Film negative / slide scanners on Linux

Posted: April 15th, 2006 | Filed under: Photography | 2 Comments »

For a couple of years now I’ve been using a Nikon Coolscan V for scanning my 35mm negatives & slides into digital format. While it is not supported by the open source Sane software, the cross-platform VueScan software does a fanatastic job of driving it, even including support for the ICE (infrared) cleaning. VueScan is the first piece of commercial software I’ve bought in years, and I can say it is well worth the $80 for their professional edition which provides lifetime upgrades. If you’ve got a scanner which isn’t supported by Sane, then its worth checking it out.

This was all well and good, but I’ve got and ever increasing number of medium format negatives & slides taken with my Zero Image 2000 pinhole camera which won’t fit in the Nikon. So I went looking for a medium format scanner and finally settled on the Epson Perfection 4490 which was well rated by a number of photographic magazines, and a snip at only $200 – a small fraction the price of the dedicated Nikon film scanner when I bought it back in London.

Getting it working under Linux was a little bit of a roller-coaster ride. I plugged it in, added its USB vendor & product IDs to hotplug usermaps, re-plugged it, and fired up VueScan. “No scanners found”, damn. Checked the device permissions, fine. Tried Sane instead, “No scanners found”. Odd, because various web postings claimed it worked with both Sane & VueScan. Upgraded to the latest version of VueScan, still nothing. I was mildly worried that I had a dud unit now. I re-checked the release notes for VueScan, where-upon I discovered the small print – its only supported if you have the Epson drivers installed, because it needs a firmware loaded. Fortunately it turns out that Epson are a (reasonably) Linux friendly company, providing a Linux version of their scanner software for a large number of distros. The firmware itself is closed source & proprietry, but they do provide both a Linux version of their scanner software (IScan) and a SANE backend, under the GPL (+ an exception to allow them to deal with the firmware loading library). With this all installed, I now have a choice of 3 programs to do scanning with, Sane, IScan, and VueScan.

The only remaining problem is that if I try to scan at the full 4800 DPI my laptop (with 768 MB of RAM) goes into a swap death spiral, because the combination of the raw RGB scan, the infrared scan and the post-processing requires on the order of 1 GB of memory for a single medium format slide. So I’m stuck at 2400 DPI for while, until I talk myself into shelling out for a new desktop with 4 GB of RAM. That said, this is more than adequate for now – the image below is a scan of one of my first pinhole images from a year & a half ago in London, scaled down from 5000×5000 pixels.

One negative done, 195 to go…I may be some time…