Scanning Film The Right Way

A couple of days ago, while browsing 35mmc, I came by an article written by Mark Sperry on scanning at home with a Pacific Image XA. He mentioned (my interpretation), that scanning isn’t easy: To get great images, you have to put some effort into learning how to use the scanner and the software. As mentioned before in my posts, I haven’t figured out how to get scanned negatives to look the way I would expect them to look. Mark’s blog post inspired me to look for some tips and tricks for my scanner, a Nikon CoolScan LS-9000 ED.

I found an essential step in the release notes of VueScan (see “Scanning Roll of Film”): Locking the exposure and locking the film base colour. I missed that before. Furthermore, I took inspiration from Kenneth Morris Lee and his ”Scanning Tips with Epson and VueScan Software” to get a flat image for further processing in DxO PhotoLab. ColorPerfect has some nice tips on how to set up the Nikon Scan software, where I took a hint from the “Improving quality by use of analogue gain” section.

To test my new insights, I dug through my archive of scans for a good example. I chose the one that you can see above: It was taken in the Zoo in Munich. It was one of my first colour scans and I think I just used Auto Levels for colour correction in VueScan. It has a nasty colour cast towards yellow/orange that I did not know how to fix. At the time, I probably thought that this is what Kodak Ektar looks like. I found the negative neatly tucked away in a sleeve in my collection and went to work.


The process begins with getting the correct exposure and film base colour locked in. I tend to cut the film to get as many pictures as possible into the film holder of the scanner. Given that these are medium format 6x7 negatives, I had two frames on one strip. The clear area between both frames, or the border of a frame, are a good area to use for exposure and film base colour locking. (For information of how to do this, please read the VueScan release notes: Scanning Roll of Film)

After locking the film base colour, you can find the values in the “Color” tab of VueScan (they are named as “Film base colours red/green/blue”). As an additional step, I set the analogue gain on the input tab to “1 divided by the film base colour value” and remove the film base colour lock afterwards. This corrects for the film base colour by telling the scanner to expose longer/shorter for each colour channel instead of simply multiplying by the factor detected when locking. I took the idea from the Nikon Scan tips on the ColorPerfect page. The benefit compared to multiplication is questionable, but the idea of getting a bit more colour accuracy makes me feel enthusiastic.

All other settings of VueScan are the usual, with exception for the tips for “Curve low”, “Curve high” and “Film Vendor” found in the ”Scanning Tips with Epson and VueScan Software” guide. The resulting scan can be seen above this section. It is a bit dark and flat, just how I wanted it.

DxO Photolab

The image from the previous section, saved as a 16 bit per channel TIFF file, was opened in DxO PhotoLab for colour correction and a bit of colour grading. I started with the “RGB white balance” tab and used the picker on the bright tree trunk on the left of the image. I never know what to pick in the image, so I try some spots where I think it may give me the correct balance until I am satisfied. Next is a combination of the “Exposure compensation” and the “Tone curve” tab: If the image is too dark/bright, adjust the exposure. If the image is too flat, try adding contrast by adjusting the gamma value. Adjusting gamma changes the perceived brightness of the image, so you may need to tweak the exposure compensation, and vice versa.

The result of my efforts is above this section. If you compare it to my first try on top of this post, I think the colours look a lot better and the colour cast is gone. I did overdo it with the gamma correction: The image is a bit too contrasty. It serves well as an example of how much “depth” you can get out of a flat image, though.

And there you have it: I may not yet get perfect results, but I am a lot closer to scanning film the right way.

Using Format