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Patrickfromva Jan 9, 2004 3:07 PM

Request advice from some film to digital experts
Request advice from some film to digital experts

Using good film, and shooting in a professional studio, how much information can I get off a 35mm negative and use realistically in an enlarged print. Basically, how high can I set a negative scanner before I’m just waiting time and disk space, and not capturing more information?

History – Hired a professional photographer to do a photo shoot in a controlled studio environment, and provide “High Resolution” scanned image files for printing.
When I received them and saw they were scanned at 1350 DPI (on his Nikon Negative scanner) yielding images of less than 1800 X 1200 (i.e. 2 megapixles) I told him they were not high enough to get good enlarged prints. (he has a large format Epson, and I have a large format Canon i9100).

I suggested 2700 DPI (or even 4000 DPI common in the current crop of scanners) He said I must be on crack to need that, and he has printed fine 8 x 10 and larger with the scan settings he uses. He has never had a complaint….. can’t belive they are not good enough…. ect. ect.

He is a well schooled professional (old school of film), I’m an amateur who makes up in technology (actually an Engineer) where I lack in creativity. (ha ha)

Thoughts? I can’t belive that a 8 X 10 or 13 x 19 print on my i9100 can be best served by an 1800 x 1200 image Tiff file.

Bob Nichol Jan 11, 2004 8:20 PM

In theory best quality photo printing is about 300 or more PIXELs to the inch, not to be confused with DOTs to the inch. This means an 8x10 works out to 7,200,000 pixels or so. In 5:4 format this is 3000x2400 pixels or 3286x2191 in 3:2 format.

In practice I've had excellent 8x10 results with a 5 MP camera and let the Frontier printer scale the image up to fit.

Nagasaki Jan 12, 2004 11:15 AM

I think you are being fobbed off. The file you are being given is not the best you can get from a 35mm neg. I have a scanner that scans at 2700 DPI and I have had shots blown up to an acceptable A3. At A4 it is photo quality and better than a lower resolution scan. Also a higher scan resolution allows you to crop the image and still produce an acceptable print at a reasonable size.

Everything I've read suggests that the resolution of 35mm film is far higher than even the best 4000 dpi home scanners.

BillDrew Jan 12, 2004 5:57 PM

Take a look at

That also has links to other sites and more info.

The conclusion (as I read it) is that the high end digital SLRs are better than film - consumer digicams are not.

Patrickfromva Jan 21, 2004 6:24 PM

Interesting Responses
From the posts I see, my concern that 1350 DPI could never have captured all the information of a well shot and exposed 35mm negative is valid.

Bob uses a mega pixel rule of thumb to determine what a good print needs in terms of pixil information. (using his 300 dpi rule, a 19 X 13 print would need 22.2 megapixles for a well detailed print.

Nagaski notes that even 4000 dpi may fall short of capturing all the negative detail available. That’s a lot of pixl information. For pratical purposes, is this true? How then could digital be approaching film?

Bills link gave a great perspective on what I had felt was true, and that was not all pixels are alike. The importance of signal to noise is well worth reading (in fact, the use of cooled sensors brought me back to a previous life of engineering thermal imaging sensors for military targeting systems). The concept of Normalized Image IQ
Will take a little more time to fully grasp.
As a side note, with the loss of my Sony DCS-V1, I’m looking for a replacement, and preferably a step up. Bills article leads me to belive the larger sensors of the DSLR’s have a sizable advantage even with digicams having more megapixles. Hmmmmmm.

PeterP Jan 21, 2004 8:16 PM

I agree I think you were fobbed off with a very inferior product.

From a "pro" I'd expect a decently large scan in excess of 4000dpi at 48bit depth.
Even the relatively inexpensive Minolta 5400 can scan at 5400dpi and is under 1k$.

From a real prepress shop I'd expect something like the output from Heidelberg Tango drum scanner that can scan at 10,780 DPI without interpolation, and has a DMAX of 4.2.
For some reason drum scanners are not common in small shops, more common in service bureaus. :)

BillDrew Jan 21, 2004 8:26 PM

Re: Interesting Responses

Originally Posted by Patrickfromva
... Bills article leads me to belive the larger sensors of the DSLR’s have a sizable advantage even with digicams having more megapixles. Hmmmmmm.

Wish I could take credit for the work at Luminous Landscape, but Michael H. Reichmann is a much better photographer and writer than I am. He has some of the clearest explainations I've seen about why pixel counting doesn't tell the whole story. A site well worth spending some time at.

Pixels do count for picture quality: just no where near the only thing that does.

I also think you can get more from your film scans than you got, but depending on what you paid, you may well have got as good as you can reaonably expect. High resolution scans are not trivial, even ignoring the always present dust. Do some looking about on the web for prices for high-quality/high-resolution scans. It is a bit frightening.

eric s Jan 22, 2004 1:08 PM

Another thing to think about is image sharpness. The sharper the image, the more detail there is to get out (i.e. the more resolution you should use.)

The average hand held shot isn't as sharp as a tripod shot picture (for example.) So my guess (well, actually a good photography friend's guess) is that many people claim lower DPI is all you need because their pictures don't actually have the detail that would require higher. I haven't seen your pictures, and I'd have to use a loupe (sp?) and light box to really say how sharp they are (so I'm not criticizing you)... I'm just saying that this pro might be used to scanning shots of the average "hand held vacation" variety. Those might not need more resolution.

I'm in agreement with everyone else, 1350 seems low.

And I'm with Bill on the quality of luminous landscape. Very good stuff there. I also agree that high quality scans are not easy to do well... so it might cost more than you want to pay.


PeterP Jan 22, 2004 1:59 PM

Absoloutely :)

Even rather inexpensive(read cheep) scanners like my old HP-s20cxi can do 2400dpi+.
The 1350dpi almost sounds like an old flatbed scanner like the espon 1600.

I took a peek and costs are in the 55$us-75$us for a very hi rez 35mm drum scan. You also get your original back covered in the oil they used to mount the slide. Messy to cleanup.
So I don't think you would want to do this option too often :)

Patrickfromva Jan 26, 2004 5:01 AM

I had not heard the argument of hand held res vs. tripod res
I had not heard the argument of hand held resolution vs. tripod resolution. I’m just an amateur at this, but I would have thought that if you keep the shutter speed up high enough, and have enough light to still use a relative low speed film as you would with a tripod, should you not get just as sharp an image, and discernable resolution?

On the scanning, is there alot of additional effort in scanning at a higher resolution?
He has a Nikon 2000 series scanner (probably maxed out is 2700dpi) Is it not a matter of setting it higher, and waiting longer (plus dealing with some hefty image files). Bill references dust. Is there things you have to compensate for that would not normally need attention at 1350 dpi? I could always buy my own scanner and offer to scan them myself. (maybe I’m just looking for an excuse?, but I do think that Coolscan V ED , might be a good value?). Is it rocket science? The photographer has great talent behind the lens, but in front of the computer, (what I do for a living) I think I could catch up, and go well beyond).

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