On Scanning

On Top of the World

[Look at that guy–he’s on top of the world…in more ways than one!]

Part I of II

I’ve finally got some traction again in my quest to scan all my old negatives and slides. I shot analog for some 20 years before my first digital camera, and I have thousands of old negs and slides (mostly slides). It’s not just a matter of convenience to have all these photos in digital versions; it’s a race against time. Where I live, mold is a fact of life. Scanning is my only hope of saving these memories for the future.

I’m scanning them all using an Epson Perfection V700 scanner. Although I find scanning tedious, I really like this scanner. Things I like about it are that it scans at a fairly high resolution, can scan up to 12 35mm slides at a time, has holders for 35mm film strips, slides, medium format film, large format film, as well as being able to scan prints on the platen. It has Digital ICE infrared dust and scratch removal, which works wonders and saves gobs of time in postprocessing. It’s fairly fast, as these scanners go, is reasonably quiet, and produces good looking results (with the right software and settings).

Finding good software to match it has been work, but I’ve settled into using VueScan (version 8.5.04, on both Linux and Mac), by Ed Hamrick. VueScan is a powerful piece of software, but the user interface is a bit arcane and it’s difficult to figure out all the settings. In all fairness, however, I’ve never found scanner software that was easy to use. Documentation is a bit sparse, although it seems to be well used by many photographers, and useful bits of information can be found on various message boards. I’m going to do my part here by describing the process I have been using. I hope it is helpful to someone else.

One of VueScan’s powerful selling points is the ability to scan to RAW files (like a RAW camera capture). My process is to first scan the slides to RAWs, and then reprocess the RAWs to TIFFs in a secondary pass, which is very fast, since it is reading the RAW files from disk. If I get the RAW scans right, then I never have to rescan the slide; VueScan makes it possible to apply all adjustments, including the ICE dust and scratch processing, from the RAWs (since the infrared channel is saved in the RAW file). This is extremely powerful and flexible and all the same arguments that apply to RAW camera images apply to RAW scanner images. Furthermore, VueScan allows you to save your RAWs as DNG files, which means there is a decent chance that your files will not be orphaned in some proprietary RAW format.

I’m scanning at 3200 dpi, 64 bits/pixel (R-G-B + infrared). This gives a RAW file of a little less than 100MB and is generally around 4280×2896 pixels. For 35mm, with the films and lenses I used back then (not to mention my technique), 3200 dpi is plenty of resolution–any more would be simply wasting disk space.

Here then, is my process. Note that this is heavy in detail on both VueScan and the Epson Perfection V700:

In a batch scan of twelve 35mm slides, the slides are scanned top to bottom, right to left. So I load the slides top to down from the right to the left. Don’t forget when refiling the slides afterwards in the folders, if you use a different scheme, like left to right, top to bottom.

Load slides emulsion side down, and load them with the correct viewing orientation (portrait or landscape); don’t worry about keeping them all in the same orientation. This prevents you from having to do a lot of rotation afterwards in postprocessing.

Slip the holder into the designated spot on the scanner and close the lid.

Click the “More” or “Advanced” button at the bottom of the VueScan GUI to enable the advanced options, and then fill in the tabs. Here are my settings for the initial scan in (note that not all of them are relevant to the RAWs).

- Task: Scan to file
- Source: PerfectionV700
- Mode: Transparency
- Media: Slide film
- Bits per pixel: 64 RGBI
- Batch scan: All (need to set Multi Crop on "Crop" tab for this to show
- Frame number: 1 (ditto)
- Preview resolution: Auto
- Scan resolution: 3200 dpi
- Rotation: None
- Skew: 0
- Mirror: on
- Auto scan: None
- Auto save: Scan
- Auto print: None
- Number of samples: 1
- Scan from preview: None
- Multi exposure: off
- Lock exposure: off
- Default options: off

