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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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The Film Problem
Old 05-04-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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The Film Problem

Since I have a sizable number of black-and-white negatives and color slides from my “pre digital” days and make my money from photography, I have an Imacon scanner that can produce a very good tif image from a film image. But, it’s absurdly expensive. And in many ways I still prefer what I get out of my wet darkroom.

Looking at affordable scanners like the Epson 750. not cheap, but affordable, they work fairly well with medium format and sheet film, but not so well for the 35mm film images that are the bread and butter format for so many on this forum. There are some tricks that work with some scanners. Certainly it is worthwhile on the bigger Epsons to scan on the glass surface rather then put the film in the furnished plastic holders to insure film flatness and exact placement. Scanning at the maximum effective resolution (not always the highest resolution of a scanner) and setting the scanner to handle the full density range are going to help with all scanners. Still, working intelligently with a reasonably priced scanner, the print from a scanned 35mm negative that shows off the fine detail captured by your camera is probably going to be between an 8x10 and 11x14 tops. That’s a shame. It doesn’t live up to the potential of the camera.

There are a lot of film folks here who deal with this problem. I have the luxury of a darkroom and, like any freelancer, the spare time to use it. As an elderly freelance, I bought an Imacon to deliver digital files years ago when they were somewhat affordable. But what do the many film shooters on this forum do? I would really like to know. And to the film photographers facing the problem, the solution of others may be of help.
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Old 05-04-2018   #2
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Bill,

I still shoot film, I don't scan, and one day I will wet print them. Know that I live in NYC currently, I have my Beseller 23C in public storage, and back in the 70's and early 80's I was a good B&W printer who went to art school. I have the intent on keeping analog-analog and really did not consider doing a hybred workflow.

So I also do Piezography and print with 7 shades of black, and I currently can also print digital negatives for contact printing. Not sure this is practical except maybe for printing limited editions... Hmmm.

Anyways many people did not understand why I might just concentrate on image capture, but now I figure I was smart to create an archive to print when I retire. I am age 60 at this point.

For me I decided to keep analog-analog, and digital-digital, although I am interested in possibly printing digital image capture as wet prints.

Cal
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Old 05-04-2018   #3
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Cal: LOVE! the "vintage hipster" schtick. Keep rockin' it, baby!

I'm 60, I'm no pro and I'm not a wet printer, but a hybrid of necessity. Maybe one day whenever Cal get's his wet darkroom, I'll buy up his Piezo stuff! T'ain't cheap from what I can tell, and then there's the learning curve...

Meantime, I print with an Epson SC P800 through Imageprint and have been very happy with the output. I let Colorbyte (Imageprint's maker) do the dance with papers, inks and all that and stay in my comfort zone with Capture One for Post. Nice thing about negatives (I use a Jobo) - and I just did my first color negatives this week - is that it's just less computer time to add to my day full of computers at the office. So yes, I scan with an old Nikon LS8000 I had rebuilt and I learned there's a small community adapting and rebuilding these things (mine now has a brass door so as to not mess with a badly designed servo), and a while a drum scanner it ain't, it's good enough for this ham. Not sure any of the time would be available if I were trying to hustle and make money doing it this way, but as a pastime, I can have fun. And believe it or not, I am.
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Old 05-04-2018   #4
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Several years ago I owned a Fuji Lanovia Quattro prepress scanner. It was the Fuji equivalent of the Kodak Eversmart Supreme. These were on the level of drum scanners and were made by Crossfield of England which became a division of Fuji. Fuji up and decided to get our of the scanner business and discontinued all support without notice. These were very expensive, large, heavy and complex machines that like drum scanners required periodic maintenance. Even the software was proprietary and no other software would work with it. So as computers evolved so did operating systems until the day the new OS would no longer run the software.

I wound up keeping a Mac with OS 10.2 on it just to run the scanner and until parts became extinct as did the two service tech laid off by Fuji all was well. In short I sold the machine and bought a refurbished Imacon 848 from Hasselblad.

The 848 does a comparable scan to the Lanovia Quattro but only goes up to 5x7 film. I still work with 8x10 for some of my art so I had to find a scanner that would handle 8x10 film. I wound up getting an Epson 750 and while it does a fair job it's really not in the league of the Imacon or the Fuji. Let's just say if you've not worked with or seen scans from a high end scanner you'll be pleased but if you're used to excellent scans then the Epson really falls short. If you're going to reproduce your images small then they can be OK but I do a lot of large prints for galleries of 24x36 and larger and the files are marginal.

