Lab scans of 35mm color negatives are miracles. Any lab I routinely use reliably sends me crackerjack digital images.

Getting usable scans from my CanoScan 9000F Mark II via its ScanGear software, on the other hand, is a lot of work involving a number of subjective choices in scanning and post-processing.

I used to think that the colors I got back from the lab were the film’s true colors. I see now how much of that is in the scanner settings, and that I don’t actually know how any film I typically use renders color.

The improvements I made this time were to scan to lossless TIFF files, and to turn off ScanGear’s Image Adjustment setting (which I had overlooked when turning off all the other image-enhancement settings). It helped? I think?

Here’s my scan of a photo I made on Kodak Gold 200 with my Olympus OM-1 and a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens. There’s a little of that mottling in the blue sky that I keep trying to prevent. But it’s not as bad as in previous scans.

Roberts Camera scanned this film when I had them process it. It’s a touch brighter than my scan. The sky has a slight turquoise tint and lacks any mottling. Otherwise, either scan is fine.

North and Maple

Here’s my scan of a butterfly pausing over this flower. Notice how purple the flowers in the background are.

Roberts made those same flowers quite pink, but brought out the detail lurking in the butterfly’s wings.


I also tried scanning some Kodak Ektar 100 I shot in my Pentax Spotmatic F with a 35mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar lens.

Here’s Robert’s Camera’s scan. They got richer colors than I did, although I’d say the sky in mine looks more realistic. The green tint on the right edge of my scan is clearly an artifact of the negative that Robert’s somehow edited out.

Around Zionsville

I walked over to the building to make this close shot. My scan:

Roberts Camera’s scan got a richer red, but my scan offers better highlight detail.

Around Zionsville

It was so much easier when I accepted whatever color I got from my lab scans, as if they were the final word on film and lens. Now I’m suspicious of every scan, because of all the choices it represents. Is it possible that the only way to truly know what colors are in a negative is to make a darkroom print?

This, by the way, is the last in this series of experiments. I’ve learned what I need to. I get good enough black-and-white scans now to start processing and scanning black-and-white film, which was my goal. Now that I work Downtown in Indianapolis, eight blocks from Roberts Camera and their C41 lab, I’m likely to have them process and scan my 35mm color negative film. They charge just $10.

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24 responses to “Still more 35mm color scans from ScanGear on the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II”

  1. Rhianne Avatar

    I’ve been putting off developing some colour film because I don’t fancy scanning it myself right now, but I don’t really know who to trust with scanning them now either! I think I’m going to go the same way as you though, scan my B&W and send off the colour

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Now that I work so close to the one remaining C41 lab in my area, I’ll use them. I get slightly better scans from the by-mail labs I use, but for a savings of as much as $7 per roll and their 24-48-hour turnaround I’ll deal.

  2. jon campo Avatar
    jon campo

    Interesting Jim. I didn’t know Roberts did processing. I’ve bought some equipment from them over a span of many years and their service is top notch. Really great people.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      C41 35mm only. It’s reasonably priced and reasonably good.

  3. Dan James Avatar

    Jim, this line sums up exactly why I returned to having a (supermarket) lab do my developing and scanning, after frustrating and time consuming experiments with the same Canon scanner you have –

    “It was so much easier when I accepted whatever color I got from my lab scans, as if they were the final word on film and lens. Now I’m suspicious of every scan, because of all the choices it represents.”

    It’s the same reason I now love using digital cameras that give me (b/w) JPEGs I love straight out of camera. It eliminates that infinite universe of potential tweaking and post processing…

    With FujiColor Superia 100 especially, I loved the results I got back, they were more than good enough. I didn’t feel the need to explore whether I might get slightly better results for a considerable extra outlay of money and/or time.

