Better colour neg scanning with VueScan.

April 21, 2008 at 10:31 pm

I no longer use this method, click here for my new ColorPerfect method

Introduction, A Few Simple Options, Film profiles suck, Scanning

Using The Histogram, & The Finished Article

Introduction

Hamrick Software’s VueScan is perhaps the most flexible and powerful piece of scanning software available to photographers today. Many people fall foul of its myriad features and options – it can be quite daunting when you first start the software and begin to explore the different option pages. I’m going to explain how to get the best out of VueScan with the minimum of fuss, the least fiddling, and the least deviation from the software’s default options.

If you’ve already got the software installed (at the time of writing the latest version is 8.4.70), then now is perhaps a good time to reset the options to default, you can do this from within the file menu “File->Default Options”

A Few Simple Options

The first thing I turn off in viewscan is the automatic saving of scans – you’re probably going to want to do things like adjust white balance, white point, and blackpoint before committing your scan to disk, so there’s just no need to have this option enabled.

disable scan auto save in vuescan

You’ll also want to turn on VueScan’s histogram Graph, you can do this from the Image menu “Image -> graph b/w”, or by hitting ctrl-2. You want the b/w graph because this allows you to adjust white and black point using 2 graphical sliders (explained later in the article).

enable histogram graph in vuescan

Film profiles suck

VueScan comes with some pre-configured film profiles, you may think that these are just great, but in reality they aren’t – they just take control away from you, and will more than likely deliver a scan that just does not come up to scratch. Why? Because each and every roll of negative film you shoot has it’s very own slight variations in both manufacturing tolerance, exposure, film fogging (heaven forbid), and most importantly development. All of these combine to change the film’s base colour density – so by choosing a preset you are using a ‘best guess’.

The good news is that there is absolutely no reason to settle for a best guess, and this is because VueScan will allow you to sample the base colour of your film directly. These tips are available on the VueScan homepage, but I’ve combined them with some screenshots to make it even more clear. So without further ado, here’s how it’s done…

Firstly you need to preview your film. Click the Preview button! When the preview finishes you should select an area of clear film between frames (or in the film leader). If the ‘Lock Exposure tickbox is ticked, untick it (see the picture below this one)

selecting an area between frames in vuescan

Hit the preview button again, when the preview finishes tick the “Lock exposure” tickbox.

locking exposure in vuescan

Hit the preview button once more, when the preview finishes tick the “Lock film base colour” tickbox.

locking the film base colour in vuescan

With these simple steps you have calibrated your roll of film. You only need to do this once per roll, it can be a pain, but it will save you major headaches in post processing.

Scanning

Now that you’ve optimised VueScan for your current roll of film, you’ll want to go ahead and scan some photos. A lot of people like to keep the film borders and frame numbers in their scans, I think this is a complete waste of time – it will also give you more hard work setting levels in post processing because your beautifully crafted photo will be competing with the levels of the border & bright yellow frame numbers. The answer is simple: use the frame crop box to highlight a scanning target just within the borders of each frame.

selecting your frame to scan with vuescan

When you’re happy that you’ve got the frame correctly selected hit the Scan button.

Using the histogram

Now that your scan is in memory you can do some adjustments, there are 2 main ones you’ll probably want to do, the first of which is using the histogram to produce a nice flat image which can easily be adjusted in PhotoShop. Drag the sliding pointers to left and right so that all elements of the graph are between them – if you want to clip some areas then adjust accordingly.

using the histogram to flatten output in vuescan

The final adjustment you may want to make is the white balance – find an area in the scan which is neutral and right click on it (hold down control on mac). VueScan will automatically adjust white balance, if you picked the wrong area just try again until you get something that looks correct — You’ll probably only want to do this once per roll (or once for each set of photos with the same lighting conditions) to ensure your scans are colour matched. Double right clicking resets the auto white balance.

The Finished Article

So now it’s time to save your frame, click on the disk icon or use the save image option in the file menu.

Hopefully you should now be able to successfully scan colour negative film and be sure that you’ll get consistent results. You’ll need to use Curves and Levels in PhotoShop to get the best out of your scans. Good Luck!