It's a real problem IMO because other than the Aztec drum scanners which run in the $70K range and the Hasselblad X1 and X5 or used Imacon / Hasselblad units there really isn't much available. If you have noticed Hasselblad hasn't updated their software in years. When my scanner was in for service I asked why Hasselblad didn't integrate the scanners into the Phocus software for their cameras. The manager I was talking to said they sell so few scanners that it's not worth updating software and said there probably won't be any updates to existing software. It sounded like keeping the scanner business going was an annoyance to them.

I still maintain a really nice wet darkroom too with a Focomat, D-5xl Omega with Ilford B&W head and a Durst 5x7 138. I'm not ready to give up film and the ability to print from my archive. Digital prints are really great now but still I feel theres more value when you go to sell a print if it was crafted in a wet darkroom. Some of my clients feel the same and are willing to pay a premium for the silver gelatin print.
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Old 05-04-2018   #5
Erik van Straten
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From my 35mm negative I first make a scan on my Epson V600. When I like it, I make a wet print on Adox MCC 110 (split grade).

Scan on Epson V600:
Leica M2, Summicron 50mmf/2, 400-2TMY.

Print on Adox MCC 110, silver gelatine print on Focomat IIc, finally scanned again on my Epson V600.

Erik.
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Old 05-04-2018   #6
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I became a photographer through digital cameras, so film came later for me. I now shoot both digital and medium-format film.

I went on to do an MA photography degree, but I have zero interest in using a darkroom: the university has a darkroom that’s twice as large as my apartment, set up to develop and print both B&W and colour, but I never used it!

My film process is hybrid analogue-digital, with digital prints made from scans. To me, the difference between (a) traditional wet prints and (b) digital C-type prints from scans is not worth making a fuss about. I don’t care, and viewers and buyers of my prints don’t care.

Two points to make clear, though. My gallery-quality prints are

• C-types on traditional silver-gelatine paper - not inkjet prints
• from scans made with high-end scanners such as Flextites, if negatives.

Consumer scanners are rubbish and Flextite scans are expensive, so I’m currently in the process of building a “scanner” that uses a 42 MP digital camera. It won’t be quite as good as a Flextite, but close - and good enough.

Lastly, I never use 35mm film as I consider it a waste of money and effort, having no advantages over either digital or medium-format film - if your interest lies solely with the final image, as mine does.
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Old 05-04-2018   #7
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My film scanning uses a flatbed Epson for medium format and larger but found it not ideal for 35mm. For 35mm I use a Nikon CS-5000 and get quite good results. Perhaps not up to drum scanners, but far from shabby.

If the Nikon ever gives up the ghost my plan is to use a D800E and macro lens as a replacement. I did some testing and results were encouraging. Downside would be loss of IR channel that ICE (Nikon scan) uses to sense dust and scratches so they can be fixed.

I print up to 13x19 using an Epson 3880 and seldom have any urge to go bigger from 35mm. Have a bit of 17x22 paper which will be used with larger negatives. My wet darkroom is just getting used for film these days, but the two enlargers are still functional if I should decide to go back to traditional methods. Have an Omega D6 as well as a Valoy, and know how to use them, but don’t have much incentive these days. Not even sure what quality silver based papers are available today. In the past I used a lot of Agfa paper, its higher silver content seemed to give especially rich blacks.

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Old 05-04-2018   #8
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I purchased a dedicated 35mm film scanner which has an actual resolution nearly twice that of the Epson flatbeds, but not as high as your Imacon. Based on my experience over the past couple of years, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that scanned film negatives cannot equal digital images, so that if I shoot film, I am going to wet print, and only scan it for posting on the web. Because currently my primary method of printing is PtPd, I find myself shooting less film and more digital, and contemplating a move to MF digital. I am struggling to find a place for film going forward.
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Old 05-04-2018   #9
Bill Clark
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I’m going to try using my DSLR for making RAW files of film. Canon full frame.

You Tube has many folks showing how it can be done. An interesting video is using an iPad as the light box. Google “white” for the screen.

Stil have an analog darkroom set up. Perhaps, I’ll just stick with that.

