Making Colour Negative Proof Sheets With a Scanner

November 8, 2012

When I had good access to a colour darkroom I had all my C-41 colour neg film processed at a pro lab and then made my own colour proof sheets. Losing access to the darkroom (it closed) caused me to shoot less colour as I can’t justify the expense of commercial proof sheets. I could get 4×6 prints from a minilab but I hate ending up with so many envelopes stuffed with prints of bad photos. Black and white is easy by comparison – I process and make the proof sheets myself. Proof sheets, or some way of seeing all the photos in sequence, are very important for learning which photos worked and which didn’t, and perhaps understanding why. Now that I’m processing my own C-41 for about $1.50 to $2.00 per roll I need a good system for making contact sheets, which is going to have to be done with a scanner. This is my current method and it is working quite well. I don’t claim to be an expert and someone who knows more than me might point out things I’m doing wrong, but this system is reasonably fast and serves its purpose. What I’m after is a contact sheet that shows all the frames from a roll together at a resolution I can view on screen at a decent size without the file being overly large.

I’m using an Epson V 700 scanner and the standard Epson software. The film in this example was Portra 400 120 exposed in a 1970s Diana that rolled the film loosely causing some light leaks. Fortunately the 4x4cm image size means the bulk of the leaks didn’t hit the image. I use the standard 120 film holders with two strips of film, emulsion side up. I choose 24 bit colour (same as 8 bit) at 300 ppi and do a preview scan on the Normal setting rather than Thumbnails. Thumbnails separates all the frames whereas Normal gives me a birds eye view of the holders so I can select all the frames on a strip.

The only adjustment setting I use on the Epson is the Histogram to get the density and colour reasonably correct. I say reasonably because ideally this would be done for one frame at a time, not multiple frames. However it works OK if the selected frames were in the same location with roughly the same exposure. With the Histogram window open I drag the output sliders to the edges, i.e. 0 and 255 – this stops the scanner from clipping any of the information in the film. Then I select each of the colour channels – Red, Green and Blue – and move the outside sliders until the points line up with the left and right edges of the histogram. Some fine tuning is often required here as the film rebate can play a part whereas I want to be adjusting for just the image. The screen grab below shows this for the blue channel.

Once this is done I scan the strip at 300ppi at actual size and repeat until all the frames are done. I open them in Photoshop, rotate if necessary and copy and paste them into a new document, flatten the layers and save as a jpeg with compression level 9. This gives a file around 3mb that can be viewed on screen with the potential to zoom in reasonably close to individual frames. I will then use this to study the roll at my leisure and to decide if there are any good photos that I might come back to in the future.



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