Best scanner for 4x5 negatives : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'm exploring a combination of digital and wet photography...scanning my B&W 4x5 negatives, doing the contrast control and other manipulations in Photoshop, then creating a negative for contact printing via the imagesetter method described in Dan Burkholder's books. As best as I understand, about 300dpi at the output print size is an optimum resolution to aim for. So, even for 11x14, a 900 dpi or so scan should be fine. Any suggestions on a "best" scanner that's affordable?

-- John Sarsgard (, August 24, 1999


I've been doing some reading on scanners and am interested in Lf forum friends responses....but based on what I've read, a good scanner in 4x5 starts at 10k U.S. This is sticker-scary, any other opinions?

-- trib (, August 24, 1999.

there are several high-quality negative scanners available. however, none of them are what i would consider affordable for individuals, since they are typically designed for professional graphic use. i might suggest that you consider visiting your best local graphics house, and make an arrangement with them based on how many negs you will be bringing them on a regular basis. no upfront costs, no maintenance costs, and you are getting the services of a professional that makes sure it is done right every time. how are you planning to print your images? in my business, it is essential that i produce archival b/w prints. is there any electronic printing process and paper selection for digital printing that can rival the print quality or cost-per-print of a normal fiber- base silver print?

-- jnorman (, August 24, 1999.

I think the Microtek scanners ( fits your requirements properly at a reasonable cost ~$1000. My concern with 4x5 wouldn't be DPI, but rather Dmax.

-- Carlos Co (, August 24, 1999.

below is a list of some film scanners, with a couple of current prices. as pointed out above, the microtek is one of the lowest priced units that can handle 4x5 (more like $2500 than $1000, however). it should be evident from the price that this unit is not technically comparable with units such as the leafscan or the nikon.

4x5" Film Scanners:

Kodak PCD Scanner 4045 Leaf Leafscan 45 Microtek ScanMaker 45t - $2750 Nikon LS-4500AF - $8995 Polaroid SprintScan 45 - $8849

Large Format Scanners:

Agfa SelectScan Plus Agfa DuoScan Agfa Horizon Ultra Linotype-Hell Topaz Scitex Smart 342/342L Scitex Smart 720/730 Plus

-- jnorman (, August 24, 1999.

don't forget the Imacon upright scanner.

-- Dan Smith (, August 24, 1999.

You might want to look at the UMAX PowerLook III. It is a prepress flatbed scanner that also comes with a transparency adapter (essentially a second top with a light source in it) that converts the scanner for scanning film. It comes with film holders from 35mm through 4x5. It is capable of doing 1200 x 2400 scan (true optical resolution). Dmax on it is 3.4 which is not bad for a flatbed scanner. Comes with good scanning software and can be found for around $1150 on the Internet (try for comparative shopping). After that, your on your way up to however much you think your wallet can stand. UMAX also makes the PowerLook 3000 which does 3080 x 3080 resolution and costs about $5800. As they say in racing - how fast do you want to go, how much do you want to spend?

-- steve (, August 24, 1999.

assuming (and this is a $15K assumption) that price is no hurdle, The Imacon scanner is the one to go with. Since I can't afford one I use a lab that has one. I have also made a point of making a good relationship with the craftsman who is a master of the scan. His name is Carl Champagne, he is based at AZ llp. Lab in Houston, Texas and he can be reached at 713.862.6343. Barry is a really super nice guy and does beautiful work at a reasonable (to me) price.

-- Ellis Vener (, August 25, 1999.

the microtek image maker 4 is an excellent choice, not the highest end, but certainly good for prepress and printing from digital. It scans from film or print without additional cost---only $500.00. Beware! digital doesn't have near the range of paper and film for dodging and burning, its as limited as color in that regard.

-- mark lindsey (, August 25, 1999.

For a reasonable budget a flatbed scanner is an alternative to consider. From a 4x5" negative one can get sufficiently large files at 1200 dpi (if Your computer can handle such files...)

In principle, the "drawer" type is better than the type, where negetives/dias are scanned through the glass like paper originals. Some Mikrotek and Agfa Duoscan models have that construction (maybe they are the same design). The scanner reads the negative from top and not through any glass.

Just said, I have had pleasant results with Mikrotek Scanmaker III and the top assembly. I just think, that an Agfa would be even better.


-- Sakari Mdkeld (, August 25, 1999.