I do have about 15 Kodak Carousel trays full of slides. Some go back to the 1960’s!

Here is some info from B & H:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora...your-film-dslr

Using a scanner is, to me, a real P. I. T. A.

To be honest, now when I use film it stays as film. And the only film I use is black and white. Color is all digital. I only talk about possibly scaning slides from some of the more important events in my life.
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Old 05-04-2018   #10
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The good news is that former minilab scanners such as the Pakon 135+ and Noritsu LS-600 are now becoming available at affordable prices as they come out of CVS and Rite-Aid stores. This is a much better solution for 35mm.

I also have an Imacon, but use it mainly for MF as the above solutions are so much better and faster for 35.

Rolfe
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Old 05-04-2018   #11
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I use a Plustek 35mm scanner for 35mm. The results are fine for 8x10 prints, I’ve made a nice 11x14 print from a scan, but typically print at 5x7. If and when I want to print bigger, I’ll get the negative scanned by a pro lab, it’s just not worth it to me to buy, store, and maintain a more professional scanner.
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Old 05-04-2018   #12
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Currently using a Nikon Coolscan V ED and scan 135 format to 5959 x 3946 TIF files (69 MB B&W / 138 MB Color). Once a year in February I have printed (digital) one or two enlargements from the previous year (20 x 30 cm). I have played with creating digital negatives for contact printing... might be a way forward in my case.
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Old 05-04-2018   #13
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I have been printing for so many years that it is much faster for me to make a wet print and scan that. Vastly less dust to deal with, and my V750 does a very good job with minimal fuss.
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Old 05-04-2018   #14
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Used a wet darkroom from about 1976 until the late 1990's when I started trying to scan my negs with a Nikon Coolscan III. It did a pretty good job with color negs and slides, but was wholly inadequate to do any grayscale work. Moved up to a Nikon Coolscan 5000 ED in 2006, which still did nice color work, and acceptable B&W work, but rendered more like a condenser enlarger, with everything being pretty "contrast heavy". Finally sprung for a Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED (which is scanning away behind me as I write this) in 2009, just as they were being discontinued. It handles B&W much more like a diffusion enlarger, and teamed with VueScan, I'm happy with the results. Still miss my wet darkroom though. And when the kids are out of the house some day, I plan on building another one in the basement.

Best,
-Tim

PS: Has anyone tried that whole film scanning thing Nikon has come out with where you attach this contraption to the front of a D850 camera to digitize negs and slides?
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Old 05-04-2018   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Still, working intelligently with a reasonably priced scanner, the print from a scanned 35mm negative that shows off the fine detail captured by your camera is probably going to be between an 8x10 and 11x14 tops. That’s a shame. It doesn’t live up to the potential of the camera.
I scan my film with a Nikon D850 and can print huge from that.
The sample below from a 35mm negative shows the detail it captures. 120 film of course is even better:



Leica M5, CV 35 1.2 v2, Portra 400, D850 scan.



1:1 detail from right center edge:

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Old 05-04-2018   #16
Erik van Straten
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Leica M2, Summicron 50mm f/2, 400-2TMY, Epson V600.

Focomat IIc, Adox MCC 110, Epson V600.

Erik.
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Old 05-04-2018   #17
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I shoot mainly 35mm transparencies, and scan them on Minolta Multipro at 4800 dpi, at RAW settings, then edit them in PS. This allows me to "re-live" the scenes I photographed earlier.


Thompson Lake, WA by Paul Cooper, on Flickr

Thompson Lake, Washington Cascades. Contax G2, 21/2.8 Biogon, Velvia 50.
Minolta Multipro, Photoshop.
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Old 05-04-2018   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Still, working intelligently with a reasonably priced scanner, the print from a scanned 35mm negative that shows off the fine detail captured by your camera is probably going to be between an 8x10 and 11x14 tops. That’s a shame. It doesn’t live up to the potential of the camera.
Bill in 40 years or more I've never considered going beyond an 11x14 print from a 35mm negative. And it takes a lot to get that 11x14 print, slow speed film, maximum shutter speed or tripod, a good stopped down lens like a Summicron. I usually considered an 8x10 as maximum, if I was looking for more I looked to medium or large format.

I scan with an Epson 750 using a glass plate to keep the negative flat and don't think I'm losing anything.

