Digital Cameras & the Future of Home Scanning – By Arild Edvard Båsmo

What is the future of scanning at home going to look like? We will explore the future of home scanning thoroughly by looking at the history of film scanning, discussing how scanners work as well as some contemporary problems with designing new scanners while providing solutions for the future.

When film became obsolete

When the digital era slowly crept into reality in the 1980’s, people started seeing the value in making digital copies of film. By the 90’s, digital cameras started appearing in the market, but in this period, digital copies of film were still far better than the dinky resolution of digital cameras of the time. The best way to create high-quality digital images was to use film as an inter-medium. Then, digital consumer cameras arrived in the early 2000s and by 2005 had mostly killed off film as an inter-medium for the home market. By 2005, with the release of the Canon 5D mk I, even the most quality-centric professional 35mm film shooters were moving away from film – and fast! By 2010 it was hard to argue for the use of film, even for those shooting medium and large format film cameras in studios. Using cameras like the Hasselblad H3D with 40 or 50MP sensors while also getting instant feedback, was simply too tempting. This is where digital sales peaked and analogue cameras were destined for the rubbish bin.

For a short golden era between about 2000 and 2010, film scanners were being updated to keep up with the increasing demands for quality in digital technology. Some of the, now, iconic scanners, like the Nikon Coolscan 9000D and the Epson v700 came out in the mid 2000s. The scanners were made for the home market, who could enjoy great quality and speed, for the time, at a very affordable price – considering the state of digital technology at the time. Then something happened…

Or rather… Nothing happened!

Stagnation of scanning technology

A decade ago, despite advances in digital technology, scanners were still able to rival digital cameras in terms of quality. Scanners like the Coolscan 9000D (2003) were able to produce files equivalent to that created with the best digital equipment of the time. Imacon (later Hasselblad Imacon) Flextight scanners offered serious competition to digital workflows, being able to keep up with the best digital medium format sensors, and providing amazing quality paired with 4×5 sheet film that was so commonly used by demanding professionals. In the mid-2000s, good quality scanners were produced and regularly upgraded. However, all good things end… By the then, no one envisioned a long term future for film and the development of scanners completely stopped. This is where we find ourselves right now, with scanning technology frozen in time around 2007.

Current scanners

The exemplary Epson v700 flatbed scanner, released in early 2006, evidently incorporated a  successful formula as Epson flatbed scanners are still the most recommended scanners on online film forums today. Later models, like the current Epson v850, were released in the years to come but offered no significant improvements to the software, digital sensor, digital processing or optical system. Therefore, the scanners remain slow, relatively low quality and with software that is slowly becoming obsolete and unusable. When we look at the most loved and revered scanners (which have suddenly skyrocketed in price) such as the Pakon F-135 and the Nikon CoolScan 9000 ED, we see they were released in the early years of 2004 and 2003 respectively. The technology these scanners were built under is very old by today’s standards – think about your phone in 2004… With imaging technology rapidly improving and components getting cheaper, it is no wonder that people are starting to question the viability of using 15-20 year old scanners today.

Obsolescence of scanners

Some will ask – Do we really need better scanners than this? Film has stayed the same.

Scanners that worked well then, are still being used to scan the same unchanged medium: film. While film is mostly the same, the technology, consumer demands and software support have all changed massively. This leads to problems such as lack of replacement parts and service, compatibility with new operating systems, user-experience and efficiency issues in the face of “everything, right now” digital-era mentality. So while the quality is the same, the prime of these machines is long passed. The hard line will be drawn at some point, as there are no spare parts available for most scanners. All home-friendly scanners manufactured (this does not include the Froniter, which is a lab scanner) in this era incorporated linear sensors. These are sensors on motorised rails that move over the film area, scanning one pixel row at a time. This means there are a number of mechanical parts requiring maintenance, and eventually wearing out and needing replacement. Perhaps worse are the electronics. Today we would perhaps make scanner with a relatively modular ‘brain’, but the scanners at the time had highly specialised components to provide the performance they needed within the constraints of 2000s digital tech. These electronic components parts will be damaged by corrosion or fail due to other reasons like heat expansion stress. The machines are facing the same problem electronic cameras are – there are no spare parts, and the ones out there are rapidly breaking down. The only way of keeping current scanners going into the future is to scavenge parts from other machines, leaving fewer and fewer functional machines available.

