Scanning is serious business. Think of your scanner as a combination enlarger and enlarging lens, the intermediary between your original film (or photographic print) and your finished photographs. For many photographers, a good enlarger and lens were the single most expensive and important purchases they made in their career, and they would pore over the details and published tests to determine which ones would really serve their needs.
Learning how to make high-quality enlargements was not an overnight task. Cleanliness, sharpness, freedom from stray light and contrast-robbing flare, all were concerns of the darkroom printer. Just as with darkroom work, making good scans is a matter of both equipment and methods.
Flatbed or film scanner
For scanning prints, you’ll use a flatbed scanner. Print scanning is relatively undemanding. The density range and image detail of a print rarely exceed the density range a moderately priced scanner can capture.
Scanning film is dicier. A dedicated film scanner almost always captures a much better density range and more detail than a flatbed scanner. Yes, a good medium-format film scanner will set you back around $2,000, but how much did that really good enlarger and enlarging lens cost you (in current dollars)? You will get many years of use out of a good film scanner; it’s a long-term purchase that pays for itself with better prints and faster printing.
Large-format film scanners can handle 4×5-inch and even 8×10 formats. They produce superior results, but can you afford one? They’re outside my budget. For large- format film, I’m forced to rely on a flatbed scanner; $1,000 or less buys a pretty good one.