35mm · Film photography · Photography

Starsky & Hutch (again), home scanning, and Grain2Pixel

For the best part of the last two years, whenever I’ve shot colour negative film, I’ve sent it off to be developed and scanned. While I have the means to scan it at home, I was never satisfied with the colours I achieved using Epson Scan. I tried a number of other tools to see if I could improve my results and managed to do better with Silverfast for 35mm when I bought my Plustek scanner, but the images still didn’t look quite right. So I resigned myself to getting lab scans of all my colour negative stuff.

While I’ve been mostly happy with my lab scans, one point of frustration is the way they size the images. The labs I’ve looked at tend to offer scans in small / medium / large options which, on the face of it seems fine. However, what I came to realise was that a scan was based on a particular number of pixels on the short side of the image. This results in a bewildering situation where, for any given scan “size”, it seems medium format scans will be smaller than 35mm scans (or the same size, if shooting 6×9). This is clearly disappointing if you want to benefit from the added detail that medium format allows. The image below shows comparisons of three different image ratios and how the larger medium format images lose out when scan size is determined by the number of pixels on the short edge.

By comparison, when I scan at home I get larger scans for the larger formats, as can be seen in the example below with each image being scanned at a uniform DPI setting and not limited to a specific number of pixels per side:

This discrepancy in image sizes made me want to home scan my negatives. While I don’t think my Epson V550 or Plustec 8100 really compare with the abilities of something like a Noritsu of Fuji Frontier, the ability to control the settings means I can get much more detailed results than what the labs I’ve tried will supply. While I’m sure that there are labs out there who will provide higher resolution scans, many of them also charge a considerable amount for the service, putting them out of my price range unfortunately.

I’d seen very good word of mouth over the past year about Negative Lab Pro, but that costs in the region of £60, which isn’t something I want to pay right now (although I’ve been tempted), so it was with interest when someone alerted me to a new Photoshop plugin called Grain2Pixel recently. Grain2Pixel is used to convert negative scans to positives and is currently free of charge (although I believe a more feature packed version is in the works which will require payment).

In order to use the plugin, you have to make linear scans of your negative, e.g. it still looks like a negative after scanning. The plugin accepts TIFF and DNG files, so you can scan with a digital camera if you like. Once launched in Photoshop, you select your scans via the plugin’s interface, choose any settings you want to apply such as automatic colour correction, and then run the process. The process is straightforward and you can convert individual images or a batch.

I’ve tried a number of different film stocks with it and have been getting good results on the whole. Some that I’ve tried, such as Kodak Ektar and Kodak Portra 160 have looked great directly out of the plugin. Some others have been a little more tricky – Kodak Gold 200 and Kodak Portra 400 seem to have a blue / cyan cast no matter what settings I use. Despite this though, the results are still good and I am able to tweak the results further in Photoshop or Lightroom to get results I’m usually very happy with, with the extra benefit of having much higher resolution images.

The plugin can be found, along with instructional videos, here: https://grain2pixel.com/ There is also a Facebook group for the plugin which gets regular traffic and is useful if you need help.

All three of todays photos have used Grain2Pixel for initial conversion. I’ve then tweaked the results in Lightroom to add additional contrast etc. They were scanned on my Plustek Opticfilm 8100 using Vuescan to create the linear TIFF files.

Starsky & Hutch Gran Torino
Simca 1000 Rallye

Canon Sure Shot Z135, Kodak Gold 200. Grain2Pixel conversion.

Taken on 31 August 2020

5 thoughts on “Starsky & Hutch (again), home scanning, and Grain2Pixel

  1. Nice. Those color scans have “that Kodak Gold 200 look.”

    Thanks for the tip about Grain2Pixel. I’ve been intrigued by Negativlab Pro but I’m not a Lightroom user, but rather do everything in Photoshop.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What you’ve achieved here with these three Kodak Gold 200 negative frames, your Plustek, Grain2Pixel, and some tweaking in LR actually far exceeds what 99% of the labs I’ve used supply (even the best of the bunch), despite them having ridiculously high-end Noritsu and/or Frontier scanners, and many (most) of them greedily charging an arm and a leg for scans that are severely lacking in quality (and I do mean severely).