Scanners are also falling behind due to technological developments in computer systems, where newer machines no longer support the old scanners.  Scanners designed in the 2000’s ran on operating systems of the day, if you’re old enough, you might remember Windows XP or even Windows 98! Drivers were made for those operating systems, but most were never updated for newer systems as manufacturer support for the products ended a long time ago. Issues like changing standards for USB-connections are also a great threat. This means that scanners are increasingly difficult to run on newer computer systems – forcing consumers to use ancient dedicated computers for scanning or to use third party software (like Vuescan) that supports the scanner. The drawbacks of both these options are obvious and it is clear why this is not sustainable in the long run.

Greater demand for scanners

While scanners are failing globally, the film and scanning community is growing. A significant portion of this community is particularly interested in home scanning, increasing the demand for the dwindling supply of scanners. This scarcity inevitably leads to increased prices for scanners.  A few years ago you could get a high-end scanner such as the Nikon Coolscan 9000 for a few hundred Euros, while today they sell for over 3000€. At this price, high-end cameras such as a medium format Fujifilm GFX50R or the Panasonic Lumix S1R can be bought second hand, with enough money left for an excellent lens. Scanners are becoming less reliable whilst costing more, well into the high-end camera market price!

Improved digital imaging technology

At the same time, new digital imaging technology, such as high-resolution medium format CMOS sensors with incredibly good signal to noise ratios or sensors with pixel-shifting technology such as the Sony a7R IV or the Panasonic Lumix S1R capable of an image equivalent to 200MP of resolution are being released. These are relatively expensive now, but still within the price range of high-end scanners. As these cameras make their way into the used market in the next couple of years, their prices will decrease. The jump from the digital imaging of the early 2000s to these cameras, represents a massive forward leap in digital technology spear headed and funded by camera phones and high-end consumer cameras, allowing users to get results that were previously only reserved for high-end labs with drum scanners.

Challenge of new scanners in an era of analogue revival

– Okay, but couldn’t we just make new scanners?

The massive revolution in digital cameras has not been mirrored in scanners. This is because the digital photography take over meant that there was no longer a need for scanners in the consumer market, crushing the demand for high-end scanners such as the Nikon Coolscan 9000 or the Hasselblad Flextight series. The manufacturers predicted that there would be no new film to scan and no demand for such scanning devices, therefore the investment was never made while digital cameras shot off.

Currently, we are observing a recovery in the film market with a decided resurgence in the number of analogue shooters, you probably being one of them! Despite this drastic increase in film use and demand since the all-time low of the early 2010s, it is improbable that we will see new home-scanners ever or any time soon. Unfortunately, film is unlikely to reach the kind of mass market again, where the primary mode of photography is on film.

As I will discuss in an upcoming article, manufacturing even simple products for a small market proves complicated – and film scanners are by not simple products! It is  possible to create a great scanner by assembling various off the shelf parts with custom mounting and software, but it would be too expensive for the home market as the volumes are so low. When you factor in the cost RnD, marketing and sales (all required to make it available to anyone but the engineer and tinkerer), and don’t have a large number of consumers to spread the cost on, we have no chance of making an affordable, high-quality film scanner. We might see scanners like this in the future, but they will be optimised for speed and will be marketed towards labs, costing tens of thousands of Euros – not exactly in budget for the average home scanner. The lack of development in scanning technology in the last two decades demonstrates that the market is not substantial enough to justify investment into major modernisation that would take it beyond existing hardware. 

Why do people even bother scanning at home?

Scanning at home is not something everyone will be doing, but for many people it is tightly interwoven with their film shooting experience. Since the inception of photography as a discipline, photographers have wanted to participate in every aspect of the craft. Not just the initial steps of composing and shooting, but the full artistic process. And why shouldn’t they! Painters do not simply make a sketch only to rely on another to complete the work in accordance with their instructions. We expect authors to produce literary works and not just a vague outlines that someone else has to finish. In the same way, many photographers desire involvement and control in as much of the process as possible. We want choice in our tools, cameras, film and lenses. Many photographers choose to develop their film at home. Most digital photographers edit their images themselves, with many of them making use of high-end printing equipment to print at home. Similarly, many analogue photographers want to scan their film at home. When you have control during the scanning process, you ultimately have more control over the final result.

