Film Photography

Scanning 120 color negatives with ScanGear on the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II

I’m experimenting with scanning medium-format color negatives in my CanoScan 9000F.

I’d shoot more medium format if it weren’t so expensive per frame to get scans. Every lab I use charges about the same to process and scan both medium format and 35mm, around $17 shipped. A roll of 35mm yields 24 or 26 images, while a roll of 120 or 620 yields only eight or 12. If I can get credible scans from the CanoScan without too much fuss it would cut about $5 out of that equation. I might shoot my TLRs, folders, and boxes more often.

I first scanned some Kodak Ektar 100 negatives I shot last year in my Agfa Clack. (Ektar is my go-to medium-format color film.) Old School Photo Lab processed and scanned the film.

Here’s a photo from that roll, scanned through the CanoScan and ScanGear. I scanned at 1200 dpi, the maximum ScanGear allowed to avoid enormous file sizes. This resulted in images 3968 pixels long. I left all image enhancements off in ScanGear. I applied unsharp masking and other enhancements in Photoshop. I shrunk the scans to 1200 pixels long to upload them to the blog.

Here’s a crop of this image at 100%. The Clack is a box camera with a simple lens that’s acceptably, but not exceptionally, sharp in the middle. This is a pretty reasonable result.

Here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. It’s 3569 pixels on the long side. I like both scans equally.

Suburban banalia

Here’s another scan from this roll using the CanoScan and ScanGear.

In this case I like the Old School Photo Lab scan better, as its colors look more true to life. I did the best I could in Photoshop to get better colors from my scan but they just weren’t there. Either scan is acceptable for my usual bloggy purposes.

Suburban banalia

Next I dug out some Kodak Ektar 100 negatives I shot in 2017 with my Yashica-D and a closeup lens attachment. Old School Photo Lab processed and scanned the images.

ScanGear let me scan at 2400 dpi but no larger to avoid extremely large file sizes. This yielded images of about 5200 pixels square. Again I left all image enhancements off in ScanGear and used Photoshop to apply unsharp masking and other enhancements. I shrunk the scans to 1200 pixels square to upload them to the blog. Here’s my favorite photo from this roll.

Because this scan is so large, a crop from 100% shows only a small portion of the image. But as you can see it’s reasonably sharp and detailed.

The Old School Photo Lab scans are about 2400 pixels square. My scan offers more contrast and a lovely purple in the sky, but the OSPL scan offers a more limited and nuanced color palette.

Spring flowers from my garden

Here’s another CanoScan/ScanGear scan from this roll.

The Old School Photo Lab scan is flatter and warmer. Both scans have their charms.

Spring flowers from my garden

Finally, a CanoScan/ScanGear scan of this lily. I made all of these shots in my old house’s front garden, which I sorely miss.

The Old School Photo Lab scan is again warmer. It’s been a while since I’ve seen these lilies but I believe my scan’s purple is more true to life.

Spring flowers from my garden

Unsurprisingly, the CanoScan and ScanGear do credible work making scans of color medium-format negatives. It was far, far easier to get good enough scans from these negatives than with any of the color 35mm negatives I’ve scanned. When it comes to negatives, there’s no substitute for size.

Scanning isn’t a joy any way you look at it. The act of scanning mostly involves waiting, which isn’t terrible. The real work begins after the scanner produces the files. The worst of it is removing dust marks. Even after gently wiping these negatives with a cloth designed for the purpose, a lot of dust remained on them. It was tedious to remove all of the marks in Photoshop.

Saving $5 on scans is nice, but the real savings is in processing and scanning my film myself. I still have in mind to buy processing gear and try a monobath black-and-white developer like this one from the Film Photography Project. I had hoped to be doing that by now this year, but life just seems to keep dealing us energy-consuming difficulties. Maybe this summer, maybe this autumn. Wish me luck.

Next: scanning black-and-white medium-format film. I expect it to go very well.

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18 thoughts on “Scanning 120 color negatives with ScanGear on the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II

  1. From where I sit, this seems like a lot of effort to save 5 bucks. Particularly when 1) you don’t really enjoy the scanning process and 2) the end result is, on balance, almost as good as the commercial scans. Without changing at least one of these two factors, paying the $5 seems like the better choice. But then “I Paid An Extra $5 For Scans” would not have been as interesting as a blog post.

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    • If all I were trying to save were the $5 I’d agree 100%. But I’m trying to get to the place where I process my own film and then scan it, and thus save up to $17 per roll. I’d like to shoot a lot more film, especially in medium format, but processing and scanning costs add up fast.

