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Negative Lab Pro

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Is anyone using Negative Lab Pro?

While locked in for Covid I'm back to digitizing negatives and gave it another go. I tried it some time ago and was not overly impressed, but thought I would try again. Going to do two things in this post, one is give a bit of overview of what I see, but also hope to solicit other input to see if you are finding it worth the cost (about $100 +/-).

On the good side (for me) it operates on raw images and adjusts lightroom settings, as opposed to making a pass through TIFF (or whatever) and adjusting outside. That makes it a lot more efficient in terms of disk space and keeps it (sort of) in the lightroom workflow.

On the bad side, like all LR tools until Adobe will let us invert the tone curve earlier, it reverses (or just plain screws up) the sliders. So further adjustments are difficult in LR. So if your goal is to make "normal" adjustments inside LR, you are still limited to tools that invert the tone curve outside and bring a positive back into LR, e.g. Photoshop.

In the next few posts I'll put a bit of my experimentations and experience.

The product by the way is here: Negative Lab Pro

You get a free trial that allows you 12 negative conversions. It's actually better than that, as you can experiment but not save the results (i.e. their "apply") without it charging you for one of the 12.

Installation is fairly manual but easy -- you unzip the file, copy over a bunch of profiles into the LR profile area, and then add the plugin like any other plugin. It runs then off the File, Plug-in Extras menu.

The online instructions are a bit dated, they say:

IMPORTANT: Make sure to TURN OFF the “Use Graphics Processor” option in Lightroom if it is enabled. To do this, go to “Preferences > Performance” and un-check the “Use Graphics Processor” option.
Which concerned me, but the release note install instructions in the file say:

If you are using a version earlier than Lightroom Classic v9.0, mMake sure to TURN OFF the “Use Graphics Processor” option in Lightroom. To do this, go to “Preferences > Performance” and un-check the “Use Graphics Processor” option.
So it would appear whatever limitation was involved no longer exists. I did not turn off graphics in my experimenting.

More to follow...
 
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So before showing results from the tool, let me review how I use Lightroom for negatives.

I do not invert the tone curve per se, I go into R, G, and B separately and invert each one, and clip off the parts with virtually no data. Then I fiddle with the sliders somewhat randomly, then go back to the tone curves again(as they shifted so I may need to re-clip) and keep fiddling repeatedly until I get something I like.

In other words tedious and without a good solid workflow, since some sliders are reversed, but some are just bizzare and interact with others. However... once I get one done, I can sync that with all the images from the same role if they were in similar lighting to give me a decent starting point.

Here's an example:

negative_lr.jpg

The big problem with this is that it is more art than science -- or maybe I should say more luck than science. You need to get just the right set of everything. By the way, the point on the middle in the inverted curve gets added well into the process as a way of adjusting the mid-range colors a bit, and again a bit of a random trial and error.

Here's the original 4x6 that came from some random lab 17 years ago, scanned on a relatively low quality scanner, though the colors look about right for what the print looked like:


4x6from1993.jpg


So the LR version is a bit warmer, hasn't blown the highlights as well, and to my eye is lacking some red which is also throwing off the skin tones a bit. I actually tried to fix it, but it was difficult as fixing those kept throwing off something else. But with reasonable effort his is how close I could get.

One thing quite surprising is the lab's shot is just plain not in focus. I have no recollection who did it (the paper is Fuji) back then, but this is a good justification for re-doing old shots in itself. Look at the difference in detail.

BadLabFocus.jpg


Anyway... that's my attempt. Next is Negative Lab Pro
 
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To use Negative Lab Pro, first you need to adjust the white balance against the border (unexposed) portion of the negative. This makes a huge difference, don't skip this step. Just un-crop to see it, and use the eye dropper.

Then crop -- I am not sure this matters, but I THINK it is analyzing the cropped portion of the image, so if you have a lot of border showing this may make a big difference.

Then run the option. I used the defaults, there are some tweaks I have not explored yet.

Pre-convert.jpg


Notice my negative is not all that orange, that's the change from adjusting the white balance first. Don't skip that step. After conversion I got something that was awfully close to the lab print - over exposed but decent colors, at least near matching colors. And you get a panel of new sliders that DO work in the right direction, so you adjust from here going forward (you can use LR, but that lays on top of this).

