My question is about scanning color 35mm film. I use professional film (Portra 400) and a very good lab. I get consistent results and prints.

This year i have invested in semi-pro or pro scanner Reflecta 10T with expensive SilverFast Ai Studio 8. And I intend to scan 35mm film for printing purposes. My goal is to have very high quality 30 x 40 inch prints.

Scanner is giving me fantastic results: 230 MB, 7052 x 4715 pixels (33,5 MP) TIFFs with great natural/crisp film grain and overall great look.

BUT the colors are off. Always. I use NegaFix (piece of SilverFast) with the correct Portra 400 profile and I try to put accurate WHITE, BLACK and GREY points (where they are in picture) but I never get consistent and real results. Pics are never "right", always off, always too bright or too warm (or too cold).

I read all forums about how scanning is difficult and about SilverFast and VueScan, Color perfect and Photoshop but everywhere people have problems getting colors right.

My questions are:

  1. Should I just continue this guessing game and try to somehow spot the right color everytime?

  2. Have you tried putting Grey Card 18% and set this as a correct exposure in scanning soft or Lightroom and color balance from there?

  3. Have you tried putting Color Balance Card (White, Black, Grey) to help scanning software determine exposure and color balance and color balance from there?

  4. Have you tried X-Rite's Color Checker Passport or other color calibration target to set full color correction this way?

  5. If yes, what about film bias. (Portra 160 more pastel, Ektar 100 a lot more vivid) Wouldn't it just get you to the POINT ZERO with film where you have no film specific properties?

The goal is to have as close to 35mm film scanned image as possible, without any interpretation. Just what you get from film processed neutral and printed neutral. To see real film color specific for it's kind. I just want to see good Portra 400 on my screen.

Thanks for your time.

  • How do you know it is the scanner and not your monitor? – Michael C Feb 27 '17 at 13:33
  • Well, it is not. I use Datacolor Spyder5PRO for calibration. – user61134 Feb 27 '17 at 14:20
  • Have you tried to scan developped pictures? If you are willing to sacrifice some material, try to get picture of defined colour palette, have it developped and complare results (both onscreen and print) to the palette. Maybe several times using different cartriges and have it developped separately. Chemical colour development is really, really hard work and I think colour film was not meant to be scanned at all. – Crowley Feb 27 '17 at 17:19
  • You should ask your lab to digitize your negatives (of your prints) and see how accurately THEY'VE scanned them, and compare them to your own scans (on your monitor); this'd be a first order calibration of your system. Having yours and their scan side by side in PS, you could record an "Action" that corrects your scans in accordance with the lab's, then use that action for all subsequent scans made for this film on your equipment. – Knob Scratcher Feb 28 '17 at 23:43
  • I know this is an old thread. Was just watching a video on YouTube by Nick Carver and he said that when scanning using NegaFix, you have to set the scan area inside the black. If you select outside the exposed frame, the colours are all wonky, but much proved results if you follow that rule. Apparently it is buried in the Ai Studio documentation somewhere. Hopefully that gets you better results. – Goetzfilm Sep 26 '18 at 0:27

Without being able to see the negatives in question, there are three things you should check:

  1. Monitor calibration: This can be ruled out somewhat if you can make two identical scans with the same parameters (curve, white/mid/black points, etc.).

  2. Backlight on your scanner: I have had issues with my own scanner where sometimes the backlight is set very bright and shows up in scanned slide images as overexposure in the blue RGB channel. In a negative color scan, this will manifest itself as a very bright or overexposed image as blue varies with the neutral density against negative color film. Use the histogram in silverfast to see where your samples actually lie in the resulting image versus your scan parameters before scanning. I stopped using my scanner once it became evident that this issue was random even when the histogram showed what should be a well-exposed or ETR image and the scanner couldn't deliver.

  3. Color Profile: Check to see that you're not editing images that are in a custom color profile tied to your scanner. For your needs, you will probably want the output profile to be Adobe RGB or sRGB. This issue is likely to manifest itself by encountering dull underexposed images or images with areas that have significant unexpected sample clipping (255s and 0s in 8bit channels).

It is possible that your negatives are also damaged or altered in some way, but you can check this by making and scanning test shots against a color target (such as an x-rite). Portra is considered to be among the more neutral color profile films, so if you are seeing too many swings in exposure rendition, you are probably having issues between the scanner and your final image, likely silverfast or the scanner driver is making assumptions in applying gain from the sample data, or you have a bad scanner as mentioned above.

Regarding your fifth point, it may be possible to get pretty close to 100% neutral rendition in image midtones with Portra (particularly Portra 160, the least saturated of the Portra family), but most film emulsions actually have less dynamic range and different color response and contrast than DSLR / digital images, which can get much closer to a realist interpretation. What you interpret as good portra 400 may actually be the result of people using similar workflows that are outside of a straight 50% gray metering and calibrated workflow. Some people even overexpose portra 400 for the flat highlights for wedding photography. Even Kodak has mentioned that the goal of the modern Portra line is to be relatively color-neutral and to let the saturation of the final result be determined by a workflow.

Thus, consider shooting a color test card to see the actual variance versus core colors in film emulsions for yourself, and also make sure to take test shots in varying types of light (outdoor x daylight/evening/night, indoor x florescent/incandescent/flash). Without physical filtration, film does not have any natural white-balance built in (except for special tungsten-light editions, which are not made anymore). You can edit 50% gray in most images to get to the point zero you mention, but not the entire color gamut rendered by the film as every emulsion is designed with its own frequency response to the primary wavelengths of light. This is easy to observe when switching to slide films or orthochromatic vs panchromatic black&white films, and some are particularly far away from neutral, such as Fuji Velvia and anything developed using experimental emulsions (lomography) or development (cross-process, etc).

Footnote: One can't scan a gray card in a scanner to calibrate it because film is translucent and always gets scanned with a backlight in addition to the scanning light. Hence, you have to shoot something that is 18% reflectant / 50% sample gray with your medium, then develop/convert it and see how it is interpreted by your workflow.

  • Thank you mekalarian for your answer. It seems that I should treat negative as a step in process of making the final image. Not to focus so much on getting accurate scan, but to post-proses it later. BUT! You have written that "Even Kodak has mentioned that the goal of the modern Portra line is to be relatively color-neutral and to let the saturation of the final result be determined by a workflow." could you point me to any source of this information. If this is so, than probably I should focus more on getting pretty flat and wide negative (also in terms of color) and do everything in post(?) – user61134 Mar 2 '17 at 8:22
  • It used to be on the sales / data sheet on the kodak website, but I visited it again recently looking for a citation and couldn't find it as the relevant pdfs are now gone. I agree with your note that it's probably best to do most if not all your color grading in post in your scenario, and you might consider switching to Portra 160 to see if it suits you better. – meklarian Mar 9 '17 at 5:39

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