The other side of home scanning is a cost saving measure. We all know that film prices and camera prices have risen dramatically in the past 5 years. A roll of the cheapest colour film is no longer 2€, but closer to 10€. This means that people are shooting less or looking for ways of making their process more economical. When I started shooting film in university, I was only able to shoot hundreds of rolls per year because I shot black and white film, developed in the kitchen of my shared flat (much to the amusement of my flatmates) and scanned everything on the university library Canon flatbed scanner (it was awful). Likewise, people are taking to scanning at home because they want to shoot more film but can’t afford to do that if they outsource the scanning process.

Saying you shoot a moderate 3 rolls per month and you pay what is, at least in my part of the world (I’m aware other regions are cheaper – I suspect they will soon follow as equipment breaks down and the old shops close), a relatively standard 12€ for scanning only (developing only is about 4-6€ here) in moderate-high resolution (we don’t want potato pictures after all). With 36 rolls per year, the cost of that scanning alone is 432€. If you are a more enthusiastic shooter, taking 100 rolls per year, that number is 1200€. If you want high-resolution TIFF files, you almost double that amount.

The final reason, is simply improved quality – lab scanners are great, but they prioritised speed, not quality. Photographers have continuously strived for improved equipment and materials. With the mass production of glass plates and later photographic emulsion coated plastic in the 20th century – what we call film today – our tools got better and more precise. We produced high quality lenses, cameras and films as well as photographic enlargers and photographic paper for darkroom printing. By the 1930’s we industrialised chemistry sufficiently such that photographers like Ansel Adams could have absolute tonal control to consistently and reproducibly create the expert prints that he is renowned for. Due to lack of consistency in photographic material, Ansel’s methodologies simply would not have been possible 70 years prior. Striving for, and benefiting from, new techniques is not something new and not something to be ashamed of.

This lands us at the situation today. We have dying scanners that also aren’t that great. At the same time, we have increased demand driving the prices of old scanners up. Labs are not for everyone (and also rely heavily on legacy equipment), and the cost is prohibitive if you shoot a lot of film. This leads me to the conclusion, that at the moment, I believe that camera scanning is the only viable alternative for the future of home scanning.

Camera Scanning – The Solution!

Camera scanning, also called DSLR scanning or digital camera scanning, is a film digitisation technique where a digital camera and close-focusing lens is used to reproduce film. In addition to these two pieces of equipment, you would also need some sort of light source and a tripod or copy stand as well as film holders or another method to keep the film flat, suspended over the light. Many users have taken to this approach and have been forced to improvise and tinker, at times creating useful and interesting setups for themselves, other times only creating frustration to themselves.

The reason camera scanning stands out as the prime solution for the future, is that it does not rely on old technology while also taking advantage of the incredible advances in digital technology over the past 15 years. At the same time, we can make supporting products that makes camera scanning easier and better – these tools are within the scope of the analogue community as they are much less complex than full-fledged scanners.

Camera scanning offers countless advantages over traditional scanning such as access to new and better digital sensors, a large second hand market for excellent high-quality camera gear, flexibility to accommodate different formats and needs, use of gear you already own, all in a compact desktop solution that costs less or the same as a same-quality dedicated scanner solution.

Cost and optimal use of camera equipment

Camera scanning really shines because the equipment is used under optimal conditions, meaning that even older equipment can deliver brilliant  results. This allows users to browse the now massive second hand digital camera equipment market. Professional camera bodies, such as the Sony A7R II, that make truly wonderful scanning cameras can now be acquired for less than 1000€. While not exactly cheap, the quality you get from such a camera is absolutely spectacular. Similarly, cameras such as Sony Nex-5N or the Fujifilm X-A2, in the lower end of the market, produce fantastic results on 35mm much faster than traditional scanners, at a cost less than 200€ on the used market. The used camera market is already really good and will only get better as today’s high-end cameras get cheaper in the second-hand market. For those who are fortunate enough to already own a digital camera, it is almost certainly useable.

Camera scanning setups

Camera scanning offers a comprehensive solution for all formats. With camera scanning and the right equipment, you can scan any format of film. Unlike traditional scanning setups, you are not limited to formats that are thought to be profitable at a given point in time. You can build your setup according to your own needs by getting the right camera and film holder system. Below is a breakdown of how to get an affordable scanning setup that still delivers excellent scans for people who are just starting or for those looking for more economical options:

  • Sony Nex-5: 100€
  • TTartisans 40mm f/2.8 Macro: 119€
  • Tripod if you have one, or CS-500 copy stand: 59€
  • Film holder alternatives that include a light source can be had as low as 80€, and if you supply your own light you can get away with half that.
  • FilmLab negative conversion software: 5.50€/month

This totals to about 350€. If you are already fortunate to own a camera, this is of course significantly reduced. This system can of course be upgraded over time.

