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.

First shots on my Mamiya m645

I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about scanning a roll of film before. About two weeks ago, I got my first big-girl medium format camera, a Mamiya m645 1000s, off eBay. I promptly ordered the 120 version of my favorite film: Kodak Portra 400. That first roll was meant to simply get me adjusted to the new camera and film format, so mostly I just shot around the house. These are my first few scans of many more to come. I’m stoked to spend my weekend shooting more with this camera. (If anyone has any tips on how to avoid the lines cutting across my photographs, please comment or send me a message!)

Portrait: Uncle Gerry at Breakfast

When I was younger, I was really close with my uncle Gerry. Unfortunately, we became much less close when my family moved away from him and my aunt, and even less close when I went to college and moved permanently across the state. In early August, he came to breakfast with me and my aunt while I was visiting. It was the first time I’d seen him in a few years. I don’t think he believed that my old rangefinder actually worked.

Out of Massachusetts: Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market

Visiting the Reading Terminal Market was far and away the best part of our trip to Philadelphia earlier this month, mostly because food is the one thing we will always, always, always treat ourselves to, especially when trying something new.

I have vague memories of visiting the Market when I was younger. My dad’s family is from the Philadelphia area, and is remember visiting the city right after my uncle moved from the suburbs into one of the densely-packed brownstone townhouse neighborhoods that span block after square block. My memory of this first visit is faint and consisted mostly of younger, shorter Ellie looking up at a lot of things; it’s basically a haze of sensory overload. That same sensory overload hit me again after walking into the Reading Terminal Market with Brian over a decade later. We didn’t know where to begin, and wound up eating three full meals before our two-or-so hour trip was over.

Of the three mornings we had in Philadelphia, we spent two at the market stuffing our faces. It was lovely to wake up in the morning and take a brisk 20-minute walk to the market for fresh doughnuts made by Amish bakers (the best doughnuts either of us have ever had), cheese steaks, brisket and locally-brewed beer.

Now if only we had one of these in the Pioneer Valley…





Out of Massachusetts: the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia

As a birthday gift to myself, I took a weekend trip to Philadelphia with Brian to visit my uncle, aunt and cousin, who I haven’t seen in about a year and a half. My uncle’s house is in the perfect location for all the things we wanted to see and do — everything was within a 30-minute walk. The first full day we were there, we visited the Eastern State Penitentiary. I’d been wanting to see it for a long time, ever since taking a class on prisons and related literature when I was in college. There’s a lot of history behind those walls; it was the first big prison built in the United States, was built slowly over a period of decades (with some sections even built using prisoner labor) and you can clearly see the differences in the ways different cell blocks we’re put together. The place was cold the day we visited, almost a veritable wind tunnel, which further demonstrates the conditions in which the prisoners lived as the structure didn’t have heat while it was operational.



Kids with Cameras: Superbowl 2014 Party

I’m not much of a sports fan (well, I like hockey, but it’s pretty much the only sport I can watch without getting bored), so when we were invited to a Superbowl party at Brian’s friends’ house earlier this month, I got more excited about doodling and running around with the kids I knew would be there with their parents. Knowing that Sage and Mona, two of my favorite little girls on this earth, would be there, I brought a few cameras for them to have some fun with (along with some nail polish since they love painting everyone’s nails). It took a few weeks to find the time to get these rolls done, but I love their shots.