      If it were more convenient I’d shoot a lot more color and take it to Robert’s, who processes and scans for $10. That’s very reasonable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe says:

    Not sure how the Canoscan handles colour balance but I know using a Nikon scanner with Vuescan it saves a ton of time processing in post with Lightroom if I can get the colour balance as close as possible using the Vuescan tool……

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    • I had a similar experience with SilverFast on my Epson V300. I am seeing that I might need to pony up for SilverFast again, for the CanoScan. It took a lot of the guesswork and infernal neverending tweaking out of the job.

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  3. Jim, the most obvious difference viewing the photos on your blog is the ones you scanned are more granulated and blokcy in the backgrounds, especially with sky. I don’t know what the technical term is, but for example the images with the cars, in your scans the skies are a darker block with lighter blue speckles in them, like pixels. The lab scans show much more smooth and graduated skies. (Like playing a video game on a modern console then going back a generation or two and realising how the resolution has evolved.)

    I expect with b/w images this is much less of an issue, at least for me, as I don’t mind a few imperfections in b/w photos.

    The time/cost dichotomy would be what it came down to for me. Saving £5 or $5 but it taking an hour, I would say it’s not worth it, personally, it’s like valuing your free time at £5/$5 an hour, in this example. I think free time is worth much more than that. Again, just my view, we’ll each find our balance!

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    • Yes, I agree, the skies are a little blocky. Not bad though. Not as bad as the 35mm scans I’ve tried. I wonder if SilverFast can help me get rid of the blockiness.

      If I can get into a workflow groove and do the same tweaks every time, spending an hour scanning and processing might be a nice diversion after a hard day at work. But you’re right, it’s worth way more than $5 of my time.

      If I can shoot 120 b/w, and process and scan it myself, I’ll save $17 per roll – suddenly it seems a lot more worth it. Next post on this subject is 120 b/w — spoiler alert, the results are 90+% of the lab scans.

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      • Yes, saving $17 is a much more appealing prospect! Again it comes down to time and enjoyment. If you enjoy your own developing and scanning then the financial gain is a happy added bonus. If you don’t like it much, you have to weigh up how much that time costs, and how much money you need to save to make it worthwhile and sustainable.

        I read in another reply you go to “Roberts” and it only costs you $10 a roll. How come you don’t use this more?

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        • I don’t know that I’ll have rapturous joy over processing and scanning, but I feel sure I won’t hate them. It’ll just be a job to do that saves me $17.

          Robert’s is the camera store downtown and they process/scan C41 35mm for $10. That’s all they do – no b/w, no 120. Challenge is that their location is majorly inconvenient to me right now. I’m about to have a job change that will take me downtown, eight blocks from Roberts, so I’ll much more easily be able to use them.

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        • Especially if you save up a few and process them in batches, that’s going to save you a significant amount $7 a film will soon add up.

          A job change? Within the same company? I know you started there only a few months back.

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        • I am changing companies. I am not unhappy where I am but another software company offered me such a compelling package I couldn’t ignore it.

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  4. Christopher Smith says:

    I use an Epson Perfection 3200 Pro to scan my medium format B/W negs and I develop them myself in Cafenol C-M, I also scan at 2400 dpi. I can also scan large format film up to 5 x 4. From what I can see here you are doing a good job of scanning.

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    • Christopher, thank you for affirming my work! Maybe this is as good as it gets on a flatbed and I should just accept it and move on. Next week you’ll see some b/w 120 scans I made — they’re really good compared to the lab scans.

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  5. I have to send mine away as the local lab only does C41 in 35mm and is expensive. So I have narrowed it down to one lab who do a great job on C41 with good scans, and another for E6 or if I need to push or pull. Planning to set up a darkroom so I can shoot more, and thinking about which scanner to get. The Canon seems to be unavailable now, so it will probably be the Epson V550…..

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    • I think I’m probably going to slow my E6 usage to a super crawl. It’s just so expensive to process. If I can do my own b/w that should really open up vistas for me. The Epson scanners are all good. Even my V300 did nice enough work.

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      • arhphotographic says:

        Hi, I have been reading your posts on processing with great interest. I don’t think I’m alone in actually enjoying the whole process of developing and processing my colour film, it’s kind of therapeutic!. Could I just tap your superior experience? You process for cleaning your negatives, what is it that you use? Many thanks

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        • I use Pec Pads to wipe them clean, but even then there’s often still dust and debris on them. I then have to use the spot healing tool in Photoshop to painstakingly edit the marks out. A pain.

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