Those that are interested in a prime setup can invest extra money for a more professional workflow. Below is a demonstration of how to better spend 3000€ (what you would pay for a second hand high-end scanner such as the Nikon Coolscan 9000):

  • Sony a7R II: 1000€ on the used market
  • Sigma 70mm f/2.8 ART Macro (one of the best scanning lenses): 350€ on the used market
  • Professional-grade copy stand: 250€
  • A complete and solid film holder solution with a light source: 350€
  • Negative Lab Pro: about 85€

This totals to just over 2000€. Compared to getting a second-hand Coolscan, you have enough money left over from the scanner to also buy a Leica film body or a whole 3-lens setup of a professional camera like the Nikon F3. This is a no-brainer for people who are looking to invest more in a scanning workflow. The benefit of course in investing in this setup would be that you can upgrade it piece by piece as time goes by. Space is often limiting which is why camera scanning is a winning solution. With a footprint of only 40x30cm (15×12”) you can achieve a high-quality setup for formats up to 5×4 large format film. This same setup can be packed into a small suitcase or put in a drawer or box for storage.

It is a very good time to start camera scanning as many different brands are producing hardware and software that will help you get the most out of your scans. Software solutions like Negative Lab Pro, FilmLab and Grain2Pixel have completely changed the scene for negative to positive conversion. It is no longer a complicated, time consuming and manual process – it is mostly automated and takes only a few minutes per roll of film! Camera scanning is more eco-friendly than dedicated scanners as the products are generally simple enough and made from materials so that the hardware will last last a lifetime. The cameras and lenses, just like the rest of the system, have the benefit of modularity. A single failure in the system will not force you to discard the whole setup and start over. The key also lies in user replaceable and repairable parts. 

Where are we at then?

With no new home scanners on the horizon we are left without an alternative – it is irrefutable that camera scanning is the future of home scanning. Camera scanning is advantageous not only due to its cost-benefits but also because it employs new digital technology and has multi-format capabilities while being adaptable to different needs. It is the combination of hardware and software solutions that make camera scanning the best desktop solution for home-scanners. Overall consumers will be much more satisfied with their results, especially considering the soul crushing amount of time spent scanning individual frames on traditional scanners.

When I started designing my own camera scanning system, I was scanning using a flatbed and had almost quit film because it was such a tedious process. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out my own setup, and definitely wasted a lot of money and time trying to get it right. Today I work (more than) full time on helping people get their camera scanning setups right, and I hope that we are making a future where photographers spend more time shooting film and less time scanning it!

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32 thoughts on “Digital Cameras & the Future of Home Scanning – By Arild Edvard Båsmo”

  1. I’d like to do a bit of refuting.

    While camera copies are a very good way of digitising analogue negatives, I think that scanning does offer some advantages and so should not be written off.

    Good camera copies do require diligent set-up to make sure everything is square and that reflections and dust are not interfering. Copying of colour negatives does require a process to produce a positive out of the negative image.

    A scanner can allow a degree of unattended process. It produces an un-interpolated image and generally sorts out the negative-to-positive side. It also gives a possibility of scratch and dust reduction via an IR pass.

    Oranges are not the only fruit.

    1. I camera scanned for three years with both excellent and mediocre results. It has too many variables, and is liable to something in the chain being less than ideal at any one point. Plus you get no scratch and dust removal with DSLRs.

      I bought a Coolscan V for 35mm and use an Epson 4870 for medium and large format. I find this to be much less hassle than DSLR scanning, with certainly the coolscan getting better- and more predictable- results. Overall probably cheaper too once you look at the prices of Negative Supply gear

    2. Absolutely using a dedicated scanner comes with some benefits – the ones you are outlining are clear, and to some they will matter. However, much of the point of the article was to highlight the fact that we don’t have much of a choice – right now there are a few scanners available, but they will not be here for long and we are working on what comes after that.

  2. For 35mm get a Plustek for £200-£300 and Silverfast. 16bit black and white scans / 48bit colour. I’ve had mine for 4 years now and it’s better than any lab scans I’ve ever received. You never see any side by side examples in these types of articles extolling the virtues of camera scanning vs a reasonable dedicated scanner. The Plustek output is approximately 9000px x 6000px at 300 dpi.

