Drum scanning

If you are a photographer and have ever used film, you have most likely heard about it. But... what is it?

So. If you already know? Well, then…you know. 

I have owned, operated and affectionately maintained ICG scanners for over 15 years, have a great client list and don’t need to hard sell what I do. 

If you know what a drum scanner is and looking for this service, skip the following blah-blah, go straight for the contact info and we can see if your project and my capabilities/setup are a match. I'm project oriented but happy to do test scans for prospective clients. 

If you don’t really know, and are curious, please read on.

Why is drum scanning special?

Drum scanning is where you go when you have all the images selected for a book or show and need the best possible capture of all the information the film originals had to offer so that you can make your best images have that extra something.

Drum scanners are the 1% of the scanning world. For a range of reasons, not the least of which being the cost. Shit ain’t cheap. There isn't really anyway around that. One other being the reality that 99% of basic scanning needs can be accomplished by consumer-level flatbed scanners that you can have in your own hands and on your own schedule. Flatbeds are... acceptable.

Drum scanning is the best way to scan film. I am not an evangelist for much, but this is…..the best.

The Machinery

They are not for the weak of heart to own and operate. These are almost 300lb industrial machines. They have not been manufactured for decades, run on MS-DOS and SCSI and 25 year old OS9 Macs. They are finicky but are being held together, lovingly, by a dedicated group of dorks like me all around the world.

Your film is carefully wrapped around an optically perfect acrylic tube in a gentle paraffin solution (harmless to film and your film will actually be cleaner when you get it back). Then a layer of optical mylar is added on top to hold it all together. It then spins at speeds up to 1800RPM while a transmission and sensor arm travels the length of the drum, shining focused light through the film and into the sensor assembly to generate the image.

This is where the magic happens. Unlike all other scanners, the original film information is captured here through analog photomultiplier tubes before being converted into a digital file. This allows for several advantages, primarily being the ability to capture a much wider range of tones than modern scanners.

Other advantages of drum scanning (as if that wasn’t enough...)?

Well. Sharpness. Not artificial, software-generated “sharpness”, or interpolation, but the real deal. Every detail of the original is available.

Post-production on drum scans is a breeze. Not only do you have all the image information from the analog capture, making curve adjustments straightforward, but the oil solution fills in surface scratches and virtually eliminates dust. A large scan from a flatbed that might take me an hour to retouch dust from (and I am pretty fast) might take me 5 minutes on a drum scan. This saved time and resources adds up quickly when you are talking about preparing a book with 200 images (just by way of example)…..

•    •    •

A note about the comparison image (taken by the One and Only Barry Feinstein):

I am using two scans of the same negative to illustrate a couple of very basic differences between drum and flatbed scanning. The version on the right is a basic drum scan with no corrections or sharpening. The version on the left is a fluid mounted 16bit scan on a Creo IQSmart3 flatbed scanner. 

The Creo is one of the best flatbed scanners ever made and cost $25K new. It is quite a bit better than the same negative on an Epson flatbed. With very heavy corrections, sharpening, retouching and extra work you might be able to get it to look better than it does here, but not enough to get back all the clipped highlight detail. 

I know, because I used a Creo for 20 years. This Creo scan (here in it’s raw form, no corrections) was the master digital record of this negative from before I owned my first drum scanner. Would you want to go back and work with the Creo scan after that? I know I haven’t looked back ever since. 

Footer Text - Copyright Information
Using Format