AfterConvert.jpg


AfterAdjustments.jpg


And this is what I got with just a bit of adjustments I'm still not really happy with the reds, but the yellow look to the white background is much better, I think.

Here's a comparison shot zoomed 1:1.

manual_v_negativelab.jpg


I guess the real question is whether the plane was greenish or more grey. The lab print was more grey, and close to this. My memory is not that good. And the face is a bit too small to really say which has better tone.

But... on the good side, for ONE print I got to the negative lab pro much quicker than I could manually.

Off to find a better shot with more skin tones... more to come...
 
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So I did another shot with more of a closeup (same guy -- old flying buddy we were visiting Wright Patterson), and did my best manually, then did a convert (not looking at mine) and did some adjustments to make it look right. Here's a side by side manual on the left, Negative Lab on the right.

manual_v_negativelab_2.jpg


That was with very minimal tweaking of the Negative Lab result and I think the color there is much better, not just the skin tone but look at the detail on the (very old) dash, it's got that blue/green/grey for old military paint, whereas on the left it's too blue.

So what's it doing underneath the covers? it's also tweaking the tone curve.

Curvey.jpg


The more you use their sliders the more this gets curvey.

One interesting aspect of this is if you have a bunch of similar you can just sync these settings into them and get the same result -- EXCEPT that shot is not then labeled as a convert, so you cannot use Negative Lab's sliders on it (that is somewhat unfortunate as it could be a real time saver, but maybe they need to record some data to make it work right).

You can batch convert more than one negative at a time (I haven't yet, still milking my 12 trials).

I'm going to read a bit about the tweaking available and try a few more, but with LOTS of negatives to do, I'm thinking this might be useful.

So back to my first question: Are others using it? Are you finding it holds up well on a variety of shots? Any hints for doing it better?
 
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OK, I've learned a few things.

One is that the trial apparently per negative but per session per negative. If I re-open the plugin it goes to the slider page, but it won't let me save them without decrementing my trial count. That really is not fair in terms of being able to get a fair test.

The other is that it is a bit of a loose canon in terms of changes -- I had the comparison screen up, and LR only changes the one selected. I bought up NLP and it changed them both! So use with care if more than one image is selected.

And finally now I can't trust any of the results because... apparently it doesn't support my camera. I noticed this little message:

MissingProfile.jpg


So I looked through the huge number of profiles it includes (1439 to be precise) and apparently they have to be specific to the camera, and there's none for my Sony A9ii. So who knows what it is doing without it, or not doing because it doesn't have it. I don't know if it's minor (like Adobe Color vs. my own) or major. Not a single one of their profiles is camera neutral -- I cannot select any of them.

Time for a support ticket I guess.

So... check if it supports your camera or scanner first!
 

nate8261

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Hi!

Nate here, creator of Negative Lab Pro. Thanks for trying it out!

I'll try to answer a few of the things that you've brought up below.

I also encourage new users to check out the official guide, at Guide | Negative Lab Pro
There's also a fairly in-depth overview video here:
(but I need to update it as it still shows the v1.2 options)
... and here's a more recent video that shows the newest features added in the latest version (v2.1):

You can also see lots of samples from users of Negative Lab Pro here: Negative Lab Pro (@negativelabpro) • Instagram photos and videos
This should give you a sense of the type of results that are possible!

Negative Lab Pro instagram screenshot.jpg

Ok... so let me answer your other questions...

So I looked through the huge number of profiles it includes (1439 to be precise) and apparently they have to be specific to the camera, and there's none for my Sony A9ii.
Whenever I update Negative Lab Pro, I update it to include support for the latest cameras. The A9ii support for Lightroom came out in LR Classic v9.1, which was right after the latest version of Negative Lab Pro.

So the A9ii profile will be included in the next update...
But I've already made it and you can download it here now if you'd like (hopefully I'm allowed to share a dropbox link?):
Download Sony A9ii Profile for Negative Lab Pro -> Negative Lab - Sony ILCE-9M2 v2.dcp

You'll need to download that and add to your camera profiles. Make sure you can manually find it as a profile option in Lightroom on a fresh negative. On your previously converted images, you will want to open NLP, go to the convert tab, and hit "unconvert". You should then see the profile correctly applied on future conversions.

