XPan Scans; Tips And Tools For Digitizing Panoramic Film

My favorite scene in the film Lawrence of Arabia is when Peter O'Toole, as Lawrence, looks out onto the desert landscape and watches a rider riding slowly toward him. It turns out to be Omar Sharif but the encounter is made more dramatic by the widescreen format.

The rotating lens of the Horizon can add some sweeping curves (you can call it distortion if you like) for subjects like this bridge that was photographed with Kodak color negative film and converted into monochrome using The Imaging Factory's (www.theimagingfactory.com) Convert To B&W Pro Photoshop compatible plug-in.
All Photos © 2005, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

There are a lot of ways to make panoramic images, including cropping standard formats or shooting a series of digital images and stitching them together, but the easiest way, for me, is to use a panoramic camera. Shooting a panoramic still image, especially landscapes, eliminates lots of foreground and sky that add little to the image while allowing you to capture the subject within its surroundings.

One of the advantages is that you can look through the viewfinder and see the image. The disadvantage is that nobody is making digital panoramic cameras--at least not yet--but it doesn't have to be expensive to capture and digitize panoramic images.

This image of a park in Boulder, Colorado, was photographed using Kodak color negative film and was digitized with an Epson Perfection 4870 PHOTO. The curvature of the track was accentuated by the Horizon's moving lens.

Lay The Film On A Flat-Bed
One of the best combinations for the money is an inexpensive panoramic camera, such as the Horizon 202 (see "Scan The Horizon"), with an equally inexpensive flat-bed scanner. Recently, I've been using the Epson Perfection 4870 PHOTO to scan negatives from the Horizon. Yes, I tend to shoot negative film, color and C-41 black and white, for my panoramic images.

You can shoot whatever kind of film you prefer but I like to scan negatives because it's much easier for me to get C-41 film processed nearby and cheaply. There are a few other reasons I like negatives: Neg film has wider latitude and less contrast, making it a better fit for an inexpensive flat-bed scanner that may not have the large dynamic range or price tag of a dedicated film scanner.

Epson bundles both its own and LaserSoft's software with the Perfection 4870 PHOTO, but I tend to use SilverFast most of the time because it is precise and easy to use.

The most important aspect of film scanning, just as when in working in a traditional wet darkroom, is cleanliness. I use Falcon Safety Products' Dust-Off Screen Shammy to make sure the scanner's glass is clean and lint-free. This suede-like microfiber cleaning cloth is designed for cleaning sensitive surfaces, such as plasma displays, precision optics, and scanner glass. (Tip: I keep one in my camera bag to wipe finger and nose marks off my digital SLR's LCD screen.) That's just phase one. After slipping the negatives into the film holder, I give them a light blast of Falcon's Dust-Off Plus to save retouching time. The environmentally aware should know that this stuff is 100 percent ozone safe.

The Epson Perfection 4870 PHOTO comes with four film holders: 35mm slides, 35mm filmstrips, medium format, and 4x5 film.

Epson's latest 35mm film holders hold four strips of film, but older models had little frames that got in the middle of panoramic negatives. I took one of them and used a hobby knife to remove the frames, opening it up to strips of two or three (depending on the format) panoramic negatives. The openings in Epson's 35mm film holders are slightly larger than the film, so photographic purists can show the edges, and I do with the images captured with the Horizon 202.

The Epson Perfection 4870 PHOTO.

For Digital Perfectionists
The Hasselblad XPan is different than the Horizon. The XPan and XPan II shoot 21 24x65mm panoramic frames on a 36-exposure roll of film, but can also capture 24x36mm frames--even in mid roll. In Panorama mode, the frame is as tall as 35mm format but almost twice as wide. So much so that its length is identical to a 6x7cm rollfilm format. By now you've probably already figured it out; if you scan XPan film you're going to need a medium format scanner.

Like Ilford's XP2 Super, another film that I like to use for XPan images, Kodak's BW400CN, is less grainy with greater overexposure latitude than conventional black and white emulsions, making it handy for photographing subjects where detail and low grain are desired. On the flip side, there is some controversy over the stability of chromogenic negative film. In general, I consider it to be the equivalent of color negative film and provide similar kinds of storage.

Microtek's ArtixScan 120tf film scanner handles a variety of film formats such as 35mm, including 35x78mm panoramic, as well as four sizes of medium format film, including 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, and 6x9. Three hot swappable film holders accommodate all of these film formats and are bundled with the scanner. Blasting the negatives with Dust-Off before inserting the film holder can make a significant reduction in dust spotting time. The ArtixScan 120tf is a pro's tool and features an optical resolution of 4000dpi, 4.2 optical density, and 42-bit color with high-bit raw data file output.