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Processing labs that scan without clipping?
Old 07-24-2017   #1
Oren Grad
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Processing labs that scan without clipping?

Here's a variation on the usual "does anybody know a good film processing lab?" question. Let's make it "lab that does clean processing but also scans the negatives without clipping the histogram". I generally do my own developing and scanning, but it would be nice to have a reliable option available for when I'm time-crunched.

Not too long after the US branch of the Ilford Lab Direct operation opened I sent them a roll of XP2 as a test. The scans were pretty poor - excessively contrasty and clipped in highlights, shadows or both, and so not usable for anything other than a crude preview of image content. I contacted them the other day asking about this. They responded promptly but unhelpfully, saying they hadn't gotten any complaints and it must be an exposure problem on my part. Except that I have no problem scanning the same negatives myself, just setting the scan software to include the entire density range.

I guess either their scanning software/hardware setup cannot be adjusted as needed, or else they've decided that it's not cost-effective to optimize for each roll. Maybe they're right about that, at anything less than custom lab, per-frame charges.

So does anyone know of a lab that produces clean negatives but also routinely generates non-clipped, full-information scans? Or is that unreasonable to expect?
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Old 07-24-2017   #2
Phil_F_NM
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The scans you get from 35mm or 120 film are the same as those that would go into the laser printer to expose the paper. Scans are usually in the 2000dpi range and for a B&W 4x6 print at 216dpi, you're only getting a 1.2Mp image. All these bulk scans from labs are done on Fuji, Noritsu or Agfa minilabs, optimized for RA4 paper exposure. The tech doing the work has a little control but getting into the nitty gritty of the histogram for each frame is impossible. That's a job for a custom lab. After paying for 20 rolls of 4000dpi TIFF scans with custom curves for each frame, you're going to want to start shopping for your own dedicated 35mm scanner with a bulk roll attachment.

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Old 07-24-2017   #3
Oren Grad
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil_F_NM View Post
The tech doing the work has a little control but getting into the nitty gritty of the histogram for each frame is impossible. That's a job for a custom lab.
Yes, that's the nub of the matter, whether that is universally true. Do none of the commonly used high volume lab scanners have any provision for automated adjustment of basic scan parameters based on frame density, akin to AE for determining print exposure? If the process is as inflexible as you describe, then the prints will be useless too, on the whole. Which they may well be; I haven't tried a full develop-and-print service since long ago, when the world was very different.

Already have dedicated 35mm and medium format film scanners, BTW. The question isn't whether I need to buy one.
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Old 07-24-2017   #4
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I sat in front of a frontier SP3000 when a lab took one for testing sessions at a series of Photo conferences. The frontiers gave a nice interpretation out of my (well exposed) Portra 400 negs and there is a provision for color AND density correction adjustment. No histogram though, but compensating density should do it. Curiously despite the vogue for airy and bright pictures, the scans never clip, just are right enough to appear almost so.
Then I was surprised at how they ran some doctoring through LR.

I managed last time to develop some film by a wedding photog in UK who "sells" some of his capacity. Frontier TIFF files out of Color neg are way nicer than I can do with my Epson Flatbed.


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Old 07-24-2017   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Oren Grad View Post
So does anyone know of a lab that produces clean negatives but also routinely generates non-clipped, full-information scans? Or is that unreasonable to expect?
Try thefindlab.com

I used to get their basic scans, which is a nice, flat, unprocessed scan that captures as much information from the negative as possible. You can then got to town and process as to how you see fit.

Nowadays I 'scan' my film with my Nikon D750, with no issues.
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Old 07-24-2017   #6
JoeV
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I used to get good scans from Walgreens via their Fuji Frontier processors. But the lab I now use employs a flatbed scanner and the prints look like crap point-and-shoot pics. And for almost $20, it's a crime. I look through my archive of old mini lab prints and see some great images. Now, it's more advantageous to shoot digital, process the raw files and have the lab print them from there. For me, the era of color film is over.
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Old 07-24-2017   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huss View Post
Try thefindlab.com

I used to get their basic scans, which is a nice, flat, unprocessed scan that captures as much information from the negative as possible. You can then got to town and process as to how you see fit.

