Tag Archives: negative

Negative Lab Pro 2.0 Update

A while back, I bought the Lightroom plugin, Negative Lab Pro.  This is a plugin that converts digital images of negatives to a positive image.  I wrote about it in this post.  A short time ago, the developer brought out a version 2.0 upgrade to the plugin.  It turns out, the upgrade was free for those of us that had bought the original plugin.  I installed the upgrade to see how things have been improved. 

Initially, I was very disappointed.  The conversion process after the update seemed to be awful.  Things looked dark and blotchy and efforts to unconvert and reconvert the images didn’t help.  I was perplexed by this since a number of users had already exclaimed how happy they were with the update.  If in doubt, follow the old approach of closing stuff and restarting it.  I closed Lightroom and reopened it and whatever was wrong before was now fixed.  The conversion worked very well.  The controls have been expanded to give you a bit more to play with.  The main benefit I am seeing so far is in the color balancing.  Shots seem to have a more natural look to them without me having to work too hard on the color in the first place.  Shots like those with a lot of sky and an odd colored aircraft will still test the algorithm a lot but otherwise it seems to have a good handle on things.  It is also now able to handle frame edges without getting confused.  You can tell it how much of the edge to ignore which is a useful feature although I have got into the habit of cropping carefully already.

All in all, the upgrade seems to be a good one.  Since it hasn’t cost me anything, that is a nice thing to have.  It is also good to know that the developer is continuing to work on the product which holds out the hope of further upgrades to come.  I continue to recommend this to anyone that has been scanning their old negatives with a digital camera.

Negative Lab Pro

In previous posts I have described my efforts at scanning old negatives using a digital camera, macro lens and a light table.  I have had mixed success with the process for converting the negatives into positives with some films responding better than others.  I was okay with the output but thought things could be better.  A YouTube video showed up on my page that was about scanning negatives with a digital camera and I decided to watch to see if they did anything different to me.  The technique for shooting the negatives was similar enough but they introduced me to a Lightroom plugin called Negative Lab Pro.

I downloaded a trial of the software and gave it a go.  I was sufficiently impressed with the output that I stumped up the cash for the full version.  It isn’t cheap but, given that I can now use it on several thousand images, I figured it was worth the investment.  The plugin requires a small amount of effort.  I revert the images back to a normal San without any of my previous edits and conversions.  The first thing to do after that is to take a white balance reading from some of the visible edge of the film to neutralize any color shift.  Then you crop in on the image.  Apparently, it is important to avoid getting any unexposed edges in shot as this messes with the algorithm.

Then you open up the dialog box.  It analyses the image and does a conversion.  You then get some basic sliders to tweak the settings such as exposure and color balance.  There are some auto setting check boxes but I haven’t found them to be too helpful so far.  Then you click okay and the image is ready to do further editing in Lightroom.  You can also do batch conversions of images if you want although I think it is probably better to focus on individual processing.  I have been playing with this on a range of images so far and I like the results.  My old negatives are not that great and this is not going to suddenly make them amazing but I am impressed how much more I can get out of some of the scans using this software.

Update on the Negative Scanning

IMG_3820.jpgI wrote about the set up I had created for scanning negatives using a digital camera a while back.  Since writing that, I have been working on a lot more scans and have gained some additional experience.  This has resulted in a few changes to the configuration so I thought I would share those too.  Overall I am very happy with the results I am getting as a result of the updates.  Things could be better but that would involve considerably more expense and the need just isn’t there.

The first change I made was to use a different lens.  I had been using the 24-105.  It was pretty close to the film plane and was sensitive to getting the alignment spot on.  I had a few times when focus was not consistent across the shot.  I thought it might be better to try a longer lens further away and this proved to be a big help.  I have my old 100-400 still so I hooked that up.  It makes for a slightly higher position but I can use the zoom quite well although it needs more of the extension tubes to focus properly.  It does result in good focus although I tend to focus manually as the autofocus does not seem happy in this setup.

IMG_3822.jpgI was using Liveview quite a bit and I discovered that the old batteries I have were not lasting long at all.  Rather than buy new batteries, I went to Amazon and picked up an AC adaptor that replaces the battery for about $15.  Now I can scan as long as I like without having to have batteries charging in the background.

