processing VueScan allows, and post scanning individual color correction through Photoshop or GiMP is required.
I was unable to determine the film brand or type in a number of cases. As long as I was able to profile the film as described previously, this was no real obstacle in scanning the negative strip. However, I had a few where I could not do this as there were no blank frames. In these cases, I selected Kodacolor 100 on the Color tab as the film type. This was my default if I could not profile the film, or identify it. This worked surprisingly well.
Where I was scanning a batch of images under a specific topic, and there were slides of different film types in that topic, I tried to get a color consistency across all film types for that topic. For instance, if there was a particular event or scene, I tried to get a similar color reproduction. This sometimes required tweaking some of the settings under the Color Tab, even if I had the correct ICC profile file loaded. But there is not pattern or guidance; it is a matter of experimentation.
Scan your images before it is too late. Time is not making it easier, less work. There are many time factors working against you.
Some scanning process recommendations not covered previously follow.
Do this while VueScan is scanning, as the image is appearing in the scan window, and the image rotation will be incorporated into the image file, particularly the JPG format. If you rotate them afterward in Windows, for example, there will be a loss of data. Even using a lossless image rotation utility will not work out as well as doing it before VueScan stores the file.
Capture this with VueScan, in the comment field in the Output tab. Editing Exif data afterward is a pain unless you have large batches with the same Exif data. Even then it is still easier to capture this with VueScan. There are articles on the Internet that different versions of “scanning” analog film and slides using s a digital camera. At least one author claims he can do a thousand slides in a few hours. I say maybe, but not if you want to capture Exif data for each image as well. In my case, I batched slides firstly by Exif data, and secondly by film type. Those two parameters determined how the batch of slides I loaded for scanning was selected. In my archival scanning Exif data was critical to capture and preserve, as much so as the image itself. If you do not care about this, you can do things faster.
I used a combination of date, topic and a sequence number to make up file names. In this way, I can look at folders of files and get a rough idea what it covers. The file naming is a continuation of the categories under which I filed film, which was then marked with dates as well. Because you generate a lot of files quickly with bulk scanning, it is worth your while to think up a good file naming strategy and change the Output tab options of default folders and default file names to follow your strategy automatically. This makes for a much easier life post scan.
On a personal not I may add that I am using VueScan to scan a large number of documents, bit printed and handwritten, into a digital archive of my work over my whole career. This is a vast number of pages, and again VueScan is making this task much easier. It is running two different scanners on that project. In addition, I just acquired a large number of film, slides, and prints from my parents going back many decades. VueScan will need to be used to distribute that across a large number of family members. Best $49 I ever spent.
This is it folks. Thank you for reading.
My recommended reading for more in depth VueScan information and guidance