The camera profile is really really important. It's the foundation of the conversion, and by default, the camera profiles that Adobe includes are not well-suited to negative conversion (not even Adobe Neutral). They were made for positive digital images, and have many things in them that are disruptive to negatives (tone curves, hue-twists, black subtraction...).

On the bad side, like all LR tools until Adobe will let us invert the tone curve earlier, it reverses (or just plain screws up) the sliders. So further adjustments are difficult in LR. So if your goal is to make "normal" adjustments inside LR, you are still limited to tools that invert the tone curve outside and bring a positive back into LR, e.g. Photoshop.
Ideally, I tell users it's best to try to do as much as possible on the original negative using the tools included in Negative Lab Pro. This will produce the most natural results. Once you know what you are doing, you can correct a negative in a just a few seconds. Try the various "tone profile" and "autocolor" options.

My go to setup is: "Linear Deep" tone profile and the "Autocolor - Warming" color profile. From there, I usually just adjust the strength of the "AutoColor - Warming" correction, and adjust the brightness and contrast to taste!

BUT, if you find you do want to use Lightroom regular tools, there is an option to "make a positive copy." This will create a positive copy of the negative that you can then work on using Lightroom's regular tools.

One interesting aspect of this is if you have a bunch of similar you can just sync these settings into them and get the same result -- EXCEPT that shot is not then labeled as a convert, so you cannot use Negative Lab's sliders on it (that is somewhat unfortunate as it could be a real time saver, but maybe they need to record some data to make it work right).
There is a tool for this in Negative Lab Pro as well, called "sync scene"

From the guide (Guide | Negative Lab Pro):

Sync Scene is similar to using Lightroom’s own Sync Settings tool in that it will take the Lightroom settings from one negative and apply it to the other selected Negatives. The advantage of using Sync Scene is that it also copies the metadata and initial image analysis to the other negatives, allowing you to continue editing the negative using Negative Lab Pro’s controls.
So it would appear whatever limitation was involved no longer exists. I did not turn off graphics in my experimenting.
Yes, there was a Lightroom bug (which I believe has been discussed on this forum before) that caused some issues with plugins when interacting with the GPU. Basically it caused changes to not be rendered from the plugin to the main LR window until you clicked another button. Adobe fixed it in LR Classic 9.1, so you are all good to use GPU acceleration now!

Any other questions or ways I can help, just let me know!

-Nate
 
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Nate here, creator of Negative Lab Pro. Thanks for trying it out!
Wow, that was fast.

"A9ii profile":

But I've already made it and you can download it here now if you'd like (hopefully I'm allowed to share a dropbox link?):
Got it. Thank you.

BUT, if you find you do want to use Lightroom regular tools, there is an option to "make a positive copy." This will create a positive copy of the negative that you can then work on using Lightroom's regular tools.
My comment on the tone curve and lightroom really relate to some of us pushing Adobe for years to change how they apply the tone curve. They do it now somewhat late in the develop process, and this causes all the sliders to act funny/reversed/etc. If on the other hand they would do this as one of the first steps, then one could do a negative conversion by inverting the tone curve and all the sliders would work correctly. That doesn't address issues like the substrate color cast, but it does make it more like Photoshop's inversion, you end up essentially with a positive you can edit in LR. They occasionally express interest but that's about all.

Of course, if they did your tool would be ... well at best different.

Any other questions or ways I can help, just let me know!
I don't know about questions so much as I need to experiment and probably read more (I'm in the minority -- I read, I don't have the attention span for videos, but you do have a fair amount of documentation I'm weeding through).

I will offer that decrementing the 12 images each time you make a change to the same negative is.... unfriendly to people doing a trial.

But where I'm struggling is some shots it immediately works far, far better than manual. Others... well, here's an example, I've tried this I think three separate tries (now with the right profile), and to me the one on the left from NLP just looks washed out. Not in terms of contrast, but saturation -- look at the blue chairs or green leaves. The right may even be a bit cold, but the saturation is quite different.

But... I need to read more.

And the good thing, obviously, is if I can do better without... well, it's not like using it for some removes that choice for others.

example.jpg
 
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Just to keep sharing some examples for people following along at home.

I grabbed an outdoor shot, lots of too bright sky and high contrast. My attempt on the left, NLP on the right. This one I cheated.... I did mine first, but after NLP came out better I tried really hard to match it (without actually, you know, looking at the curves or anything). I got close, but there's a lot more pop in the NLP one, the opposite of my example above.