  3. If you’re okay with only being able to scan 35mm, the Nikon ES-2 is a great option. I use the ES-2 with my Nikon Z7 and MC 50mm Macro lens with my iPad as my light source. It’s a very simple way to get excellent 45mp scans of my 35mm film. If you’re okay with lower resolution scans, the ES-2 paired with the cheapest 24mp DX body and the 60mm DX macro is an even cheaper way to go.

  4. John-Paul Menez

    Great article Arilbas! The limiting factors behind the best scanners of the 2000s were the sensors and scanner’s software. The scanning lenses in the Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400, for example, easily out resolve film grain. Adapting these purpose built scanner lenses in the Dimage 5400 and the Nikon Coolscan to a modern DSLR or mirrorless solves the sensor/software factor and can give drumscan level quality. A generation of photographers who just grew up with Instagram photography and think of film as having a “lo-fi” charm would be shocked to see a TMax 100 or Adox CMS 20 II scanned with this setup. Those films easily out resolve 40mp sensors.

    On a real nerdy note, the color filter interpolation of standard digital cameras causes that ugly “film grain” rendering. By comparison a darkroom print of Tri-X and TMax p3200 is actually very fine grained – it looks like a different film all together. If one were really psychopathically obsessive about their scans, you could adapt a Dimage 5400 Scanner lens to a mirrorless that takes interpolated-free images such as any of the “pixel shift” cameras or the Leica Monochroms. That’s as close to a darkroom print as you can get without the chemicals.

  5. Hi Arild,

    great article with useful background information. I started scanning my own 35 mm negatives with a Nikon Coolscan V ED that my brother still had sitting around. Works fine, and I still use it. But once I added a Hasselblad 500 C/M to my film cameras I had to find a solution for 6×6. I was checking several options like flatbed Epsons, tried to find some of the nowhere available Plusteks or Reflectas, even considered a Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED – but besides the price of a used unit I was scared to death of the interface issues and of course the risk of it going kaputt.
    Instead, I bought a used Mamiya 645 Sekor 80/4.0 Macro with extension tube that would take it all the way to 1:1, adapted it to my GFX 50R, mounting it to my tripod plus Novoflex macro rail for more hassle-free focusing, purchased the Kaiser Film Copy Vario kit with light table, 6×6 mask and anti-Newton glass, and now I am happily “scanning” away with that setup. Since I am using Capture One, I have just started trying out Analog Toolbox for colour negatives which will probably work just fine for me. Black and white is of course a lot simpler.

    Anyway, I am happy that I have taken this route of a very modular setup.

    Best regards,

  6. I think the future is probably camera-scanning, but I’d say your bias means you’re writing-off specialist equipment like the Coolscan 9000ED a bit prematurely.

    These machines weren’t primarily intended for the home-enthusiast: when they were first released, the target was small image-bureaus and other professional users. In the 2010s – before I got into film – I was working with an advertising company that used an image-bureau that I’d visit regularly. And they had a 9000ED that was always ticking-away, apparently 24/7 (or at least, all office hours). I’m therefore pretty dubious when I hear people talking about these machines ‘wearing-out’ when used by home-enthusiasts, possibly scanning once a week.

    I bought a new 9000ED about ten years ago, and I’ve done just a few thousand scans so far. Last year I bought a Hasselblad X1D 50C, hoping I could transition to what everyone keeps saying is the ‘future’ of scanning.

    I don’t know whether it was the light-source, the lens, the camera, the density of my film, or something else – but I just couldn’t even get close to the quality of the Coolscan. Obviously it was probably “user error” – but that’s part of the problem: there are so many factors that can make camera-scans good or bad, whereas the Coolscan just continues to produce great scans, day-in and day-out.

    1. Absolutely, I am biased and I’m glad you read the article in that light.

      When it comes to ‘wearing out’ scanners, or anything else old for that matter, there are two factors that have nothing to with how much they are used: Lubricants, rubbers and plastics all dry out or become brittle even when not used. I work at Kamerastore too, and produce spare parts for our internal repairs – latest today I made a part for the Mamiya 645 Super mirror stop, which is made out of ABS. It was fine 30 years ago, but today it was so brittle that a mechanic pushed the mirror lightly and broke it – that wasn’t wear, it was just age.

      The other factor is software, which I talked about in the article.