And ... if price REALLY is not a consideration. Then the one to go with is the Heidelberg Tango - at I believe, $67,500. Then of course, there are those accessories...

-- steve (, August 25, 1999.

900 dpi is fine is all you want is a 4x5 print. You need higher resolutions to make larger prints, hence the popularity of the Tango drum scanner at service bureaus. The Imacon is a good scanner for the price but will not give you as good a scan as the Tango. You do get what you pay for here.

The reason you need more than 900 dpi on the original scan is so you can resize the image in PhotoShop. This in itself will get rid of some problems such as dust, and also improves the grain. The Tango also has the advantage of higher dMax, giving you better highlight and shadow detail. Another advantage is that the oils used to coat the negative or slide effectively remove scratches when scanning.

For serious work you need to start with the best possible scan. As much as I like my Umax PowerLook III it is only a proofing device. My best images go to West Coast Imaging for drum scanning. They know what they're doing.

-- Darron Spohn (, August 25, 1999.

J Normal, yes, the Microtek Scanmaker 5 sells for $2200 at B&H, however, the ScanMaker 4 sells for only $700 and has 600x1200 optical resolution and DMax of 3.4 which is probably adequate for John's needs.

-- Carlos Co (, August 25, 1999.

Many thanks to everyone for the great input. As to output...I am going to try Dan Burkholder's approach of sending a Photoshop EPS file to a service bureau with an imagesetter...normally used for making negs to burn plates for printing. Using this process, the results I have seen at 300dpi at the final neg size look great. You can't tell the neg is digital without a loupe. If you've seen Brooks Jensen's prints sold via Lenswork ( this is how he does print from imagesetter negative. Now...can anyone help me understand a little better why I need a scan on a much more expensive machine as long as a basic flatbed will scan a 4x5 neg at the required resolution? I surely don't want to buy a scanner that will not be good enough. Aiming for quality as good as wet darkroom here. Thanks!

-- John Sarsgard (, August 25, 1999.


Even the LightJet 500 prints at only 300 dpi. You need to scan for the final output size. (11x300)x(14x300)=3300x4200 pixels for an 11x14 print. Now divide the output pixels by the original size (4x5) to determine your scanning requirement: 825x840.

However, counting pixels is sort of like looking at a car's engine to determine its horsepower. Not all engines are created equal. A Ferrari with a 3.5 liter engine may have more power than a Corvette with a 6 liter engine.

A drum scan at 5,000 dpi would be overkill for an 11x14 print from a 4x5 original. However, if you scan your 4x5 at 900 dpi on a Tango and scan the same original on the Flextight Imacon at 900 dpi you will see differences between the two when you open them in PhotoShop.

The drum scanner will give you better highlight and shadow detail, and have less noise in the scanned image. You start with a better scan and you get better output. If you are after darkroom quality you need to start with a drum scan. Nothing else will match it, especially not a flatbed scanner.

If you want 11x14 output you should start with a minimum 1800 dpi scan of your 4x5 so you can scale it down in Photoshop. Starting with a larger scan and scaling it down will sharpen the image and remove some artifacts. (Always work on a copy of the original scan so you can go back if you ruin it.)

If your requirements were not as stringent a cheaper scanner would do.

-- Darron Spohn (, August 26, 1999.


The duoscan 2500 can scan a 4x5 positive or negative at 2500 x 2500 dpi (optical). You should be able to get a 10000 x 12500 pixel (48bit) image from a scan. The price is around $3,800.00 at (No I dont work there)


-- jon miller (, November 11, 1999.

I have had a Scanmaker 4 for a while and I must say that it has been an excellent performer. It is used for B&W 4x5 negatives scanned in RGB than concerted to B&W. The results are quite fine for making large coffee table sized portfolio/books. (Images up 16x20 are pretty big for something you hold!) Beautiful imagery printed with a good printer on fine paper like arches is as lovely if not more so than the finest publications (a 24" HP 800PS, as soon as they have archival UV inks for it) Too many people get all hung up on technical things and often confuse the possession of expensive doodads with talent. Scanning a 4x5 at 1200 dpi will give you a lovely 16x20 at 300 dpi (28.8 mega- pixels!) You could a great scan and a rotten printer. I'm putting my money into the printer! As the originator I have license to fiddle with the file!

I is easy to solve a problem with lots of money. The trick is to do it with economy.

-- John Maitland Graves, Pest & Gadfly (, December 21, 2000.

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