  • http://benneh.net Ben Anderson

    Hey thanks for sharing this, I’ll give it a try and see what I get – I suspect that I’m too lazy for this approach however :D

  • Johnsondanl

    I discovered that it is possible to make really nice images with VueScan without post-processing software — this requires using Manual Color Balance and setting Neutral Red (vs. cyan), Neutral Green (vs.magenta), and Neutral Blue (vs. yellow), and setting Curve Low to ~.5 and Curve High to about .6 to get a nice steep mid-range curve, then adjusting Brightness to position midrange values. Generally, Black Point and White Point need to be set low (e.g., 0.2 black, 0.005 white) to avoid blocking shadows / highlights. The Brightness red/green/blue change intensity as well as balance, and are very difficult to manage perceptually.

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  • http://benneh.net Ben Anderson

    RAW scans _will_ appear almost black, they have to be processed to get the image to look right, and that’s where the plugin comes into the picture.

  • boris

    Help! I followed your instructions but now my RAW-Scans are almost black! No idea what happened… Even worse, I can’t reset whatever I did with it. Any idea what to do? I already deleted vuescan, the ini-files – nothing. Tried to calibrate again – still the same mistake. If I click jpg as prefered ouput file this file it is fine and well balanced. Strange isn’t it? I’m running vuescan on a Mac with the Canoscan 8800f

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  • http://benneh.net Ben Anderson

    I now use ColorPerfect in my workflow, see the guide linked below:

    http://benneh.net/blog/index.php/2010/09/25/vuescan-colorperfect-a-guide/

    @Paliakos, belated answers to your questions:

    1) For this workflow I used to output in tif format
    2) None
    3) This one adjustment works for all frames on one roll of film.
    4) No idea, I just manually place the crop marks.

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  • http://pclyseis.blogspot.com Paliakos

    Ben,

    Really nice and simple tutorial. Some further points I would like to include are:
    1. The output settings (tif, raw or simple jpeg)
    2. Any use of filters?
    3. What about the All frames option? Do i need to meke the above proceedure for every single frame?
    4. Which are the crop settings for a standar 35m stripe

    I’m still strungling to make nice scans with no luck. Maybe I shoould try colourneg

    Thanks anyway.

  • http://pclyseis.blogspot.com Paliakos

    Ben,

    Really nice and simple tutorial. Some further points I would like to include are:
    1. The output settings (tif, raw or simple jpeg)
    2. Any use of filters?
    3. What about the All frames option? Do i need to meke the above proceedure for every single frame?
    4. Which are the crop settings for a standar 35m stripe

    I’m still strungling to make nice scans with no luck. Maybe I shoould try colourneg

    Thanks anyway.

  • Brent

    I had worked many hours learning to tweak Vuescan for both posi and b/w film and thought I could do anything with it. After many years of not shooting any color neg stuff I finally had a need to. I didn’t think anything of throwing Vuescan at it and I’d be off to the races. Wow! Was I wrong. Completely back to the drawing board to get decent neg scans again, and you made my life a little bit easier. Thanks!

    I figured if I was able to get good slide scans that negs would be a breeze. Well, actually I think they are, but it’s a totally different game, and one that has to be learned first, as all new games must.

  • Brent

    I had worked many hours learning to tweak Vuescan for both posi and b/w film and thought I could do anything with it. After many years of not shooting any color neg stuff I finally had a need to. I didn’t think anything of throwing Vuescan at it and I’d be off to the races. Wow! Was I wrong. Completely back to the drawing board to get decent neg scans again, and you made my life a little bit easier. Thanks!

    I figured if I was able to get good slide scans that negs would be a breeze. Well, actually I think they are, but it’s a totally different game, and one that has to be learned first, as all new games must.

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  • Damien

    Excellent! And even though I’m french I was able to read it! Thanks for these tricks, it really improved the quality of my scans.

  • Damien

    Excellent! And even though I’m french I was able to read it! Thanks for these tricks, it really improved the quality of my scans.

