Transparency and photo scanner advice sought.

Technically-oriented discussion of classic films on everything from 35mm to Blu-Ray
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Darren Nemeth
Posts: 1243
Joined: Tue Dec 18, 2007 11:58 am
Location: Waterford Township, Michigan

Transparency and photo scanner advice sought.

Unread post by Darren Nemeth » Mon Jan 04, 2010 12:23 am

I want to finally get a new scanner. Haven't owned one for over 9 years.

This will be used to scan 35mm and 16mm film frames from my rewind table, the 1907 projection exhibitor catalog mentioned here a bunch of times and old photos, particularly those I've been wanting to submit for consideration to the Silent Film calendar for years!

PC runs on Windows XP, spending limit is $200 and I narrowed it down to two scanners;

HP Scanjet G4050 ... 6838104040


Canon CanoScan 8800F ... 6838111015

Reading the reviews, I'm leaning toward the Canon.

Both have light box lids so I can just lay the film on the scanner, close the top and get a scan with no extra equipment.

My first question is about resolution, which I know nothing about. Can I get at least 2000 dpi per 35mm frame?

There are some short color animation from the 1910s I intend to scan frame by frame, compile the frames into a video file and burn to DVD. Will these scanners provide resolution better than HD specifications?

Would anyone here have either of these scanners and can comment on the pros and cons?

Will a print slightly wet with Vitafilm wreck the lightbox or scanner glass? Will putting glass between the film and light box solve the issue?

Can anyone share hints or tips on what I should know about these new scanners?

Thanks in advance!
Darren Nemeth
A new Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for my new book on early cinema "Conjurer's Catalogs." ... k-on-early

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Danny Burk
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Joined: Tue Dec 18, 2007 7:11 pm
Location: South Bend, IN

Unread post by Danny Burk » Mon Jan 04, 2010 1:11 am

Darren - I'm not familiar with the specific models that you list, but I can give you some info on flatbed scanners in general.

The first thing to know is that all flatbed manufacturers exaggerate their specifications. Many will claim resolution of 2000 or 2400 dpi, for example, but it's really just interpolated data; they typically have a true max resolution around 1200-1400 dpi. My drum scanner gets a true 4000 dpi, which is down to grain level; there are a few drum scanners that can get more, but they don't give any real benefit since they're just scanning increasing amounts of grain rather than actual detail.

DMax is the other thing that's always exaggerated; absolute max is 4.0 (attainable in theory but not in real life), yet some scanners claim to surpass 4.0! The best drum scanners will get 3.2-3.4 DMax, and flatbeds realistically get around 2.0-2.2 or thereabout. DMax is likely the less important factor for you; it's the deepest shadow (i.e. darkest area of the film) from which detail can be obtained. It's basically important only for color transparencies, because they are far denser than b&w or color negatives.

Another point to watch with flatbeds is that one doesn't always get optimum point of focus with the supplied film holders and/or the glass itself. I've heard of some users making their own custom holders, after testing to determine the best point of focus. You can probably check user reviews at or one of the other large photography forums, if you haven't already done this.

Wet (Vitafilm) film shouldn't harm the scanner glass; don't allow fluid to seep around the edges of the glass or it could damage the scanner. Many flatbed users use drum scanner mounting fluid (which is basically a glorified mineral oil), placing it on the flatbed's glass surface; this makes for a cleaner scan with greater detail, and can help minimize scratches and film damage. Same warnings, i.e. don't let it seep around the glass edges.

Film also tends to curl at the edges (losing focus), which is a problem for flatbeds. You can consider sandwiching it under another piece of glass (a microscope slide is OK for small pieces of film), but you will probably have to use drum scanner oil on both sides of the film to prevent "Newton Rings" (sort of a moire pattern that happens when dry film is pressed tightly between glass). Drum scanner oil is safe for (most) film as long as it's cleaned off with film cleaner within a few hours, although I have no idea whether it's safe to use on nitrate film.

Whether or not you use oil, expect to spend lots of time removing dust and other debris from the scans in Photoshop! This is a tedious but essential part of scanning.

Hope this helps,

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