      I agree with you that there are too many factors in camera scanning for most people. I have spent two years collecting information about what the right stuff is, and I still run into surprises. My company does provide suggested cameras and lenses as well as personal support on each setup – many people go outside of those and some of them have issues. Absolutely a big problem that is mostly solved by (quality) information (beyond Facebook groups).

  7. In the early 2000’s I had years of film files including over a 150 concerts. I wanted to digitize and save all those negs that were mouldering in the closet. I looked around and at that time the only scanner worth the money was the Nikon Super CoolScan 5000. I didn’t need the 9000 since I didn’t have but a few larger formats. I still have that scanner and still use it. It’s great. Not only does it work perfectly but it even details all my processing mistakes and reticulation. More recently after loosing my parents I inherited the family photo albums. There were bunches of old old negatives of formats no longer seen. I thought I’d try scanning those with my Canon 5Ds. Worked like a charm. Fast and easy. I’m now a bit more organized in how I do it and use the R5. Recently started playing with some old 6X9 and 4X5 cameras and the system works great. Using what I already have along with Negative Pro yielding great files.

  8. I built a scanner for 35mm slide and strip negatives a few years ago. Here is a list of what I used.
    42MP SONY ALPHA A7r II which I already owned.
    Nikon PB-5 Bellows with PS-5 Copier from B&H, $149 for the two.
    Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Micro-NIKKOR from Pasco Camera Exchange $69.95
    Sony to Nikon Lens Adapter from Pasco Camera Exchange Free
    Bolt VM-210 Flexible Macro Light from B&H $39.95
    I have found I do not need to use the Bolt as I have more than enough ambient light. The assembly sits nicely on my desktop. I use a wired remote to operate the shutter and view the shot on a 24-inch wall-mounted monitor connected to the camera.

  9. I’ve started scanning with my LUMIX s1. It’s been great to the point of converting the negatives to positives. I’m hoping to find a solution on Mac that can do batch conversions. I’d prefer a stand alone program as this is mostly a hobby and would like to avoid subscriptions. I’ve looked into silver light hdr but I haven’t been able to find any review. Has anyone been able to find a solution?

    1. Preston,
      There are many programs for converting from negative to positive. Probably the most respected is NegativeLabPro. But it’s not cheap and it needs Adobe Lightroom to run. In fact many others need Lightroom or Photoshop including, NegMaster, Grain2Pixel and ColorPerfect for example. So, for you, I guess they are out of the running.

      FilmLab is standalone but has a subscription model.
      SilkyPix has a negative film inversion tool (I think you need the Pro version) but it ain’t cheap. I see you have a Panasonic S1 so you might be able to get a discounted copy.
      Alternatively Darktable and RawTherapee can do negative conversions and are freeware.

      With most (perhaps less so with FilmLab) there is a learning curve to get good results.
      If you really want to enter the world of photo-masochism then you could use a full blown photo editing software like GIMP (free) or Affinity v2 (cheap) and do it all manually. Personally I wouldn’t recommend that.

      1. I am still trying to understand the real value of Film Lab. I tried their trial version which last week was not the latest released version, and I didn’t see how this would get me results much quicker than manual conversion in Capture One. Maybe I don’t understand how to operate it properly.

      2. ARILBAS Firstly, thanks for a great article. As far as stand alone software for camera scanning is concerned, on my iMac I use either: Vuescan , on the input column selecting “file” instead of “scanner” then following the usual procedure. So in fact it supports camera scanning.
        Or: Using RawPower available for a reasonable once only payment from the Mac Store.
        Go to the long “Presets” column at the top and select and click “Invert image” then click “RGB curves Auto” Then it’s only a case of small adjustments with sliders some of which are reversed. Or keep clicking the presets some of which are reversed. Eg for daylight auto white balance click tungsten.
        Either way is very simple and quick. Both Vuescan and RawPower receive regular updates and don’t involve any subscription nor do they require the use of Lightroom ( unless you want to use it)

    2. Preston,
      I did write quite a detailed reply but it seems to have got lost here.
      Suffice to say if you don’t want to pay the subscription for FilmLab then have a look at the free Darktable or RawTherapee. More complex but freeware.
      All the other I am aware of are plugins to Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

    3. It’s really not that difficult to invert the negatives in any RAW converting software you want – at least for black & white. Just invert the curve, make some basic adjustments to get the contrast etc. right and save it as a preset. For C41, you additionally need to filter out the orange mask with the white balance tool. To be honest, it’s still a battle to get the colors right – I think this is the biggest selling point for third-party software like FilmLab etc. But with a bit of work you can get images that look at least decent.

