Scanning Kodacolor II negatives

After yesterday’s review of the Kodak Duaflex, I thought I’d try scanning the negatives I made in 1982 on Kodacolor II film with the optically and mechanically identical Kodak Duaflex II I owned as a kid. I meant to compare and contrast the image quality between the two cameras, which I expected to be identical. Instead, I went down a rabbit hole of scanning and digitizing.

I had a lot of trouble getting accurate color scanning the negatives with VueScan and my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II scanner. I tried several film profiles in VueScan, including Generic Color Negative. The Kodacolor II profile was least bad. I had to do considerable work in Photoshop to make them look not awful. Red wasn’t coming through at all.

I have an iPhone app called FilmLab that digitizes negatives. The downer about FilmLab is that the scans are relatively small at roughly 2 MP. I can’t find a setting to change that. It helps that I own a cheap light tablet — I stuck the negatives on it and digitized them with FilmLab one by one. I held the phone in my hands so there is some skew from not being perfectly parallel to the film, but it’s good enough for this comparison. I did some processing in Photoshop to remove dullness.

Then just for the sake of completeness, I scanned the prints with VueScan and the CanoScan 9000F Mark II — the ones I still have, anyway, as I gave some away to neighborhood children whom I photographed. I did some processing in Photoshop to remove dullness.

Here are some results. First, here are a pair of bicycles. The CanoScan negative scan left the red and maroon bicycle frames dull and gray. (Click any image to see it larger, all through this post.)

Next, here is my brother reading a comic book in my room. The curtains lack any red, and I couldn’t get my brother’s skin tone right.

Next, here’s our dog Missy on the back porch. I was really attached to Missy. Notice the house in the background — gray in the CanoScan negative scan, red otherwise. On the CanoScan negative scan, I couldn’t make Missy be not purple. In the print scan, CanoScan picked up some of the texture of the matte paper.

Finally, here’s a 1968 Ford Mustang I found parked down the street, some neighborhood kids messing around in the background. This was the hardest image to make look not terrible in Photoshop after scanning the negative on the CanoScan. In the original scan, the Mustang was purple.

My negatives were in the paper sleeve they came in after the drug store (Osco, my notes on the sleeve say) developed them. I’ve seldom touched them since 1982, when I had them developed. There was some deterioration of the negatives that scanning made apparent. Here’s my old friend Brian standing in my front yard. We’re still friends today. Brian’s fairly well known in the open-source software community — hey other open sourcers, here’s Brian with hair. Notice the discoloration on the image, which is on the negative. This is an iPhone/FilmLab image.

I was very happy to recover this image of a kid down the street, Phil. My brother and I spent a lot of time with him. I must have given him this print because I no longer have it. I haven’t seen Phil since probably 1985 and wonder whatever became of him. The CanoScan utterly failed to recover an image from this negative, but my iPhone and FilmLab did an okay job. I have a few other photos of Phil, but none that show his face so clearly. It’s good to see him again.

What I learned about scanning Kodacolor II negatives is that the best bet is to find the prints and just scan those. But when you no longer have the print, my iPhone and FilmLab is quick, easy, and reasonably effective — when you have a good light source, that is, like my cheap light tablet. I can’t recommend using a scanner, at least not my CanoScan, to scan old Kodacolor II negatives.

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10 responses to “Scanning Kodacolor II negatives”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Kodacolor ll was the first gen of the C-41 color negative process, which proved to be far more stable than the old C-22 process. Still, color neg was never considered anywhere near as stable as color transparency, and of course, the reds, and contrast, would be the first to go. You seem to have done a pretty good job here, tho, and of course, the iPhone is probably automatically juicing the colors, like iPhones do. Have you investigated any of those programs that automatically restore color neg fading? Seems to me that I had a file of those somewhere I can’t find now, but they should be easy to google.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It didn’t occur to me that perhaps the iPhone was filling in the red that isn’t there on the negative anymore.

      After getting my new computer, I let VueScan install its driver for the CanoScan. I scanned some Verichrome Pan the other day and got weird results there too. But to be fair, the negatives look underexposed and overdeveloped. Anyway: I need to uninstall VueScan clean, then install the drivers off the CD that came with the scanner, reinstall VueScan, and then see if I get better results.

  2. Tam Avatar

    It’s so cool that you have those old negatives!

    This post reminded me that I have a whole box of negatives dating back to 1990-1992 that I really should scan.

    (Funnily enough, most of my earliest digital photos are gone forever with the floppies on which they were shot, or quietly succumbing to bit rot on a 23-y.o. desktop tower that hasn’t been spun up since 2006 or so.)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have all of my negatives going back to my first roll of film in 1976!

      It’s a shame that your early digital photos are lost. :-(

  3. Peter Miller Avatar
    Peter Miller

    I struggled for years with the best way to scan negatives. Tried a slide/negative adapter for a Coolpix 990. Tried a Coolscan scanner. Briefly had a small drum scanner (I operated a printing prepress/typesetting business for 23 years.) Still have an Epson flatbed scanner with the transparency lid. Eventually lack of resolution, software and/or hardware compatibilities killed all those solutions. A Nikon ES-2 film digitizing adapter, with your Nikon DSLR, with a Nikkor 40mm f2.8 DX macro lens is relatively quick and efficient for me. The secret sauce is eliminating the orange tint of C-41 negatives by setting custom white balance for each roll you scan. (When you lack the latest version of Photoshop.) Of course this isn’t necessary for black and white or transparencies.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m starting to grow disillusioned with scanners as a way to digitize negatives. My flatbed has never been more than barely adequate. My Plustek 35mm scanner does pretty good work. However, all scanning solutions are dog slow. I’ve strongly considered buying that macro lens and digitizing adapter for my Nikon Df. What holds me back is setting up and storing a rig that would hold the camera steady, parallel to a light pad. I just don’t have a place for that right now.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        I knew a local lab that had a Flexright (?) scanner than cost about 15,000 bucks, then bought a Heidelberg drum scanner at fire sale prices from printer R.R.Donnelley. They said the difference between the 15k scanner and the drum scanner was like night and day, and it made them want to rescan a lot of stuff they had for the noticeable difference! So, you can imagine that what the amateur has access to is probably meant for very limited, and internet, uses. I’ve done a couple of things with my sisters Epson flatbed scanner with the transparency lid, but I wouldn’t confuse it with a professional scan from high end equipment! We’re all looking for good enough…

      2. Gary Avatar

        Hi Jim:
        Scanning takes time, patience, and persistence. But I think what you’re looking for for your Nikon is this:
        To my way of thinking, this gets around the problems you’ve identified. There are cheaper versions of this product out there.
        For me, I find I get excellent results with ColorPerfect, which is a Photoshop plug-in.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Yes, the Valoi would solve it for 35mm. I hope they come out with a 120 version someday.

      3. Kevin Avatar

        I’m still getting settings sorted out, but I’m using the slide scanner attachment with a 35mm holder, mounting the camera on a tripod pointing down, and setting an off camera flash on the floor. Still needs a little setting tweakage but seems to work ok.

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