Brian's Photo Blog — Article 249
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What I've Learned Scanning 2,000 Slides
Wednesday 29 May 2013   —   Category: Processing
Self-portrait in my sister’s glasses, King’s Beach, north Lake Tahoe,
Summer 1977, when I was 15.
I wrote earlier this month that I had, after much diddle-dally, finally fin­ished cleaning about 1,340 of my old slides from the 1970’s. Now, three or four weeks later, I have finally finished scanning those slides I cleaned, bring­ing the grand total up to 2,032. To the right and below you can see some of the images I recently scanned.

During this project I have been learn­ing a lot about the ins and outs of scanning, as well as about processing the scans in Adobe Lightroom. The in­sights I have gained might be useful to you in your own scanning projects.

First, let’s look at the scanning end of things. Because I am using an Epson V500 Photo scanner, I am also using the bundled, quirky Epson Scan software. After quite a bit of experimenting, I found that it was best to turn OFF ALL of the adjustments, including sharpening (unsharp mask), color restoration, grain reduction, dust removal and/or Digital ICE, and any other type of adjustment or processing.

100% crop of my grandfather’s shirt. Notice the jagged
edges created by the Digital ICE technology.
Click on image to see the scan without Digital Ice.
What I discovered during my trial and error scans was that the scanning soft­ware sometimes made incorrect choic­es, or went too far in its adjustments. The promising Digital ICE technology did remove dust and scratches from the scanned images, but often it also added unsightly artifacts.

You can see an example of this in the image to the right. A lot of the edges on the collar of the shirt and on the edges of the tie are jagged and have unnatural artifacts added by the Digital ICE technology. These are harder to correct than the original dust the Digital ICE is attempting to remove. Click on the image to see the non-ICE version, which is much smoother and more natural.

My cousin Jeff at the bottom of his pool, Spring 1977.
On the left is the non-color-corrected scan.
After a number of attempts, I de­ter­mined that Digital ICE created more problems than it fixed, because the dust and scratches would be easier to fix by hand than would the Digital ICE ar­ti­facts. My slides already had enough issues without unnecessarily adding more hard-​to-​fix problems!

Sometimes the scanning software color correction would improve an image, but other times it would make it look much worse. I found that I could obtain the same results in Lightroom — as you can see in the two images to the right — so there was really no reason to use the color correction in the scanning software.

Lightroom’s Split Toning
color correction panel
Speaking of Lightroom, it has an awesome feature which is vital for obtaining the best color-correction results. The Split Toning panel allows you to make separate color-correction adjustments for the lighter parts of the image and for the darker parts of the image. For a significant number of slides I scanned, this is the only way to fix the color problems.

As I began to process the slide images in Lightroom, I quickly dis­cov­ered that many of them had major shifts in the color. And very often, there was more than one shift: one in the highlights and a different one in the shadows. If I tried a global adjustment, the image still didn’t look right. It wasn’t until I started adjusting the color shifts separately with Split Toning that I achieved good results.

At first it takes some amount of trial and error to work out your own system, but I found that in a relatively short time I have learned which Lightroom settings will achieve the look I’m after, and then I can process the images faster. I think that Adobe Photoshop is still much better at cleaning up the dust and scratches, but the upcoming Lightroom 5 will be getting some new Photoshop-like capabilities in this area — specifically the improved Advanced Healing Brush.

Adobe Lightroom 5’s Visualize Spots viewing
mode makes it easy to see all the dust
spots in the sky above Yosemite’s Half Dome.
The new Visualize Spots feature — which shows a negative monochrome version of the image — makes it easy to see the blemishes which need to be fixed, as you can see in the photo to the right. Even so, I still think that Photoshop is a better overall tool for re­pair­ing image problems like these.

So, in summary, if you want the best results from your film scans, particularly if it is old film, I suggest that you turn OFF ALL image correction in your scanning software, and perform the corrections yourself for each individual photo. Of course, this method will take more time, but if you’re like me, you value quality results over speed. Lightroom is able to make all the image corrections that scanning software can, and more! And because YOU are in control of the settings in Lightroom, you can get the pleasing results you want, rather than what the software “thinks” is proper.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 249
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Reader Comments
On March 25, 2016, Lin Tsai wrote:
I’ve been scanning old super-8 movies, 15 frames per scan(!), on my V500 at 4800dpi. At first, I just turned off ALL image correction. I pick up each scan and pass it to an Applescript/Photoshop action I concocted which splits frames into single images, applies the auto correct, remove lens blur (6 pixels) and copies frames to make it up to 24fps. This was very good but the dirt and fibres on the film was very evident and distracting. So I turned on ICE - Quality. It neatly removed dust and hairs, but introduced edge artifacts, like over-sharpening, as you found. With 3 hours of film to do, at 24fps, that’s 259,200 images to edit — hardly a photoshop-by-hand job. Only 148,680 to go! I am interested if you find a way to use ICE without getting the edge effects.
On March 27, 2016, Brian wrote:
In response to Lin Tsai — Although I scanned my 2,000 slides, I have yet to process them in Lightroom and/or Photoshop. It hasn’t been a priority for me ... the main point was to get them in digital format. For now, I am much more busy with my Portland photo outings and cooking and food photography. Perhaps in the future, if and when I become too decrepit for such activities, I will just stay at home and turn my attention to fixing up those old slides. Sorry I can’t be of more help.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 249
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