      I think it’s always good to know what you’re doing when it comes to editing your images. There just is no all-in-one solution that does everything right. Maybe you can get away with less work but you also lose control over the process and can’t add your own style.

    4. Negmaster BR is not standalone per se, it is a plugin for Adobe Bridge, but Bridge itself is actually a free download that doesn’t require a subscription, so you could totally use it for the cots of Negmaster BR alone.
      I tried them all, and really love the results I get from this one.

  10. Nice article Arild. I can see the argument for a camera-based scanning setup, especially if you don’t already have a good ‘old-school’ scanner. And I agree with points made by Bob and others about the advantages of the latter. I have had a Nikon LS9000 for about 20 years and it has served me well. Around 2015 it stopped working and I thought I was on my own. After a local electrical shop told me they couldn’t fix it without getting the circuitry plan from Nikon (who apparently refused to share it) I decided to try alternative avenues. I read around and found a brilliant website by Gleb Shtengel, who has impressive expertise about these devices:
    From reading his material I surmised that my machine’s problem was probably the power supply board. Amazingly I was able to source one of these online from Russia for a reasonable price. I popped it in and my beautiful scanner came to life. I cannot sing Shtengel’s praises highly enough for anyone who needs to do maintenance on an LS8000 or LS9000. He provides detailed instructions for a whole range of interventions to keep them running well.

  11. By the way, having read and watched the advice from Michael Wilmes who has developed Analog Toolbox for Capture One for Mac OS, he is suggesting to set the scanning camera exposure to pretty much +/-0. My practice so far has been to use ETTR as I would do in regular digital raw photography, thus maximizing the available data granularity in the scanned image. So if my thinking is correct, if I am exposing the negative to the right (which would normally give my the best shadow detail in a regular digital photograph), this should give me the maximum highlight detail after converting it to a positive. And of course it is important not to expose too far to the right, so not to blow out any highlights on the negative, i.e. shadows in the positive. I think in the Negative Lab Pro forum some people are also suggesting ETTR.

    Then, I sometimes face difficulties putting focus on the grain. Despite my tripod being rather sturdy and using the Novoflex macro rail, there is still quite a bit of shaking going on during focusing, and the grain on a 6×6 is rather fine even with HP5+. So I was thinking about laying a hair down on a non-interesting portion of the negative strip focus on that one and assuming that depth of field at f/8 with the Sekor 80/4.0 Macro would still have the negative and its grain in focus, emulsion side facing the camera, light table below it, negative being pressed flat against the anti-Newton glass with the film base down.

    What are you all doing? What’s your experience?



    1. Erik Brammer For what it’s with, my experience is that depending on the scene it’s a good idea to slightly overexpose colour negative film, especially the likes of 5207 cine film. Which I guess is what you call ETTR.
      Doing this avoids grain in the shadows when you take the photograph. Negative film has plenty of latitude unlike digital, to avoid burning out the highlights.
      But when you copy that negative with a digital camera, you are copying a very low contrast original and I see no advantage in over exposing it, to the right. Best in my opinion to expose it “correctly” especially as that will or should be a RAW image exposure.
      I don’t consider it a good idea to use a tripod for “camera scanning” . My most sturdy tripod is a television broadcast tripod with a fluid head and I don’t use that for this job. I fabricated my own stand as many folk do. Some of its components I rapid epoxy glued together after establishing correct alignment.
      As regards software, one approach is to get jpeg scans of each film when it’s processed by your your lab
      Doing this is probably cheaper than the software subscription model. They will be perfectly adequate for viewing and social media use. My lab uses Fuji Frontier. Maybe I’ll want to print 1 or 2 out of a roll after viewing lab scans. Then I’ll camera scan and use RawPower from the Mac App Store ( no subscription needed ) using a built in preset to invert and fairly quickly produce a Tiff suitable for printing and possibly slightly tweaking in the ( Canon ) printer “colour adjustments” column after making a 4 X 6 test print.
      Another way is to use reversal film and you don’t need to scan anything to view the correct colours. You don’t need any subscription. It costs more but has other savings. I was out at sunrise the other day. Cine Ektachrome in my Canon 1n, and 5207 cine film in my Nikon FM, also using my Samsung Galaxy for reference shots and GPS location.
      Happy picture taking and scanning

      1. Hi Graham,

        thank you very much for your input to the discussion. I think I will try ETTR during camera scanning with balanced exposure during camera scanning. Still learning.
        Finding a better solution than using a tripod may indeed also be one of the future improvements. Building a rigid construction sounds like a good idea.
        But since I am not doing dozens of rolls of 120 film a month, for now I will continue to do all the scanning myself. For 35 mm film, I will continue to use the Nikon Coolscan V ED.

