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.
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.
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.
Here’s another CanoScan/ScanGear scan from this roll.
The Old School Photo Lab scan is flatter and warmer. Both scans have their charms.
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.
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.
I scanned some black-and-white negatives recently with my CanoScan 9000F Mark II and the ScanGear software that came with it, and I want to share the results.
I took much of the advice some of you gave me in my last CanoScan post. Namely, I scanned at 4800 dpi and turned off all of the image enhancements, including unsharp masking and dust/scratch reduction, that ScanGear offers.
My scans were still mighty soft, but what I learned from you is that this is to be expected, and it’s what unsharp masking is for. So I looked up some online information about how to use Photoshop’s unsharp mask tool and fiddled with the settings until I liked the results.
This is the scan I made that I like the most.
Here’s the scan Fulltone Photo made, after I Photoshopped it to my liking. Both scans have their positive qualities. I like the great detail the Fulltone scan shows in the brick foundation of the log cabin. My scan looks good to me and I would happily use it for any of my usual purposes.
Let’s pixel peep for a minute. At 4800 dpi, my scans turned out to be about 6800 pixels on the long edge. There’s minor variability among them in length and width because ScanGear determines each image’s edges individually. The Fulltone Photo scans are all 6774 pixels long. So these are comparable scans. Here’s a detail from my scan of the above image at 100%.
Here’s about the same square from the Fulltone scan at 100%. I’m straining at the seams of my experience here, but at 100% the Fulltone scan looks more usable to me despite its enhanced grain.
But at blog sizes, my CanoScan/ScanGear scans are great.
The Fulltone Photo scan is below. Both scans look wonderful to me.
I made 1200-pixel-long copies to upload here. 1200 pixels is big enough for every blog purpose I have.
Again, my CanoScan and ScanGear scans are, at blog size, in the same league as the Fulltone scans.
One more scan fro the CanoScan and ScanGear.
In this case, I prefer the Fulltone scan. As you can see, my scanner got some ghosting from the sprocket holes. Also, in my scan the barn is softer; its roof slats aren’t as defined as in the Fulltone scan.
I made these photos on Arista EDU 200 with my Nikon FA and 35-70mm Zoom Nikkor, by the way.
I am getting somewhere with the CanoScan and ScanGear. Thank you for your kind and excellent suggestions.
In this same scanning session I scanned more 35mm color negative scans, also at 4800 dpi with all image enhancement turned off. I’ll share results in an upcoming post, but I got mixed results.
I have been happy overall with the scans I get from the labs I use. I punch them up a little in Photoshop but they’re usually usable as is. But as a frugal dude I’m always looking to cut costs, and lab scans aren’t cheap.
My wife bought us a Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II scanner a couple years ago. It scans both 35mm and medium-format negatives. It’s an upgrade over my previous scanner, an Epson V300, which handles only 35mm.
Life’s been stupid crazy since then and I haven’t made time to play with the CanoScan, except for the quick scans I made of my mother-in-law’s 1940s-50s Kodachromes (see some here, here, and here). They turned out well enough using the bundled ScanGear software.
I was pleased, but surprised. The software Epson bundled with my V300 was terrible, and I expected Canon’s bundled software to be, too. So the other night, too tired to sleep, I got out some recent color negatives and scanned them with the CanoScan and ScanGear. I then edited the scans in Photoshop until I was reasonably satisfied.
I was thrilled that ScanGear automatically removed the color negative’s orange mask. The Epson software couldn’t do that and it was a pain to sample and correct for the mask. I never got it right.
I’m still building my scanning skills and knowledge, so this comparison is bound to be flawed. But here goes: my first CanoScan/ScanGear image. Yashica Lynx 14e on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.
Fulltone Photo of La Grange, Kentucky, processed the film and scanned the negatives on their big Noritsu scanner. I Photoshopped those scans to my satisfaction, too. But even the base scans offered dramatically better sharpness, color, and tonality than the CanoScan.
I couldn’t resolve considerable softness in many of the images. This photo of a green house shows it best. The CanoScan/ScanGear scan:
The Fulltone scan is obviously sharper, even at blog resolution.
This negative was loaded with dust, or maybe scratches as no amount of cleaning ever cleared it up. So I turned on ScanGear’s dust and scratch removal. It cleaned up the marks, but added unsatisfying mottling on the shadowy parts of the image.
The Fulltone scan is better by a mile.
The ScanGear scans aren’t good enough. Yet. I haven’t mastered this software. If I keep experimenting, I might get better scans.
Or I could buy VueScan or SilverFast. I already own SilverFast for the Epson V300 and know it to be cumbersome and frustrating but effective. The scans still aren’t fully lab quality but they’re close enough.