    Obviously, Plusteks, as good as they are, have nowhere near the capabilities of a correctly and competently operated/maintained Noritsu/Frontier. But therein lies the rub: those systems *must* be correctly and competently operated by someone who actually gives a flip about doing things right and supplying their customers with what they should be (what the customer is being overcharged massively for, even though many fail to realize it). Sadly, very, very few labs do. And I have no doubt that unless something changes in the near future with both consumer and professional film labs, their unbelievable level of greed, combined with poor quality work, their disdain towards and lack of respect for their customers (even if they’re all smiles outwardly), and blatant incompetence/laziness is going to begin to highlight their irrelevance and hasten their collapse. This is especially true as more software such as Negative Lab Pro and Grain2Pixel comes into existence, dramatically simplifying the process of achieving good results at home.

    Despite what they’ll claim, the failure and collapse of film labs won’t be because of a niche film market that was unable to support their existence, nor because operational costs and overhead became too much for the lab owners to bear. No, their demise will very simply be twofold: pure, undiluted greed (the outrageous exploitation of their customers for ridiculous profits), and their total incompetence, all resulting in lackluster quality and pathetic customer service. Behind the friendly facade of most film labs, all most of them care about is making huge profits for doing basically no real work at all. I’ve seen it, repeatedly.

    It’s truly a shame, because when operated by someone who actually knows what they’re doing and genuinely cares, Noritsus and Frontiers can both produce scans that are a marvel to behold. But alas, very few people ever see such scans, even if they’ve been paying consumer (or even pro) labs for scanning services for years and years. Instead, we pay a small fortune to the labs and what we get are severely over-sharpened (they shouldn’t be sharpened at all), over-saturated, clipped massively at both ends (highlights and shadows), lossy, total junk JPEGs (film scans should ALWAYS be TIFFs–period). And depending on the scan resolution, this takes the lab all of 3-15 minutes per roll (for the typical range of resolutions supplied), start to finish, and other than feeding one end of the roll into the scanner, it’s just about 100% automated, especially since they pay zero special attention to the individual needs of varying film rolls, even though they absolutely should be because that’s their job (again, total incompetence and/or laziness). What virtually all labs today charge isn’t justified at all. Even if they charged a quarter of what they do, it *still* wouldn’t be justified. I’ve had enough dealings with labs, the owners, lab managers, and the scanner operators directly (more than I care to admit), and through it all have become very familiar with the scanning process using both Noritsus and Frontiers, to know that this is absolutely the truth.

    What really amazes me is that it seems most people who continue to support these labs are actually, somehow, satisfied with the garbage they’re receiving, and thus continue to be willing to pay the exorbitant prices for said garbage, believing the lie they’ve been sold that it’s a fair deal/bargain, and that what they’re receiving is quality. It’s not, and they’re not, in any way, shape, or form. It’s a total ripoff.

    Frankly, all of it is just pathetic, and it is one of the two things surrounding the film industry/community that really irritates me. The other being the blatant greed of film manufacturers, and the obvious lies their marketing divisions spin in order to justify what they do. And I’m worried these two issues are going to eventually cause the film economy to implode, which would mean no more film. Clearly, I don’t want to see that happen, but it is the current trajectory I see things on.

