Apr 042011
 

I cracked out my Nikon Coolscan 4000 ED over the weekend to digitize some of my old 35mm negatives from back in the day. This weekend’s project: A trip to Oahu, Hawaii my sisters and I took back in April of 1980. During that trip I shot over 300 frames using Kodacolor II ISO 100 and 400. At that time, one month shy of my 16th birthday, my addiction to photography was clearly in full swing.

Easter, 1980

Easter at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, 1980

My goal was to see how quickly I could batch scan 300+ negatives at a decent resolution for archival digital storage, while restoring the color to something recognizable given that the negatives probably faded a bit over the past 31 years.

Pineapple Plantation, Oahu

Pineapple Plantation, Oahu

My software tool of choice was VueScan by Hamrick Software, running in 64-bit mode on Mac OS X Snow Leopard. VueScan is quite simply the best software for driving my Nikon film scanner, especially since Nikon’s software, Nikon Scan, was never very good to begin with and Nikon stopped making film scanners and software about 2 years or so ago. One great feature about VueScan is that it has embedded color profiles for dozens of color negative and slide films. All you need to do is reference the film type etched on your negatives against VueScan’s film type database, select the corresponding profile, and 8 times out of 10 you’ll get acceptable results right out of the box.

Waimea Falls Dive, April 1980

Waimea Falls Dive, April 1980

Since my negatives are so old, I also enabled VueScan’s features for restoring colors and fading. This jacked up the contrast and saturation of my scans, but made them much more usable without the need for further post-processing in Photoshop. This aspect of the workflow is important because I have 6,000 more negatives in my library that I’d like to scan someday, so ideally I want a fast, single-pass solution for cranking out so many scans.

The next question: How big should each scan be in terms of pixel resolution? VueScan has different pre-defined scan resolution settings for different needs. At the top of the heap is the “Archive” setting, which cranks out 5,600 x 3,600 pixel scans with the Coolscan – big enough to print billboards with disk space requirements to match. I chose the “Edit” setting, which is one notch below the “Archive” setting at 2,800 x 1,800 pixels, but still big enough to make 8×10″ prints, which for these old shots is good enough for me. I saved the files as uncompressed, 24-bit RGB TIF files. These files came to about 15.5Mb apiece. I could have saved as JPEG files at roughly 5.5Mb apiece, but I found through trial and error that with these old negatives the JPEG compression really jacked up the colors.

Old Man at Waikiki Beach, April 1980

Old Man at Waikiki Beach, April 1980

Once I got everything figured out I started scanning. Every image in this post is a straight scan, no post-processing. Not too bad for such old negatives.

My sisters and I in Oahu, April, 1980

My sisters and I in Oahu, April, 1980

(The reason I’m standing so funny is because I was recovering from a dislocated right hip I received in a car accident almost a year earlier.)

Using my Coolscan unit with the SA-21 strip film feeder plus the VueScan settings outlined above, I scanned 301 negatives in about 15 hours, spread over 5 scanning sessions in 3 days. That works out to about 20 scans per hour… not too bad. This means my remaining 6,000 negatives will require about 300 more hours of scanning, if I decide to do it myself. Is it worth it, or should I delegate to ScanCafe?

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