The many ways of skinning a black and white cat (aka digitizing a 5×4 negative)

Here is my step-by-step guide to how I digitize my 5×4 black and white negatives (Ilford Delta 100).

Digitizing setup:

Gitzo 3540LS, Induro BHL3, Novoflex Castel-L, D800E (set to 5000K white balance and 5×4 crop mode), 60 f/2.8 AF-S micro; MedaLight 5×4 panel; darkened room; iphone for leveling camera with compass app; lego 5×4 film flattening frame.

The neg (processed by Peak Imaging) on the light panel before starting:


The digitizing setup:


Four files in Bridge, after straightening, desaturation, and setting of black and white points in ACR (for D800E no capture sharpening at this stage):


100% detail in ACR:


Bridge->Photomerge (Auto) -> CS6:


CS6 Processing Steps:

  1. Duplicate Layer; Crop; de-spot if necessary and clone out film clip marks (combination of cloning and healing brush).
  1. Invert:


  1. Curves (adjustment of black and white points and contrast):


  1. Curves: selective darkening around edges
  1. B&W Layer: addition of tint (c8af92):


  1. Gradient Map Layer: custom Platinum toning (mid-point on gradient brought up); adjust opacity of earlier global curves contrast layer to suit. Reduce opacity of layer to suit, to allow tint to bleed through:


Final image before sharpening:


Sharpening routine:

  1. Flatten
  1. Duplicate Green channel
  1. Filter->Stylize->Find Edges:


  1. Filter->Noise->Median 3px
  1. Image->Adjustments->Levels: pull in from left under end of curve slightly to enhance the edges:


  1. Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur 2.0
  1. Select as mask
  1. Apply as mask over duplicate layer and invert mask
  1. Apply USM Sharpening 500/0/0:


  1. Resize to output as appropriate. I don’t usually save the file with the sharpening steps above included, because extra merged layers increases file-size substantially.

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