How to scan a 4×5 film with a “non suitable scanner”

August 27, 2023

Most of the people who scan large format negatives usually make two scans, splitting the image in two and then stitching them up with photoshop or a similar software. I did not want to go down this route because, knowing myself, I would get bored very easily with the computer editing, so I started looking around for other ways of scanning 4×5 films. I casually bumped into a YouTube video by a French guy who, without rediscovering the moon, shows an easy technique which I am seeing for the first time on the internet.

The idea is very simple: to use an LED light table behind the film on the scanner surface.

Unfortunately the 4×5 negative I got around was not a good one (being it a test with a prototype pinhole camera I am working on, which ended up being badly exposed and ruined…) but let’s use it to illustrate the technique.

I printed a straightforward frame to keep the negative flat in position on the scanner bed. The thickness of this frame is the same as the original Epson one in order to avoid focus issues.

I then positioned the frame on the scanner bed. I aligned it at the top but it’s not fundamental for the final result. You could also have more fames in order to scan multiple pictures at the same time.

Next, position the light table on top of the negatives and turn it on at maximum power and the work is done!
Scan the film as you would scan normally.

The last thing you need to do is import the image to your favourite post-production software and invert the tone curve to convert the image from negative to positive.
Basically the only additional purchase (if you don’t own one already) is a cheap light table and you can then easily invert the tone curve with the software.

I found this process very easy and quick to do, without the need of buying a very expensive piece of equipment.
In the images you see here, the quality of the final scan is not great, due to the very poor negative, not from the process itself.
I spotted A5 and A4 size light tables on the web for less of 10£, shipping included.

Hopefully this post will be helpful to those of you who are starting scanning large format negatives and give you more confidence, without breaking the bank!

Happy shooting!