- Crop size: 35mm slide
- Auto offset: on
- Multi crop: 35mm slide
- Auto rotate: on
- Lock aspect ratio: off
- Border (%): 0
- Buffer (%): 0
- Preview area: Default
- Default options: off

- Infrared clean: Light
- Restore colors: off
- Restore fading: off
- Grain reduction: None
- Sharpen: on
- Default options: off

- Color balance: White balance
- Black point (%): 0
- White point (%): 1
- Curve low: 0.25
- Curve high: 0.75
- Brightness: 1
- Brightness red: 1
- Brightness green: 1
- Brightness blue: 1
- Slide vendor: GENERIC
- Slide brand: COLOR
- Slide type: SLIDE
- Scanner color space: Built-in
- Printer color space: ICC Profile
- Printer ICC profile: path-to-the-ICC-profile
- Printer ICC description:
- Printer IT8 data: printer.it8
- Film color space: Built-in
- Show IT8 outline: off
- Output color space: Adobe RGB
- Monitor color space: ICC Profile
- Monitor ICC profile: path-to-the-ICC-profile
- View color: RGB
- Pixel colors: off
- Default options: off

- Default folder: path-to-scan-folder
- Printed size: 8x12in
- Auto file name: on
- TIFF file: off
- JPEG file: off
- PDF file: off
- OCR text file: off
- Index file: off
- Raw file: on
- Raw file name: scan0001+.dng
- Raw size reduction: 1
- Raw file type: 64 bit RGBI
- Raw output with: Scan
- Raw DNG format: on
- Description:
- Copyright:
- Date:
- Log file: on
- Log file max size (MB): 2
- Default options: off

- Language: English
- Crop units: inch
- Printed units: inch
- External viewer: off (sometimes on)
- Viewer: gimp (only if above setting on)
- External editor: off
- Browser: mozilla
- Graph type: Image
- Button 1 action: None
- Button 2 action: None
- Button 3 action: None
- Button 4 action: None
- Auto refresh: on
- Display raw scan: on
- Splash screen: on
- Histogram type: Linear
- Animate crop box: on
- Thick crop box: on
- Add extensions: on
- Substitute date: on
- Warn on overwrite: on
- Warn on not ready: on
- Warn on no scanner: on
- Exit when done: off
- Beep when done: off
- Beep when auto eject: off
- Use temp file name: off
- Anti alias text: on
- Anti alias image: on
- Enable density display: off
- Enable raw from disk: off
- Disable scanners: None
- Enable sliders: on
- Enable spin buttons: on
- Enable popup tips: on
- Enable sample images: on
- Startup tip: 0
- Image memory (MB): 2048
- Window maximized: off
- Window iconized: off
- Window x offset: 96
- Window y offset: 41
- Window x size: 1728
- Window y size: 1080
- Font size (pt): 9
- Option panel width: 340
- Default options: off

Position the Frame number setting to 1 and press “Preview”. This will generate a preview scan with thumbnails. I give this a quick once over to see if there is anything seriously off, and to verify that the automatic crop detection is working well. Some people would recommend to not choose the automatic crop, but to set for “maximum crop”. Not me. I have thousands of slides to scan. I’m lazy when it comes to scanning. The more things I can get right from the first scan, the better. So far I find the automatic cropping to work very well. Every few sets of images there will be one that it had trouble with (usually something with lots and lots of white or black), and I’ll just rescan that one slide with maximum crop and then crop it manually in postprocessing. You may want to play around with the “Border (%)” option to add some extra space around the automatic crop, if you go that route and are having trouble with too tight cropping.

If the preview looks good I hit “Scan” and go off to do something else while the scanner does its thing. With these settings it usually takes around 45 minutes to do 12 slides (1 batch). After the designated period I’ll come back to find 12 new DNG files sitting in the output folder.

In Part II I’ll describe the postprocessing workflow for generating the TIFFs (and/or JPEGs) from the RAW files.

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