Film Photography

Scanning 120 black-and-white negatives with the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II and ScanGear

I made one more experiment scanning negatives on my CanoScan 9000F Mk II and its bundled ScanGear software. This time I tried scanning black-and-white medium-format negatives.

I hope to start processing my own black-and-white film, especially in medium format, this year. I don’t shoot as much medium format as I’d like because processing and scanning costs about $17. That’s a buck and a half to two bucks per frame! Processing and scanning my own will manage medium format’s costs better.

I went back to 2016 to find some images I made with my Yashica TLRs, a Yashica-12 and a Yashica-D. These cameras have wonderful lenses that make the most of whatever film I put behind them. Here is a scan I made of a scene on the square in Lebanon, Indiana, on Kodak Tri-X.

Here’s a crop of my scan at 100%. I scanned at 2400 dpi, by the way, and applied unsharp masking and other tweaks in Photoshop until the image was to my liking. That’s some pretty good detail right there.

Here’s the scan Old School Photo Lab delivered, after I tweaked it in Photoshop to my liking. Both my scan and Old School’s scan are crops of the original image to the interesting part of the scene. My scans are about 5200 pixels square, give or take, while Old School’s are slightly off square at 4832×4760 pixels.

Please be seated

Here’s my scan of the Boone County courthouse in Lebanon’s square.

And here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. Either scan is acceptable. I like the tonality in my scan a little better as it feels more realistic to me. The Old School scan looks to be a bit sharper.

Boone County Courthouse

The next two images are from my Yashica-D on Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros. I could have done a better job of cleaning minor dust marks off my scan, which is below. It’s otherwise a perfectly usable scan.

Here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. At blog sizes, they’re hard to tell apart. Both images are crops of the original frame, by the way.

Moore Road

These two images are from the far-northwest corner of Indianapolis, which is quite rural. Here’s my scan of a cemetery that lies along the road above.

Old School Photo Lab’s scan appears sharper — compare the grass in both scans. But either scan is eminently usable for my purposes.

Pleasant View Cemetery

I am pleased with my scans. I would use them for any of my usual purposes.

These experiments, and your comments on them, have taught me some key techniques. First, thanks to your advice I’ve turned off all the built-in image improvements in ScanGear and scan at as close to 4800 dpi as I can. Second, I’ve learned enough about the Amount, Radius, and Threshold settings in Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter to sharpen my images acceptably.

I see I’ve still much to learn about how to look at a photograph and see its details. In these experiments I’ve studied my scans in far more detail than I’ve ever studied a photograph, and compared them in depth to the lab scans, and thought about what I like in a scan. I realize I need to study far more photographs to learn how to see their details and decide what I like.

I also now realize just how much the quality of a lab scan might have affected my views of various cameras, lenses, and films, and how excellent scans might have enabled the praises I heaped on particular gear or films.

I feel like a man who thought he’d climbed a mountain, only to find that he had scaled but a foothill to see the real mountain emerge from the mist.

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13 thoughts on “Scanning 120 black-and-white negatives with the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II and ScanGear

  1. Melissa Selena says:

    Great post! Was interesting to see the scans comparison and to read about your experience.

    “I also now realize just how much the quality of a lab scan might have affected my views of various cameras, lenses, and films, and how excellent scans might have enabled the praises I heaped on particular gear or films.” I have always wondered how much a good photograph is down to how well I shot it or how well the lab scanned it! Hence why I want to start developing and scanning my own film also.

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    • The only challenge is that owning the whole process feels like a potential rabbit hole. I don’t have the energy for that! I need a process and techniques that are reliable and consistent.

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      • Melissa Selena says:

        I think subconsciously I felt the same way as I haven’t started developing my own film yet like I’d planned. It’s so much easier to just pick up the digital camera and do some light editing!

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        • It certainly is. It’s also easier to send my film off for processing and scanning. Expense is what’s pushing me to process my own…….eventually.

