Scanning 4x5 sheet film with an Epson V850

Scanning 4x5 sheet film with an Epson V850

Martin Wilmsen

Before I got into DSLR scanning with my digital camera, I bought an Epson V850 to scan my negatives. I tried both Epson scan and Silverfast scanning software - included with the V850. Sure, I love working with old camera's - but the clunky user interface of both programs will quickly remind you that not everything that's old is nice to work with. In any case, I had not used it much because shortly after I bought the Epson, I found out about the Negative Lab Pro plug-in for Adobe Lightroom, and how to create scans with a digital camera. DSLR scanning has its problems too, but it was so much faster. And with Negative Lab Pro to convert my negatives to positives, I almost instantly got better looking results. And more control over the final look of my scans.

When I bought my Cambo 4x5 camera however, I quickly realized that using a DSLR to scan those large negatives is far from ideal. I had seen great scans that others made with the V850 which is why I bought one in the first place. So I decided to give the Epson another go. I was convinced that my mediocre results from the Epson were simply because I didn't use the right settings or software.

Update to my scanning workflow

A while ago I've started scanning with my negatives sandwiched between two pieces of ANR glass. You can read about this here: Scanning with an Epson V850: an update.

RAW/DNG files

With my DSLR (a Nikon D850 with a 60mm macro lens), I'd been shooting RAW/NEF files which I then converted with Negative Lab Pro. Using RAW files largely contributed to getting better/more consistent results in my opinion. I figured it had to be possible to create RAW files with the Epson too.

After learning about Vuescan which does indeed offer that feature, I decided to buy that software. Vuescan lets you scan to DNG (Digital Negative) i.e. RAW. Without any color balancing or other software interpretation of the underlying raw data. Silverfast does in fact also lets you scan to RAW/DNG, and a free licence is included with the Epson. However, I tried it and I find Vuescan easier to use and the results seem better too. I guess it's a matter of preference. But Vuescan gets me good results, I by now know its quirks - so I'll stick with it.

Scanning problems

Or should I say "challenges"... OK fine, nothing is perfect so why would scanning be any different. There are definitely a few challenges to overcome.

The Epson holders

The Epson V850 comes with holders for 4x5 sheet film. Those holders however are pretty much useless in my opinion. First of all they don't really keep the negative flat. And secondly the plastic covers scratch easily and they are dust magnets, basically impossible to keep clean. Another thing I don't like about the holders is that they cover the film border, which I like to be included in my scans.

Epson V850 4x5 film holder
Epson V850 4x5 film holder


So without using those holders, what can you do... Scanning with the negative directly on the glass (without a holder) seems to work for some people, but with my Epson it really doesn't. All scans are out of focus if I do it that way. Which makes sense because the Epson's lenses focus a few milimeter above the scanner glass. To complicate things further, every Epson scanner apparently focuses at a slightly different height. So you're really on your own trying to figure out how much to raise the holder.

Newton rings

And yet another problem; Newton Rings. These are the result of putting two shiny objects directly on top of each other - in this case a negative on top of glass. Newton rings appear as a series of concentric, alternating bright and dark rings centered at the point of contact between the two surfaces. Most likely another reason why the scanner does not focus directly above the glass, but a few militmeters higher.

ANR glass

Taking all of the above into account, the best solution (for me) so far seems to be using ANR (Anti Newton Ring) glass - which serves three purposes:

  1. The ANR glass prevents Newton Rings - or at least 99% of the time.
  2. You can tape the negative to the glass to keep the negative flat and in position (see below photos).
  3. With the negative on a larger piece of ANR glass you can raise it to the desired height with a DIY holder.

Where to get made-to-order ANR glass

It's not that easy to find true ANR glass. Some say that you can use museum grade glass from a photo frame. And that may work, but it's not really ANR glass. I've tried several of the better known websites (e.g. from companies that specialize in scanning, but couldn't find the size I wanted to order. Someone told me about a company in Germany - Kienzle - where you can order ANR glass in almost any size and in a variety of thicknesses. Their website is a bit outdated and I haven't been able to find any ANR glass ordering info directly on their pages, but I contacted them by email and they were very responsive and they do speak English. Before you contact them, know that ANR glass is not cheap. If I remember it well, the price was 80 Euro for a single piece of 12x14cm - or 100 Euro for two. I got two and I use one to scan medium format film, and the other one for 4x5. I have added their website address to the bottom of this post.

