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Old negatives - resolution question

Geoff Worboys , Mar 30, 2007; 05:29 a.m.

I am trying to plan out how I am going to scan in lot old black and white negatives - mostly 616 and 620 film (40+ years old). This is for archival purposes, so I want to capture as much of the image from the negative as practical. It will be up to the user of the image to manipulate (sharpen etc) according to what they want to print.

VueScan is definitely helping me pick up more detail from the negatives than the scan HP software supplied with the HP 4890 scanner, but I am still new to this process and would appreciate some advice.

Is there a reliable way to test whether a higher resolution is worth it? I can pick out greater detail at 600 over 300 dpi, but my untrained eye cannot detect any additional detail in a 1200 over a 600 dpi scan from these negatives.

Is it generally worth scanning at the next step up anyway? (Just to provide additional data for sharpen and similar processes.) Or is such additional data a waste of space and time?

Thoughts, comments, ideas?

TIA

Responses

Mag Miksch , Mar 30, 2007; 07:00 a.m.

IMO 1200 DPI is what your scanner is able to do for sure, so scan with this resolution.
Regards
Martin

Evan Goulet , Mar 30, 2007; 11:49 a.m.

Your eye may not be able to pick it up looking at the scan on a monitor, but have you looked at a print from this. I would give the end-user as much resolution as you can stomach storage- and handling-wise. I typically scan 120 negatives at 2400 ppi, which allows me to print out to 10" x 10" with no problems.

Robert Martin , Mar 30, 2007; 11:50 a.m.

The resolution you get is probably limited by your scanner. You need to scan using a film scanner to see if it gets more information than the scanner you are using. Scan at the maximul optical resulution of the scanner, some scanners will rez up the pixels but this does not add any information to the image. I use a Nikon 9000, which has an optical resulution of 4000 pixels per inch and scans from it have more information that is available from a flatbed scanner at 1200 pixels per inch.

Geoff Worboys , Mar 30, 2007; 06:43 p.m.

Thank you for your responses.

I have not compared prints from these scans... there is so much additional complication when you print that I am not sure it would be useful. But I have compared sections of photos blown up for pixel comparisons (and 200% for the smaller) - looking at branches and things - and cannot pick any extra information at the higher resolution.

Of course finding a negative that is clear enough for reliable comparison is difficult. Not sure if any were taken from a tripod, certainly not many are prefectly clear.

I understand that new negatives are supposed to be good for 2000 and more dpi, but I was not sure whether the old negatives would support such resolutions... and my experiments so far would suggest not. (But I may scan at 1200dpi just to be on the safe side.)

As for a dedicated film scanner... you think I am made of bricks? (remember Kenny Everet anyone ;-). Besides costing literally 10 times what I paid for the flatbed, it is not clear whether the Nikon 9000 would scan the 616 negatives anyway (7cm wide, not the 6cm of medium format) and there are also some large format negs in this collection.

I got the flatbed because it seemed the only affordable way to handle the wide variety - and even so I had to adapt the negative holder to mount my 616 negs. (It turns out that the 35mm neg holder on the HP 4890 has two gates - one holds two strips of 35mm negs, the other 3. If you cut out the divider under the two strip gate you get an area almost perfect for mounting two 7cm wide negatives! What luck. :-)

Tom Halfhill , Mar 30, 2007; 07:48 p.m.

Geoff, I can help answer your questions. I have scanned more than 2,300 old prints and negatives (mostly negatives) for an ongoing family-history project.

Most old photos were made with crappy cameras, which limits their detail, no matter how high the resolution of your scan. Old box cameras and roll-film cameras were intended for making actual-size contact prints from the negatives, which can look pretty sharp. But when enlarged even 2x or 3x, those images start looking awfully fuzzy.

My experiments led me to conclude that 1200dpi or 1600dpi is plenty of resolution for old medium-format negatives. In fact, usually it's overkill. However, it does provide a safety margin for radical cropping later -- and most old pictures are also poorly composed, so they need cropping.

(I don't crop when I scan. I always scan the full frame, because the background is often very useful for identifying when and where a picture was taken, even if it's superfluous from a compositional point of view.)

If the negative was made with a high-quality medium-format camera, such as a Rolleiflex, it may justify a higher-res scan. Even in those cases, I carefully examine the negative with a loupe to see how sharp it is. There's no point wasting a high-res scan on a negative that's blurred from camera movement, for example.

Also, consider the largest print size you are likely to make. If you scan a 2-1/4 square negative at 1600dpi, you can make a 12x12-inch print at 300dpi or a 14x14-inch print at 250dpi. (Those are image sizes, not counting print borders.) With resampling, you can go much larger. Few old negatives can stand that much enlargement without looking fuzzy, unless they were made by a skilled photographer with a good camera.

Geoff Worboys , Mar 31, 2007; 01:13 a.m.

Thanks Tom. What you describe sounds similar to what I face, so your experience is very helpful to me.

As you say, I do no cropping, the more information for dating and locating the photos the better. The more recent photos I have often been able to date approximately even from the packets they are in. However these very old (40+ years) photos seem to have been mixed up so that packets do not match the negatives or photos inside and indeed the negatives and photos sometimes coming from (sometimes multiple) different batches.

Some of the images seem to be clearer in the background than the subject of the foreground. Those negatives for which prints exist (as you say, prints often the same size as the negatives) indicate that the problem is with the original and not my scanning technique.

The negatives have been sitting together, rubbing against each other in deteriorating packets. You pull them out and can often feel the grit between them. So I am trying to plan things out to minimise handling, and I need to decide how to store the originals again after scanning (suggestions welcome).

As for the largest print size; I believe it will be more a matter of what is practical than what is desired. A few of the images are very special and it would be great to blow them up quite large... but there are not many have the quality to support it - and the few with the quality are probably not the ones we want to blow up :-(

Thanks again for your response.

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