Focusing -- where is the grain?

All, I’ve read the forums regarding focusing – everyone says focus on the grain. I see NO grain in my photos – I use a Mamiya 645, and I only shoot B/W. I’m “scanning” with a Fuji Mirrorless and TT Artisan Macro lens. I’m new to developing film. I’ve developed 5 rolls using Cinestill mono-bath and I shoot Ilford HP5+. I’ve been manually focusing and shooting tethered into Capture One. My results are mixed – at best. I have managed to get some sharp scans, however, the majority are soft.

I’m going to get more methodical with my next roll-- use a meter 100% of the time, I’m not going to push the film, and I’m going to be as precise as possible with development. I’ll then see how my scans look.

Some people are saying to focus by moving the camera vs the lens – with this method, however, I find it difficult to fill the frame. Would be GREAT if someone could record a YT video. Thanks.

Expanding your posted photos I can see the grain - especially in the face of the Black male subject. I find I normally need a high degree of magnification for seeing the grain adequately to achieve focus. I don’t know what the camera and the software in your set-up provides for, however just to give you an insight into what’s doable, I have my Sony a7r4 tethered to a Mac M1 laptop using Sony’s Imaging Edge software that has the capability of magnifying the image (for viewing purposes only) by factors of 1.0x, 5.9x or 11.0x. 5.9x is usually very good for showing the grain in quite sharp relief on the computer display. Then to add to it, I select a segment that has high contrast edges and look at that using a 3x magnifier held t the correct distance from the laptop display, which further magnifies the grain and accentuates edge sharpness (or lack thereof) without screen pixels interfering. If I find the grain and edges are still not distinct enough, I reduce the exposure setting which darkens the image on the laptop and provides additional contrast. Once this is a routine working procedure, it is implemented quickly and permits very good focus with only several iterations of the focus mechanism. Then set everything back to capture conditions. Notice I speak of both grain and edges. Both are useful for indicating the best focus achievable from the film and equipment.

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Seeing grain when original is MF film is the challenge by itself due to scale factor. You may actually move film so the frame’s edge is at the center of viewfinder - that will make it easier to focus. Generally speaking your frame holder should be completely immobilized so advancing film should not disturb the holder. Then you will be able to focus just once - and the rest of the roll will be in focus automatically. The advice to perform final focusing by moving both the camera and lens is the good one. You setup is ill equipped for that - we are talking about the fractions of millimeter. Ideally you need your camera to be mounted on microfocusing rail - which allows for precise movements. Nevertheless your scans look good - so whatever enhancement you do will make the scanning process much more speedier.

For medium format negs, to me they look soft. They really should jump off the page (screen).

Your camera support is very much cantilevered. If you touch the camera it should not move the slightest!


@Graham , I like the wooden contraption you (had) built…thought of doing something similar for a while.

@rh_photo , for (645) film strips, the camera (and rail) could be rotated 90 degrees in order to allow the film strip to not interfere with the vertical column. By replacing the dovetailed L-boards with a simple flat board this could be achieved with even less woodworker skills. In comparison, your copy stand looks shaky and vibration happy. No need to change the build too much though. Simply remove the ballhead and attach the camera (on a rail if you want easier focusing) directly to the clamp. An L-shaped baseplate could be used for easier film handling…and I’d remove the camera strap while scanning.

For best alignment of the optical axis, use a mirror as shown here.

Thanks for your input.

On BW film is easy to spot the grain side because is actually on the surface. On side is fully shiny and the other with light reflecting you can see texture drawing the image. THAT’S the emulsion. And you will need to flip the images on the horizontal axis.

For colour doesn’t matter because the emulsion is inside the film and there are 3 layers. So yoy can directly shoot with the proper orientation.

@Digitizer @Graham You might like this, I can’t remember if I’ve posted a pic of my copy stand here before.

MDF for the base, from the offcuts bin at hardware shop. Manfrotto Super Clamp holds a Benro GD3WHCN geared head.

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Not sure what the Fuji offers for a focusing aid, my Sony A7r3 has focus peaking that I use to focus on the film. As I’m scanning I will randomly recheck the focus but it usually is a constant for that particular film base. When scanning a new film, I will recheck as different films have its own thickness.

Other factors effecting a clean scan:

Use manual focus instead of AF to avoid camera movement and focus inconsistencies.

Avoid camera movement by using electronic shutter, adequate camera stand, and no touch camera controls (tether, Bluetooth, etc.).

If anyone else has suggestions please advise.


Even though I live in a super quiet and rarely visited neighborhood, I scan at night and on the third floor, away from basement heaters, etc, when and were vibrations are essentially non-existent. Also, I use as a copy stand a massive Beseler enlarger that is so heavy that one of my kids had to carry it upstairs for me. Absolute stability is the first concern.

I’ve gone through a lot of equipment pursuing perfection. After I got very good negatives from my Mamiya 7 with the 65mm lens (I think that’s the sharpest lens among the sharpest MF lenses ever), I had the negatives also scanned professionally by a drum scanner.

The results weren’t close. I am reconciled to making usable scans, which I then sharpen with Topaz, and if I want to print large, I undergo the expense of a drum scan. I’m happy and content: it’s a hobby.

When you say the results were close, you mean, what?

Have posted further details on "Let’s see your DSLR film scanning setup!