Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Over 10,000 35mm slides and negatives scanned!

This is part 2.  Part 1 is here:

Scanning Torture (or Learning to Love Your Digital Camera)

This morning I am about to pack up the film scanner after 3.5 months of concentrated, tedious work.  I am still shaking my head in sort of disbelief that I actually did all of this. :-)

I scanned 6729 35mm slides and negatives during this 3.5 months and that is in addition to the approximately 3500 that I scanned from 1998 to this year.  Over 10,000 in total.  Unless I find another cache of my old photos hiding in a box somewhere then I think I won't be doing any more film scanning.  Hurray! :-)   As I said earlier, of these 10,000+ scans I have only prepared about 1600 and that goes back all the way to 1998.  I have about 468gb of raw 16-bit RGBI scan files (each file is 50-84mb).  Since they are raw files they can't be used directly.  Each one must be used as input to Vuescan which then can create a normal tiff file.  I did it this way because it is much faster and flexible to scan to a raw output file instead of each scan creating a more or less ready to work on tiff output file.  It means using lots of disk space though.  A prepared 8-bit compressed tiff file is usually more like 15-20mb.  When I prepare the file I just save it as an 8-bit tiff instead of 16-bit.  In most cases, I think these scanned 35mm slides and negatives don't have enough useful data to warrant 16-bit.  I still have the raw scan files so if I need to I can go back and create a 16-bit tiff file.

This exercise made me realize how from the early 1970s when I got my first SLR until my last roll of film in early 2002 I probably only shot 15,000 frames or less.  On this scanning mission I loosened my criteria for what to scan much more than all the earlier times because I wanted to just be done with it.  I scanned lots and lots of stuff that were just snapshots of old friends and family.  Also, I scanned anything that was sort of documentary and nostalgic from years gone by.  Many of those photos seem quite interesting now whereas 30 or 40 years ago they were just rather ordinary photos.  I also discovered many very good photos that for some reason I had overlooked or chose not to scan on earlier scan sessions.  In the last ~13 years of using digital I have shot about 58,000 photos.  What a difference compared to the ~15,000 in the previous ~30 years.

After all this scanning work it would be horrifying to lose the files so I have backed up the 468gb to a 3tb external hard disk, a 2tb portable external hard disk, a 1.5tb portable external hard disk, and another 1.5tb portable external hard disk. :-) I also tried to back it up to a 500gb portable external hard disk, but it turns out that the disk capacity is only 465gb for use so it wouldn't all fit.


John Holland said...

Hello Henry,

I got to this posting from your comment on the "Crabby Umbo" post on TOP.

I am slowly going through a similar exercise, scanning slides and negs going back to the mid-1970s. I thought I'd share my own experiences with you and anyone else who reads your post. (This won't touch on your larger issue, which I guess I could summarize as "Hail digital, good riddance 35mm!")

I have been chipping away at my own pile since 2002, using a Nikon Coolscan IV and the bundled Nikon software.

I am about 7000 images in, and still have a ways to go. I have not yet been blessed with a large block of unfettered time to spend on this, so I envy you your Texas sojourn.

Like you, I have found that slide film scans easily and well, and the result is often printable with little extra work; perhaps a simple contrast curve and some sharpening. E6 scans are superior to Kodachrome in many cases, not least the automatic dust removal.

I shot most of my B&W when I was a poor student, and developed the negatives myself. I used sloppy technique in an untidy bathroom, and as a result most of these negatives have dust embedded in the emulsion. So while the scans are fast and easy, the files need a lot of spotting before they're printable, so I've postponed most of that for later.

As for workflow, I put the scans out directly to 16-bit TIFFs, and then load them into Lightroom. I have found LR to be a fantastic and efficient environment to manage and edit film scans, much better than Nikon Scan or Photoshop. (Forget Photoshop Elements; it's very limited with what it can do with 16-bit images.) Almost anything that I could do in PS or Nikon, I can do faster and better in LR, and I can apply a batch fix to an entire roll almost instantly.

Doing post in LR has sped up scanning setup: I don't bother to, say, crop or rotate the individual neg or slide in the scanning software or try to adjust color. I simply scan the whole open aperture at full resolution/bit depth, and do all adjustments in LR, either as a saved custom preset during import or as a "Copy and Paste Develop settings" to the entire roll after fixing the first image, depending on the film type and brand. Plus, the editing is non-destructive, so the untouched scanner output is still available when editing software improves.

I could have gone with Nikon's raw format as output and saved a lot of space, but I have no confidence in Nikon's future support for the format, so I'd rather bite the bullet disk-space-wise and store the scanner output in a format readable by every image editor, now and in the forseeable future (i.e., within the lifetime of my children).

At the time that I bought the scanner, I looked at the Minolta hardware as well. The Minolta had more resulution for the same money (4000 dpi vs. 2980) but I bought the Nikon precisely because its film strip unit was so much easier and faster than Minolta's, and I could setup and scan 6 frames in about the same setup time as one frame took for the Minolta.

Even so, progress is slow, and I've thought about getting a second-hand Pakon minilab scanner for the two-hundred-odd rolls of color negs left to go; a Pakon can slurp up an entire roll in about 15 minutes, from prescan to output TIFFs, with state-of-the-art color correction for the orange mask (Kodak wrote the software). Max resolution is 2400 dpi, which is probably plenty for 35mm color negs given the grain and lack of acuity compared to B&W or slides.

My final, eventual output will be framed prints for the best pictures, plus 'yearbooks' containing the family/nostalgia photos, using either Adobe's book service or outputting the selected photos to a 3rd-party photobook-on-demand printer like MyPublisher. Copies of these yearbooks will be passed to other interested family members and will more likely outlive me and the negs/slides/TIFFs.

Henry Richardson said...

Hi John, thanks for posting. It sure is a lot of work, isn't it? As it turns out, yesterday I found a box that I had overlooked in storage that has about 400 slides and about 600 color negatives that I didn't go through. :-( I am no longer able to do more scans right now though so maybe sometime in the future. I, of course, wouldn't scan all of them, but I would still need to examine them all and select the ones to scan. I thought I was through forever, but not yet. :-)