Example2.jpg

Here's a blowup 1:1. I can't remember well but I suspect the color on the left is a bit more accurate, but the depth of the color on the right is much better. Despite a lot of manual attempts I could not get the left to improve without shifting the color to wrong (this is one of the problems with screwed up sliders, everything you do has a side effect).

So a definite win here for NLP.

example2_1-1.jpg
\
Need to go find some old shots I did before, I had some much older negatives in much worse shape.
 
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I'm really enjoying your running commentary Ferguson, and we'll probably highlight this thread in the next newsletter as I'm sure loads of other people are getting started on their digitizing projects during lockdown.

And thanks for jumping into the thread Nate. You've clearly done a lot of work on Negative Lab Pro.
 

nate8261

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Wow, that was fast.
Haha, I do try to respond quickly to questions - I also saw a little "bat signal" up in the sky from Victoria :)

I will offer that decrementing the 12 images each time you make a change to the same negative is.... unfriendly to people doing a trial.
I hear ya. There are some technical limitations to exactly how the the trial plays out (based on it being a Lightroom plugin). The flip side is that (as you've discovered) you can try out different changes (and even conversions) and just not apply it at the end and it won't count against your free trial. This seems like a fair way to allow users to get a true sense of what it is capable of.

I'll keep evaluating it though... the next major version (v3) will have something called "roll analysis", which will use the context of the multiple negatives to provide better individual conversions. Based on letting people explore that feature, I'm considering extending the number of available free conversions.

But where I'm struggling is some shots it immediately works far, far better than manual. Others... well, here's an example, I've tried this I think three separate tries (now with the right profile), and to me the one on the left from NLP just looks washed out. Not in terms of contrast, but saturation
You will find that sometimes Negative Lab Pro "nails" it right away, and other times it take a bit of adjustment. This is based both on personal taste, your saved default settings, and the scene itself.

The Negative Lab Pro initial conversions are just a starting point.

The goal is to get it close to final, but then provide the toolset that makes it easy to get exactly the color and tones you want out of your negative. Once you know how to use the settings though, it is very quick to correct.

For example, here is a negative from instagram photographer @lucarapisardaphoto:

ex1.jpg


And here is the initial conversion with Negative Lab Pro...

ex2.jpg


This is an example of where I'd say the initial conversion is not quite right.

You can see the skin tones are off (with an unpleasant cyan tint) and the contrast is too aggressive.

You can fix this in literally 5 seconds with Negative Lab Pro's editing tools...

First, let's set the tone profile to "linear" - which will produce flatter tonal response.


ex3.jpg


Now, let's use the "autocolor - warming" color setting. This setting does an analysis on the image to detect cold color casts, and removes them... think of it like Photoshops Autocolor, but made specifically for film negatives and more adjustable...

ex4.jpg


Hey! That's looking better! Let increase the strength of the correction a bit more!

(To understand what we're doing, the Autocolor Warming analysis set a 9% color cast correction at a hue of 11 degrees. We can then increase the percent correction being applied, or fine-tune the hue of correction - which is what I mean when I say that this color analysis is more powerful than photoshop's AutoColor).

ex5.jpg


That's better! So in just a few seconds, we've been able to correct an image that did not do very well on the initial conversion.

All that to say, Negative Lab Pro is an editing tool designed for film negatives, and like any editing tool, the more you learn and understand how to use it, the better your results will be!

To me the one on the left from NLP just looks washed out. Not in terms of contrast, but saturation -- look at the blue chairs or green leaves.
Try converting with the "Pre-Saturation" set all the way up to 5. You can also try increasing the "contrast" slider.

You'll also find that Negative Lab Pro by default will alway try to preserve the highlights, so in a scene like this, where you have two different light sources that are drastically different (the indoor light, and the outdoor light visible through the window), it will preserve the brightest light. A quick trick to deal with this is to unconvert the negative in Negative Lab Pro (go to the "convert" tab, and hit unconvert"), then recrop the scene to only include the foreground (not the backlight), and then reconvert and adjust your settings from that starting point. After editing, of course you can recrop your scene to show the full thing!

we'll probably highlight this thread in the next newsletter as I'm sure loads of other people are getting started on their digitizing projects during lockdown
Very cool, Victoria! Let me know if there is anything you need from me :)

-Nate
 
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(Imagine the jeopardy "wait" theme playing here for a while.... )

So I just bought the tool to experiment more, but here's my top level thinking now:

If you want native LR inversion, it's a great choice. I bought it.

