I have tried several options for scanning color negatives. The software that came with my Canon scanner produces somewhat decent images for some frames but I didn’t feel that I have enough control for adjusting individual images. So I bought a license for VueScan.
VueScan is great and confusing at the same time. It has a huge amount of options but the user interface is… let’s say not very clear.
I tried the default settings in VueScan and the results were somewhat ok. I tried adjusting the scans inside VueScan but to be honest, Lightroom is much easier.
I tried to use the film profiles in VueScan but that gave me worse results than the default settings. I tried to sample the film base color and some other stuff that I found instructions for online but they didn’t seem to work out either.
Given that I use Lightroom anyway to catalog my images and the develop module in Lightroom is very good, this is how my work flow for scanning color negatives works nowadays.
In Vuescan, I try to make decent scan to develop in Lightroom. For this, I set the input settings like this:
Using 48 bit RGB gives you the best possible color space to continue working in Lightroom.
I prefer to fix the colors in Lightroom. That’s why I leave the restore checkboxes unchecked on the Filter tab. On the other hand, I trust VueScan to do basic grain reduction and sharpening. You should probably test what works for you. (I recommend using Infrared clean if your scanner supports it. I did not select it for these test pictures as it is very slow on my scanner.)
For color settings, I leave everything at default and select Auto levels for Color balance. For some images, other settings might work better but I find it easier to always use the same settings and work in Lightroom. Make sure that you select ProPhoto RGB for Output color space. This is the color space that Lightroom uses and setting it makes sure that the colors transfer correctly from VueScan to Lightroom.
For output, make sure to produce a TIFF file with 48 bit RGB and to include the TIFF profile (which makes sure that the ProPhoto RGB file works in Lightroom).
The output from VueScan using these settings may be pretty good but often it will look a bit bland. This is an example image straight out from VueScan.
Lightroom’s auto setting has quite a bad reputation. It has improved in later versions and often times using it in Lightroom 5 will give you a better starting point for manual edits. This image is developed from the previous one using Lightroom’s auto development setting and auto white balance.
The white balance did not look quite right and I prefer my images a bit more contrasty. This one is after some manual tweaking in Lightroom.
I don’t think that there is a one workflow that will always produce best possible images. This is how I work to scan my color negatives and how I have gotten most consistent results. I’d love to hear your suggestions for improvement.