John L Mathis

Railroad Photography

Digital Darkroom - Hardware

 

Although I've been taking photographs for over 55 years, it wasn't until the advent of the digital darkroom that I really obtained control over how my pictures were processed. I had always wanted a chemical darkroom but had neither the space nor the facilities for one. While in high school and the Army I did do some darkroom work and really liked it. My background of over 40 years working with computer software starting with mainframes and later with micro-computers (now PC's) gave me good preparation for what later became the digital darkroom.

In the 1990's I experimeted a bit with HP ScanJet scanners (which were primarilly document scanners) as well as an early slide scanner, the Nikon LS-10 Coolscan (2700 dpi). I used the then current Corel Paint as my software. Early printers left more to the imagination in the mediocre images that they produced. But it was a start. In early 2001 just after getting my first digital camera, the 4MB Olympus E10, I acquired my first Photoshop software - Photoshop 6.0, a Canon BJ-8200 printer, and a Nikon ED-8000 Coolscan which gave me the ability to scan my 2-1/4" slides as well as my 35mm's.

This page covers only my hardware and the operating system. The Digital Darkroom - Software section covers all of my image processing software, and the Printer Information section discusses my printer and it's RIP software.

I hope that the following information is useful to anyone managing their own hardware/software. It reflects my experience and opinions, which of course may differ from other views which abound on the internet.

 

Complete Shift: 1/2011: Windows 7 to (Mac) OS X 10.6 and Windows 7 64bit using Mac Bootcamp.

After considering many factors both my wife and I decided to switch to Apple.

Other considerations such as syncing email between devices when on the road are added features that make the Mac's worth looking into. I'm not looking here to get into flame wars about which is best. In my opinion what it boils down to is that both current operating systems (Windows 7 and Snow Leopard - OS X 10.6) are excellent software. However, Windows must attempt to be all things to all hardware, whereas Mac software is tailored to Apple's own hardware. Is there a hardware price penalty, yes, but not as much as there used to be. My original micro computer, the Apple II in 1979, was almost as expensive as my wife's new Mac portable (more expensive whan considering 1979 dollars).

My Current hardware is:

Mac Pro: 2 quad core Intel XEON "Westmere" cpu's 2.4Ghz (2.53Ghz - turbo).

  • 24 GB memory (2 banks of 3 modules each Crucial DDR3 memory)
  • 4 Hard disk drives: 2 Hitachi 2TB drives, 2 WD Caviar "Black" 1TB Drives
  • 1 PCI express USB 2.0 board with 4 additional ports

Apple 27" Cinema LCD Display

Nikon LS9000ED Super Coolscan scanner, used, (replaced LS8000ED).

Mac OS X 10.6.8 "Snow Leopard", Windows 7 Home Premium (using Mac Bootcamp).

Note: Windows 7 Home Premium only recognizes up to 16GB memory and 1 quad core CPU.

This system gets a 7.4 Windows Experience rating except for the hard disk drive which is rated at 5.9, thus giving the whole system a rating of 5.9 (same as my previous home built Windows computer).

Peripherals:

Slide/film scanning or copying:

1/28/2013 - Note: I am evaluating digital slide copying for 35mm as opposed to scanning. From what I have seen, this method of slide digitization, if done right, will produce an image that is as good or almost as good as scanned output, and is much faster. If this works out, I will be able to digitize my 35mm slides much faster than with a scanner.

The pros of this process are: fast processing and more accurate overall reproduction.

  • Fast processing. Slide scanning is a slow tedious process. If one wants to get the most out of each image, then it must be previewed, corrections applied, and re-previewed until it looks as good as possible. When digitally copying a slide, the prime concerns appear to be sharp focusing (critical) and proper lighting (exposure).

  • More accurate reproduction. If properly exposed, the resultant image will look more like the original slide. Scanned slides characteristics are somewhat modified by the light of film scanners, and it is tougher to get information out of the shadows without blowing out the highlights (slides were often exposed to avoid blowing out hightlights, which hurt shadows). Flatbed scanners create "softer" images than film scanners.

Cons of this process are: More post processing time required, and, higher contrast images with possibly blocked shadpows and problems with color negative orange casts.

  • Because scanners can use correction and enhancement software such as Digital ICE, or equivalents, the elimination of spots as well as the restoration and enhancement of faded slides reduces the amount of necessary post processing effort. However, except in cases of badly shifted colors in older non-Kodachrome slides, enhancements during the scanner process can diminish sharpness and create garish colors. I find that post processing is always necessary, so the amount of time for me is offset by the time I don't need to spend doing exposure and color correction prior to the scan.

  • Contrast Increase is something that I will have to evaluate. A problem with slide copying has been that contrast increases in the copy. I believe that this can be controlled, but I will have to watch this and see how it can be dealt with.

  • Color negatives have a color cast which must be compensated for. Usually this is an orange cast. Scanners can deal with this. It remains to be seen how well this cast can be eliminated by post processing.

My first efforts have been with an Opteka slide copier, which have produced good results with the NEX-7 and the 18-55mm kit lens, and raw output - this resulted in about a 70MB 16 bit output image. The prime criteria is the ability for a lens to close focus. Sony's 49mm lens filter size works well with the 52mm size of the Opteka. The main problem with the Opteka is that the slide mount is somewhat loose, and precise focusing is problematic. I used the setup mounted on a tripod with the camera pointed at an outside window in order to get sufficient even high quality light. The key to using this device with no modification is a lens that has very close focusing.

I am now waiting on the arrival of a Minolta Auto Bellows III along with its focusing rail and the ABIII-Slide Copier unit. This, along with a Minolta 100mm f/4 bellows macro lens should enable me to copy slides in a tightly controlled manner. The bellows assembly as well as the lens were purchased used on EBay. In order to attach this to my A99 (or NEX-7) I need a Minolta to Alpha or E mount adapter. I have an Alpha adapter on order. With the arrival of these items this week, I should be able to copy my 35mm material with sufficient control to make it useful.

Scanner:

My main peripheral unit, aside from the Epson 9800 printer is a Nikon ED-9000 Super Coolscan. I bought this used unit in 2011 to upgrade from my ED-8000 scanner which was purchased new in 2002 and was still fine when it was sold. The 9000 handles Kodachrome better and also has better color rendition. I use Nikon Scan v4.02 as it gives me the best results for the effort. The problem with the Nikon Scan software is that it hasn't been supported for several years and will not run on MAC OS's beyond Snow Leopard (10.6.8). Nikon Scan also had to be "jury rigged" to run on Wndows 7. If I upgrade my OS Software, I will have to used either Vue Scan, which is fine but allows very little control, or Silverfast which is expensive and more complex than Nikon Scan. If my 35mm copying efforts are succesful, then the scanner will still be used for difficult 35mm slides as well as my 2-1/4" Hasselblad slides.

Other peripherals are besides my Epson 9800 which is described on a separate page, are:

EPSON R1900 printer. This is a nice printer which uses an Ultrachrome pigment ink set and produces excellent prints up to 13"x19" in size. Since the inkset is Epson's Ultrachrome pigment ink set, the prints its produces are long-lived. Unlike my larger Epson, this one can also produce 4"x6" prints.

Epson R300 printer. This is my general purpose and 4x6" printer. It is a good unit although it has long been replaced by inexpensive later model printers.

Last edited:1/28/2013