Unfortunately, my copy of SilverFast works only for Epson V300 scanners. I’d have to buy a copy made to work with the CanoScan 9000F Mark II. The cheapskate within me urges me to try again with ScanGear.
My son’s college costs went way up this year. His next semester alone will drain my bank account. And his brother will head off to college next fall! I’m feeling big stress figuring out how to pay for is all. An obvious thing to do is tighten the belt. I don’t live a luxury life; I have no big expenses to cut. So all I can do is tightly control everyday spending.
Costs for my photography surely add up. I’ll bet I spent $1,000 this year on cameras, film, and processing and scanning. Fortunately, those costs haven’t come off my bottom line. I’ve been slowly selling cameras I won’t use anymore (eBay page here!), and those funds have paid for almost all of it.
Seeking to economize even more, when I sent in some film for processing recently I skipped having them scanned. I decided I’d try doing it myself. I have an Epson V300 scanner and Silverfast scanning software on my computer.
Scanning these negatives myself saved me a bundle, but cost me a lot of time. I figure it took me six hours to do three rolls of film. Half of that time was spent fiddling with and cursing at Silverfast until I learned how to use it and found settings that yielded pleasing results. Now that I have that down, I figure that it’s going to take me about an hour to scan a roll of 35mm film. Fortunately, the settings I’ve found cut the amount of Photoshopping I routinely do on my images, so the net is probably 30 or 45 minutes per roll. Still, there’s no joy in scanning. It’s just a chore.
Yet I got some stunning results on these first rolls. The photo above is from a Canon EOS A2e I bought recently; review forthcoming. I went over to the Episcopal church on Meridian Street, a favorite place to test old cameras, and found these autumn leaves resting on an iron bench. This image is almost exactly how it came off the scanner; I only tweaked contrast a smidge in Photoshop. When I uploaded it to Flickr last week, it was chosen for the daily Explore feature. That always feels good!
When I reviewed this Canon EOS Rebel S not long ago, two thirds of my test roll’s photos were mostly or entirely black. The shutter was clearly not firing properly. I said I thought it was failing.
Fellow film photographer Mark O’Brien left an incredibly helpful comment: “…the problem with the shutters is that the foam used as a light baffle in the shutter mechanism turns to a gooey mess and infiltrates the curtains. … So, it’s not so much that the shutters fail, they fail because they get gummed up by something else.”
I opened the camera to check, and there it was: a gooey mess on the shutter curtains.
I dipped a Q-Tip in rubbing alcohol and gently wiped the goo away. After the curtains dried I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF II lens and loaded a roll of expired Kodak Max 400. What a perfect use for expired film! I shot la-de-da stuff around the house. The subjects didn’t matter — I just wanted to know whether my hacky fix restored the shutter.
The processed negatives arrived presently. I figured they’d tell me everything I needed to know, so I didn’t order scans.
My fix seemed to help, but didn’t solve the problem entirely. One shot was partially exposed and the last six were entirely blank. And several shots looked to be severely underexposed. Could I rescue them in Photoshop?
I decided I wanted scans after all. I’ve loaned out my flatbed scanner, so I dug out my Wolverine Super F2D, a cheap film digitizer. It’s essentially a light table with a built-in digital camera. It yields noisy, soft images, but it works fast and is easy to use. I figured it’d be good enough to see how the images turned out.
It was. And I had my scans in about ten minutes. It reminded me of making a quick contact sheet in the darkroom. Here’s a lonely little purple petunia, with my gas grill in the background.
The Rebel S really wants the photographer not to be bothered with matters of aperture and shutter speed. It’s an entry-level SLR, after all. But it does let you scroll through all the aperture/shutter combinations that yield a good exposure in the available light. I scrolled it for the widest aperture I could get so I could shoot this coffee-table scene handheld.
The Rebel S’s shutter never sounded very good to me, making a hollow clacking sound with each exposure. I wasn’t sure it was working at all. So I peered into the lens and fired the shutter to see if I could detect any shutter movement. I couldn’t, of course; how silly of me. But the Rebel S’s autofocus did its job even at close range. The puzzled/angry look on my face cracks me up.
While these images are usable, they reveal flaws in the scanner itself. The Wolverine isn’t exactly a refined instrument. First and foremost is the light area in the upper left of each image. I can’t tell what causes it but my guess is a light leak in the film transport. Also, the Wolverine did nothing to correct a fairly stout lateral curl in the negatives, which distorts the resulting images. And when you view these at full size, the noise makes the images look like mosaics.
But at the sizes I’m showing them here, these images work okay. I bet they’d make acceptable 4×6 prints. The detail is good, though the colors are a little off. I can’t tell whether that’s the scanner or the expired film, though.
I couldn’t save any of the underexposed shots, by the way. But it was fun to see the images that did turn out.
