Scanners & Digitisation Devices

Plustek OpticFilm 135i Review Part II – Panoramic Film Holder and Investigating ‘Panorama Mode’ – By Bob Janes

July 9, 2021

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.

Different holders for the Plustek 135 range showing the tab and holes that the scanners use to recognise what kind of holder they have loaded. L-R: Slide Holder, Film holder and Panoramic holder.

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.

Confession time

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.

35 mm film through an AgiFold. Frame spacing was a bit of a guess. In my defence, my framing was allowing for the image going over the perforations.

From a Rolleiflex. The automatic spacing is better.

A scan from the panorama holder, cropped and pasted from the scan of the whole strip.

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).

Hollow men.

Smaller formats

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!

A 110 negative strip. Making little bridges for 110 negatives that will sit in the panoramic film holder is relatively easy.

An APS strip.

An example of home-made ‘bridges’ for formats smaller than 135. Showing back and front. These are made from glossy printer paper and allow one edge of the negative to be held by the holder, while the other corners are supported by the triangular sections which are stuck under the other piece to keep the film at the right height.

My home-made ‘bridges’ in place holding a 110 strip. The same bridge can take other 16 mm formats plus other sizes up to APS.

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.

The arrows show where the bars on the panoramic film holder have been removed.

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.

Panorama Mode

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.

The VueScan screen using the 135i in ‘Panorama Mode’ (available with any of the holders, not just the ‘Panoramic’ model). Note that the area available for selection is much deeper than the standard 24 mm.

Speculation

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.

Experimentation

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.

The slide holder. The image on the left shows the top as you would load a slide, while the one on the right shows the underside with the metal plate.

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.

There is a difference between fine machining and DIY practicality. It ain’t pretty, but it works.

Results

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.

The VueScan preview window. Without modification, slides have to be loaded in landscape orientation. Note that the selection area extends down below the visible part of the slide.

It worked. That it worked didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was that the scan was so good.

A shot off the end of my last roll of Kodachrome, processed back in July 2010. Even in portrait orientation, the scan extends some way beyond the longest side of the negative.

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.

One of my AgiFold panorama shots scanning to the edge of the 35 mm negative. The full scan area is probably just short of 37 mm.

Conclusion

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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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Halka
    July 10, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Very well written, thanks for that. The 135i is turning into a great potential replacement in case my Minolta 5400 decides to kick the bucket (knock on wood). The VueScan issues with strip position resetting might well get worked out in the future, as it’s still being actively developed; perhaps contacting them might help things along?

    Perhaps another viable strip holder modification could be to widen the central channel, in order for the film borders to be scannable as well – with some “vestigial” bars that would latch on the sprocket area to keep the film flat and in position.

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