Longer version:

Every other tool (other than manual) operates on an exported image. There is a technical-philosophical decision one should make doing this-- are you trying to operate on the original DSLR image, or would you rather invert it outside. Now it's not mutually exclusive, you can do some shots one way, some another -- but you will make yourself less nuts if you end up with one primary approach.

I like the idea of just using lightroom on the negatives, primarily because it preserves more detail if I want to clean up later. If I invert the tone curve in something like photoshop, that positive has lost some data -- however I clip the curves is deleting data. Now clearly I can also save the raw, or I could try to use reversible transforms on layers, but all those add up to a LOT more storage. Storage isn't the top priority but it can quickly get relevant with lots of layers. And 99% of decades old negatives are... well, let's say they were not works of art.

So to some extent, if I want to use LR native inversion this tool is perfect in one respect -- it's pure lightroom underneath the covers.

Let me compare that to what I had been doing on difficult shots before:

jpg.jpg


The shot on the right is my manual attempt at a manual inversion in LR (not yet cropped). The colors were awful. The colors were awful on the entire roll, but... I took it into Photoshop and inverted there, clipped each color, and got a much, much nicer color.

So what then... I brought it back into LR and stacked them, so I could keep the original in case I wanted one day to do further editing. To try to make it more reproducible, I inverted in photoshop but did all the editing in LR. So if I lated wanted a TIFF for example, I could re-invert, and sync the LR changes over the TIFF from the (small) JPG. Roundabout way of saving the edits; layers in PS might do the same, but with a LOT more space than the JPG, and the JPG's are good enough for 99% of these shots.

But... stacks are a PAIN. if you make metadata changes and the stack is collapsed you only change one. Publish and similar issues, you might get dups published, might not, depending on how much care you took.

So I found this technique a real pain.

Now that said... there is a STRONG argument to be made to do the inversion and delete the raw. Other than space issues, this provides you the ability to use LR the way it is designed for tweaking, AND it lets other tools like face recognition work normally.

Face recognition is kind of a big loss if you are trying to image a big archive to share with family. Though 50 years of aging may through it off a bit for some people (not me of course, same face as when I was 18 ;) ).

I think the right answer is at one extreme or the other -- either live within LR (and Negative Lab Pro is a good tool), or do the inversion and save the TIFF (I guess you could use NLP for that as well, to be fair). Pick a workflow.

Right now I'm at the raw end of the spectrum, but I do think about reconsidering quite often.
 
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@nate8261 thanks for the pointers. As with any tool, the real answer is practice, practice, practice...

I am finding (now that I bought it) that doing a whole roll of negatives at once provides a whole different perspective. While there may still be cases where some I can do better by hand, the speed of getting 90% there on 30 or so shots at once is a fundamental difference. One area is in culling -- it's tough to cull as negatives, and doing a rough manual inversion really does not get you close enough. A large percentage of shots I image really do not need to be preserved. This lets me get them culled MUCH faster so I can pay attention to tweaking the results.

Here's the above done in NLP with minimal tweaking. I did not try to make it look like my other result, I tried to make it look good. I'm not sure if the warmer look or the cooler look is more accurate, but I think both NLP (on the right) and my PS inversion on the left are credible. My manual inversion in LR in the middle is awful.

Three.jpg


I also had a lot of old negatives that were just a mess... I'm not sure what was wrong, but I had a devil of a time doing some of these even in photoshop. I kept trying to adjust areas, like the edges that I thought were fading. Somehow, and I am not quite sure how, NLP removes a lot of the color-stained areas, I am assuming with the way it clips the individual channel curves. Not at all sure how, but a very pleasant surprise. I have a lot of these all from about 1998-2002. Older negatives are much better, newer ones are mostly digital. What's odd about the time frame is I wasn't moving around, the storage was better. I think maybe something happened to processing quality in that time frame (I have no recollection who I used for processing). This whole role was variations on this theme. NLP's results are on the right, un-tweaked. Not saying the colors are great, but somehow all that blue fade is gone.
BadNegative.jpg


So I also ran across a pile of B&W shots from the early 70's. I find B&W pretty easy to do manually, and most of these looked to me to be either a bit over-exposed or over-processed (I did my own back then). All these were tri-x, and I probably was pushing it a bit (as I shot high school sports and probably just thought that was a good idea). Grainy, tones a bit strange. But I found NLP didn't give me the same pop that was pretty easy to get manually. Now... is the pop good or bad? Guess it's in the eye of the beholder. NLP is on the right, that is with about 3 minutes of tweaking.