I really want this dumb camera to work! Because, and it almost feels like telling a dirty secret to say so, I like using it. So small, so light, so easy. Such an about face from the big, metal, manual SLRs I normally love to shoot.
But I’m two for two on busted Rebels. Despite my irrational attraction to these cameras, I’m not sure I want to go three for three. I was browsing Used Photo Pro the other day and found a Canon EOS A2e body for $27. This is a big, solid, semi-pro SLR that retailed new for about $1,200. It arrived the other day. So my EOS journey continues, just in a different direction.
Most of us beyond a certain age photographed years of family moments and vacations using simple point-and-shoot film cameras. We stored the prints and negatives in albums or boxes.
But when was the last time you looked at them? We all shoot digital now. We look at our photos on screens and store them on phones, SD cards, and hard drives. Because you can’t share a physical photograph on Facebook, our photo albums get very little love or attention.
To bring those memories into the modern age means making digital images of them. You have two options: pay someone to do it for you or do it yourself. If you pay to have it done you’ll get the best possible quality, but the expense might make you wince. For less money you can buy a flatbed scanner that handles negatives and do it yourself. But it’s slow work and there are lots of settings to master. And few scanners take the old 126 and 110 snapshot film formats that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
What’s needed is a way to do the job fast with minimal fuss and at reasonable cost. Few options exist. That’s why I’d even consider a flimsy-looking toy-plastic device like the Wolverine Super F2D film-to-digital converter. It promises to deliver on all of those goals, quickly creating JPEGs from color and black-and-white 35mm, 110, and 126 negatives – and 2×2-mount slides in those formats, and Super 8 movie frames. At about $100, the price isn’t bad. I got mine for even less on sale.
But there’s a big tradeoff: you won’t get professional-quality work from the Wolverine Super F2D. And you will need to touch the images up in photo-editing software – but, to be fair, you would need to do that after using a flatbed scanner, too. But the Super F2D will give you images good enough to view on your screen and to share online. You could even make prints of them, but they will be too noisy for big enlargements.
But I’m not sure I care about those limitations for my old snapshots. I converted about 1,000 images in under six hours. Then I spent about 10 hours touching up every image in Photoshop Elements. And now I have digital images of all of my old negatives. That’s faster than I could have done it with my flatbed scanner, and hundreds of dollars less expensive than paying to have it done. And I’ve already shared some of my images on Facebook, and they look pretty good.
That’s the guts of the review. But more good information follows, including insight into using the Super F2D and examples of my scans. Here is a set of links to each of those sections so you can skip to what you care about.
I used some recent downtime to digitize every old 126, 110, and 35mm negative I have. (If you have negatives or slides from even older films, such as 127, 620, or 828, you’re out of luck.) I did it in my lap while lying on the couch; the Super F2D is small and entirely self-contained. I plugged it into the wall, but you can also plug it into any powered USB port. It has some internal memory, but it also has an SD-card slot. I put an SD card in and went to town.
The Super F2D isn’t a scanner, but rather a digital camera and a light table. It lights up your negatives and slides from below and photographs them from above. It is as inexpensively made as it looks: the plastic is thin and cheap, and the buttons and connectors feel flimsy.
Using the Super F2D is simple once you get the hang of it. You slide the negatives and slides through the sleeve in the middle of the unit. You line up each image on the screen until it looks right, and then capture and save the image. This video tells all.
Pushing negatives through was easy enough except when a negative was cut shorter than the sleeve. I usually used a second negative to push the first one through. There’s a separate sleeve for slides, which are a snug fit in the sleeve. A second slide is always necessary to push the first one through. To get out the last slide you scan, you have to remove the sleeve from the Super F2D and pull it open (it is hinged). The sleeve is hard to open.
The screen is good only for framing images, as it doesn’t accurately render color and the corners are a little washed out. The Super F2D does offer basic color and exposure correction tools, but given the screen’s limitations I decided just to do all of that in Photoshop.
The Super F2D offers no dust and scratch removal, so be sure to clean your negatives well. I used a soft cloth to wipe dust off my negatives. Dust creeps inside the Super F2D, too, and so I frequently cleaned it off the light table with the supplied brush. You’ll see most of these imperfections on the screen.
The Wolverine Super F2D boasts 20-megapixel resolution. It’s overkill, because its puny image sensor returns noisy images. The noise is acceptable when you look at the images at smaller resolutions but shows up bigtime at maximum resolution. You probably don’t want to print big enlargements from these images.
Also, the Super F2D’s field of view leaves out a little bit around edges of your negatives. You can slide each negative left and right inside the Super F2D for best framing, but there’s nothing you can do about what the Super F2D cuts off at the top and bottom. The effect is minimal on 35mm negatives, noticeable on 110 negatives, and pronounced on 126 negatives.
