This is my first article for 35mmc, so hi to everyone in this community. Recently I got myself a shiny new Leica M-A film camera (more on this in another article). And then I found a problem, I need to digitise my film images to be able to share them online and maybe just maybe print them as I currently have no darkroom either. I would love to go into a darkroom and print again – I have a wonderful Durst Laborator 1200 enlarger doing nothing as I have no darkroom to use it in. Before I get to that issue, I need to digitise my images and, as I say, that is when the problem began.
I started looking at scanning, there is lots of info on the subject on YouTube and various websites. One I found that has what looks like authoritative reviews of film scanners on it is https://www.filmscanner.info.
Then I started to think about are there other ways of making digital files from negatives and I remembered that once upon a time there was a device called a Bowens Illumitran which look like this:
It is essentially a slide copier with a light source below and a camera stand that holds the film plane correctly in relation to the film holder to make images and these where used to make duplicate (transparencies or negatives) in the days of analog photography prior to the digital revolution. A good option I thought, as you can always improve the set up as you upgrade the camera. So thought I could just use my Nikon D850 and get a lens to sit below the bellows and all would be good. However finding one in good condition and at a responsible price is more tricky. They are available but I would want to ideally try before buying with one of these.
Next, I started to think about my Nikon D850 and that it is only 45megapixels – I mean do I really need more…? However as I have a Leica M11 and that is 61Mega pixels, thinking that would be better, I started to look at how to attach the Leica to the Bowens Illumitran, I know adaptors would do the trick, however while looking for one, I found another device from the 1950/70’s called a Leica Beoon.
This looks great I could use my Leica M11 and a standard 50mm lens as a complete set has extension tubes to enable it to focus at 1;1 which is important to copy the images onto the camera and if I did find a complete kit I could even mount a enlarger lens on it which would probably make the set up even sharper. As mentioned, I have an enlarger with a 50mm enlarger lens and a particularly good one as well, so perhaps that would be ideal I thought. Except then I started to search for one and hit a road block, you can’t find them for less than £450 second hand and on top of that I still need to work out a light source to put underneath the Leica Beoon when I am using it. Ideally one that is flat enough that the whole set up does not wobble around when using it, otherwise I could get camera shake. So, I then found myself on various camera forums and Facebook groups listening and asking questions about what people thought of the strengths and weaknesses of scanning film versus the use of a digital camera as part of a “camera scanning” – as it is often referred to – set up.
As I used to use a Imacon Scanner to make scans of my fashion images (when I was a much younger person who used to work doing fashion editorials and model tests. I thought, I would look to see if I could find a film scanner.
Consequently, I am back looking at film scanners and I find that Imacon are now Hasselblad and are no longer made (they stopped in 2019) and they were expensive when I was using them. I was hoping to find a low-cost Hasselblad Photo scanner. Now, after spending about 6 weeks on eBay, I know that low-cost and Hasselblad Photo scanners do not even come close to belonging in the same sentence, let alone the same universe.
I then start looking at the review site again and thing maybe I could get myself a Nikon 5000ED scanner so back to eBay and that really shocked me as they are averaging £950 for a scanner that was probably made back in 2004/5 or before. And while I could use software from Vuescan or Silverfast, I would still be thinking about how to connect it to my nice newish M1 Macbook Pro computer. Oh and a side note, I got a real shock how expensive Silverfast scanning software is these days, back in the day it used to come bundled with flatbed scanners now it pushes up the price of a new scanner significantly. Once upon a time I might have considered pirating scanning software, maybe not now.
So still further down the rabbit hole I go. I start looking at Plustek scanners and discover that they really have not changed much since 2004, now that is a long time ago in the tech world, so I am loathe to buy one. Come on guys do a bit of research and spend a bit of money and get autofocus and a good lens in these darned things and you will sell a lot more of them. Especially with the new generation of people wanting to digitise their film images.
Next, I look at a company called Reflecta and realise that they have been rebranding their scanners from another company from Taiwan called Pacific Image Equipment, who make a scanner called PrimeFilm XAs Scanner which in Europe is rebadged as the Reflecta RPS10M and this gets okay reviews when using the Silverfast software, which is concerning as I want to use Vuescan. PIE (Pacific Image Equipment) has upgraded this scanner and it is now called the Pacific Image PrimeFilm XA Plus, So I decide to think about this one.
What to do?