  • Tref

    Hey Ben, it looks like you still haven’t done your post on ColorNeg/ColorPerfect.
    I’ve been looking around on how to get accurate colour from scans and so far you somehow seem the most convincing. :) I just want to get RAW scans with colour as they would be straight off the negs, which I can later work with. I haven’t got my scanner yet though, so hopefully when I do I’ll be able to look you up for tips on using ColorNeg/ColorPerfect to do just that.

  • Tref

    Hey Ben, it looks like you still haven’t done your post on ColorNeg/ColorPerfect.
    I’ve been looking around on how to get accurate colour from scans and so far you somehow seem the most convincing. :) I just want to get RAW scans with colour as they would be straight off the negs, which I can later work with. I haven’t got my scanner yet though, so hopefully when I do I’ll be able to look you up for tips on using ColorNeg/ColorPerfect to do just that.

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    @Jacco, 800Z can be hard to get balanced – you might want to look at a product called colorneg (colorperfect now), I’ve been using it for the last year and it has saved quite a bit of time over the procedure above.

    Ben

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    @Jacco, 800Z can be hard to get balanced – you might want to look at a product called colorneg (colorperfect now), I’ve been using it for the last year and it has saved quite a bit of time over the procedure above.

    Ben

  • http://photolog.kraker.de Jacco de Kraker

    Thanks for sharing this workflow.

    It sounds so logical, it makes sense.

    I’ve tried it a few months ago, and I’ve tried it again last week on Fuji PRO 800Z (using an Epson V700)… but I just don’t get the correct colours. Reds go pink, other colours are also all over the place.

    Is this such a “different”/difficult film? Does anybody have experience with scanning it? Hints are most welcome.

  • http://photolog.kraker.de Jacco de Kraker

    Thanks for sharing this workflow.

    It sounds so logical, it makes sense.

    I’ve tried it a few months ago, and I’ve tried it again last week on Fuji PRO 800Z (using an Epson V700)… but I just don’t get the correct colours. Reds go pink, other colours are also all over the place.

    Is this such a “different”/difficult film? Does anybody have experience with scanning it? Hints are most welcome.

  • http://inphoto.infoneu.com.ar Juan Carlos Martins

    Since the purchase of my first film scanner a couple of years ago (Plustek OpticFilm 7300) I’ve experimented with more than 70 color negative rolls with the bundled software (SilverFast SE) and lately with VueScan: the results was usually mediocre.

    With this simple guide the output is really improved! I started to rescan again my color negative stock, following it’s directions.

    Thank you so much.

  • http://inphoto.infoneu.com.ar Juan Carlos Martins

    Since the purchase of my first film scanner a couple of years ago (Plustek OpticFilm 7300) I’ve experimented with more than 70 color negative rolls with the bundled software (SilverFast SE) and lately with VueScan: the results was usually mediocre.

    With this simple guide the output is really improved! I started to rescan again my color negative stock, following it’s directions.

    Thank you so much.

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    It probably doesn’t make much difference – maybe try both ways and see which actually looks/prints better?

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    It probably doesn’t make much difference – maybe try both ways and see which actually looks/prints better?

  • Elaine

    I’ve been scanning negatives with Vuescan and a Nikon LS-5000 using this method, but without using the histogram. I save as a .dng file and open in Photoshop Camera Raw. I make adjustments and then open in Photoshop. Most times the scan requires very little adjustment to the levels and curves. Is it better to set the histogram before opening in Photoshop Camera Raw? I am a beginner and I would appreciate any advice.

  • Elaine

    I’ve been scanning negatives with Vuescan and a Nikon LS-5000 using this method, but without using the histogram. I save as a .dng file and open in Photoshop Camera Raw. I make adjustments and then open in Photoshop. Most times the scan requires very little adjustment to the levels and curves. Is it better to set the histogram before opening in Photoshop Camera Raw? I am a beginner and I would appreciate any advice.

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  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    The preview image gets inverted by vuescan when the ‘colour negative’ tickbox is checked, that’s why it appears as a positive image in the preview pane.

    Vuescan also adjusts the _preview_ exposure view (not the final output) depending upon what is selected within the bounding box, it automatically sets the brightest area as ‘white’ and the darkest as ‘black’, this completely throws out the rest of the preview area. So, by throwing a selection box around the film gap it should brighten up considerably allowing you to fine tune the selection to only clear film area.