I also have modified slightly the light pad.  I found I was moving it around a lot more than I realized as I moved the negatives and swapped strips.  A little gaffer tape now holds it pretty much in place.  This means I can have the lens zoomed more closely to the full frame of the film which allows for a higher resolution scan.

With everything tethered in to Lightroom, the import process is pretty smooth.  The preset I use is okay but I am regularly tweaking for the white balance and exposure.  This is not too big of a deal.  I find I can get better detail out of the shots than was possible with the scanner and using the raw convertor gives me plenty to work with.  They are still limited by the quality of the original shots of course!

Overall I am very pleased.  I can scan a lot of stuff very quickly compared to the old way and now I am happy to scan a whole shoot without worrying about whether any of them could be ignored.  It is quicker to scan them and then discard them afterwards.  I am scanning stuff that I have been thinking about for a long time and rescanning shots that had been done before but really were not great.  Of course, now I have even more stuff to do in whatever spare time there is so maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all!


An Alternative to Negative Scanning

IMG_3734.jpgI am in the process of experimenting with a new approach to scanning old photographs. For many years I have been using a Minolta Scan Dual III scanner. It can accept strips of negatives or slides and does a reasonable job of scanning them in. It is a bit labor intensive and is certainly not fast. Moreover, the scanner is not terribly reliable and it will often hang mid scan requiring me to restart it and close down the application before restarting that too. Since it takes a long time, I often get it running and go and do something else so I might miss the problem.

I do have another imaging tool that works very quickly. In fact I have several of them. These are my current digital cameras. I have bought a set of extension tubes to allow me to treat existing lenses as macro lenses. I have also acquired a small light pad. Cutting some card to shape means I can hold down any old negatives and view them through a hole with illumination from the light pad below. Mount a camera on an arm looking down on the pad and I now have a way to image the negative.

IMG_3733.jpgI am taking the images at my desk so I am able to tether the camera to the computer and use Lightroom to capture the images directly.  This has actually provided me with an opportunity to drag out one of my older bodies that doesn’t get used anymore.  My old 40D has been sitting on a shelf for a long time but it has come back into use for this project.  It has more than enough resolution for this task.  (Unfortunately, the batteries are now rather old and don’t hold a charge well so I am going to get an AC adapter from Amazon for ten dollars which should free me to scan as much as I want.)

I slide the negative into the holder and check the rough alignment through the viewfinder.  Fortunately, although it took me a while to find it, the 40D does have Liveview so I can make use of that to make sure the alignment is right.  I use the trigger release in Lightroom’s tether dialog to take the shot to avoid disturbing the setup.  If an image needs over or under exposure, I have to remember that it is a negative so I have to use exposure compensation in the opposite sense.  The shot is imported straight in the Lightroom when it is taken.  The first thing that I need to do is reverse the tone curve to change the negative to a positive. A white balance correction will take out the color cast of the negative and I now have an image to work with. I have a preset for given film types that does this during the import process.

IMG_3735.jpgThe image is now recognizable but not there yet.  Now I have to do some manual manipulation to tidy it up.  The sliders have to be used carefully in this case because they are now working in reverse as a result of the tone curve that I applied. This requires some thought. Exposure is still exposure but is reversed.  Usually shots look a bit washed out so, what would normally by the Blacks slider is now the Whites.  Shadows are handled with the Highlights and vice versa.  It takes a bit of getting used to but it is not too hard after some practice.  I tried using Auto Tone but it did not do a great job.  I imagine the algorithms were not designed for operating in reverse!

With everything set up, I can work through a shoot very quickly.  Choosing which ones to ignore and reshooting if something doesn’t look right can be done pretty much on the fly.  Is the image quality great?  It’s okay but not amazing.  However, many of the originals are not that great either.  For the majority, it actually does a pretty decent job and sets me up for something that I can do more work on if I need to.  It is a big improvement on my previous approach and now I will make quick scans when I need them rather than be dreading the time involved and avoiding all but the must have shots to save time.


