There are two ways you can get an image from the concept to the printed copy. There are scanning film negatives or simply capturing scenes by using your DSLR or mirrorless system.
There are a few scanning software possibilities available for you to use. VueScan is one of these options. Let’s see if VueScan holds up to its reputation as the best film scanning software around. Here is the ultimate VueScan review.
Why Do We Scan Images
Scanning is often the process you use when you want to digitize your negatives. The other option is printing your image in a darkroom.
If you are shooting color negative film, you might not have the capabilities to print them yourself. This process requires stringent rules on temperatures you need to use your chemicals at.
Scanning or printing your images hold a lot of weight outside of capturing the image. You should aim to edit and improve your picture for that unique print or to share your work online. Editing is half the job of a great photo.
Your process needs to create the best image possible. Your film scanner and scanning software need to do this for you. These should give you the best scan possible for your work.
Your scanning software needs to have the capacity to change elements in the scene. It is down to your personal preference how strong these elements will be. Contrast, Brightness, highlights, and shadows all play their part.
Scanning your analogue images comes down to you. What do you want to get from it? There are no strict guidelines to follow.
This software allows you to make a digital print or version of something you already created. It is up to you how you want them portrayed, and it starts with scanning.
My first thought when opening the VueScan interface was that it isn’t the most attractive program I have come across. It felt like accessing software from a bygone age. They ungenerously went for lines of options, over a graphic interface.
That said, no scanning software I have used looks attractive. They all look like they were made for the first computer ever invented and missed the train for renovation town.
EPSON Scan software is no different, and that is my preference for scanning. But, don’t judge a scanning software based on its cover. How it looks isn’t that important, how it treats your images is.
Other programs, such as EPSON Scan, use graphics, making it easier on the eyes. This isn’t necessarily a problem – It’s the content, not the look when it comes to scanning your images.
After all, do you want style or substance?
With the Vuescan interface, you’ll see six tabs. This interface is where all of your tweaking capabilities are. These are Input, Crop, Filter, Color, Output, and Prefs.
Each tab holds a vast amount of sliders and options. It does make it challenging to determine what you want to use. A lot of experimentation is needed. But, having more options allows you to take full control over every feature and element.
I like that it’s intuitive and laid out in a manner that makes sense. If this feels friendly to you, this is where that feeling is going to end.
Overall, it is fast to use and navigate once you get the hang of it.
There are three different modes to scan your images. They are Basic, Standard, and Professional. These can be found under the drop-down menu in the Options box, in the Input panel.
The basic mode is for those who do not need 90% of the extra trimmings. Use this to get familiar with the program and how it works. In this mode, you only have two tabs; Input and Prefs.
In the Input tab, you get to choose the file name of the scan, and where to save it with the default folder. You can change the scanning mode to Flatbed (physical photographs) or transparency (slide).
By using the media drop-down, you can select Image, Slide Film, Colour or Black and white film. The file type allows you to save it in JPEG, TIFF, or PDF.
You won’t be able to have any say in the scan resolution. But, it might be good enough for what you want. The Output by default is 3600×2400 at 618 DPI. Giving you a file size of 2.59.
The one thing you can do in the Basic mode is to scan your images without all the unnecessary hoohaa. This mode is helpful if you don’t want to edit or print the photos very large.
Basic mode is best for enthusiasts who are starting to scan. But, there is one thing that VueScan does surprise me with. There is a Files box that allows you to use previously scanned Raw images, allowing for editing through scanning.
We will look at this a little later.
As a basic platform, this is a pretty good setup. It has most, if not all, the things an enthusiast would want to scan their images quickly.
With EPSON Scan, there is a Full Auto Mode. But it only works with 35 mm or slide color film. Everything else gets chosen for you. VueScan lets you know how big the files and resolution will be.
The Standard mode is for those who want some extra options, but are not ready to change all the settings on their own. You can access this with the drop-down menu in the options box, or by clicking Options+ at the bottom of the options area.
Here, you get all the Basic tools at your fingertips, plus a few more. Inbetween the Input and Prefs tabs, you’ll find Crop, Filter, Color, and Output.
The crop tab gives you one option, and that is to change the area you want to scan. It allows you to keep the default area, or choose a size between 6×4.5 to 6×9″. These are more for medium format films, as they differ from the standard 35 mm.
There are options for APS films, Slides, or changing the area to the maximum size. Manual mode gives you the chance to select the area best for you, where Auto will choose what it thinks is the best.
With the Filter tab, it allows you to Restore colors, Restore fading and Sharpen. Restore Colors means making the RGB colors more independent, allowing them to be tweaked.
If you have used slides or negative films where the color started to shift, then use the Restore Fading to bring it back to its former glory. Sharpen activates a sharpen mask, sharpening your images.
There are handy, but you don’t have a choice on the strength of these filters.