    That’s why I find blog posts/write-ups like this one so encouraging. It demonstrates to other film shooters, many of which who have been throwing their money directly into the trash by paying labs for junk, well, that they’ve been doing just that: wasting tremendous amounts of money and getting garbage in return. As more people demonstrate what’s possible with consumer film scanners (or DSLR’s/mirrorless cameras with adequate sensors) and some decent image processing code, the irrelevance of labs, and how they’ve been screwing everyone over for so long, is bound to come to light. The labs are then going to have to make a choice. They can either proceed to gut themselves and expedite their own demise by continuing to do exactly what they have been; or, they can make themselves relevant again by decreasing their prices to fair levels and actually competently utilizing their scanners, providing their customers with what they should have been all along (and that would amaze most people who are unaware of the real capabilities of these scanners, because they’ve likely never seen it). Sadly, I doubt most labs, if any, will commit to and do the latter, and because of it, it will no doubt eventually put them out of business, probably permanently.

    Anyways, sorry for the long comment/rant. I was just thrilled to see your results here, and I hope it’ll begin to make other film shooters think about what’s actually behind the friendly facade of the film labs they use, and whether or not they really deserve their business.

    Great job with these! I look forward to seeing more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks P. Sounds like you’ve had some bad experiences there.

      I’ve not used that many labs here in the UK for scanning. The one I’ve used most have produced results I’ve been happy with, and they’re low-cost and fast too. I’m not sure the colours have been perfect on everything – there’s been a slight tendency to a warm look on some of the scans, but nothing that I was unhappy with. They came back sharpened, but that’s only because I never asked them not to (their order form allows you to specify such things). The main issue I had was the size of the scans, as discussed in my post.

      The only bad example I’ve had with lab scans was when I first started out with film again a few years ago and I used a High-Street chain that had a local branch not far from where I live. Three rolls were largely ruined (including, I later discovered, some of the negatives missing slices where they had been poorly cut prior to sleeving!) – something I initially put down to myself having not shot film for some time, but which I later came to realise was almost certainly down to the processing and scanning at the store. The issue was most likely down to the fact that, for such photo-processing chains, film processing and scanning is no longer a main source of business. They tend to be more geared to people making prints from digital devices, whether phones, memory cards, or (perhaps less so these days) CDs. I suspect the young operator in the shop had little experience of the equipment used for analogue processing and didn’t really know what he was doing. In fairness to the chain, before I decided to forego their services altogether, I used another branch and got good results. The person who served me there was older and had perhaps been around when film processing was still a significant part of their service and so had more experience.

      Anyway, I’m hoping that I can save myself a little money (although not time) by going back to home-scanning my C41 negatives again. So far it’s working out ok.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think your lab situation in the U.K. is far better than the situation in the U.S. (based on the discussions we’ve had previously about the quality of your lab scans). Actually, I think that’s predominantly the case not just there, but throughout Europe in general based on what I’ve seen.

    With the labs here, heaven forbid if a paying customer ever asks/requests anything of them at all!

    Virtually every time I’ve asked a lab not to sharpen my scans (after previously paying for scans from them that were horrifically over-sharpened), to supply TIFFs instead of JPEGs without having to pay absurd premiums on top of already asinine premiums (it’s zero extra time/effort/energy on Noritsus to output TIFFs instead of JPEGs, so there’s no way it should cost even a penny more), to dial back the color saturation (again, after receiving previously poor quality work), and so on, they’ve acted like I had a screw loose. And with the exception of just a couple, they’ve outright refused to change the way they do anything to please me, even in the slightest, and even though they’re being paid a small fortune to do basically nothing. After all, how dare I, the paying customer, question how they’re doing things or request that they do things a certain way for me (which is how they should be doing things by default anyways, for everyone, and would be if they were at all competent and actually cared about their customers), all of which requires little to no extra effort on their part. Their mentality is simply, “if you don’t like paying out the wazoo for the garbage we supply, go away. We’ve got enough customers duped into paying us for trash that we don’t need you.” Again, outwardly they’re all smiles and totally nice until you actually ask them to do something for you; to do things right. Then, they show their true colors. If people doubt that, I challenge them to give it a go for themselves.

    It’s deplorable.

    Anyways, I’ll stop ranting. 🙂

    Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

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