• When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission. Affiliate programs and affiliations include, but are not limited to, the eBay Partner Network.


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

Images of Coins; Film vs Scanning (Images Embeded in Text)

6 posts in this topic

There have been quite a few threads recently about the lack of satisfaction many members feel towards one or more entities in our hobby/industry. While informative, these threads inevitably push down other threads that endeavor to share experience or knowledge. Written below is a composite thread of posts I have written over the years about imaging coins. Please note that there are images embeded in the text and that this could severely slow the loading speed of the page. Please also share your experiences with film, scanners and digital cameras. smile.gif


I am not a professional photographer, I am an amateur camera hack, therefore, most anyone with an interest in coins and photography should be able to take images like these with a few accessories and some experience. Coins that are scanned are lit uniformly with fluorescent light and are focused automatically by the scanner. This can result in a crisp image, however, color saturation is poor and the ability to capture luster is essentially absent. Color manipulation with software is an excellent tool to make the image more realistic, however, there is currently no way to easily mimic luster. As such, scanned coins often look flat or washed out as if they were over-dipped or are AU, not MS. Photography can overcome the limitations of luster portrayal and can give more realistic color reproduction. The downside to photography, besides time and expense, is that the focal plane can be extremely small resulting in images that are partially out of focus and the lighting, if done from a single source or done improperly, can cause hot spots and shadows. The image pairs below are comparisons of the same coins imaged either with the Visioneer 8100 scanner (left image of pair) or with a Canon AE1 manual SLR camera (right image of pair) from the late 1970s.

For the camera lens a dedicated Canon 105mm lens, not a telephoto, is used since better focus can be maintained with a fixed length lens than with a telephoto. Onto the end of the lens are mounted diopters. These adapters allow the lens to take close-up shots. The drawback to this is that the depth of field shrinks and proper focus is essential. These shots were taken using a set of three diopters from Quantaray labeled +1, +2 and +4. A combination of +1 and +2 was used. As important as the diopters is the use of a blue 80A filter, also from Quantaray, since regular indoor lighting would otherwise cause the film to appear yellow. The camera is mounted onto a tripod and the slab placed on a black velvet tray so as to reduce the reflection back to the camera. A single desk lamp with a normal 100W soft white bulb is used for lighting and the position of the light is changed to best capture the image. A 1/60th second shutter speed with Kodak MAX 800 film was used for these images.


There are several things to note when comparing the pairs of images above. These are as follows:


1)The scanned images are always focused well whereas the photos, with their smaller focal plane, have large parts of each image slightly out of focus.

2)The hot spots and shadows on the scanned coins are less intense than the equivalent areas from the photos. This is an artifact from the lighting scheme and could possibly have been attenuated or eliminated by using additional lights or a reflector screen.

3)Areas of blue and purple toning show up extremely well in the photographs but look brown or grey in the scans. This is due to the blue #80A filter that is put onto the camera lens and that filters out the yellow light from indoor lighting.

4)Luster shows up beautifully in the photos but not at all in the scanned images.

5)Red toning is less intense in the photos, again due to the blue #80A filter. This could be partly circumvented by using a red filter in addition to the blue filter. Alternatively, color corrected bulbs may be bought and used.

6)Overall, the coins are in sharper focus in the scans but look more realistic in the photos.


The photographs of the coins look good, however, they are likely over-lit because the camera was fooled into thinking the coins were darker than they were from the black velvet background. The internal light meter in the camera was not stopped down to compensate for the black background. If these coins were to be shot again the aperture should be closed manually one f/stop in order to decrease the light on the coin. This should increase the color and help to get rid of hot spots and shadows. Alternatively, shots could be bracket exposed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites



On the photos, on both obverses, there is an almost black area behind Washington's hair. Is this the shadowing effect that you mention based on the position of your light source?

Link to comment
Share on other sites



I'm curious about the lighting setup you are using for your photographs. In my experiences, I have found very different results...


I found that luster can't be had on a scanner, but I also found color very hard to capture unless the coin was tilted perfectly- maybe that was because the coins I had when I used a scanner weren't, for the most part, "monsters," even the colorful ones.


With a digital camera and a multi-light setup, I've found a great improvement on the ability to capture both color and luster- maybe it's simply that digital provides more practice since I don't have to pay to see my pictures, and 50 of the same coin only takes a few minutes.


The dark areas in your photographs, as I have found with mine, could be from the lighting angle- again, where were how many lamps? With coins recessed in slabs, the slab can even cast a shadow on very tilted light, or the toning simply didn't agree with the exact angle you had.


Anyway, here's a shot of mine with digital...





While this isn't one of my best pictures (I didn't use enough light to bring out the edge of the coin, I know from prior experiences that this would have been unbelievably hard to capture with a scanner...



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you to both Keith and Jeremy for excellent comments and observations.


As you noted, Keith, the dark area above and behind Washington's head is from the angle of the light source. For this set of pictures I used a single light source and this is what caused the strong shadowing. In addition, as Jeremy pointed out, the coins are recessed since they are in slabs and the slab itself causes a shadow over the coins. This effect is exaggerated when only a single light source is used.


The observations from Jeremy aren't exactly the opposite of what I have written; in fact he and I both find that luster is essentially absent on scans while color is not saturated. I would guess that the near complete lack of color that Jeremy obtains might be due to either imaging proof coinage, which is more difficult to capture, or because the coins simply are not deeply toned monsters. Those of you who have seen my coins in person can appreciate how deeply and colorfully toned these pieces are.


I have also used a digital camera and the colors come out excellent, however, I am never happy with the final results.


As for the coins imaged in my post, the 1947-D (the blue and purple toned coin) is a PCGS MS66 while the 1947-S (the gold and red toned coin) is a PCGS MS68. A funny note about the PCGS MS68 coin is that-


1) I bought it in an NGC MS67 holder and

2) Submitted it to PCGS for a cross over where it was

3) Summarily rejected and not crossed

4) I asked why and was told it was MS66 so I

5) Sent it back and asked Rick Montgomery to look at it personally whereby he

6) Crossed it immediately into a PCGS MS67 holder and then it was

7) Resubmitted in the PCGS MS67 holder and was regraded as PCGS MS68.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Those of you who have seen my coins in person can appreciate how deeply and colorfully toned these pieces are.
Very true!


The most monster coin I tried scanning was a toned eagle (Tom, you saw that one)... I scanned it in the PCGS holder, and in the NGC bodybag (both were wrong, IMO)...


It took about 80 scans playing with propping the slab on a pen before the color came out well... and it's not a dull coin... the picture came out right the first time (well, to be honest, the picture got bad after it was downsized with a lot of compression... more light and less compression next time will yield a much better shot... of course, I only spent 20 seconds on this coin):






Link to comment
Share on other sites