Scanned film is sort of a worst-of-both-worlds scenario, with a few exceptions:

a) you want the pictures on film for archival longevity (not an automatic advantage with color materials, esp. color neg);

b) you know you might also want to make conventional prints (also not an automatic decision, since I know at least one photographer who burns digital images to film and then prints them conventionally);

c) you need your new pictures to match your old ones, which you'll be reprinting from scanned negs.

The disadvantage of scanning is that it's easy to get a mediocre scan but almost crazy-making (well, for me, anyway) to make a really good scan (using an older 35mm film scanner. You might have better luck with sheet film and one of the newest Epson pro flatbeds, which are rumored to do very well with sheet film).

The principle advantages of digital are 1. instant, faster-than-Polaroid visual feedback, 2. no per-image cost, and 3. no processing labor requirements. To give up all three of those advantages and add in the disadvantages of scanning would logically require that you have one of the explicit purposes mentioned (a., b., or c.) in mind.

I suppose there's a fourth reason, d) you like the feel of the old hair shirt, although I would question even that, because unlike the case with many alt-proc methods your work isn't badged with the hair-shirt logo....

I can name one more reason: highlight gradation. Scanning B&W or chromogenic film might be better than straight digital capture in this regard, and the Fuji S3's SuperCCD SR II sensor promises greater dynamic range, which may in some cases improve gradation; however, I question whether there is actually any way to get the rich highlight gradation of traditional B&W materials with any sort of digital setup. At any rate, I'd have to see it before I believe it.

I say this as someone who was an early champion of hybrid wet/dry methods and as someone who still periodically mulls over going back to 35mm Tri-X, scanned and then printed digitally, for reasons a. and c.


Featured Comment by Nicholas Hartmann: I found that scanning allowed me to pull more shadow detail out of a given negative than I could ever obtain with an enlarger, but often at the cost of compressed, pasty-looking highlights. In my experience, scanning was ideal for inorganic materials—landscapes, cityscapes, stone walls, architecture, etc.—shot in relatively low, flat light, i.e. thin negatives with little contrast. It yielded poor results for portraits and for any negative with appreciable density: a "correctly" exposed negative that would "fall" onto the paper all too often produced nasty, compressed, blotchy skin tones.

Nicholas Hartmann, Italy—Gubbio, Via Galleotti

So I have on my wall several pictures of old stone streets in Italian hill towns, scanned from negatives in which the thin parts would print under the enlarger as a sea of mud, that look absolutely terrific. But since I seem to have drifted very far away from pictorialism, and now care mostly about accumulating pictures of people so that I can be reminded some day of what they looked like at a particular time in the past, I find that digital capture, even using a small digicam sensor at, say, 7 megapixels, is ideal: much faster, much better results in terms of being able to fine-tune everything very quickly with a RAW converter, and more than adequate resolution for the 4x6" prints that I am now making. I especially don't miss spending literally hours of time getting rid of all the dust spots that I could so much more easily see on the scans—and therefore could not resist removing.

Featured Comment #2 by Mike Peters: I shoot with an EOS 1ds Mk2 for all of my commercial clients and for myself I shoot with either a Hasselblad or a 4x5 and color negative. I've been shooting for 30 years, scanning for 12, and shooting digital professionally since the release of the original EOS 1d.

I have to say that shooting digi is far easier to deal with than film when it comes to being productive under deadline. You can shoot anywhere from iso 100-3200 and get incredible results and images almost always look like they were shot with a larger format.

However, with digi, tonality and resolution are pretty much determined by the chip in your camera. I shoot raw exclusively with a pretty darn good piece of technology and fully expolore the limits of the medium on a daily basis.

My experience is that I can get much more from a color neg than from a raw file, if the neg is scanned properly with a good scanner. You cannot get all that a neg has to offer with any flatbed. For my own shooting, I use fuji z800 and have no problem getting good highlight or shadow details. I can scan these 6x6 negs at a resolution that allows uninterpolated printing 30 inches square with a film scanner at 4000dpi. I use a 1500$ Microtek 120tf, scan raw using silverfast, and get images of equal quality to an Imacon.

On the other hand, scanning is labor and time intensive, but when you are done, you have a perfect hi-res file that is ready for anything. The learning curve is steep, much steeper than shooting with a digital camera, but the results can be much more rewarding in the end if you take the time to learn how to do it correctly.


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