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How to Scan and Print Panoramic Images
2005 Kenrockwell.com

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Panoramic cameras make long, skinny images on film. These images are usually too long to be scanned by a film scanner intended for that format. For instance, a 35mm or 120 format pan camera makes images too wide for either a 35mm or 120 film scanner or optical enlarger, since the panoramic images span a couple of frames at once.

You need to use a larger format scanner or enlarger.

You can cheat by stitching together a series of smaller scans.

Of course you always can cheat by assembling several conventional, smaller prints as a diptych or triptych, but you don't need this page for that.

Here are some of the many possibilities:

Drum Scans

Drum scanners used in professional printing plants can scan anything. The film is stuck to a huge drum with almost no size or limitations on weird shapes. If you want to pay someone else $20 - $100 then this is always the best way to have it scanned. You will save a lot of headaches since weird sizes are easy for drum scanners. See here for more on drum scanners. Imacons claim to be drum scanners but are really just regular CCD scanners, however their novel film holding method may make then ideal for long skinny film.

Epson 4990 Flatbed Scanner

As of 2005 this became easy, since the $400 Epson 4990 flatbed does an amazing job of scanning film in any size from 35mm through 8 x 10." The 4990 comes with holders for 35 mm slides, 35mm film strips, 120 and 4 x 5" film. The 120 holders go up to 6 x 12 cm; for 6 x 17 cm there are third parties who sell holders. For 35 mm panoramics the film strip holders have a clear width of 225 mm, or six frames wide!

I've been a naysayer in earlier years when flatbeds were crummy for film scans. Today if you have some weird film size that you can't jam into a conventional film scanner you want to afford then just get this Epson as I did and I'm sure you'll love it. Full review here.

35mm Panoramic film (Horizon, Noblex 135, Hasselblad XPan)

These are easy. Most of these images are about 56mm x 24mm. These therefore fit perfectly in common medium format (120) scanners and enlargers. You will probably go crazy trying to make several scans on a 35mm scanner and stitching them. More later on stitching as a last resort.

For scanners I use my Minolta Multi PRO. Use the glass medium format holder and lay the 35mm film strip in it. Try to lay the film along the edge of the mask to save from having to rotate it after the scan. Good luck, it always wiggles around as you snap the holder closed. The Multi PRO works perfectly for anything up to 84 mm long.

The Nikon Coolscan 9000 is another excellent scanner for medium format up to 56 x 84 mm.

For enlargers you ought to be able to get a steal on one today, since most people are hauling traditional darkroom gear out to the dumpster. See below on how to make a custom film holder.

120 Panoramic film (Linhof, Fuji, Horseman, Calumet 612, 617, 624, Noblex 150)

The smallest size is 6 x 12 cm. This is easy to use, since it fits perfectly in an enlarger or scanner designed for 4 x 5." Likewise you can get these enlargers cheap since many people are hauling them out to dumpsters today. See below on how to make a custom film holder.

For 6 x 12 cm I love my Epson 4990 flatbed over trying to stitch scans from my Minolta Multi PRO film scanner. The 4990 has 6 x 12 cm holders included, standard! See below for how to use a 120 scanner to scan in sections.

6 x 17 cm fits a 5 x 7" enlarger and 6 x 24 cm fit as an 8 x 10" enlarger. This is tough, since 5 x 7" and 8 x 10" enlargers are hard to find. The best way is to keep your ears peeled since people also haul these out to dumpsters today, but they are so big they might pay YOU to haul them away.

Film Holders for Enlargers

Pan film is long and skinny. It's unlikely you'll be able to buy a holder just the right size.

Make your own negative holder with two pieces of glass sandwiched together. Make a channel with strips of black electrical tape to run along both sides of your film. You can lay your film in this channel and the tape will keep the glass perfectly spaced to hold the film flat and prevent Newton rings. I use glass from the hardware store, feel free to buy fancy anti-Newton glass if you wish.

Even with hardware store window glass I got fantastic results from the 5 x 12 cm negatives from my Noblex 150.

Digital Camera Stitching Programs

canon stitched panoramic image

(From my Canon A70 and Canon's stitch program, far easier than printing from film. The original composite file was 10,500 x 1786 pixels, big enough for a three foot wide print at 300DPI!)

This isn't the point of this page. Many digital cameras, especially the Canons, make it trivial to stitch together many digital camera images. The Canons usually even come with excellent software for this, free. Many Canon cameras also include clever preview taking modes to help you get images that are easy to stitch.

Unlike most stitched images, the results usually look great from the Canon cameras.

Stitching Sequential Scans

A method almost warranted to drive you insane simply is to make a few overlapping scans on a scanner intended for non-panoramic film of a given size. This makes a lot of sense on paper, but in practice it drives you nuts because:

1.) It's tough to get scans to match each other for color and exposure so you have no obvious seams. You must lock the scanner's exposure, which not all scanner software can do. Even after you lock it you may or may not get consistent results. If not, you'll have to tweak the colors between the scans to match. Hint: use a feathered edge when attaching the scans to each other to dull the line, explained in step 6.) below.

2.) Scanners are not always linear. You may discover that even after you get the various sections rotated to match (you have to get this down to tiny fractions of a degree) that even when you line them up in one spot that other spots may not correlate properly. This is because scanners scan with mechanical motion and that motion may not always repeat itself going over the same piece of film a second time. You need pixel-to-pixel repeatability for everything to line up properly.

3.) You may wind up with some enormous file sizes unless you are judicious in selecting a lower resolution. For instance, scanning a 617 transparency on my Minolta Multi PRO at anything near full resolution results in composite files larger than 1GB, almost guaranteed to slow your computer down almost to the point of stopping! Be patient, you may think your computer has crashed where in fact it's taking forever to crunch all the numbers. This slows down even trying to align layers.

Anyway, feel free to use your favorite stitching program, however most stitching programs can't work with multiple full-sized film scans even if your computer could. These programs work great for digital cameras, however film scans, especially from anything other than 35mm, are ten to a hundred or more times bigger than digital camera files. I use Photoshop's regular modes (not the panoramic stitching programs) to make new layers for the various scans and then flatten the whole thing. The stitching modes in Photoshop CS may be fine, I just like to do this manually.

Here we go:

1.) I make enough scans to cover the image with plenty of overlaps. Be very careful to try to keep the film straight to reduce the need to rotate the scans.

2.) Open all these in Photoshop.

3.) Increase the canvas size of one image to be as big as the final image with enough space around everything to align everything. We'll crop it later.

4.) Use the move tool to drag the other images on top of the first image (image 1). This creates a new layer with the new image, and leaves the original images alone. After you move this copy to image 1 you may close image 2 (etc.) from which you copied and moved.

5.) After you get everything into one file as layers and have roughly moved the various pieces, lower the transparency of an upper layer to about 30 to 50%, or whatever lets you see the alignment between the two layers most clearly. Zoom in and align the two manually. Ideally you should get perfect registration at 100%. Good luck! Use the move tool with your mouse and nudge with the arrow keys. You probably also will have to rotate the various layers, which is why I wish you good luck! This is the hardest part and you'll probably not get perfect alignment.

6.) Using a soft brush to hide transitions, erase from the various layers so that transitions aren't in areas that inevitable slight misalignments are visible.

7.) When it looks good flatten it all. Do LAYER > FLATTEN IMAGE.

8.) Trim the image to eliminate all the blank space around the side you left yourself in step 3. Either crop or use the trim command.

You're done!

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