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  2. Jim, always interesting to hear about your photography adventures.

    I think your last couple of paragraphs sum up my concerns. The more you start looking for imperfections in an image, the more you’ll find. Possibly to the point where you’re spending ever more time tweaking each image, and perhaps sometimes still not getting it to your liking.

    I guess we each have to find our “good enough” with photography, in the kit we choose, the composotions we make, and the final photographs.

    Or to quote Seth Godin, we each need to define and reach CNP – as Close as Necessary to Perfect.

    Otherwise we’re forever disappointed.

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    • I’m a recovering perfectionist always reminding myself that good enough is good enough. Thing is, I want my CanoScan scans to be the best they can be. A part of me wants to keep experimenting but another part says I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.

      About the only thing that I could do to improve things now is buy SilverFast and use its multi-scan tool and its film profiles. I might do that one day. But the experimenting I’ve done so far has yielded plenty good b/w images and good enough color images.

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  3. If your end goal is to show the photos on line I don’t think you gain anything by scanning at very high resolution. When you reduce the image size and then convert to jpg you are likely to lose some sharpness. On the other hand, if you are going to do a print, higher resolution scans certainly make sense. For instance, an optimal resolution for an 11 x 14 digital print at 300 dpi would be an image of 3300 x 4200 pixels. Those dimensions would be obtained from a scan at about 3200 dpi from a 35mm negative, or a scan of 1800 from a 2.25 x 2.25 negative.
    Of course, there is more to the issue than simple math. The capabilities of your software enter into the equation, as do the characteristics of the different file formats. If you are using a flatbed scanner there is also the issue of scanning time compared to the amount of patience you can deploy. Practically speaking, a 1800 dpi scan is about all I am willing to sit through.

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  4. Hello, I do think your comment – “I see I’ve still much to learn about how to look at a photograph and see its details. In these experiments I’ve studied my scans in far more detail than I’ve ever studied a photograph, and compared them in depth to the lab scans, and thought about what I like in a scan. I realize I need to study far more photographs to learn how to see their details and decide what I like.” is key for me. Your experiment has caused you to do something you may not have done with digital. Going back to film has reignited my connection with the whole process of seeing the image and developing it.

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    • ARH, this of course brings up the topic that those who have been shooting film for longer (perhaps decades, half a century or more) can revisit them today with the scanning and software available, and (digitally) share them and perhaps even print them “better” than they’ve been seen before. Breathing new life into age old memories.

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  5. Victor Villaseñor says:

    I have backed:

    And I expect to take the scan part of my film photos into my hands, I had built a similar contraption out of cardboard and whatever was at the house when I was working on it. It got me some good results (for my eye) and the approach is quick enough for me.

    What I like the most is that you can fold it back and put it away in the drawer.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    • I’ve reached Kickstarter fatigue or I would have backed this project. I don’t have a digital camera with the resolving power I’d want to use a tool like this, so I persist with my scanner.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I seem to be an active perfectionist when it comes to my scans. :)

    After over a year of mulling it over, I bought a Plustek scanner for my 35mm needs. It takes waaay longer than it did on my Epson V550, but I do see a noticeable improvement in resolution.

    For medium format the V550 does a very nice job (although that perfectionist in me notes that there is still additional resolution to be had if only I went to the time, effort and cost it would take).

    The truth of it is, however, that it’s only myself noticing this. I rarely make prints (although I perhaps should), so it just comes down to my own pixel peeping and desire for the best results I can get (Even if I don’t really need them).

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    • I’ve got the perfectionism in me, too. I have to keep reminding myself that there’s a point of diminishing returns. 98% of the time people interact with my photographs right here on this blog, or on Flickr. The scans I get from the lab, as well as the scans I’ve made on my CanoScan recently, are fine for this purpose. Even 35mm in color, now that I’ve figured out how to squeeze reasonable performance out of the scanner and how to tweak well enough in Photoshop.

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