    I hope that made sense, just play about with it, you’ll see what I mean.

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    The preview image gets inverted by vuescan when the ‘colour negative’ tickbox is checked, that’s why it appears as a positive image in the preview pane.

    Vuescan also adjusts the _preview_ exposure view (not the final output) depending upon what is selected within the bounding box, it automatically sets the brightest area as ‘white’ and the darkest as ‘black’, this completely throws out the rest of the preview area. So, by throwing a selection box around the film gap it should brighten up considerably allowing you to fine tune the selection to only clear film area.

    I hope that made sense, just play about with it, you’ll see what I mean.

  • wei

    I have followed the steps outlined above, am too ran into the same situation as what post #15 described. However I believe the image you are using is a positive of the color neg, though I don’t understand how you get it to be exposed at such high value (?) When I hit the preview, the film gap is near black. So nothing works as this article intended thereafter. I made sure all the settings are the same under Input (uncheck some boxes) and Color (set white balance to none) as instructed above, still nothing works. Am I missing on any other settings? Also every time when I re-crop the film, VueScan automatically adjust the exposure (or whatever it is). How can I turn this off?

  • wei

    I have followed the steps outlined above, am too ran into the same situation as what post #15 described. However I believe the image you are using is a positive of the color neg, though I don’t understand how you get it to be exposed at such high value (?) When I hit the preview, the film gap is near black. So nothing works as this article intended thereafter. I made sure all the settings are the same under Input (uncheck some boxes) and Color (set white balance to none) as instructed above, still nothing works. Am I missing on any other settings? Also every time when I re-crop the film, VueScan automatically adjust the exposure (or whatever it is). How can I turn this off?

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Hi Garghe,

    The idea with the scan passes (number of samples) is that vuescan averages the results to try and subtract any noise, the more you use the slower it will be but theoretically cleaner – some scanners cant take multiple samples from the same physical pass so you can introduce a lack of critical sharpness by the very small errors introduced in scan head placement (most of the newer Epsom scanners will take multiple samples without having to move the head, 4990, v700 etc)

    Don’t confuse this with multiexposure! Multiexposure is where the scanner does more than 1 pass with different lamp brightness, in effect it attempts to construct an HDR scan by extracting more detail from the shadow and highlight areas.

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Hi Garghe,

    The idea with the scan passes (number of samples) is that vuescan averages the results to try and subtract any noise, the more you use the slower it will be but theoretically cleaner – some scanners cant take multiple samples from the same physical pass so you can introduce a lack of critical sharpness by the very small errors introduced in scan head placement (most of the newer Epsom scanners will take multiple samples without having to move the head, 4990, v700 etc)

    Don’t confuse this with multiexposure! Multiexposure is where the scanner does more than 1 pass with different lamp brightness, in effect it attempts to construct an HDR scan by extracting more detail from the shadow and highlight areas.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/garghe garghe

    Hi Ben, how are you? Just a simple question, what’s the matter about numbero of scan pass? Should I use 1, 2 or more? I can’t understand the difference.
    cheers,

    m

  • http://flickr.com/photos/garghe garghe

    Hi Ben, how are you? Just a simple question, what’s the matter about numbero of scan pass? Should I use 1, 2 or more? I can’t understand the difference.
    cheers,

    m

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  • James

    This tutorial has helped me get much better colour scans from my negatives – thanks so much!

  • James

    This tutorial has helped me get much better colour scans from my negatives – thanks so much!

  • cara

    This is exactly the tutorial I’ve been searching for to help me with color correction on my scanned negatives. I was so close to giving up on film & going digital until I found this.

    Thanks!

  • cara

    This is exactly the tutorial I’ve been searching for to help me with color correction on my scanned negatives. I was so close to giving up on film & going digital until I found this.

    Thanks!

  • Nyakayama

    Hi, Thanks for this.

