Earlier in 2021 I put up a review of the Plustek OpticFilm 135i film scanner. Just recently I’ve been investigating the Panoramic film holder and ‘Panorama mode’ (which you can still use with any of the other holders). Panorama mode is the basis that the very good but slightly unconventional Quickscan Plus bundled software works on. Panorama mode requires a slightly different workflow, but it is one that can be used by third party software as well.
35mm Panoramic Film Holder
As well as the two holders that they supply with the scanner (for 35mm slides and strips of 6 negatives), Plustek also produce a Panoramic film holder.
After the original review had gone up on 35mmc, I contacted Plustek to see if I could borrow a panoramic holder to test and possibly write a review of. They agreed and shortly afterwards, the Panoramic film holder turned up in the post.
Construction and features
The panoramic film holder is just as well made as the normal film strip holder. Plustek’s 135 series scanners recognise the holders from a series of holes in a tab at the end of the holder that gets inserted into the scanner. The slide holder has one open aperture, while the normal negative holder has four. This suggests that Plustek may have plans to release more holders in future.
The normal film holder has the same window encoding as the panoramic one. As far as the scanner and the software are concerned, the two film holders are the same.
I don’t actually possess a panoramic camera. However a while ago I did run some 35mm film through some roll film cameras. This gave a wider image that also went across the film perforations. I decided to test scan these ‘wider than normal’ 35mm negatives.
The widest of my ‘wide’ shots, taken on 6 x 6 square format cameras, was 56mm (3:7). The Hasselblad XPan pushes out to 65mm (10:27), while 35mm film put through a 6 x 9 camera would give a negative 84mm wide (2:7). The Lomo Spinner 360 goes out as wide as 125mm (5:26). The Plustek Panoramic film holder can cope with shots up to 224mm wide (3:28).
If you do a lot of non-standard small format scanning, there are distinct benefits to not having the bars in the way. No more fiddling with repositioning tiny negatives between scans to avoid the bars!
Is it any good?
The 135 panoramic film holder is another lovely film holder from Plustek. It only has two minor downsides.
- Price. Certainly in the UK, the normal price of the panoramic film holder is nearly twice that of the standard item.
- Flatness. Because it doesn’t feature bars, the film is never going to be as flat as in the standard film holder.
If you use films that tend to dry without too much curl, this may not bother you.
Even better if…
The panoramic film strip holder is well worth the money if you can afford it. I think the only improvements I could suggest to Plustek would be to produce:
- A panoramic film holder with a single bar across the middle. That would still allow for panoramas 11 cm wide – enough for all the likely panoramic 35mm options other than the Spinner 360.
- Alternative film holders for 110/16mm film as well as APS. Alternatively, inserts or bridges that could be put into the panoramic holder to cater for those formats.
Always think of the consequences of invalidating your warranty
Plustek’s panoramic film holder is well made and good value for money. However, it isn’t as good value for money as the standard film strip holder.
Looking at the panoramic film holder, you can see where the bars on a standard film holder have been removed. The removal is professionally done and finished well. That, along with the cost of stocking what might well be thought of as a ‘fringe accessory’, will be the reasons for the extra cost.
I have to return the panoramic holder that Plustek loaned me, but it is so nice that I’m tempted to order up a spare standard film holder and have a go at removing the bars myself. The finish will not be as clean as Plustek’s version, but I could even leave the central bar in place to aid film flatness.
In investigating the panorama functions, some interesting things have become apparent.
Faster scans with VueScan in panorama mode
If you perform batch scans of individual frames with VueScan the software returns the tray to the starting position before scanning each frame. Because of this, a scan of frame 6 can take significantly longer than it does for frame 1, particularly if multiple passes are being carried out (such as for an IR pass). Scanning the frames all together as a panorama eliminates the resetting between each frame and reduces overall scanning time so that it is similar to that achieved by the QuickScan plus software.
As an example, a full scan of six negatives with a dust removal pass in VueScan takes 10 minutes and 50 seconds in ’35 mm Film’ mode, but only 5 minutes and 34 seconds in ‘Panorama’ mode.
It does, however, require a change in workflow and produces one big file which you then need to cut and paste from, rather than six individual ones. People wanting to batch scan large quantities of negatives or slides might find this a decent trade-off. Due to the greater dead space between frames, there is no real speed benefit in using panorama mode with the slide holder.
A bigger scan area than you might think
The 135i scans by running a negative or a slide past a row of photo-sensors. This is a common technique on motorised film scanners. Because they only need to cover the short edge of the 35mm negative, the row is normally just wide enough to cover 24mm.
The row of photo sensors on the 135i appears to be wider. You can see this when previewing a scan because the lines extend beyond the area that can physically be scanned with the current holders.
I’m guessing that Plustek use the same sensor strip in the 135i that they used in the 8200i scanners. That series of scanners are a bit unusual in that rather than using a short strip that stays still while the film travels past, they use a longer strip which is then moved across the shorter dimension of the negative.
I decided to try a modification on the original slide holder tray that came with my 135i (that slide holder is now outside warranty).
The slide holders have apertures in the plastic that measure about 26 x 38 mm. Behind these apertures is a metal plate with bigger apertures cut in it. These apertures measure 40 x 44 mm.
Using a circular abrasive wheel, I extended the hole in the plastic of the 4th position of my slide holder so that it matched the 40mm metal plate behind it.
With those pieces of plastic removed, it was then possible to mount a 35mm slide in portrait orientation. I then tried a test scan using the ‘panorama’ feature and adjusted the frame to suit the portrait orientation.
It worked. That it worked didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was that the scan was so good.
These extra photosites outside the normal scanning area might be viewed as an unsupported feature. As such there is probably no come-back on Plustek if any outside the 24mm window are defective. It would be quite understandable if Plustek selected sensor strips with faults in the peripheral parts that were not going to be used. All mine look to be good, but that can’t be relied upon.
The 135 series of scanners seems to have a fair amount of potential and a larger scan area than you might expect from a 35mm film scanner. Panorama mode opens up some possibilities of exploiting that bigger scan area. Of course, potential doesn’t always get fulfilled.
Plustek could produce a whole series of quality holders for different film formats. It would be great if they did, but I’d quite understand if they felt that the return on investment of producing such holders made the venture uneconomical. If Plustek don’t produce them, I wonder if people with access to 3D printers will start to supply inserts?
It has to be said that the 135 tag doesn’t suggest that Plustek are planning on going beyond 35mm, but hope springs eternal.
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