Next up I do a detour onto YouTube, falling further down the rabbit whole looking again at Camera scanning and find a video by Kyle McDougall called “FilmScanning with a Digital Camera – How good is it?” where he compares his results of using a Valoi scanning kit and his old Nikon Coolscan 9000 and that was quite impressive as he has sold his Nikon Coolscan and is using the Camera scanning option. I had previously decided that a Nikon Coolscan 9000 is just too expensive so I had already decided against this option even though it is a great scanner and can do both 35mm and 120 film scans. I do have a lot of 6×7 negs in my archive, so I would be able to use this feature in a scanner. I just do not want to buy a 20 year old scanner with its connection problems.
So off to Speedgraphic and look at the Valoi options only to realise that the kit is £299 and the copy stand he is using is another £200 on top of that I still need a macro lens which is another £120 for the Nikon 60mm f2.8 AF-D Macro lens for my Nikon D850, which I would rather not use, as if I am going to do camera scanning I would rather set myself up if to use my Leica M11. So, I start thinking is there another option to get to 1:1 reproduction other than the already mention Lecia Beoon. I start thinking that I saw a 90mm Macro lens on Red Dot Cameras clearance section for a rather good price only to find that the 90mm Macro does not do 1:1 and is soft in the corners according to a few reviews I read. So another dead end.
After all this I ring up Red Dot Cameras to ask if they know of a option to get to 1:1 using Leica lens other than the Lecia Beoon only to find myself talking to someone who uses a Beoon to scan their negatives and who has a Plustek 8200iSE scanner he describes issues that he is worried about scratching his negatives when he uses the metal plates that come with the Beoon and not being so sharp as he instead using carboard mounts that he has made for himself, this does not strike me as looking good, next he says if he wants good scans he uses the Plustek and if he just needs rough and ready small scans for the web he uses his Leica Beoon set up. That then answers my question, as I had already decided that if I was going to get a scanner I would get the Pacific Image PrimeFilm XA Plus.
I live in London and as the scanner I decided to get is not available here in the UK, I ordered it from B&H in New York on Tuesday morning and it arrived to me in London by Lunchtime on Thursday, now that is truly impressive. The only sour note was that they had a Sale on, so I jumped onto their chat line and asked when the sale was finishing as I wanted a few days to think about it before finally getting a scanner from the USA. As I was told the sale finished the next day. I then ordered it the next day while the sale is still on, only to find that while it was being shipped to me, B&H reduced the price by another $50, how annoying is that?! I emailed them while their massive Bild conference on and I knew they would be supper busy, yet their customer service sends me an email after I had raised the point about how it had changed mentioning how I had asked on chat, they are refunding me the $50. Credit where it’s due, I have to commend B&H not only for their fast delivery, but also great customer service.
After all this deliberation, it is Thursday evening and I am sitting here with a nice shinny new scanner that is tiny. I did not think it would be so small. I followed the instruction and downloaded the software installed the driver then brought Vuescan and installed that only to find that my new Vuescan software is not recognising the scanner, I then read the details on the Vuescan website and it says I need to have the scanner driver installed, which I had already done and it was still not recognising the scanner. Next, I try scanning with what turns out to be rather rubbish software CyberView which is supplied with the scanner and I can’t scan with Vuescan. Their website says they support the scanner, so my frustration with digitising my negatives continues.
Then for some inexplicable reason the scanner gets recognised by Vuescan and I am off. It all now works, but for some reason there seems to be a little routine that I seem to need to follow for it to work. I have to have the scanner turned off, disconnect the cable from the computer, then reconnect the cable, start the scanner, then launch Vuescan and it will recognise the scanner and work. Now, I might get a good scan out of my rather scrappy negatives. It seems like I am rather rusty on processing of film and my negatives don’t have the range of tones that they should have, so I will, it looks like, be heading down another rabbit hole on my film processing. More on that another time…
Michael W Plant is a Portrait and Social documentary photographer, he also uses street photography to visualise the social landscape. You can see his work at: www.michaelwayneplant.com
Kamerastore.com kindly gave me permission to use their Lecia Beoon image and are also offering to give readers a 5% discount on a purchase of a Leica Beoon, using the code 5MMCBEOON, this is valid till the 31st October 2023.
studiomanchester.com kindly gave me permission to use their image of a Hasselblad Scanner, they offer scanner hire at very reasonable rates.
Chiswick Auctions kindly gave permission to use the image of the Bowens Illumitran. After seeing the price they sold this one for I will be looking at auction sites more often, to see if I can pick one up for a similar price.
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