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Film Scanning Shootout: Drum Scan vs Flatbed vs DSLR

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Film photographer, educator and YouTuber Nick Carver doesn’t shoot digital, but he does scan his film for printing. So he recently embarked on an experiment to figure out which scanning technique is best: drum scanning, fluid mount flatbed scanning, or scanning your film using a DSLR and macro lens.

First things first: this is a long video, and that’s a good thing. Carver went in-depth for this comparison, but he’s also published a helpful Table of Contents (below) in case you want to skip around. If you don’t care about the methodology, the results start around the 15-minute mark, where Carver evaluates each method for everything from Sharpness, to Grain, to Color, to Workflow, and beyond.

Table of Contents:

  • About the test – 2:42
  • About the prints – 3:42
  • If you please – 6:29
  • What this video will cover – 7:11
  • Criteria: How the scans were done – 7:32
  • Criteria: How the files were prepped – 13:26
  • Results: Sharpness – 15:00
  • Results: Grain – 17:23
  • Results: Dynamic Range – 18:58
  • Results: Dust – 20:38
  • Results: Color – 21:43
  • Results: Workflow -27:32
  • Conclusion: What will I do going forward? – 33:05

Scans were done on a piece of 6×17 color negative film (Kodak Portra 160) and a piece of 6×17 color reversal film (Fuji Velvia 100), which Carver chose because they would push each method’s ability to capture both detail and dynamic range. He scanned them in order to create 24 x 72-inch prints, which comes out to approximately 155MP resolution, and each method is described in detail starting at the 7:32 mark. That’s all we’ll say about technique.

So… what happened?

You’re definitely better off watching the full results section, but the overall conclusion goes something like this:

For color reversal film, get a drum scan for the best possible sharpness and the easiest workflow; for color negative film, a flatbed scan with an inverted fluid mount gives you the best combination of sharpness, color rendition, and ease of workflow.

Obviously, this is an extreme summary, so if you’re really interested in comparing these three methods, seeing the results, and understanding where each technique wins out over the others, watch the full video above. And if you want a lot more well though out, in-depth content around film photography, you should definitely check out Carver’s channel while you’re at it.

(via ISO 1200)

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