Normally we need to work hard to have our dreams come true and even with the biggest effort, we are often just not able to fulfill them all. So it is even sweeter when a dream becomes true and you not even expecting it. This is what happened to me a couple of days ago. OK, not a dream that changed my life, not a million dollar lottery win, but something that could significantly simplify my photography and home scanning workflow.
Nate Johnson a photographer and software engineer contacted me and asked if I was interested to test one of his new plugins for Lightroom. He is already well known for his OPAL opacity slider that allows the user to adjust the effect of a preset to his own taste. The new plugin which is called Negative Lab Pro would use raw photographs of film negatives and convert them into positives. Sounds like a simple task, but everyone who ever tried to do this with the onboard tools of LR knows how frustrating this could be.
I was immediately hooked and excited. I had envisioned a tool like this for quite some time now. A simple yet effective way to convert film scans either from a camera or a scanner that not only delivers beautiful and pleasing results but also provides a reproducible workflow. Nate used reference scans from famous machines like the Fuji Frontier scanner or Noritsu scanner normally only used in professional labs. The user interface as well is designed similar to a scanner interface and provides tools and adjustment sliders which are normally not available in Lightroom.
The basic idea of this plugin is to allow photographers to simply digitize their film negatives with a digital camera at a even higher image quality that most flatbed and even film scanners are able to produce. You need a simple setup for your digital camera to photograph the film strips. Nate talks about this in one of his blog posts. With a good macro lens or extension tubes you can easily produce higher resolution files than with normal scanners. This is nothing new. You can find many good videos or tutorials on the web where people tell you how to properly do this. While this process already has some challenges to deal with, the most problematic step until now was how to properly convert the photographs from negatives to positives. Nates plugin uses the onboard tools of Lightroom with the help of some external calculations to produce the positive images. But Nate put much more effort in this tool than simply inverting the tonecurves. There are algorithms which do the math for you and help you to color correct the scans without any hassle. I think this is the best feature of the plugin. You get wonderful colors to work with by just applying the tool. This can be the starting point of further improvements and own artistic or creative adjustments.
The results of my first tests really pleased me. It is as simple as importing the files into LR, preparing them in two steps and then converting them. Now you have all the freedom and creative possibilities to create scans according to your taste. All the adjustments are non-destructive and can be redone over and over again. Normally a film lab does all this work for you, without knowing how you saw the scene, how you envisioned the final image and your personal aesthetic preferences. All this is now in your hand.
The plugin is available at Nates website and I can highly recommend this helpful tool to any film photographer. I will test the plugin further over the next weeks and will hopefully be able to provide a more in depth review here at my blog soon.