The Color tab allows you to correct the white balance, black and white points, and brightness. There are even profiles for different films, making sure your scans keep their signature look.
Output is where you save your images, in what format and at what size. You are offered a range of 3×5″ to 12×17, and premade sizes of A3 to A6.
EPSON scan has the Home Mode, which would be comparative to the VueScan’s Standard. Here, you can change the document type, image type, and specify the resolution for the scan.
There are Image Adjustments you can add, such as Colour Restoration and brightness. However, there are a few things that I don’t understand straight away. The Descreening, Backlit Correction, and DIGITAL ICE Tech mean nothing to me.
I had to research that Descreening means that it removed a ripple effect you can find with some skin tones. The Backlit Correction removes shadows from images that have too much background light.
The ICE tech is an intuitive program that removes dust from your image better than the Dust Removal option.
The Professional Mode is the option that gives you all the tools and features available. This mode is for non-beginner photographers who want the full range of possibilities when scanning negatives.
Activating this tab doesn’t add more, but it does expand the options you find in every tab. You get everything you need from the Standard Mode plus much, much more.
In the Input Tab, you get to refine your scan to Bits per pixel (color depth) and Make gray from (using color filters to convert to black and white). You can also rotate and skew the image if necessary.
The Crop Tab allows you to Lock aspect ratio (saves time for same sized negatives or prints) and allows for borders. The only addition in the Filter Tab is Grain reduction, which goes from light to heavy.
In the Color Tab you’ll find many settings you can tweak. You can now raise or lower the brightness of each RGB color. You can change the color space for the scanner, printer, or file you will use.
With the Output Tab, you can add Metadata and watermarks to your images, among other features. There are quite a few that I don’t understand, so it’s over my head.
With EPSON Scan, you also get an expected jump in the number of features and settings you can use.
Here you get the Image Type selection that allows you to change the color depth. This is the same as VueScan, and so is the ability to change the document size.
You do get buttons that allow you to adjust your image. Auto Exposure enables the scanner to choose an exposure that it thinks is the best for your photo. The Histogram will let you change highlights, whites, blacks, and shadows to fit your needs.
Tone Correction, Brightness, and Contrast are pretty self-explanatory and allow you access to those areas to refine them. The Color Palette opens an interface allowing you to manipulate the mid-tone levels.
On top of these, you get the Unsharp Mask, which adds sharpening to your scene.
Overall, EPSON gets a huge plus as all the options are in one window. With VueScan, everything is over many tabs. These tabs are easy to navigate, even if the features need research.
VueScan gives you many options to adjust your image in multiple ways. This is a real professional mode, for those who want full control. EPSON will scan just as well, but you can’t tweak as many elements.
Scanning – From Start to Finish
The first step in scanning your negatives or slides is the preview. Preview works across all types and brands of scanner – you need to see what you’re scanning. This shows you where the negatives lay, allowing you to choose which frames to select.
You won’t see the levels of color in your scene, or if it is in focus. But it will give you a good idea of what will be scanned. This is the first area that will allow you to crop or apply the settings you desire for the full scan.
To start, you need to lay down your negatives directly onto the scanner bed (flatbed scanner) by using film holders. Then, set the software to scan for ‘Wide Transparencies’. This will show you the preview of every frame.
Then you can either crop the areas you want to scan, removing borders and film edges. There is an Auto option where the software will attempt to select where it thinks the frames are.
I use the EPSON V700. At the time, it was the best, non-industrial solution around. It comes equipped with two lenses. One focuses on the film holders, and the other on the glass. Everything in between is sharp.
To scan the entire section of negatives, select “Transparency” and go for the 8×10 option in VueScan. It will show you everything. Even the parts you don’t want.
This works in Professional Mode, which will allow you to Marquee and then Crop out the negatives from its’ borders.
Scan From a Selection
Once the preview shows you the entire area, you need to select a shot to work with next. With VueScan, you are free to zoom into the image.
When you use other software packages, such as EPSON Scan, zooming into an image will force a re-scan of the selected image. The trade-off here is that the zoomed-in image in VueScan has a small resolution.
But, it is perfectly capable of letting you select your shots precisely. To do this, use the Marquee tool and Crop feature.
Once you have the image selected, we can start the real fun. This is where you decide your workflow in scanning every one of your pictures. What do you want out of your scan? A finished image, or something to work from?
Many want to scan and leave it at that. They prefer to use editing software platforms for all the adjustments. Often, I am wasting hours scanning images at high resolutions, which I will print in a generic 5×7″ size for a family scrapbook.
If you aren’t looking to fill a family album, then you need a lot of detail in your scans. There are other settings you need to consider.
You need to look at every element of the Histogram, and therefore, tonal range. Just like when you capture a scene, you don’t want the shadows too dark, or the highlights are blown out.
You can always leave the images a little flat and bland, as you can use your editing software of choice to bring out all the detail.