You will need some sort of photo-editing software to touch up these images after you convert them. All of my images had a green caste that ranged from slight to substantial. My oldest negatives, from the mid-1970s, suffered worst. You will also want to fix the scratches and dust that escape your cleaning.
I have Photoshop Elements. Its Auto Color Correction and Auto Levels commands corrected almost all of my images’ color-fidelity ills, and its Spot Healing brush did a great job of quickly removing marks. I applied these corrections to all of the images I’m going to show you from the Super F2D. I’ve uploaded all of the images at full resolution; click them to see them at full size.
Images from 126 film
The Super F2D makes 4000-pixel-square images from 126 negatives. That resolution is beyond the sharpness that most 126 cameras could deliver, especially the junky one I had. But the Super F2D and a little subsequent Photoshoppery yielded usable images. Here’s me in front of the family Christmas tree in 1977.
The circa 1978 print of this image shows my whole head, but the Super F2D masks too much of the negative and cuts my head off.
Images from 110 film
Pity the poor 110 format for the so-so image quality inherent in such an itty-bitty negative. It did not help that most 110 cameras were inexpensively made with low-quality optics. Surprisingly, the Super F2D scans these negatives at a whopping 5120×3840 pixels. When viewed at maximum resolution, these images look like a mosaic. They’re still visibly noisy at smaller sizes.
I used a cheap 110 camera to record one of the best times of my life: a trip to Germany in 1984. I was happy enough with the images the Super F2D made from those negatives. The colors were good, even though the sharpness wasn’t. Here’s a streetcar in Krefeld.
And here’s a tiny Trabant automobile in East Berlin. Shadow detail is very poor and noise is high, but it is the same on my original prints.
Images from 35mm film
The Super F2D returned much better results from my 35mm negatives. I didn’t shoot much 35mm until the late 1980s, by which time advances in film technology produced negative films that simply scan better, at least in my experience. But I also had a better camera than ever before. It was a modest point-and-shoot 35mm camera, but it offered a better lens than any average 126 or 110 camera. The 5472×3648 images the Super F2D creates from these negatives are still too noisy for big enlargements.
Here’s my car parked outside the house I lived in after I graduated college in 1989. Detail and color are much improved and noise is somewhat reduced compared to my 126 and 110 images.
I lived around the corner from Terre Haute’s Coca-Cola bottler. A quick hit of Auto Color Correction in Photoshop Elements really brought out the red in the sign.
The Super F2D’s black-and-white mode seems to do better work than its color mode, at least for the few black-and-white negatives I have. They needed very little touchup to look good. Here’s a 1984 photo of the elementary school I attended.
Images from mounted slides
I never shot slide film in my youth. But I wanted to see how the Super F2D handled slides, so I bought some old Kodachromes on eBay. I didn’t buy any old Super 8 movies, though, so you’re on your own there. The Super F2D scans slides at the same resolutions as the corresponding 35mm, 110, and 126 negatives.
Here’s one of those slides. (You can see the rest in this post.) I think the Super F2D did its best work on these slides. They needed very little touchup in Photoshop and they are less noisy than any of my negative scans.
Comparing the Super F2D to flatbed and professional scanners
The Super F2D isn’t as capable as a flatbed negative scanner, and is absolutely, utterly blown away by the bigtime pro scanners that most film processors use.
I used my Epson V300 flatbed scanner to digitize this image of me taken with my Argus A-Four camera in about 1982.
The Super F2D also does a decent job, although it scans less of the negative than my Epson V300 and returns more saturated colors. It’s a matter of personal preference whether you like the V300 scan or the Super F2D conversion. Where the Super F2D falls down, though, is noise. It shows up at larger resolutions; click the images to compare them full sized.
I took the image below a couple years ago on Fujicolor 200 using my Pentax KM and its 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens. I really enjoy this shot for its color and its sensitive exposure. I’m pretty sure I had The Darkroom process and scan the film.
The Super F2D fell flat on its face rendering this negative. No amount of Photoshop trickery could save it. I deliberately chose it as a worst case, but none of the images the Super F2D converted from this roll of film could compare to the scans The Darkroom did with its big scanner.
If you want to digitize any images you might use more than casually, or that you took with high-quality equipment, you won’t be happy with the Wolverine Super F2D. The resulting digital images are simply too noisy, and sometimes Photoshop won’t be able to restore accurate color and exposure. I’d never use it to digitize the more artistic images I shoot with my good film cameras today, as I can get cleaner scans from my flatbed scanner and outstanding scans from the companies that process my film.
Old snapshot negatives are the Super F2D’s sweet spot. It will always give you a usable image, and it will frequently give you a plenty good image. Given the Super F2D’s cost, speed, and flexibility, that’s more than a fair tradeoff. I’m glad I bought mine. And now I have plenty of memories that I can e-mail to my mom and post on Facebook.
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