    But I always wonder if the film edges are to be included in the scan area since I came across scanning an image of a bright pink wall with blue writings that contain no 100% black nor 0% white in the frame. If you exclude the edges the Vuescan will enhance contrast to set shadowy part of the image as 100% black and brightest gray part with 0% white to scan in a wildly exaggerated way. While including film edges tells Vuescan at least a complete black point so it scans the midtone only. It seem to work on both positives and negatives. I set black cut-off point in “Color” panel at 2 to 3 % to keep the edges as 100% black. Please give it a try.

    Nyakayama

  • Nyakayama

    Hi, Thanks for this.

    But I always wonder if the film edges are to be included in the scan area since I came across scanning an image of a bright pink wall with blue writings that contain no 100% black nor 0% white in the frame. If you exclude the edges the Vuescan will enhance contrast to set shadowy part of the image as 100% black and brightest gray part with 0% white to scan in a wildly exaggerated way. While including film edges tells Vuescan at least a complete black point so it scans the midtone only. It seem to work on both positives and negatives. I set black cut-off point in “Color” panel at 2 to 3 % to keep the edges as 100% black. Please give it a try.

    Nyakayama

  • http://www.thechrisproject.com Chris Norris

    Thanks so much for this, Ben! Very helpful.

  • http://www.thechrisproject.com Chris Norris

    Thanks so much for this, Ben! Very helpful.

  • christian

    i’d love to see your colorneg workflow

  • christian

    i’d love to see your colorneg workflow

  • Peter Unterweger

    Thanks, I am using the latest Pro Version, and will be interested in ColorNeg. I have Kodachromes and negatives going back 40+ years.

    Peter

  • Peter Unterweger

    Thanks, I am using the latest Pro Version, and will be interested in ColorNeg. I have Kodachromes and negatives going back 40+ years.

    Peter

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Hi Peter,

    I have no clue why the output was reversed for you, perhaps it’s peculiar to your scanner? Have you tried getting the latest version of Vuescan?

    I no longer use this method by the way, I’m now using a product called ColorNeg which I’ll be blogging about soon.

    Ben

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Hi Peter,

    I have no clue why the output was reversed for you, perhaps it’s peculiar to your scanner? Have you tried getting the latest version of Vuescan?

    I no longer use this method by the way, I’m now using a product called ColorNeg which I’ll be blogging about soon.

    Ben

  • Peter Unterweger

    This looked like the ideal solution, but as a totally inexperienced VueScan user I ran into an immediate snag. I followed your steps and had Mode=transparency and Media=Color negative, but when I hit Preview, I got a positive image, whereas your tutorial shows a negative. So I changed media to slidefilm and that did produce negative images. I then proceeded as you suggested and got some pretty good results. Was that the right way to go?

    I also looked at your Flickr images and was inspired. I’m velomaniac by the way.

  • Peter Unterweger

    This looked like the ideal solution, but as a totally inexperienced VueScan user I ran into an immediate snag. I followed your steps and had Mode=transparency and Media=Color negative, but when I hit Preview, I got a positive image, whereas your tutorial shows a negative. So I changed media to slidefilm and that did produce negative images. I then proceeded as you suggested and got some pretty good results. Was that the right way to go?

    I also looked at your Flickr images and was inspired. I’m velomaniac by the way.

  • Matthew

    Fantastic! This is so helpful. You made my day.

  • Matthew

    Fantastic! This is so helpful. You made my day.

  • // rockyhorror

    I did a little side to side test with the epson software and the vuescan software on my v500, using the methods you explain here on the vuescan, and the difference was day and night, in favour of the epson software. Like a fuji s5 file on high saturation vs a d200 file on low saturation, and the vuescan won’t seem to ever get exposed right – it seems to work so strange aswell, like its scanning way too dark and then correcting itself (abit)

    I might give it another chance for the black/white, but colournegatives i’m really done with this.
    Only downsite of the epson software is that its heavy and slow on my system.
    oh well,thanks anyway for the tutorial anyway. it was worth the try.

