Comparing Results from Lab Scan, Flatbed Scanner, and Dedicated Film Scanner

Wondering how a professional lab scan compares to a flatbed scanner or dedicated film scanner? Luckily, a fellow film photographer has done the hard work for us.

Let’s face it: unless you’re printing your photos in a darkroom, shooting film these days is also partly a digital process. Because of this, how your shots will look is largely dependent on how it gets scanned. There are two ways to do it — either you get a film developing lab to scan your negatives for you, or you do it yourself using a dedicated film scanner or flatbed scanner that accommodates film negatives. Of course, you’d want to know which option produces the best results; that’s exactly what Hamburg-based film photographer Alexandre Miguel Maia went to find out.

We spotted Alex’s findings on an r/AnalogCommunity thread, showing scans of Kodak Portra 400 120 shot with a 645 camera. You can view the full image here. Here are some notes shared by Alex, which became a jump-off point for the discussion:

Pro Lab (Fuji Frontier)

The scan was done in the maximum resolution they have offered and as uncompressed TIFF. The image is like it was sent to me. If you look closely you see that they use some sharpening with a higher radius which make the fine hair a bit thicker.

Epson 4990 Flatbed Scanner

Scanned at 2400 dpi linear raw and converted with modified script based on negfix8. Applied some sharpening to get out the details because the Epson scans are quite soft per default. Grain and CCD noise gets increased due to sharpening.

Minolta Multi Pro Film Scanner (Modified)

Scanned at 3200 dpi linear raw and converted with modified script based on negfix8. Downscaled to match the lab scan resolution and only applied some minor sharpening.

So, are you surprised? To anyone who’s new to film photography and are relying on lab scans, this comparison may not mean a big difference. But if you’re also getting into scanning your negatives yourself, it’s worth knowing what certain scanners can do for you. It’s also important to note that some labs offer “quick” scans by default, and these may not exactly produce the best results.

Ultimately, this comparison can help you decide if you should invest in your own film scanner and learn the intricacies of DIY scanning. This includes using the negfix8 script that Alex used to automate and speed up the process.

Another point that came up that you should take note of is Alex’s answer to the question of how long it took him to scan and correct a roll of film to achieve the results he showed.

Scanning itself takes a lot of time since it will be done per photo one by one.

On my settings the Epson takes around 17 min where the Minolta takes 14 min. If you sum that up you are over 4 hours per roll and that’s only for scanning. The color conversion and brightness corrections goes quite fast.

If time is money? Its more expensive to do scan yourself compared to the lab, but you will rely on others in terms of quality and color.

Hopefully, that helps you decide or at least give you an idea!

Do check out Alex’s website as well to see more of these photos.