Adjusting the height to get sharp scans

Finding the best height (i.e. the distance between the negative and the scanner glass) is matter of trial and error. I made a "holder" out of cardboard with an opening that lets me rest the ANR glass on top of it. And I put that on top of the scanner glass. The first scan showed that the cardboard was not high enough so I added gaffer tape to raise it. I repeated this process until I got the best possible sharpness which took maybe three or four tries. And then I fixed the cardboard in place with tape. Note the cut out part at the top of the card board. This opening is required or the Epson will refuse to start scanning because of its sensors in that area.

Improvised card board holder used to raise the negative above the glass
Improvised card board holder used to raise the negative above the glass

How I use the glass

I use Scotch "Removable" tape (from 3M) to fix the negative in place (photo below). It's easy to handle without scissors, and it doesn't leave much glue on the glass. After every few scans I clean the glass with mirror cleaning spray (from HG) and kitchen paper. And I finally use an anti-static wisk to wipe both the glass and the negative.

4x5 negative taped to ANR glass
4x5 negative taped to ANR glass

The glass has a dull side and a shiny side. I tape the negative with the shiny side up to the dull side of the glass - so the emulsion side is against the glass. I then put the glass upside down on the scanner, so that means that the shiny side is facing the scanner glass. I've read instructions telling you to put the dull side of the negative towards the scanner glass, but after some experimenting I decided to do it as described above. And this is also what Epson are recommending.

I like photography but I'm not a fan of any post processing. Dust on your scans seems inevitable however, so you may need to use Photoshop or Lightroom to clone out some dust. By carefully wiping the scanner glass and the negative right before putting the ANR glass on the scanner, I manage to keep dust at a minimum. And I wear coton gloves when handling my negatives. Vuescan's "Infrared cleaning" seems to help too (see Vuescan settings below).

Anti-static wisk from Kinetronics
Anti-static wisk from Kinetronics

Vuescan settings

As instructed on the Negative Lab Pro website, I've been using the below settings to make RAW/DNG scans with Vuescan. It will automatically name files with a sequential number, but remember to select a folder and to configure a base file name before you start scanning. Also remember to check the output file is actually stored in the output folder that you selected. For some reason Vuescan lets you make scans that aren't saved anywhere without any warnings if you forget to configure these settings.

On the "input" tab, select the following options;

  1. Options: Professional
  2. Task: Scan to file
  3. Mode: Transparency
  4. Media: Image
  5. Bits per pixel: Auto
  6. Scan resolution: 3200 dpi

On the "filter" tab;

  1. Infrared clean: Medium
  2. Grain reduction: None

On the "output" tab;

  1. Uncheck all boxes, and check the "Raw file" box and the "RAW DNG format" box
  2. Raw file type: 48 bit RGB
  3. Raw output with: Save

As you can see above, I create 3200 dpi scans. This results in huge files. Depending on what you're going to do with your scans - this may be serious overkill obviously. In all honesty, most of my photos just end up on the web and I really don't need that resolution at all. However, as the results are really good with the above settings - I just leave my scan settings the way they are. I ususally resize my scans to about 7k pixels on the long side to make the files a bit more manageable.

Screen shot showing the scan resolution
Screen shot showing the scan resolution

Converting the RAW scans with Negative Lab Pro

Finally, I import the RAW files into Lightroom so that I can use the Negative Lab Pro plug-in to convert the scans to positives. There's a lot of info available about this plug-in, so I'll only add a few remarks here:

  1. I crop each file to the part that is most important in the photo before the conversion. And I then uncrop the file again afterwards.
  2. Although the plug-in instructions tell you to white balance of the film border, I never do that.
  3. You can use Lightroom tools to change lightness/darkness et cetera, but note that all the sliders work in reverse as the file is still a negative even after the conversion. You can solve that by saving the file as a TIFF before post processing. But I've never done that myself.

Lastly, I do of course remove dust if I have to, and sometimes I tweak the constrast with a curves layer in Photoshop. That's basically all.

Medium format film

Although cumbersome and much more time consuming, I find that the consistency of my conversions in Negative Lab Pro is much better with my Epson scans compared to my DSLR scans. So I've been scanning most of my medium format film this way too. I currently use my digital camera to scan 35mm film always, and sometimes for medium format.



18 Jan 2021 09:34 am Marco Seifert  
Thank you very much for this article - it comes right in time for me. I think about how to scan my negatives and it is very useful for me to read abut your thougts and your experience about scanning!
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