Colour Negative Film Scans

21st September 2015 Scanning


Colour from negative film is very tricky, as negative film varies so much. It's extremely difficult to get anything resembling really accurate colour from a negative whether it is scanned or printed. The reason for this is, ultimately, the orange mask and the completely variable processing of colour negative that occurs. (This is one of the main reasons that transparency film is/was typically used when colour accuracy is required, and even then, there's more variance between film runs than you might think!). This is why ColourChecker charts and clip tests are part of the further collection of techniques and equipment required for colour consistency.

We offer two types of negative scanning - the first, and our general recommendation - is Imacon 3F Raw scans.  The second approach is classic scans to TIFF format.

​Imacon 3F Raw Scans

Here, we produce a raw file for you using our scanner and provide you with the Flexcolor software to do your own processing of that raw file.  This essentially gives you a virtual scanner and you can produce as many TIFFs as you like from the raw file.  You will of course need to learn the software, but this gives you complete freedom to experiment far beyond the time allowance we can allow here for a typical scan - and this can lead to dramatically better results once you've mastered the technique.

E.g. this process allows you to do exotic things like produce two TIFFs, one processed for shadows and another for highlights, then merge those in Photoshop - which will help you achieve a much longer tonal range than a single scan ever can produce, and allows you to take better advantage of the wide exposure latitude of colour negative film.

While this is definitely more work at your end, it's by far the best way to really high quality, consistent results - it's puts all the power in your hands to make the interpretative decisions during the processing from negative to positive.

You can read more about this process:

Classic Negative Scans

When we do a classic negative scan, we do not completely colour balance files, or try to colour match proof prints. 

Our aim is to get maximum detail from the negative and put the image in a position whereby a small amount of editing will get it into very good shape, with around 5% movement or less. The result is scans from the negative that are likely to be flatter than you expect and close, but not yet perfect colour. We do this to put you into a good position for fine print work. We deliberately provide a flatter scan, as this retains maximum detail, rather than providing perfect colour which is subjective anyway.

To do this, we start from a base point with respect to a film type. From there, depending on what has been supplied and the conversation we've had, we may or may not tweak the base point slightly in some direction. The adjustments are typically minor, as in the end, you're best off making these adjustments for yourself post-scan. What is important is to understand that the scans are deliberately unfinished and only one part of the whole process of achieving the fine print.

Very thin, very dense, and very contrasted negatives (i.e. over or under developed, or poorly exposed) can be particularly difficult to scan. We will try if requested but may result in muddy/noisy scans in these cases. Generally speaking, if you can print the negatively reasonably, it can be scanned reasonably.