Scanning 201- A guide to improve your Scan Quality

If you're reading this chances are scanning is not going well for you.  Maybe you're thinking scanning takes too long.  Scanning is frustrating.  Scans look nothing alike from frame to frame.  There's no good instruction manual for scanning.  All the tools are made for digital capture.

If you are thinking any of these things, there is good news- with the right technique and tools scanning may still be time-consuming, but you should be able to achieve consistently high-quality results that make it worth the effort. 

I purchased my first film scanner, a Canon FS4000US in 2004, and used it exclusively until 2007 to scan all of my old film and for all of my current shooting.  My worst moment with scanning was when a friend and I photographed a car race.  He used a Canon digital SLR and shot jpeg, and I shot film.  I spent hours scanning and processing the images in Photoshop but he had results with far better color and tonality straight out of the camera.  This failure drove me to re-examine my technique and find ways to increase my scan quality and do it consistently from frame to frame and roll to roll.

While I did buy a DSLR in 2007, I continue to use my 35mm film equipment when I am not under time pressure to produce.  With some effort the quality is comparable, and in some ways superior, to my DSLR.  I am now also scanning with a Nikon LS-5000 (Coolscan 5000). 

Here's a series on how I do it.  It's certainly not the only approach to scanning but is one that should yield good results. Your equipment may differ from mine but if you follow similar testing procedures to what I used, you'll be able to get the most out of it, and maybe learn enough to write your own article!

Section 1: Slide film- Profiling your scanner
Section 2: Slide film- Shadows and Tonality
Section 2a: Slide film- Noise reduction techniques
Section 2b: Slide film- Exposure Blending
Section 3: Color Balancing Color Negative Film

If you have questions or feedback, I'd love to hear it.  Contact me via or email photography at jingai dot com

JR Nagoya Towers, Christmas 2002
(Provia 100F, scanned with Canon FS4000US)

Roger Smith
August 2009