BW.jpg


But again, this all fits -- if it's better manually just do it manually. The result is really the same, which is the point. Kind of like having an assistant do the first pass at settings.

Anyway... lots still to learn, but definitely think it's a good tool to add to the toolbox.
 
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So slightly on subject generally but off the subject of NLP....

I am tackling this now divorced and locked in, so I am finally making a more serious attempt at it rather than just doing some easy ones with well organized negatives and slides.

DO NOT PUT OFF YOUR DIGITIZING PROJECT.....

At this moment, your negatives and positives are both fading, crap is sneaking into your containers and staining them, gremlins are adding dust.

And don't skip negaties. I left the example above where the lab was out of focus, but I also found some positives were, I think, badly developed. Here is a set I ran across, stored with lots of positives that looked fine.

fade.jpg


I have the negatives (stored with them) and they yield decent color. But if I were one trying to image just positives -- well, you get the idea.

Second point -- set up where you can shoot tethered. This lets you stop periodically and check your work, you can see bad dust and reshoot, etc. Don't shoot 10 rolls and then look at them and realize you were out of focus, or they were dirty, or you forgot to adjust some other setting.

I have Sony -- can't shoot tethered exactly. But... The A9ii has a lot of connectivity options. I set it up to automatically FTP each shot to a windows folder, then have Lightroom monitor that folder for import. Works great. Slower than tethered, but manageable. On my 4 year old system it takes about 7 seconds from pushing the shutter button to showing up on the library display.

And... do the first shot, save the develop settings as a preset, apply that preset when it auto-imports, and you see a rough positive of each shot as they come across. I shoot a strip at once, and before putting the strip away I then look at them on the screen, and if needed I can reshoot with no real effort.

And a nice benefit on the Sony -- a USB cable connected at the same time keeps it charged (now the flashes I'm using are a different matter).

Oh... keyword your shots on import with a roll or sleeve number or some such, and file the negatives. By taking good care of the negatives and being able to get back to them... you will never need to. This is like carrying an umbrella just in case, it helps stave off the rain. If you are sloppy and just throw the negatives back in a pile, you will find huge dust bunnies and decide you need to reshoot a really cool shot and can't find it.

Oh... and another reason to do this sooner rather than later... your memory is not getting any better. It's amazing the shots I have that looked like something really memorable, but I cannot place. Or people I know I knew well, but now cannot remember their names. Don't get me started on "what year was that".
 

PhilBurton

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I have no personal experience with NLP, but there is a long thread here with over 300 posts that may be helpful. These people are hardcore scanners.
Thanks, Phil. I'll try again tomorrow, got tired of reading complaints that Lightroom charges subscription and went to bed. o_O

I just finished a half dozen 110 film from my wife from decades ago. Culling was easier than usual, here are all the ones where a given strip had nothing useful. I actually think my 3-5 year old may have been aiming the camera for most of these.

Quality photography in the past like this makes my project go faster. ;)

trash.jpg
 
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I'm loving the running commentary. This is turning into a great review of the options, thanks Ferguson.
 
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Sorry if I missed it, but did you use the Nikon ES-2 Slide/Negative Copier with the A9ii or something else?
Starting with Nikon, I had a 60mm Macro which I kept, so I'm using it with an adapter on the A9ii. I have an A7Riv but so far have not encountered any negatives that merited the resolution of the A9ii, much less the 62mpix of the A7Riv. o_O

I am using the 60 with the ES-2. It works REALLY nicely for slides, but not for negatives. I bought a whole bunch of negative carriers to try, and finally found one that with a band saw would fit, then took out the springs used for slides. It works pretty well for 35mm, but these odd size like 110 it's worthless. It does a nice job of lighting (I use a couple flashes with a remote to expose, and a regular light to focus with). I tried cutting some glass to make a glass carrier, but these little 110's just slip down inside of it, not enough friction (and I'm going to eventually slice my hand since my nice neat cut looks like something from a horror film).