Nowadays I 'scan' my film with my Nikon D750, with no issues.
This sounds like the only viable way forward with color film.
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Old 07-24-2017   #8
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Two sources, both have the same equipment and produce excellent hi-res scans.

Precision, a sponsor here. Free developing for C-41. You get scans back online, and they will cut your film to spec and return negs to you. Excellent all the way around.

North Coast Photographic Services, San Diego. Last time I used them, excellent. Recommended by Ken Rockwell, but don't hold that against them.

I can recommend both based on my own experience.
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Old 07-24-2017   #9
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Quote:
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North Coast Photographic Services, San Diego. Last time I used them, excellent. .

I can recommend both based on my own experience.
That is the other lab I use. Very happy with them too.
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Old 07-24-2017   #10
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FWIW a small lab I used to frequent taught me how to operate their Frontier SP2000 and later the Sp3000 (They knew I liked my scans done a certain way, so rather than adding to their work burden, they allowed me to scan it myself).

Frontier scans will always clip, but they clip in a way that is generally pleasing. There is a built in contrast curve in the Frontier software that determines this. There is a contrast adjustment ("all soft"/ "standard"/ "all hard") that tends to only affect mid-tones, but the highlights will still clip.

The usual operator adjustment is done by adjusting CMYK. The "K" is Key or black and affects density. This is done by numeric +/- adjustment. Adjusting K does not seem to affect the curve or shift the clip point. If you have soemthing printed at the same time the CMYK values will be imprinted on the back of the print. No adjustment to CMYK will be reflected as "NNNN". I find that results are not repeatable, so if you want the lab to match a previous print they did for which you don't have a scan they have to eyeball it and visually compare when re-scanning.

There is a not very well known sharpness adjustment, in +/- 5 increments. The default 0 is grossly oversharpened. Operators will seldom touch this, but if one requests to scan "less sharp" they can do so. If the scanner is set for scanning a whole roll the adjustment applies until the end of the roll.

On average, when labs scan a whole roll, they can only spend about 5 to 6 seconds to adjust CMYK for each image.

Coming back to the OP's question, I believe one cannot get completely unclipped scans from minilabs.
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Old 07-24-2017   #11
Oren Grad
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LKSC View Post
FWIW a small lab I used to frequent taught me how to operate their Frontier SP2000 and later the Sp3000... etc.
Very interesting, thanks... The FAQ page at TheFINDlab (thanks, Huss!) talks about this. They offer both Frontier SP-3000 and Noritsu HS-1800 scans - you can choose - and they say that the Noritsu scans will be less contrasty. They also have a blog post about scanning for highlights vs shadows, with sample illustrations and encouragement to talk to them about preferences in this respect, so they're also willing to adjust to taste within at least some range.

Appreciate all the other comments and suggestions too!
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Old 08-18-2018   #12
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I am the owner of MeinFilmLab, Germany. We use many SP3000 and Noritsu HS1800. We create scans without clipping, as long as the negative is well exposed! High contrast (black and white or E6 films) may cause clipping.

It is important that the scan operator knows exactly which picture/scan you want from your negative. With this knowledge, an excellent scan can be made, which contains all the necessary informations of the negative.

Very well, the contrast can be edited with a SP3000. For this, however, an additional software from Fuji is necessary, which unfortunately is no longer sold. If you scan in the US, try Richard Photo Lab, but talk to them first about your wishes. If you scan in Europe, test us. We are one of the leading labs in Europe, committed to the desires and goals of our customers.
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Old 09-19-2018   #13
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I've used The FIND Lab a lot and they're really wonderful. $12 for basic scans and they always come out great. Your best bet for all of the information is to choose the Noritsu, low contrast, and write "Flat/Low Contrast Scans Please!" in the order form. That was what I did last time and got wonderful results back. I'm going to send Richard's Photo Lab a roll sometime soon to try them out, but so far I'm very happy with The FIND Lab.
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