How to get lab quality film scans at home using wet mounts
One of the trickier aspects of shooting film is being able to share your work. If you have a lab develop your film, you can often have them scan it. But general lab scanning quality seems to have gone downhill over the last few years. Unless you’re willing to pay a fortune for it. If you develop yourself, then sending it off to scan can become even more expensive.
Drum scanners are still going to generally give the best quality, but they’re a bit out of the budget of most photographers. This is why good labs charge so much, to cover those costs. At home, the best we can usually do is a high end flatbed. Like the Epson Perfection V850. But even the quality of those can be drastically improved. In this video, Analog Process walks us through wet mount scanning our film for maximum quality.
In the video, they use an Epson Perfection V700. They’re relatively inexpensive now. Most of it’s new-old stock or used. This is the same scanner I use myself for film, and even with the supplied film holders, the results are impressive. Although, not always perfect.
The only time I ever have any real issues with the supplied holders are with extremely curly 120 format film. I have a roll of Ilford PANF here that I’ve not yet been able to get a good complete scan from. Looks like wet mounting might be the way to go for that roll.
You only need a handful of items in order to be able to do it.
One thing to note, is that when scanning film, some scanners have pre-focused lenses. These require the film be a certain distance from the glass, because they’re designed to be used with film holders. You’ll want to check your scanner manual for this.
The key part of the process is to eliminate as much dust as possible from the scanner glass and film. You’ll also want to ensure that there are no air bubbles trapped underneath the film or acetate, too. A few outside of the actual film area itself are fine, but you don’t want them on your image. The trick to eliminating air bubbles is to slightly bend the film as you lay it down. This way, it pushes the bubbles to the outside as it settles.
Once you’ve blown off any remaining dust and added a little more fluid, you’ll want to lay the acetate sheet down the same way. Then, use a soft dry cloth to help squeeze out any few bubbles that remain. Finally, scan as you normally would.
It might seem like a long winded way of scanning them in, but the difference is definitely worth it. It’s certainly a lot less expensive than using a high end lab and offers a lot more control.
Depending on what you’re going to use the final images for (small on the web vs. big digital prints, for example), then wet mount scanning might offer no benefit. But if you’ve got very curly film, this way at least ensures it’s all parallel to the sensor and sharp.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.