    I think if we can find a combination of camera, lens, film, developing and scanning we really like, then just go with it and enjoy it and forget about chasing that extra few percent of improvement that might not even exist! You (can) just kill the freedom and enjoyment you get from the hobby in the first place.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I can see that if I keep up with scanning color film I’ll want to settle on 1, maaaaybe 2 films and stick to them doggedly. Figuring out how to get good colors from unfamiliar films will be a royal pain.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        It something we keep coming back to. Either we’re an experimenter, playing around with a different camera and lens (and film emulsion) every week, or we knuckle down with one camera/lens(/film) and really start to get to know it inside out and back to front, our photographs hopefully evolving ever further as we do…

        But argh that lure of variety!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Being an experimenter is easy — too easy. You just toss about with gear and films and whatever you get, you get. When you knuckle down you can blame only yourself for bad results. That, I think, is part of what makes experimenting alluring.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            Yes I think this is an excellent point. When experiments don’t turn out well, we can just say “I was only experimenting”…

  4. Mike Connealy Avatar

    Looks like you’ve established a good baseline for images from your scanner.
    I almost never get scans that I can use directly, but that does not concern me a great deal as a few tweaks of levels, contrast and color will get me where I want to be as long as the initial exposure is in the ballpark.
    I can understand that people leading lives with a lot of daily demands including five days of employment want an efficient way to get to usable images. Those kind of constraints have not been a concern for me for quite a long time. I actually look forward to the process of refining the images in photoshop; it is certainly a lot easier than doing the same thing in a wet darkroom.
    The thing I had to learn was to use some restraint in not carrying the digital alterations too far. When I look at some of my work from fifteen or twenty years ago I am taken aback by the frequent over-sharpening and over-saturation. I made some decent images in those days, but if I want to show them now I most often will have to rescan or re-edit the original negatives.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I like to work and plan to do it as long as I can. Working does make it more challenging to spend the time I’d like on photography and processing and scanning and post-processing. I enjoy it well enough when I get time to do it. I scanned 2 36-exp rolls of film recently and it was a lovely diversion.

      I’m sure I’ve just begun my scanning/post-processing journey and in five years I’ll look at what I’ve done now and shake my head at myself.

  5. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    Ken Rockwell has mentioned the same thing about color negative in that one really doesn’t know what it’s supposed to look like. I know with the Pakon scanner since it was made by Kodak, the color profiles from the scanner were based on Kodak’s experience printing color negative film for 50 years or so, and I assume the same with the Fuji Frontier scanners. And Noritsu has good profiles too. I trust their software more than I trust my own meager ability, especially when I start getting into color shifts that I don’t want to see! Congrats on working near Roberts Camera now, hope this new job doesn’t end up costing you a fortune in camera gear ;)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m wondering if I should download a trial of Silverfast for the CanoScan and see how scans look through their included film profiles. I have Silverfast for my Epson V300 and those color film profiles really made a big difference. Because I’m with you, I don’t trust my own meager ability.

  6. fishyfisharcade Avatar

    Yeah, I think you have two main choices: 1) Get your home scans looking how you like them and then accept that that’s what you want Portra (or whtever) to look like and don’t worry if it doesn’t look quite the same as other people’s results, or 2) Get lab scans and trust that their settings are correctly configured.

    I’ve gone for the second option recently as, no matter how much I tried, my colour scans were never quite how I wanted them (and some were downright awful). I HAVE managed to get some better results lately from older negs re-scanned on my Plustek with Silverfast, and even matched some Portra 400 scans so they were 95%+ comparable to the lab scans I’d received. Matching the scans took so much time and effort though that I think I’ll just pay for the priviledge of letting the lab do the work.

    Looking at your scans above, although they’re not at massive resolution to be able to delve too deeply, I think they look pretty good. Your first scan appears to have more detail in the North St. sign than the lab scan, and I agree with you that your sky colour is far more realistic than the lab scan in the third image.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sage advice. I just scanned a roll of Portra 400 — a film I’ve never shot before — and tweaked the colors until I was happy enough. For me, now, that’s what Portra 400 looks like.

  7. Ian Avatar

    If you have a C41 lab close at hand you can always try Ilford XP2 plus chromogenic black and white and check out the results from that.


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve shot Kodak’s (discontinued) C41 b/w and liked it.

  8. M.B. Henry Avatar

    Wonderful shots – I do love the coloring in those butterfly pictures!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Isn’t it fascinating how different they are?

  9. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Your scans are great! In the darkroom the eye of the technician is also crucial to the finished product!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sure that’s true. I’ve never printed in the darkroom to know for myself!

  10. Sam Avatar

    Nice comparisons! I’d be happy with any of these scans!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! Nice to know my scans work for you.

      1. Sam Avatar

        It does! I’d be happy if my color scans were as good as yours! 😊👍🏻

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