Wet Mount Scanning vs. Dry Mount with Epson V700/800 Scanner
In this article, I share my personal test results from dry scanning and wet mount scanning my films with you so you can use this information to help decide which scanning method is a good fit for your photography.
I frequently use my Epson V-750 to quickly scan my films and post to the web and even create up to 22-inch prints on my Epson 3880 and P800 printers.
I receive a lot of emails from photographers around the world asking if doing a fluid (wet mount) scan produces a better result over dry scanning.
The short answer is YES, wet mount/fluid scanning produces a sharper result and the fluid works on the imperfections of your film to help reduce the amount of spotting and touchup work required in post-production. However, read this article in its entirety and send me a note and let me know how you are doing.
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WHY I USE THE EPSON V-750/850 SCANNER
I should first outline my goals and methods before sharing my results. I mostly use 4x5 and 8x10 sheet film, either E-6 chromes or negatives (C-41 and B&W). I want to produce the sharpest scan possible without any corrections being made by the scanner. I want to produce a 16-bit TIFF file that is an equivalent of a RAW file in the digital realm. I have a variety of scanning software, but I have determined that the provided Epson Scanning software produces the best RAW file as compared to the other software that I own. I used the Epson scanning software for this test.
I should also mention that I have used the Epson film holders, the aftermarket holders from betterscanning.com, and the Epson provided wet mounting station in addition to the new material that I tested for this article. If you are an 8x10 large format photographer, I will share a summary at the bottom of the article providing you some tips and insights. Update: The new film holders that come with the V800/850 produce significantly sharper scans over the legacy film holders. You don't have to purchase a new scanner to take advantage of this, you can buy the new style holders separately. So, if you just need a quick dry scan for the web or a small print, these new holders may be a good option for you.
For the first test, I selected a perfectly exposed sheet of 4x5 Velvia 100 slide film. For one scan, I used a custom mounting frame that I made. I use non-sticky blue painters type tape to secure the slide film to the frame and simply scan the film at 1200 DPI. You could also use an archival type tape that you can get from your local art store as well.
For the second scan, I used Kami fluid and wet mounted the film to the scanner platen glass as suggested by Aztek to get a sharper scan.
Below is a snapshot of my 4x5 and 8x10 frames that I made. Keep in mind that this test is with 4x5 film and not 8x10.
I knew based off of some custom ANR holders that I purchased from BetterScanning.com about what thickness I needed to get. I went shopping around town and found what I thought was a good candidate. I ended up buying a rubber dog mat that is used under their food bowls.
I used the provided 8x10 film guide that I got with the Epson scanner and made the 8x10 frame first and then I modified that design for the 4x5 frame. I spray painted the bottoms with flat black paint and let them dry in the sun for a day before using the following day. You can probably see that I laid down a sheet of film on the material and traced around it and then made the cut out about 1/8" shorter on all sides so that the film would overlap and provide a way to tape the film taught across the opening. I just use blue painters tape to secure my film that I get from my local hardware store. You could use archival tape if you already have that on hand as well.
TEST RESULTS FOR 4x5 SLIDE FILM
I found that one method produced a much sharper scan. I have included the images below and a 1:1 crop from each scan below the full scene.
Scan # 1
Scan # 1 1:1 crop
Scan # 2
Scan # 2 1:1 Crop
I think it is fairly easy to determine that scan number 1 produced the sharpest results.
I don't want to ruin the results by disclosing which scan was via the dry method using my custom frame vs. the wet mounting method on the platen glass just yet.
According to Aztek (via their website), a wet scan using the Epson provided wet mount kit produced inferior results when compared to wet scanning directly to the scanner platen glass. You can visit their website and view the information for yourself. So, as you have likely guessed, I had to see for myself and then compare my personal results to the two scans above.
SECOND TEST RESULTS
Using the Epson provided wet mount kit, I performed a wet scan on the 4x5 sheet film. I have included the full scene below and a 1:1 crop as I did with the above two tests.
Scan # 3
Scan # 3 1:1 Crop
And now to disclose the methods used for each scan. For scan # 1, I used my custom framing method for a dry scan. For scan # 2, I used the wet mounting method directly on the scanner platen glass. For scan # 3, I used the Epson provided wet mount kit.
Note: if you are an 8x10 sheet film user, the dry frame that I showed you in this article will provide very acceptable results for most people. The Epson provided wet mounting kit can't handle 8x10 sheet film.
In my environment with my scanner, I found that my dry mounting method with my custom frame (scan # 1) produced a much sharper result than wet mounting the film directly to the platen glass as suggested by Aztek (scan #2). I found that the wet mounted scan with the Epson provided wet mounting kit produced the sharpest scan of all three. Keep in mind that the Epson supplied wet mounting kit will work on film sizes up to 4x5.
I would make the following recommendations based on my results. If you don't want to wet mount scan then build a custom frame like I did and you will get very good results. If you want the absolute best possible scan, then wet mount on the Epson provided wet mount kit for sheet films up to 4x5. Wet mounting also provides another benefit which cuts your time in post-production significantly by eliminating most of the spotting touch up work. Also, negative films benefit even more than slide film, so if you are using negative film (C-41 or black and white), then wet mounting with the Epson kit is the best way to go. If you want to wet mount 8x10 sheet films on this scanner and get the type of results that I shared with the 4x5 sheet film, then you are going to have to find an aftermarket wet mounting kit or build something yourself.
DO YOUR OWN TESTS
However, you should not blindly accept my test results. I strongly suggest that you conduct similar tests with your own scanner and let your results make your final decision. I didn't test with the betterscanning.com frame because I have been scanning and using that setup for years. I already knew the results that I would get. If money is a factor, I would suggest that you make a custom mat as I described above and use that as a starting place. If you decide to invest in holders from betterscanning.com, then you have a baseline for your own comparisons. I found that my simple mat frames produce sharper scans in my environment. If you want the ultimate scan then you are going to have to wet mount your films. There are a lot of variables when performing tests like this, so don't take my word as the gospel, perform your own tests and then send me an email and let me know what you discovered.
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Keywords: analog photography, black and white, darkroom, film, fine art, large format, photography, scan, scanner, scanning, silver gelatin
There's only a couple reasons why "sharpness" would differ among the methods you tried. One that you mentioned is that mounting directly onto the scanner glass is just plain bad compared to using any carrier system (and I agree). The V800 uses two separate lenses for 'platen' and 'carrier' mounted negs; maybe that explains the difference. But if you're comparing different carrier systems (using the carrier lens mode), then any unsharpness must be due to placement of the negative outside the lens's DOF. There's no explanation for the 'wet' conditions somehow improving sharpness, is there?
Brilliant guide. Thanks very much. Every thing I've read states not to mount directly on the glass as the scanner is fix focused. Its strange that Aztek reccomends it. The mounts are at least 1mm above the glass, so your film needs to be as well, because of the focus set to above the scanners glass. J. Riley Stewarts comment below about using a ruler on an incline to determine focus height is genius. Making my own mount has to be the way forward, along withnthe ruler method. Thanks again.
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