THE Epson V500 scanner (now being superseded by the V600) is a very nifty bit of kit. I’ve had mine for a couple of years and have done something like 2,000 scans with it. However, getting the best results takes a lot of practice and – to be honest – sometimes its tough to know what is the best result.
I’ve recently started scanning a lot of black and white negs with varying results depending on how good the exposure and developing is. The following test is designed to show how a well-exposed, well-developed black and white negative responds to different tweaks in the scanning process.
One of the advantages of scanning is that you can compress or clip the tones pretty well as much as you like. That’s like having the whole range of old printing papers from Grade 1 (soft) to Grade 5 (hard) – and even beyond – readily available at the twitch of a slider. Of course, that also means there are an infinitely large number of ways that you can mess up.
The negative I have chosen for this example was shot on a newly-serviced Pentacon Six 6x6cm medium format camera, using a 120mm Biometar lens. The film is Neopan Acros 100 ISO and it was processed by Peak Imaging of Sheffield, England.
I use the scanner in “professional” mode and have automatic sharpening, Digital ICE, grain removal and dust removal all switched off because I am concerned about the risk of degrading the image. I scanned at 1,200, which is reasonably fast and gives the equivalent of about a 6MP image, that would print about 30 inches wide at 72dpi.
The significance of the test lies in the position of the input and output sliders in the histogram adjustment panel and the effect on the quality of the image, particularly the highlights. For the moment, I’ve left the brightness and contrast sliders in another dialogue box alone, The images have been gently sharpened in the final stages of processing.
First, the result from the Auto setting, which is pretty good, but which I always consider to be a little harsh, sacrificing both the highlights and the shadow areas and boosting grain:
Note the strong clipping of the highlights, which become washed out, and the appearance of the grain. To avoid that, I tried scanning with no clipping at either end, either in the input or the output:
Here, the detail in the structure of the tower is much better preserved and the grain is much less obtrusive. Unfortunately, this creates a rather flat image. To counter this, I need to do some clipping, first I tried just clipping the output channels:
Which clearly didn’t do any good. Next, a slight clipping of the highlight channel:
This is much better, and though some detail in the tower has been sacrificed the impact isn’t as harsh as with the auto setting, especially with regard to grain.
But what happens if we take the flat image, with all the detail preserved, and then add brightness and contrast from the “Image Adjustment” dialogue box? Adding +12 for both contrast and brightness seems to bring the image to life without sacrificing so much detail as in the version where the highlights were clipped, and the grain also remains very well controlled:
Of course, what works is going to be slightly different with every negative, The light in Arabia (where this was taken) is harsh and the contrast in sunlit areas is often low. Different lighting and different subjects may suggest softer or harsher treatment and that, of course, is something that the “auto” settings, however good, can never compensate for.
Someone has suggested leaving the contrast/brightness adjustments to do later in Photoshop but when I tried that I found the result, using the same numerical settings in PS as in the scanner. was less subtle than I got in the last version shown here. I’m not sure if the settings in the two programs are not comparable or if adjusting brightness/contrast at the scanning stage preserves detail slightly better.