Part 1 - The Rationale
Let's face it: scanning colour film - particularly colour negative film - isn't life's most enjoyable task. Getting the colour just 'right' can be tricky, and the inability to preview the shots prior to scanning (one of the major benefits of reversal film, FWIW) is a drawback.
Nevertheless, good results are possible. I've been a strong advocate of a workflow based upon scanning to linear TIFF files (preferably using Vuescan), and doing the orange mask removal and inversions using the ColorPerfect plugin. For those who haven't seen it and would like to, my workflow is available here.
Since that video was produced, however, there have been some substantial changes to my film scanning workflow, the most profound being that I no longer actually use a scanner. Based on my tests from late last year, I decided to sell both of my film scanners and move completely over to a DSLR scanning system, based around a Nikon D800 and a Tokina 100 f/2.8 macro lens. I've written about my workflow with this system previously, and I'm very happy with the final scans I've been getting out of this system.
Despite this, there are two things that always bothered me about the Vuescan/ColorPerfect workflow: first, the complete inability to batch the process on multiple images, and second, the lack image-to-image reproducibility in ColorPerfect.
Both of these are essentially criticisms of the ColorPerfect plugin itself (though not, it should be noted, of the quality of the final product that ColorPerfect can produce). The plugin isn't compatible with Photoshop actions (except to call up the plugin), and the controls are not at all intuitive, which makes it very difficult to get consistent results between frames. That is, two shots, taken in the same light, may end up with very different final scans, depending on the way in which you, the user, manipulate the controls in ColorPerfect. And as I said, knowing which control does what is not exactly straightforward.
With this in mind, I decided to try to improve upon the process, and to develop an entirely Photoshop-based process for colour negative scans. The three conditions for a successful process were:
- Output as good as - or better than - what ColorPerfect can produce (it goes without saying that image quality should be the primary concern),
- The ability to batch at least part of the process (it'll never be 'set and forget', but if an entire roll could be ingested into Photoshop and at least inverted, with an easy way to finish the colour balancing, I'd be ok with that), and
- Frame-to-frame reproducibility.
Against my better judgement, I'm going to "live" blog this process. I'll try to update this every few days with my progress, and to detail the thought process behind the things I'm doing. In the end, I'm hoping that I can develop a simple Photoshop action (which will be shared with whoever wants it, of course), which could help film photographers gain a little bit more control over their colour negative film scans.
So here we go.