The good news is the 110's are so bad it doesn't matter. In fact I think I'm going to shift to scanning the photos instead for them.
 
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So slightly off subject, can I just say THANK YOU to all the photo labs that put dates on the back of positives or really anywhere.

And a "may Karma pay you back" for those who (a) put dates on the packets that were just month/day and no year, (b) have nothing whatsoever on the package especially in the spot that says "date", (c) and didn't bother printing anything at all on the positives.

Also there are all my relatives that labeled things with "Easter" and nothing more or first names of people I cannot recognize but may be related to, or who carefully preserved a photo from probably the 30's wrapped carefully in tissue and cardboard and... no labels at all, just some old lady standing by a non-descript house. Might be my grandmother (who I never met). Might be a photo that came with a frame (my mother was the sort who never threw anything away). If in some afterlife somewhere you are saying "I wonder if they remember me"... well, not as much as we might. :confused:

And to all you who are putting this off and have stacks and stacks of images to digitize... the longer you wait the harder it gets. I doubt there is any one of you whose memory is improving and (sadly) a lot of your resources to ask about images are not going to be available the longer you wait.

Oh... NLP -- happy to see there's a searchable metadata field that indicates version used (and implicitly if not used at all), a quick way to see if a group has been through it or not when (not if) I get disorganized. I'm still finding about 80% of them work pretty well out of the box, maybe with just a bit of white balance tweaking and a bit of contrast and exposure. A few need more work. I still find I can do better on B&W though it does a credible job. But it's saving a LOT of time on the color negatives.
 

nate8261

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Oh... NLP -- happy to see there's a searchable metadata field that indicates version used (and implicitly if not used at all), a quick way to see if a group has been through it or not when (not if) I get disorganized. I'm still finding about 80% of them work pretty well out of the box, maybe with just a bit of white balance tweaking and a bit of contrast and exposure. A few need more work. I still find I can do better on B&W though it does a credible job. But it's saving a LOT of time on the color negatives.
Awesome! Yeah, the metadata is really powerful stuff. I need to add more documentation on it. Most of it still only lives in this v2.1 announcement post

For black and white, here's my recommended work flow:
  • Crop in to just the negative
  • Open NLP
  • Set the "color model" to b+w
  • After converting, try setting the "tone profile" to "linear + gamma" - this profile was made specifically to model the gamma used in black and white photography paper.
  • From there, the most important adjustments will be "brightness" (which is really a gamma adjustment, so behaves similarly to darkroom process), and the blackclip/whiteclip points. By default it will "normalize" the image, so the brightest parts and darkest parts of the scene will be just at clipping level, but you can dial that back (or push it to clip even more) just depending on the look you want.
  • Click "save" to make that your default, and future conversion will have those same properties.

Hope that helps!

-Nate
 
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Thanks @nate8261 , my comment wasn't really aimed it it being poor just that B&W is pretty easy without. But I'll try that.

I'm working through a lot of old negatives I previously converted by Photoshop from London in 1995. Despite not being terribly old, they seemed of really bad quality, but NLP did a decent job out of the box, and now working through individually to touch up.

One thing I'm finding particularly useful in LR is to keep a quarter stop darkening gradient and brush handy, as it seems many of mine end up (in positive) as too light in the edges. Light bleed through the edge? Not sure. But that's handy.

I am curious -- have you considered a white balance dropper? So you can sample a spot that should be neutral to touch up the white balances rather than doing it by hand? Or is that not really possible while working in the negative? A lot of my time is spent tweaking the mid/shadows especially for white balance.

Also, another LR thing that helps -- in quite a few shots I'm finding that when I get the terrestrial stuff right, the sky is an odd blue. LR's Color Range select is really handy for that. I do everything else in NLP, and if I can't get the sky right without screwing up other stuff, select the sky with color range brush in LR and tweak the white balance there, since it affects only the sky (or similarly you could do any big color "thing"). While the sliders work incorrectly, the general principles for luminance or color range selection work fine.
 
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I am using the 60 with the ES-2.
I need to correct something, with thanks to @Dave Clark 's post on Fred Miranda with pictures who reminded me I had an ES-1.

The ES-1 is a slide copier, and lacks any kind of carrier.

The ES-2 apparently has a slide carrier that is separate, and a negative carrier that is separate.