My 2 cents.
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Old 05-04-2018   #19
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Simple. Kept my Leica darkroom for monochrome.

I will buy software for my KM5400 or buy the best new scanner without going to $10000 for color.

You could send out negs to commercial pro lab to scan or scan & print.

Low volume color home printing is not productive or profitable.

Any reviews yet on Nikons D850 scan module? None are out, but I used to use a copy stand.
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Old 05-04-2018   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronald M View Post
Any reviews yet on Nikons D850 scan module? None are out, but I used to use a copy stand.
It works just like the ES-1, but is able to take a film strip holder.
I'm using the ES-1 with my D850 (before I used it w a D750), while I'm waiting for my ES-2 to show up.

The film digitizing function of the Nikon D850 is garbage. Supposedly they will fix it with a firmware release. I just copy in RAW/NEF and roll my own in LR.
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Old 05-04-2018   #21
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Old 05-04-2018   #22
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I don't know how to make money at my own from my own.
So, I use film for myself.

For color I have Plustek 8200i, for BW I prefer Epson V500. And I do it under enlarger for BW.
My prints are often in color at 4x6 from inkjet or Letter size. Nobody with whom I share them needs bigger.
My wet prints are often 8x10 and mostly they are working prints. I could do 11x14, they are better to look at, but it is more complicated from printing to storage and framing.

Honestly, my 150CAD V500 and 250USD 8200i are absolutely sofitient for Letter size and my Vivitar simple and small enlarger, which was given to me for free, is good for 11x14.

They only weird thing... I like to print in DR, then scan and then look at it on the screen .
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Old 05-04-2018   #23
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Photograph, scan, manipulate, print. All at home. 35mm, medium format and 4x5. Anything larger is contact printed and then scanned. All done with a little Plustek and an Epson V500.

Most of this is printed no larger than 5x7 or 8x10.

If I think it looks really good, and my better half thinks it looks pretty good, (definitely not always the same thing) then I send the negative along with an inkjet print to a pro and tell them I want it to look like that...only better...and bigger.

Do the work prints back and forth until everything is worked out to our satisfaction then have someone mount the final print and frame it nice.

Haven't done it often but when I have it goes on the wall. Unless one of my kids steal it.
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Old 05-04-2018   #24
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I want to install a darkroom but plan on moving this year, so it has to wait. In the meantime, my colour photos are professionally developed and scanned to medium resolution.

Black and white I develop myself and scan with a Plustek Opticfilm 120 which does produce great results without a lot of time in LR. Since taking up Large format I have bought an Epson V800 which is acceptable but requires much more post processing.
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Old 05-04-2018   #25
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For 120 and 70mm I use an Epson V500. Coolscan V for 35mm. Vuescan to get it in the computer and slight PS—usually resize and some USM.
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Old 05-04-2018   #26
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Leica M2, Summicron 50mm f/2, 400-2TMY, Epson V600.

Erik.

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Old 05-05-2018   #27
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I use Leicas, Rolleiflex, Hasselblads. It's a hobby and the maximum I scan from my Epson 4990 is 8x10. I print my own books, upload to Flickr and print 6x4 photos. It's fine. What's most important for me is not the sharpness - even though my gear is sharp; but the character. And 8x10 is fine for that. I will be doing an exhibition soon and for that I will go to a pro lab if necessary.
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Old 05-05-2018   #28
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DSLR-scan...easy, fast & top quality
do it whith green backlight and you get the sharpest image

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Old 05-05-2018   #29
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do it with green backlight and you get the sharpest image
Can you say more about the green backlight?
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Old 05-05-2018   #30
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I tried digital printing and got fed up with banding, ink running out, messages telling me my ink overflow is full (time to throw away there printer, evidently). I threw away the Canon S9000. I have a wet darkroom and I use it. I have a few digital cameras, including an M9. I just look at the photos on screen.
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Old 05-05-2018   #31
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My wet darkroom was closed about 10 years ago. Finally found someone who wanted all the expensive equipment so I gave it all away (and I have serious doubts that person ever used any of it). I am firmly planted in the digital camp and I won't return to the chemical darkroom again.