        Best regards,

  12. Having read and watched the advice from Michael Wilmes who has developed Analog Toolbox for Capture One for Mac OS, he is suggesting to set the scanning camera exposure to pretty much +/-0. My practice so far has been to use ETTR as I would do in regular digital raw photography, thus maximizing the available data granularity in the scanned image. So if my thinking is correct, if I am exposing the negative to the right (which would normally give my the best shadow detail in a regular digital photograph), this should give me the maximum highlight detail after converting it to a positive. And of course it is important not to expose too far to the right, so not to blow out any highlights on the negative, i.e. shadows in the positive. I think in the Negative Lab Pro forum some people are also suggesting ETTR.

    Then, I sometimes face difficulties putting focus on the grain. Despite my tripod being rather sturdy and using the Novoflex macro rail, there is still quite a bit of shaking going on during focusing, and the grain on a 6×6 is rather fine even with HP5+. So I was thinking about laying a hair down on a non-interesting portion of the negative strip focus on that one and assuming that depth of field at f/8 with the Sekor 80/4.0 Macro would still have the negative and its grain in focus, emulsion side facing the camera, light table below it, negative being pressed flat against the anti-Newton glass with the film base down.

    What are you all doing? What’s your experience?


  13. A good summary of the situation, although I prefer a $250 OMD-EM5ii with the 40mm TTArtisan. The 64mp hi-res mode yields more detail than my EOS R, the sensor shift produces superior grain structure, and it has a 4:3 sensor that better matches medium format. I recently sold the Epson v850 and a PIE XA Super (2700dpi and 4300dpi) in favor of just using the OMD. The two keys to dumping the traditional scanners were discovering Negmaster software, which I find far superior to Negative Lab Pro, and the Kinetronics Staticvac to dramatically reduce dust in my workflow. You don’t mention the Staticvac in your “more professional” workflow. It cuts dust by 95% and I often don’t need to do any dust touchups, even on large negatives. Filmlab app I’m about to test again, but the price is nonsense. Negmaster yields more reliable color results and I can use it with Adobe Bridge, so I don’t even need to pay Adobe. That’s exactly what I do – invert in BR then hop into DxO, so I don’t have any recurring software costs.

  14. Thank you for this very nice summary! I would like to call to attention two inherent limitations of the DSLR scanning method.

    One is the distortion of the lens. I do not have experience with the Sigma Art macro mentioned in the article, only used the Olympus 45mm macro and the Nikkor 105mm Af-D macro. At 1:1 reproduction – which is what you should use to reach the same quality as high-end scanners – both had very slight distortion. This is something that might bother you slightly if you shoot parallel lines on 35mm a lot. It becomes an insurmountable problem if you are going to build a setup that is meant to scan medium-format negatives with a resolution comparable to the dedicated high-end scanners. In order to achieve such a resolution, you need to scan the negatives by taking multiple images at 1:1 and then stitch them. The problem is that there is currently no way that this can be done in a reliable manner. Because of the distortion, the sides of the individual pictures will never line up perfectly. The only solution is to take photos at a less than 1:1 reproduction ratio, which means, however, that there are necessarily a lot of details lost in the process.

    The other problem only concerns color negatives. In order to convert color negatives reliably, the software has to know exactly what was on the film, which was recorded by the sensor as an individual color. The problem is that there is no way that a DSLR setup can achieve the consistency required for that since stray light and uneven illumination will always affect the results. And there is no way to tell the software what color the light source had and how strong it was. This is the reason why NegaFix coupled with a consumer scanner like Epson V750, outperforms both NLP and Negmaster at the moment, at least in my eyes.

    I am sure that there are ways to overcome these limitations, especially in relation to the second problem. Lomography’s attempt to incorporate both the light source and the software in the same workflow seems to be the right way to go. Still, I am not sure that for digitalizing medium-format color negatives DSLR setup can live up to the highest expectations any time soon.

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