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Digitizing 35mm Color Negative Film

Based on many hours of research and trials, the optimum way to convert 35mm color negatives into digital images is as follows:
  • Obtain the Epson V500 Photo scanner
    • Supports hardware based scratch and dust removal technology called Digital ICE
      • Don't waste your time trying to use software based scratch and dust removal, you will end up removing it by hand over many hours!
    • Allows you to scan between 8 and 12 negatives at a time!
    • In July 2009, it was $169 at www.newegg.com
      • Being a Canon fan it was not easy for me to switch to Epson, but the various reviews on the scanners convinced me to get the Epson because of its use of the Digital ICE technology
      • Very happy with the Epson. It has scanned thousands of pictures already.
    • Update: November 2010, after checking online retailers it appears that the V600 is replacing the V500. The V600 is the better choice since it offers Digital ICE not just for film as the V500 does, but also does Digital ICE for regular photographs. ( Wish I had that feature for some of those prints for which we do not have the negatives )
  • Insert the color negatives into the film holder supplied with the scanner.
    • Images must be face down, with lowest numbers starting at the back of the scanner
      • Face the film towards you so that you can read the numbers, then insert face down into holder
    • Line up the "A" spot on the holder with the "A" spot on the scanner itself
      • Remember to first remove the top screen from the scanner (white)
  • After closing the lid press the green scan key on the front of the scanner
  • The Epson Scan software will automatically start on the computer
    • Initial setup required only before scanning first negative, change the settings as follows:
      • Change to "Professional Mode"
      • Document Type: "Film"
      • Film Type: "Color Negative Film"
      • Image Type: "24-bit Color"
      • Scanning Quality: "Best"
      • Resolution: "2400 dpi"
      • Click on: "Configuration"
        • Select the "Color" tab
        • Select "ICM"
          • Source: "EPSON Standard"
          • Target: "Adobe RGB"
          • Note: If the "Adobe RGB" profile is not present download it from Adobe
        • Select OK
    • Click on "Preview"
    • Once the Preview appears, rotate the images as needed and deselect images you do not want to scan
    • Do the following before every scan:
      • Press the "All" button on the Preview Screen
      • Deselect "Unsharp Mask"
      • Select "DIGITAL ICE Technology", ensure that Quality mode is selected.
    • Select Scan
  • File Save Window appears
    • Choose the folder to write the images too
    • Under Image Format
      • Type: "TIFF (*.tif)"
    • Click on OK
  • Scanner will scan each image placing the TIFF uncompressed image in the folder specified above
  • Open Adobe Photoshop (LE version included with scanner)
    • Drag the tiff images into the Photoshop window
    • Perform Auto-Levels: CTRL-SHIFT-L
      • For most negatives this will result in exceptional images
      • For low quality negatives, or negatives in a really bad shape, sometimes it is better to only do "Auto Color".
      • Try it manually on a few slides first if you are not sure
    • Save as JPEG, with compression level 10
This will result in images equivalent to 8 mega pixel pictures taken with a good digital SLR. Not bad considering many of our pictures with taken with a low end "point and  shoot camera" over a decade ago.

Notes:
  • If "Unsharp Mask" above is not deselected it will result in "grainy" pictures when viewed on an LCD
  • Going above 2400 DPI does not result in better images as the standard 35mm negatives do not have sufficient detail.
    • Give it a try yourself scan the same image at 2400dpi and 4800dpi, then zoom in under photoshop and you will see that the 4800dpi image just becomes blurry beyond 2400dpi.
    • 4800 dpi only results in larger files and longer scan time without any additional detail
    • If professional high-resolution 35mm film was used however, a higher resolution may lead to more detail. The Epson can go all the way to 6900 dpi.
  • The Basic and Home Modes both force the selection of "Unsharp Mask" resulting in grainy images when viewed at full size
  • It takes about 3 minutes per image using the above settings, which equates to almost 1.5 hours. Thankfully the scanner takes upto 12 negatives (usually 8 depending on where your film was developed) at a time. You can walk away and let the scanner do all the cropping and separation of the images into separate files.
    • With lesser/cheaper scanners you are often left to do the cropping yourself, one image at a time. Painful !
Seeing Circles on your images:
When the negatives are not properly packed by the lab when the pictures were developed, some of the negatives start to bend or curl. The curling causes circular artifacts to appear in scanned images across the center of the image. To get rid of these artifacts put the negative in the scanner face-up. I.e. with the bend facing upwards. I found this fixed the problem every time. Others have mentioned another technique: an anti-newton glass insert can be purchased for about $40 that lies on top of the film to make it level.

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