I think I got a film scanner not long after I got my first home computer. It wasn't a great scanner but it was what I could afford and it worked for printing on the affordable standard photo printers of the day. What I learned from that experience was that I hated scanning film. Despite that experience, I bought an Epson V700--I think that was the model. I have over thirty years of negatives and transparencies here at home and I told myself I needed a way to print them. Used that scanner every now and then for a year or so but mostly it sat idle. I hate scanning film. The scanner is in the attic several years now, probably dead due to the summer heat exposure up there.

Of my old negatives and transparencies, those not already printed will remain unprinted. That is until someone offers me a fortune for prints or MoMA calls and wants some of my old photos--highly unlikely events I assure you.

So I guess I've resolved my film problem simply by ignoring it.
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Old 05-05-2018   #32
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I am currently mid-build on a spectacular 500+ square foot fine art darkroom, will be able to easily handle 40” x 50” print sizes. But for scanning, I just sold my Nikon 9000ED because that has been completely and utterly outdone by my new system, a Nikon D850 with a macro lens mounted to a Sinar P2 4x5 camera that has full geared movements for stitching huge files.

Just on Kodachrome slides alone I saw at least a 2 stop improvement in range over a drum scan let alone a Nikon scan. DSLR scanning is the way forward, it has gotten that good.

Now if only Silverfast would make tethered DSLR scanning software, it would help to overcome the orange mask of C41 films.
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Old 05-05-2018   #33
brbo
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I'm 100% film + scanner and I have no "Film problem".

Yet.

When there is no colour film produced anymore (this WILL be The Film Problem), I will just use my phone for a random picture here and there that I will never look at...
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Old 05-05-2018   #34
oldwino
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BEOON and digital camera for 35mm. Works fine.
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wandering the Earth with an Leica I conv, IIIg, M2, M-D, X2, a bunch of old lenses, and occasionally a Mamiya-Six or Isolette III.

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Old 05-05-2018   #35
sepiareverb
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With care in exposure and development, and practice, prints up to 16x20 inches are not at all outside the realm of 35mm film. A well tuned enlarger and a good lens helps. I’ve printed 20x24 from 35mm with success from the best negatives. I have managed a few scans from 35mm film that I printed at 16x20. Took me about ten times as long as a wet print. The main reason I don’t practice at scanning film.
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Old 05-05-2018   #36
Emile de Leon
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Best prints I ever did came from Azo contact printed..and then just copy that and publish..still have some Azo left..amazing paper..
In color..best prints came out of the Linhof 2x3 or the Rolliecord 4 w/Xenar..or Rollieflex with Planar 3.5..never digitalized them though..
35mm..well...did anyone ever get a great print out of that..lol..closest I came was tech pan 25..and 25 asa Kodak color print film..and a high resolution lens..
Generally..in my limited digital scanning experience..scanners and digital copies..suck wind..just sumthin not right w/them..always sumthin missing..
I'm sure there are people with more skills in this regard than me though..
Today if I printed large for my daily bread..it would be Hassy X1D..
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Old 05-05-2018   #37
Huss
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Fuji C200 scanned with a Nikon D850



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Old 05-05-2018   #38
JeffS7444
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I second the recommendation of scanning with a digital camera! Using my Sony A7 + 90/2.8G macro lens, I easily get detail down to the level of film grain. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to handle color negatives (using GIMP 2.10) but I do think that for much of what I do, this method is superior to my Epson V700 + glass carrier + VueScan and SilverLight, not to mention a lot faster.

When I get a suitable macro lens for it, I plan to switch to using the Olympus Pen F: It's 80 mp pixel shift feature may prove very useful here.

My latest toy is Lomography's Digitaliza which uses magnets rather than glass to hold the film flat. Works as well with digital camera scanning as it does with flatbed scanners and makes dealing with dust infinitely easier than a glass carrier.
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Old 05-05-2018   #39
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Fuji C200, Nikon D850 scan



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Old 05-05-2018   #40
Huss
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffS7444 View Post
My latest toy is Lomography's Digitaliza which uses magnets rather than glass to hold the film flat. Works as well with digital camera scanning as it does with flatbed scanners and makes dealing with dust infinitely easier than a glass carrier.
That looks like a fantastic product, thanks for the heads up!!!
I've been using enlarger film carriers, but this looks much better.

Ordering now.

edit - wow those are sold out everywhere! I bought the last 120 one that Lomo had. Sold out everywhere else. Also grabbed the 35m one from someone else, and the 110 too. If these work out, I can get rid of all my other film holders! I have a lot...
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