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Processing 3F Files in FlexColor Software

2nd May 2019 Scanning, Image Editing

The 3F system is unique to Imacon scanners, and wonderfully powerful - undoubtedly it gives you, the image maker, the best chance to make the best possible scans from your originals.

In short, the scanner produces a RAW file that you can then use a 'virtual scanner' to process and re-process to your hearts content to extract every last bit of detail and quality from your film. This is of particular benefit with colour negative materials that can be very tricky to deal with in a lab environment with limited time per scan, and we strongly recommend requesting 3F scans for all colour negative work. We can also do 3F scans with positives and black and whites of course.

We provide you with the raw scans, and the Flexcolor software. While it does mean a bit more work on your part, it is without question the path to the best scanning results.

One of the great things about our Imacon Flextight 949 scanner is that it gives you that chance to produce a proper RAW 3F file, and then 'develop' this raw file on a Virtual Scanner in the FlexColor software. 

This allows you to get the best possible results with (in particular) negative film, as you can experiment with all the features & profiles available in FlexColor for colour negative processing. You can also use this process with positive and monochrome materials, but there's little benefit given how perfect the default results are with those - we feel it's really only with colour negative that the extra effort of this process is really worth it.  Of course if you want 3F with other film types than colour negative we'll be happy to do that.

This is precisely the way this scanner actually works - one type of RAW scan is done at the sensor level, and all the downstream processing is done in software from there. There are no disadvantages to this approach other than an initial learning curve. But once this approach is mastered, it is without doubt the path to the best possible results, as you will be able to experiment much more widely with profiles and settings than our normal scan service time would allow. 

Because colour negative is such a widely variable material, even very good profiles are by no means all it takes to get the best possible scans. And often it works better to use a counter intuitive approach, like use a Fuji profile with Kodak film - it's very unpredictable.

How to Use FlexColor Software

We can't of course offer extensive support/training for FlexColor and you'll have to learn on your own time, but it's not hard and Flexcolor's tools behave much like any other imaging application's tools.

The basic approach is this:

  1. Typically we provide the software to you, otherwise you can download the FlexColor software & instruction manual here.
  2. Install the software
  3. Install the extra film negative profiles also found in the installation package
  4. Run FlexColor - use the preferences to put it in 'Scanner Only' mode, and then re-start FlexColor
  5. Now you must use the 'Thumnails' (AKA 'ScratchPad') functionality - open the Thumbnails drawer (using the icon with a little grid of nine squares - see screeenshot below) and point it at the RAW files you have received from us

    You then point the Scrathpad to your folder of images on your computer (see screenshot below)
  6. Double click to open a particular file, and then process it in FlexColor using the various tools -

    Start by experimenting with different base film types (profiles) until you get a starting point you like, then use the other tools (curves etc) to refine to your liking.

    Remember when you change each base film type to hit the 'A' button to trigger it to apply the new profile!

  7. Set the desired output size values for your TIFF.
  8. Save your completed 'scan' as a TIFF.
  9. You can repeat this process and do things like two scans, for example one for highlights, one for shadows, then merge the TIFFs in Photoshop.
  10. There is a more visual guide to the process here

Of course you will need to experiment with the software and develop a feel for how it works over time.  The key tools for adjustments are first the chosen profile, then the levels and curves.

Although this may take some time, once you become comfortable with the FlexColour software you will have a very powerful workflow that can give you complete control of your scanning outcomes.