Scanning negatives like a big girl: troubleshooting and proper flatbed scanners

As I posted before, I recently got into scanning my own 120 negatives. I was gifted a sweet photo scanner-printer combo, which I considered to be a step up from the clunky desktop 35mm negative scanner that I’d been using for over a year, which was on the cheap side and always left my scans with bright green corners that I constantly struggled to edit out. I felt that I was due for an upgrade, and in my excitement, I totally thought my new Epson XP-310 would get the job done sufficiently without me having to drop dime on something extravagantly pricey.

But I was so new to negative scanning using a flatbed that I didn’t know what to look for in a scanner if I was going to get the clear, pristine results I craved. In retrospect, at the time I didn’t even know that any scanner anywhere in the world had these few parts, or that they existed in any way.

What follows is a semi-embarrassing account of my reaching out online for an issue that I didn’t realize was relatively minor and easy to solve.

Whenever I’m having a technical issue that I need to troubleshoot, my first step is almost always Googling the problem and looking for a reliable forum with a few responses. I’ve had the most luck with Flickr group discussions since there are a lot of professionals who use Flickr and contribute to discussions and help hobbyist film photographers like me fix the problems they’re having. I find it really cool that communities exist where longtime photogs actively and constructively reach out to people who are just getting started and can explain things in basic terms. So I logged onto Flickr and started a discussion in one of the medium format-related groups I’d joined.

Within a day there were multiple responses detailing what my problem was and a few options on how to fix it.

Let’s dial it back a minute, though, so I can tell you what the problem was. I originally posted looking for a reason that (and a solution for) my photos would come out, at best, like this:

Brian shuffling cards, scanned on the XP-310

Lines! Lines lines lines, brightness minimal clarity and lines! I couldn’t edit it out, and though I’d found a tutorial in another Flickr discussion that looked like it gave good results, I didn’t want to wind up spending so much time on every single negative just to make it look the way it should if it was done with the proper scanner with no editing needed.

The XP-310, though a great photo printer that has consistently given me high-quality prints of my work, is very basic as far as scanners go. It’s meant for documents and photographs, not negatives. This is one of the first things my responders pointed out to me in the discussion. One responder told me that the better, more expensive film scanners have a part called an illuminator inside the scanner’s cover that moves with the bottom scanning mechanism and provides clear images. To be totally real, I felt like a moron for not figuring that part out on my own, but I was still glad to have the help and more of an explanation provided.

That same responder suggested a few other Epson scanners, one of which happened to be right within my budget. My free trial of Prime was still in effect, so I ordered an Epson V550 and got it the next day. It was less than $200 on Amazon and to me, has been worth every penny. It made me enthusiastic and excited to be shooting again, and it came with scanning masks for both 120 and 35mm film. All problems solved.

This is how my photos come out on the V550 (without sufficiently cleaning the glass first … my bad):

Brian shuffling cards, scanned on the V550

Needless to say, I’m totally satisfied and extremely happy. Online forums can be a great resource, especially when you know there are professionals reading your posts and taking the time to help you out. It makes it so much easier to hone your craft when you can find a community, real or online, that’s welcoming and constructive and doesn’t bully or mock those who are new to what the discussion is about.