Analog to Digital Conversion on the Cheap

The other day I pulled out my archive of 8X10″ black and white negatives. I have not had them unsealed in almost 15 years. P1140674The best images were printed on AZO paper and, using archival processes, dry mounted and matted for exhibits. Because I no longer do traditional darkroom printing, those images, and their potential cash flow, needed to be converted to digital files. I’ve done my share of high end scanning, including wet mounted drum scans, and such a process does produce exceptional files for offset printing purposes. But my needs are somewhat simpler. I am looking to produce a file from which I can print up to a 16X20″ image. My next thought was to use a high end flatbed scanner such as an Epson V700, 750 or 850. They are know to do an excellent job from both black and white negatives and color transparencies up to 8X10″. After checking out the prices on both Ebay and other online suppliers, the average price of $600 for a used machine, while not unreasonable, was more than I was ready to spend, at least not before trying out another method.
I decided to do some good old fashioned reproductions. Using a 12X12″ 3/8th inch thick translucent plexiglass, a window as my light source, and my Fujifilm X-E2 with the 18-55mm lens, I would merely make copies of the negatives in RAW file format, and make the necessary adjustments afterwards in Adobe Light Room.P1140672
The average exposure was f5.6 @ 1/20th sec. at ISO 200.

The results were better than I had expected.

The next step would be the conversion in Light Room. CurvesThis was a bit tricky, but using the Tonal Curve changing a negative image to a positive was not difficult at all. All that was needed was to reverse the line as shown in the picture. That was the easy part. The “tricky” part of the process was realizing that all of the control sliders would have the OPPOSITE effect due to the reversed tonal curve.

Highlights controlled shadows, Blacks controlled whites etc. And moving those sliders to the left had the effect you would expect by moving them to the right.

It took a while to get acclimated, but once I did, the process went rather quickly, and dodging and burning in Light Room is a piece of cake compared to working in an analog darkroom.

My next project is tackling the mountain of 2 1/4 negatives. For that I’m going to need either a macro lens or an extension tube. Now is when I wish I had a flatbed scanner. This is going to be a lot of “busy work”, but I’ll feel better when it’s done.

The images have great detail and tonal range. I have not yet printed 16X20 from one of these files, but 11X17 looks darn good. Below is an image produced from a VERY thin negative and as you can see, the information captured in both shadows and highlights is impressive.

Is this the best way to get the job done? No, but for a grand total investment of $8 including shipping for the plexiglass, it’s a good way to start.

Heavenly Light in Magdeburg

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