At the time I started the ES-2 was not shipping and I frankly forgot about it. I should have bought one, rather I cobbled together a negative carrier by buying and cutting one for an enlarger.

I think the short version of a lot of reading about variations is you need to become something of a plumber -- find your macro lens, figure out the right working distance(s), and buy a lot of tubes and rings to achieve it. Step up/down rings are easy to find, tubes fairly easy. The tougher thing is negative carriers that work with your "special" negatives. 35mm is pretty easy, but if you have a bunch of 110, 220 or other sizes it will take some creativity, especially since some oddball sizes may not have any readily available carriers. Glass may be needed there (and maybe a copy table instead).

But back to the point -- I have not used the ES-2, I use the ES-1, but the ES-2 looks like a much better solution for negatives. I think the ES-1 is better for slides just because it would be much faster to use, as you don't need to mount the slide in a carrier.
 
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This has been a very interesting read. I have digitizing my old negatives on my list of projects to tackle but haven't gotten to it yet. Not even sure where to start as I've never done anything like this before.
Like eating an elephant -- one bite at a time. o_O

I recommend starting with two parallel tracks. One is organization -- start finding everything, the negatives, the positives without negatives, the slides. This will take time, and doing it now and ensuring they are properly stored will minimize additional damage while you ... I mean if you... procrastinate further.

In parallel start experimenting. There are several alternatives you have about technology and technique, try to pick one probably by experimenting a bit with each. Note if you have all types (Slides, B&W negatives, color negatives, positives in good shape, positives needing restoration) you might make different decisions on each.

  1. Pay someone to do it; for a lot of people they decide this path is simplest. Depends a lot on how demanding you are, and how many you have.
  2. Flatbed scanner: The Epsons are among the best known, many have negative and slide attachments (with a light at the top in the cover). This is really a two-parter, as picking the right software can be tough here also, with Vuescan and Silverfast being two main contenders. Scanners vary from about $100 to $1200 in the common range, with $200 getting a pretty decent one (US pricing).
  3. DSLR or MICL cameras: with a good macro lens and a bit of hardware to light and hold things, you can simply take photos. Tools like Nikon ES-2 work nicely for slides and 35mm negatives, and home made copy scans can work well for prints and maybe even negatives also with a bottom light (some people use an ipad with a white screen).
  4. There are dedicated negative scanning devices (some will do slides also). Nikon used to make terrific ones, but stopped and support has dropped in many operating systems for their drivers. New ones get mixed reviews.
  5. Dedicated photo (positive print) scanners, e.g. sheet feed. These fall into the high and low end, not as much in the middle where I think flatbeds rule. Personally I'd pass on these -- the low end is pretty low, the high end you would already know if you needed it and not be asking.
Actually trying each of these is not really all that expensive in comparison to the eventual effort you will put in. Even buying a scanner - most people can end up making good use of them over time for other stuff also. I found that a scanner was much easier than a copy stand for positives, but found using a camera and macro lens worked for negatives and sliders (it's really easy to do slides). The dedicated negative scanners -- I never went there, they are not exactly cheap to try, but are often written about so you can explore a bit before deciding if it is worth it.

As you experiment there's also sorts of details to work out -- how to clean the negatives first and get as dust free as possible, getting the light event and good color, getting it in focus without to high of an f-stop (and diffraction softening). The mechanical stuff is pretty cheap but takes a lot of experimenting and depends somewhat on how much room you can dedicate (e.g. copy stand setups can be physically large). Plus you have to make a decision on storage -- do you toss what you digitize, or organize and file it somewhere? Will you cull as you go, or cull later, or just digitize everything no matter how worthless the shot?

Some of this may sound a bit silly, your reaction may be "just tell me the best way". There is no "best" way for everyone. Each approach has serious up and downsides. Some work better for poorly stored originals (fading, stains, scratches), some are better for slides (the ES-1 or ES-2 and a camera in my mind). Some are just plain hard, like stained color negatives -- for any given problem negative you may find different approaches work better so might try more than one.

But you need to train yourself to be a digitizer before you dive in fully. Experiment, practice a bit on a small (but representative) sample, figure out what works well, what you can get good at, all the while you are also organizing. By the time you do both a while, you'll know what you want to do. Well, after you avoid the urge to just toss it all in the trash as too much work -- that urge will pass eventually. Maybe. So I'm told.
 
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