Negative Scanning

I have a lot of negatives and transparencies from my days of shooting film and various of them have been scanned at times either for projects or just because I wanted to have them as part of my digital library. For a long time, I have made use of a Minolta Scan Dual III film scanner. While it doesn’t appear to like modern operating systems, a few tweaks to the config files make it run with Windows 7. However, it is not a totally smooth process and the scanner has a habit of hanging at odd times which requires a lot of fiddling to recover.

When I built my latest computer, I didn’t bother to install the drivers and the box is sitting on a shelf. I was figuring I would come back to it if I needed to. Recently, I needed to scan a single strip of film and wondered whether I had an alternative. I do have a flatbed scanner that has a film scanning capability. I had previously dismissed flatbeds for film scanning since they were seen to be inferior to dedicated film scanners. However, my film scanner was pretty old and gave me mixed results and my flatbed is relatively new. Therefore, I figured I ought to give it a go.

First, the limitations. It will scan a strip of film of shots but you have to move a small device between each shot between scans. No scanning a full holder of film or slides. Big scanning jobs are therefore a lot less practical. As for the image quality, I have yet to find a way to have much control. A preview scan is done but if it comes out with a poor exposure, for example, I have yet to find a way to adjust it. The dedicated film scanner allows all sorts of tweaking. Then there is the speed. If I go for the highest resolution, the scans take many minutes for each exposure. I can wander off and do something else but, if you have more than a couple of images to scan, this is a slow and inefficient process

As for the output quality, it is a mixed bag. The scans are not too bad. Despite the lack of control, if the original is a straightforward image, it comes out okay. Large areas of a similar color such as a sky are subject to banding. I suspect this is a problem all of the time but most pronounced on large areas of one color.

So, am I going to make do or is the film scanner going to be resurrected? I think I will get it back off the shelf. The time and quality issues are sufficient to make the flatbed not helpful except for odd individual scans. It does a nice job on documents but that is it. Now I shall have to find a location for the film scanner and sort out the config files again.

Oh, to have been digital then…

When I am working on a project that relates to something older than 10 years ago, I have to dig into my film archives and see what I have shot in the days before digital came along.  Almost invariably, when I undertake such a task, I am struck by how things have changed when shooting digitally compared with film.

There are two main differences I notice between now and then.  First the number of shots and second the quality I can get from them.  I should, at this point, confess that I always shot negatives rather than transparencies (well, almost always) when I was a film shooter and they will be plenty of photographers who will consider never speaking to me again as a result.  However, while the reasons for that are in the distant past, I don’t know whether it would really change much at this point.

Numbers are easily explained.  When I shot film, every frame had a cost.  The film had to be bought and then it had to be processed.  It also then needed to be stored which I didn’t always do as well as I should.  Consequently, some images that should be available are in less than perfect condition.  That is my fault, of course, not that of the technology.  This cost meant that shots were taken sparingly.

When I went to airshows in the late 80s, I would probably shoot about six or seven rolls of the 36 exposure.  I used to think this was a lot and my none photographic friends used to think it was extravagant.  About 200 shots was a lot.  Compare that to a show today and I can safely say things have changed.  I would miss good shots because I was waiting for what I hoped was the slightly better one to come.  Now I shoot all of them and worry later.  A reduction in skill and technique?  Maybe or perhaps it is just making use of what is available to you.  Certainly, I can experiment with a number of different shot types now in a way I couldn’t before.  Slow shutter speeds are a particular example.

I still have to store them of course but storage is cheap and digital files don’t degrade – you can lose them completely of course but backups are straightforward which they certainly weren’t for film!

Quality is another issue.  RAW converters continue to improve and you can extract some good detail from the shadow and highlight areas if you are not too reckless.  The film is set at development and then you have to work with it.  Again, a skill that can be controlled but going back is a lot more difficult.  I don’t have access to the best of film scanners but getting a crop out of an old neg is a bit hit or miss.  Compare that with a crop of a digital file and I think the benefits to me are obvious.

I look at shots of long gone airframes from events in my past.  First, I wish I could have them as digital files from a camera rather than a scanner.  However, I am more shocked when I see something rare and look at the next few frames to see what I shot and see a totally different subject.  How could I have been so blase?  I guess this is a lesson to learn now.  We might be bored with what we see a lot of now but, one day, these things will be history too so we had better make the best of what we have now and learn from our/my mistakes of the past.