Scanning borders and sprocket

Let me guess. If I say that scanning negatives sometimes can be a pain in the ass, you know exactly what I mean, right?

Nr.1 source of P.I.T.A.: Some film emulsions, like my favorite Kodak Tri-X, are so stiff and prone to bending that the flimsy negative holders provided with common scanners just don’t manage to hold the negative flat enough to enable good scans. A bent negative means uneven focus, image distortion (since the image isn’t as parallel to the sensor as it should) and occurrence of Newton rings if the negative touches the scanner’s glass surfaces.

Nr. 2 source of P.I.T.A.: I want to scan the black border around the frames, and sometimes even the sprocket holes with film ID and frame numbers. Why? Because it makes my photos feel much more tangible, by showing the medium they come from. Unfortunately, both the sprocket holes and most of the black border of a negative are covered by the negative holders that come with most flatbed scanners. Even dedicated negative scanners like the Reflecta RPS-7200 Professional, that don’t use any negative holders, don’t let you scan border and sprockets since that’s the area the scanner grips the negative from.

There are of course more sources of P.I.T.A., like scanning time, dust, and the difficulty (depending on scanner model) to scan panoramic images larger than 24x36mm…

Here is how, after lots of trial and failure, I kind of solved the first two problems.

First of all, someone smarter than me (www.betterscanning.com) came up with anti Newton-ring (ANR) inserts that you can buy for the most common scanners. I did buy one, but soon encountered a problem: My Kodak Tri-X is so stiff and bent that the weight of the glass ANR insert just can’t hold the negative down flat. At betterscanning.com they mention that this may occur with some film types. In this case, they suggest you tape the glass insert to the negative holder to fix the problem. Alternatively, they say, you can use tape to build up enough thickness to “wedge” the ANR insert in tight when it is placed down into the film holder. This may not be fun to do often, but it works.

However, this still doesn’t solve problem nr. 2: to use the ANR insert as suggested above, you still need to lay your negative on the scanner’s original negative holder, and that means no scanning of sprocket holes and border. So what did I do?

Since I do not use medium format, I sacrificed the MF negative holder that came with my Epson scanner and adapted it to just what I need. (If you don’t want to sacrifice your MF negative holder, you can easily cut something similar out of dark cardboard, for instance).

1) By using a sharp knife, I cut the window in the plastic negative holder and made it long enough to contain a 6 frame negative stripe. The original width is more then enough, since it is made to accommodate 6×6 negatives, so I just made the window longer all the way with its original width.

2) By using black tape, I reduced the width of the window to about 4 cm. This is just a few mm wider than a 35mm negative stripe including sprocket holes. The negative stripe is now placed directly on the glass surface of the scanner, but this does not produce Newton rings as long as it’s the emulsion side (the dull or rough one, not the shiny side) that touches the scanner’s glass. By blocking with black tape the part of of the window that’s in excess of the negative width, you reduce the blinding of the sensor from the light that does not go through the negative.

3) Finally, I cut two small and ca. 7 mm high pieces of rubber from the first thing I got hold of, and glued them on the very edges of the ANR glass insert I bought from betterscanning.com, like in the picture below. As you see, the negative stripe under the glass is still visibly bent.. However, as soon as I lower the top of the scanner this presses the glass insert down, holding the negative completely flat.

This way, I can scan a 6-frame negative stripe with border, sprocket holes and very nice quality even with a cheap scanner (see photos below). Hope this inspires someone to have fun with film.

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