If you try to open in Photoshop CS6 a 3F (a file with extension .fff, the raw format for Hasselblad and Imacon scanners) coming from the Imacon/Hasselblad FlexColor software, you’re going to run into troubles (but there’s plenty of workarounds!):
That’s because the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) that ships with CS6 expects the file to belong to a digital camera – which is not. Actually, the 3F is just a plain, bitmap TIFF file with some extra proprietary tags, that ACR can’t manage properly.
This didn’t happen back with CS5, unless you’ve installed some beta version of ACR. Check it out from the menu: Photoshop – About Plug-In – Camera Raw… (CS5 version should be 6.x).
There’s of course a workaround, but first let me review briefly why you do want to open a 3F in Photoshop bypassing ACR.
Why opening a 3F in Photoshop?
In order to retouch it! Think about the 3F as a scanner raw file – you can tweak each parameter in the Hasselblad FlexColor software and finally export a TIFF. Alas, scanned film has to be retouched: dust, scratches, blotches, hairs, chemical halos, you know what I mean. Unless you’re willing to retouch the TIFF each time you export it with different parameters from FlexColor (you aren’t), the best workflow is:
- Open the 3F in Photoshop CS6 in order to retouch it.
- Save the retouched 3F.
- Open the retouched 3F in FlexColor (tweaking the parameters to your taste).
- Export the (usually) TIFF file from FlexColor.
- Open the TIFF in Photoshop and let the fun begin.
Why should I export many time a 3F, isn’t one time just enough? Fair question, but consider that:
- People get more experienced over time, and you may want to elaborate a second time a scan you’ve acquired and processed in the past (and you’re not really satisfied with the old result).
- You may want to sandwich two or more FlexColor versions (say, one corrected for the highlights, one for the mid-tones and shadows) in Photoshop.
- You may be a service provider willing to return the client a flawless 3F scan.
So your goal is not to open a 3F with Adobe Camera Raw (which can’t export nor save a 3F), just to open it as a TIFF-like file to retouch it in Photoshop.
1. The easy and smooth way
I’ve discovered this one very recently. Provided you’ve installed the Imacon 3F Plug-In for Photoshop (see the section 2, below), just File – Open in Photoshop, and select a 3F:
Now, just select the Imacon 3F format as outlined below:
And voilà it will open smoothly and easily!
2. The old tricky way
That’s how I did it before discovering the above method. First thing is the Imacon 3F Plug-In for Photoshop, that you can download for free here. It should be installed by default by FlexColor, so you can check if you have it already. The right place to look into (and/or to copy the downloaded plugin) is the following folder:
[MAC] Photoshop CS6/Plug-ins/File Formats/imacon3f.plugin
[PC] Photoshop CS6/Plug-ins/File Formats/Imacon 3f.8bi
Second thing is to temporarily get rid of Adobe Camera Raw. It’s ACR that intercepts the 3F opening and fires the “Photoshop cannot open this file” error. You do this by closing Photoshop and moving away the following file:
[MAC] Macintosh HD/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Plug-Ins/CS6/File Formats/Camera Raw.plugin
[PC] Program Files/Common Files/Adobe/Plug-Ins/CS6/File Formats/Camera Raw.8bi
You can move it to the Desktop or some other folder – then restart Photoshop CS6. If you look in the menu Photoshop – About Plug-In there shouldn’t be any mention of Camera Raw anymore.
Now, if you’ve correctly installed the Imacon 3F plugin and got rid of Camera Raw, open a 3F and it should open correctly. Remember to move it back in the correct position when you’re done!
Automatize file moving
Open it and choose File – New – Application. Then, from the Library column select Utilities, then drag the Quit Application in the workspace. There, select the Adobe Photoshop CS6.app from the dropdown menu – just to make sure Photoshop isn’t open when you move files around.
Next, from the Library column select Files & Folders, and drag first the Get Specified Finder Items, then the Move Finder Items components, selecting respectively the camera raw plugin file and the destination folder (the Desktop or a temp folder, for instance).
Now File – Save the application to the Desktop. If you double click on it, the camera raw plugin file moves from its original location to the temp folder. You can build in the very same way an Automator application that moves it back into place. Keep both apps handy, so with a double-click you can move files without having to remember who needs to go where!
Retouching a 3F in Photoshop
If you’re new to 3F, I suggest you to visit the excellent Roberto Bigano’s 3F resources page first. My current workflow, when I’m in need of 3F retouching (which is basically… always), is as follows. Click on the thumbnails for a bigger version.
1. Open the 3F and save a .PSB
Say that you’ve a myScan.fff file. Open it in Photoshop and immediately save a copy as a .psb (Photoshop Large Format document), myScan.psb. Leave alone the original .fff file, you’ll be dealing with it again when the retouching is done.
2. Retouch the PSB
One thing to keep in mind is that you’re not (at this stage) dealing with noise reduction or color correction – here you just do the always-boring, zen-like practice of manual dust and scratches removal. Clone tool, Healing Brush, time and patience will be your friends.
Duplicate the background layer, call it “Retouching” or something else, zoom in and start retouching. If you happen to have a negative scan (which opens as a caramel pudding), I suggest you to add an Invert adjustment layer (which turns everything into a cyan flat-land) and above it a set of Curves adjustment layer (rough curves, just to restore a decent tone and color and make the retouching easier).
Mind you, do not make the Clone tool and the Healing brush sampling “All Layers”. Either “Current Layer” or “Current & Below” will be ok – if you wonder why, try it yourself.
When you’re done, remove the now useless adjustment layers and flatten the myScan.psb.
3. Paste the retouched layer in the 3F
Open both the original myScan.fff and the retouched myScan.psb. Drag the Background layer from the .psb and shift-drop it (i.e. do that pressing the shift key in order to auto-align it) into the 3F. You should have two layers in the myScan.fff now: the original below and the retouched above.
Flatten the myScan.fff. Leave it without any embedded ICC profile (remove it if necessary: Edit – Assign Profile – Don’t Color Manage This Document) and double check that it has a single Background layer only.
Now save the file as 3F (if you don’t find the Format: Imacon 3F in the saving options the 3F plugin hasn’t been installed correctly) with a different name, say myScan_clean.fff. If you have FlexColor already opened and pointing to the folder where the files are, close and reopen it in order to let the software read them again.
FlexColor preview (at least when your 3Fs are very big – say a 6×12 cm at full resolution) isn’t based upon the actual file reading, but upon an embedded low-res image. Which is not affected by your retouching any way, so the 3F will keep showing dust and scratches. If you want to make sure your retouching has been applied, check it opening the Detail window (it’s the button with the magnifying glass icon): this forces FlexColor to read and show a portion of the actual file. Anyway, when you’ll export and the TIFF, it’ll be clean!