  • rockyhorror

    I did a little side to side test with the epson software and the vuescan software on my v500, using the methods you explain here on the vuescan, and the difference was day and night, in favour of the epson software. Like a fuji s5 file on high saturation vs a d200 file on low saturation, and the vuescan won’t seem to ever get exposed right – it seems to work so strange aswell, like its scanning way too dark and then correcting itself (abit)

    I might give it another chance for the black/white, but colournegatives i’m really done with this.
    Only downsite of the epson software is that its heavy and slow on my system.
    oh well,thanks anyway for the tutorial anyway. it was worth the try.

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  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Thanks Chris.

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Thanks Chris.

  • Christopher Layne

    Just created a tutorial on how to do exposure locking with B&W film that I think compliments this great article as well:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kediwah/sets/72157608202483073/

  • Christopher Layne

    Just created a tutorial on how to do exposure locking with B&W film that I think compliments this great article as well:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kediwah/sets/72157608202483073/

  • http://blog.memrestore.org/ Peter

    I too have been struggling with colour negatives and this has cleared up the issue very nicely. Thank you for putting in the time and effort. Im off to try again.

    Peter

  • http://blog.memrestore.org/ Peter

    I too have been struggling with colour negatives and this has cleared up the issue very nicely. Thank you for putting in the time and effort. Im off to try again.

    Peter

  • Richard Ward

    Thanks!
    I first tried Vuescan about a year and a half ago and had an utterly horrible time try to scan color negatives. I wish I had this tutorial back then, it would have saved me turning to my Lab for the scans. (Fuji NPH 120 6×6′s shot with my Rolleiflex TLR). I’ve since upgraded from a Umax Powerlook 1100 to a (yet to arrive) Epson Perfection 4870 and am EAGERLY! awaiting giving color negative scanning and VueScan another workout.
    Richard

  • Richard Ward

    Thanks!
    I first tried Vuescan about a year and a half ago and had an utterly horrible time try to scan color negatives. I wish I had this tutorial back then, it would have saved me turning to my Lab for the scans. (Fuji NPH 120 6×6′s shot with my Rolleiflex TLR). I’ve since upgraded from a Umax Powerlook 1100 to a (yet to arrive) Epson Perfection 4870 and am EAGERLY! awaiting giving color negative scanning and VueScan another workout.
    Richard

  • http://init0.blogspot.com Enric Martinez

    Thanks!
    I bought Vuescan a year ago, but never really got used to it (Laaaazy).
    Finally with your tips and a bit of reading I have been able to put it to work.

    Lovely.

    If I can manage to use Digital ICE with color negatives I will be the happiest man in the world :)

  • http://init0.blogspot.com Enric Martinez

    Thanks!
    I bought Vuescan a year ago, but never really got used to it (Laaaazy).
    Finally with your tips and a bit of reading I have been able to put it to work.

    Lovely.

    If I can manage to use Digital ICE with color negatives I will be the happiest man in the world :)

  • Sery

    A great big thank you for making the mystical simple.

  • Sery

    A great big thank you for making the mystical simple.

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Nope, just use what you feel comfortable with.

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Nope, just use what you feel comfortable with.

  • http://www.stpiduko.com/ stpiduko

    Am I an idiot for using Epson Scan?

  • http://www.stpiduko.com/ stpiduko

    Am I an idiot for using Epson Scan?

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Oops, yeah you’re right – article amended!

  • http://benneh.net BennehBoy

    Oops, yeah you’re right – article amended!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/danburbridge/ Dan Burbridge

    Nice – one thing though, double clicking for whitebalance resets it, one click sets it (IIRC)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/danburbridge/ Dan Burbridge

    Nice – one thing though, double clicking for whitebalance resets it, one click sets it (IIRC)

  • http://www.samuelbedford.com sam bedford

    Ben explained this technique to me recently and I can vouch for its effectiveness.

    Having been submerged in the woes of scanning for much of the past 6 months, its clear to me that using vuescan and this work around is almost the only consistent technique avaliable. At least in my experience.
    plus the screen shots are skill. Thanks Ben.

  • http://www.samuelbedford.com sam bedford

    Ben explained this technique to me recently and I can vouch for its effectiveness.

    Having been submerged in the woes of scanning for much of the past 6 months, its clear to me that using vuescan and this work around is almost the only consistent technique avaliable. At least in my experience.
    plus the screen shots are skill. Thanks Ben.