Scanning BW film
November 9, 2008 12:43 PM   Subscribe

How should I scan b/w film negatives?

I'm scanning my whole 35mm film negative archive in hi res, and there are a couple of black and white films among them. Will I get better results if I scan them in color, and convert them afterwards, or could I just scan them in b/w directly? Is there any reason why I shouldn't do the latter?
posted by lord_yo to Technology (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd suggest colour. There doesn't seem much point in throwing away information during scanning, get it in your digital archive in as much depth as possible, so you're never even tempted to scan it again. Colour channels might make it easier to edit out some dust later, or to show the photo with a bit of sepia warmth that isn't faked, or use software that converts to monotone with a bit more control than the default scanning software... or who knows?

I'm talking out my ass, but storage is cheap, so I don't see much reason to discard information at this point just for the sake a smaller file size.

And pure computer monotone really is cold and flat. A bit of colour in the monochrome adds to it, IMHO, even if that colour is not "meant" to be there.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:17 PM on November 9, 2008

Personally, I'd scan them in colour and keep them that way.

This link (#1 on google for "scanning black and white film") has some interesting analysis.

And this (Google's #4) is the flickr community's take.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:19 PM on November 9, 2008

Scanning in color gives you more control over how to convert to grayscale while taking the color cast of the negative itself into account. Doing this at the time of scanning is less flexible. More data is better than less data, and color = more data.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 1:21 PM on November 9, 2008

Agree with the others: the shades of grey in a film negative really don't fit into the computer's definition of gray being n-number of values between either black or white.
posted by nathan_teske at 1:49 PM on November 9, 2008

If they're chromogenic b&w (XP2, BW400CN), probably colour. If they're real silver b&w, your scanner may have to go through some special hoops to deal with the more reflective image layer to cut down on noise -- and then it may only give you greyscale output.
posted by scruss at 2:16 PM on November 9, 2008

Best answer: Not all "black and white" is created equal.

There is "real" black and white, sometimes called 'silver halide' B&W. These are films that have been around for almost 100 years in some cases, like Kodak Tri-X, Plus-X, and T-Max.

Then there are 'chromogenic' B&W films, which are not really 'black and white' at all, but really just monochrome color film. They're processed in color chemicals and came out about 10 or 15 years or so (maybe longer, my memory is foggy) to make it easier for amateurs to shoot and get B&W processed.

The easy way to tell is that silver-halide negatives will be be gray or clear with black negative images on them, while chromogenic B&W will be orange with greyish-dark images on them.

In general ... silver-halide film should be scanned using your film scanner's black-and-white mode, while chromogenic film should be scanned using color negative mode. This is because in the case of chromogenic film, the orange film base has to be removed, and B&W mode probably won't do that — the result will leave your negs washed out and lacking in contrast.

I have heard people from time to time advocate scanning all B&W negs — including silver halide — in color mode, and then picking one or the other of the color channels in Photoshop afterwards and making a monochrome image out of it. This, in theory, gives you lots of flexibility in post-processing. I have found that it does not work well on my film scanner, and I get much better results using the actual black-and-white mode (and then picking a channel to construct the B&W image from pre-scan; I typically use green or red, your software may or may not allow you to control this). A better way to achieve what the scan-B&W-as-color tries to do, is to use software that produces RAW files, and then post-process from the RAWs into 16b greyscale TIFFs or whatever other output format you desire.

Also, I use VueScan — it's much better than the bundled software that comes with most scanners, and it's a steal compared to commercial packages that do the same thing. It has a steep learning curve, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:43 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did all of mine in color, inverted then grayscaled. Came out great.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:26 PM on November 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all for your recommendations!
posted by lord_yo at 9:11 PM on November 9, 2008

« Older How to use Statistics to Figure out Maximum...   |   French-English dictionary, svp Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.