Should You Invest in Wet Scanning, or is Dry Scanning ‘Good Enough’?

scanning

In the film photography workflow, scanning is my least favorite step. However, for those without a dark room and printing equipment it's the only option for editing and sharing their work. And when you need to squeeze out every last detail, tonality, and sharpness from the negative, wet mounting can get you through that last mile. However for many situations, wet mounting is probably not worth the time and extra investment.

This article highlights the advantages between wet and dry mounting. The results are from a flat bed scanner test, and obviously results will vary depending on your scanning techniques. For instance, when drum scanning a negative, you almost always need to wet mount otherwise you will get nasty Newton rings that cannot be removed in post processing. I'm not intending to cover all aspects of scanning in this article, but at least a real world example where wet scanning was necessary for my needs, and the benefits it afforded me.

The following tools were used to photography, scan, and process the negative:

  • Epson V800
  • VueScan
  • Better Scanning Wet Mount Station
  • Kami Fluid
  • Color Perfect
  • Large Format 4x5 Ilford HP5+ ISO 400 (B&W) Negative
  • Sinar Norma 4x5
  • Fujinon SW 90mm F8

Inverness Shipwreck (Reprocessed)

The photo above was taken at a popular icon, the Point Reyes shipwreck in Inverness, CA. You're viewing the final edit, which I ended up printing on 36x48" HD Metal from ArtBeatStudios in SoCal. Wet mounting helped support my severely disadvantaged Epson get every bit of resolution it could out of the negative. It's not to say the Epson is a mediocre scanner, it's actually quite good.

Full Crops

Let's start with 100% crops, which we will examine film grain, resolution, and range differences. You'll see some very subtle differences as we visually compare the resulting images.

Dry 100% Crop

Wet 100% Crop

Grain Detail

Examining the film grain, the wet mounted negative shows better grain detail. The grain in the dry mount looks very soft in comparison.

Dry Grain Detail

Wet Grain Detail

Resolution

While the grain detail may not seem as impactful, where the two methods start to show deviation is in the text on the boat. It's clear (hah, pun intended) that the wet mount provides sharper results.

Dry Resolution

Wet Resolution

Shadow Detail

Finally, there's the shadow detail. I was interested to see if wet mounting would help bring out any additional dynamic range. While the range hasn't necessarily increased, tonality certainly appears to be impacted. In examining the deep shadow areas, we can see that wet mount continues to show it's superior qualities. I would not have even noticed the spider webs in the recesses of the boat if I had not wet mounted the negative.

Dry Shadow Detail

Wet Shadow Detail

Conclusion

As you can see, in this particular example wet mounting provided finer details and tonality which would have been difficult to correct in post-processing. However, if I wasn't planning on such a large print I don't believe the added details would be worth wet mounting. Therefore, the need to wet mount is purely dependent on your needs on a scan-to-scan basis. For me, the investment in wet mounting solutions was worth the added expense.

If you're interested in some scientific results, including resolution target and MTF numbers, have a look at Japan Camera Hunter's analysis.

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