The sliders have names to make them easier to use, such as Color Neutral and Brightness. Others, such as ‘Curve Height’, won’t mean much without some research.
Playing around with each slider will help your knowledge base, and your speed flow speeds up. After a while, you’ll understand the software is simple enough to use. If you are looking for more post-production options, you’ll be disappointed in EPSON.
VueScan seems to have it all, even if you don’t understand what they have. Most of what I see on VueScan are things I wouldn’t use. I just want a good scan to work from.
The scan needs to be of a high quality so I can edit in post. Using adjustments in a scanner program feels like editing in-camera. You can’t revert the changes.
VueScan allows you to save your files as TIFFs. This is a Raw file format that then lets you go back and reinsert it into the scanning program to make another version.
When it comes to image quality, you want the best you can afford. Between EPSON Scan, Silverfast, or VueScan – there isn’t a difference. Or at least that I can tell. All provide very professional files.
This makes sense. After all, it depends on your scanner, not the software you use to digitalize your images.
The benefit with both EPSON Scan and VueScan is they are free. You don’t need to spend money to grab a fantastic image.
You should complete any sharpening in your editing software for high-quality images. If you want to do it during the software stage, then you’ll need to use the setting in either program.
Value For Money?
The pricing differs across all three platforms. EPSON Scan and VueScan are the cheapest solutions. There are no film profiles with EPSON, and it is very much the ‘no frills’ interface.
When I say free, EPSON is the only free software. You get it with your EPSON scanner, or you can download it for free from the EPSON website. VueScan is free for flatbed scanning.
If you want to scan film, slides, or anything else, you need to pay. It is $49.95 for the Standard Edition, or twice that for the Professional Edition. It was more expensive, but the price changed to match that of the SilverFast competition.
Silverfast is what I use the most, as it is fully capable of providing powerful scans. I don’t need hundreds of different options, making it complicated.
The standard edition of Silverfast 8 comes with a $49 price tag. For that, you get an interface with more graphics, making it easier and more fun to use. For this price, you get realistic color profiles that bring high color fidelity. The platform is workable and gives you better results.
VueScan costs just under $80. This gives you a simple interface, film profiles that work now-and-again, non-usable sharpening that doesn’t seem to work.
There are other issues you’ll come across, but if you know what you are doing, it’s a good option for great-looking scans.
If you don’t have the extra money, why spend it? There doesn’t seem to be a reason to spend that extra money. Especially as EPSON Scan or VueScan are free and do a better job. You can grab color presets by using Lightroom.
This might slow down your process, but it’s the cheapest option. This is the best choice for those who are going to work through their scans in software.
Premade Color Profiles for Realistic Rendering
VueScan is great for premade color profiles. You’ll find a range of particular film profiles, such as Portra 400. This feature provides you with a filter that helps give your shots a realistic rendering for that film type. Silverfast follows suit and is said to be much better.
Neither of the scanning programs will give you 100% of what you want. Ensure you tweak them a little in Photoshop or Lightroom.
The color profiles are where EPSON Scan falls behind. They don’t have them. This is also a possible advantage, as many photographers will edit their images in post-production software.
Likes and Dislikes
The scanner scans images fine. It isn’t outstanding and doesn’t show much if any difference in the quality. Why would it? Quality comes from the scanner, not the scanning software.
With VueScan, there isn’t one feature that is missing. They have outdone themselves when it comes to possibilities on what you can do by using all of these options.
However, too much is too much. You don’t want to be put off with an interface that is over the top and confusing.
The price is too much for what it is. The other two options are either free or the same price. It isn’t intuitive. It has an ugly interface, and the help offered is vague.
It isn’t easy to use. The one area that does set itself apart is the color profile management, but in the end, they are outdated and are more of a toy than anything else. Color profiles can be added later in Lightroom.
I already know how EPSON works, and if I did have any trouble, it was with ‘what resolution should I use for my negatives?’. This issue had nothing to do with the software.
Looking at VueScan did make me feel that EPSON Scan lacked features and settings. I then remembered that you can save files as TIFFs in EPSON scanner and that I would prefer to edit the images in dedicated editing software.
If you rarely use a scanner, you’ll find that it takes longer to use this software over the other two options. If you scan images all the time, you will find this software to be painful and time-consuming.
The interface is simple yet overwhelming due to the number of options there are. I do not recommend this software in any way, shape, or form.
One of the biggest problems that I find in my workflow is that Cropping isn’t done by drawing a box. Instead, you need to play around with slider values.
If you think that help is just around the corner, the online help system is vague and uninformative. It’s a program that has a lot of features where it doesn’t need them. Don’t be wowed by an expensive car that has electric windows. Skoda’s have them too.
Looking for a great scanning software to use, look at Silverfast 8 or even EPSON Scan. Fewer headaches and more productivity.
Whilst youre here, have a look at this video on how to scan black and white film with Silverfast 8.8.