Camera Scan vs Film Scanner – A Detailed Comparison

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by Harald_E_Brandt, Dec 3, 2018.

  1. I wrote a long article that compares two ways to scan slides, using two types of equipment I had:
    - An ArtixScan 4000tf film scanner
    - An EOS 7D with a macro lens plus a slide duplicator attachment

    I actually elaborated the camera scan set up and many of the comparisons and findings 5 years ago (May 2013). At that time, it was only privately documented, but after several requests I now decided to write a full in-depth public article about it all, including detailed conclusions.

    The crucial question to be answered is: Will a camera scan setup be good enough for high contrast slides?

    With this post I simply want to share this with you.

    Here is the article: Camera Scan vs Film Scanner
    JeffOwen and rodeo_joe|1 like this.
  2. Here are some of my articles on scanning. (List recently posted elsewhere on

    Huge Scanning Job Finished (yet again!) rescan
    2015: A scanning Odyssey - Nikon Super Coolscan LS-9000 ED Nikon
    CanoScan 9000F vs. CanoScan FS 4000US
    Nikon Coolscan LS9000 ED, ICE, and CanoScan F4000US - Part 2 Canon vs Nikon
    Thoughts on Theory and Practice of Scanning (Archival/Forensic)

    I have tried scanning in just about every form. The little add-on tubes, the Repronar, copy stand, flatbed, and have never found any solution for archival scanning that is equal to a dedicated film scanner like the old Nikon CoolScan 9000.
    wogears likes this.
  3. That may be true, but Nikon no longer makes or services Coolscan scanners, nor the associated drivers and software. So going forward, the choice is between consumer-grade flatbed scanners, outrageously expensive Hasselblad scanners, cheap imitation scanners (digicams in mufti), or high-resolution digital camera copy systems.

    The last alternative is clearly the best, and getting better each year, The quality of digital cameras, starting about 15 years ago. is precisely the reason film is relegated to a few photographic flat-earthers. Consequently film "scanning" is consigned to producing digital archives of existing work, which is not exactly a growing market. If you already own such a camera, you can set up an efficient film copy system for as little as $200. Slides are easy to copy accurately, and in fact you can improve on the exposure and color with little effort. Negatives are just as easy to copy, but harder to process. You can slug your way through using Photoshop, but commercial software like Silverfast HDR makes even that job easy.
    Vincent Peri likes this.
  4. I truly wish I could agree. I have the equipment (copy stands, macro lenses, a Universal Repronar) and have found the camera/lens combination introduces its own problems (distortion, vignette, curvature of field, ...).
    The results can be reasonably good and tolerable interms of time spent if you're doing only a few images. GOTO 20,000 images and it's another matter.

    The standard of "still able to be serviced by the OEM" is too constrictive in these days of "the time is past"
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2018
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  5. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    You don't have to insult us!
    mrjallen, ray ., ken_kuzenski and 2 others like this.
  6. I have an LS-4000 with a roll feeder and an LS-8000 with all of the film holders, save the rotating glass holder. I could retire happily without exploring new concepts. However I have made it a personal goal to make scanning with a camera viable, even easy to set up and implement, for my own benefit and that of others who missed the scanner "boat." Medium format is somewhat more difficult because there aren't any simple ways to hold large film strips, as there are for 35 mm film.

    I have no problems with field curvature in my macro lenses, but film curvature is another matter. Mounted slides invariably bulge in the center, unless glass mounted. My MF film has been stored in archival sleeves within hours of processing, and is dead flat. In any case, I can stop down to f/5.6 or higher, an option not available in a film scanner. That not only increases the DOF, but virtually eliminates vignetting. At 1:1 magnification, the image circle is nearly twice that at normal distances, so you're using only the center anyway. With full-time live view and focus magnification, I can focus with much greater accuracy than any reflex system or AF, at the same aperture used for taking.

    Sorry about the "flat-earther" assignation. There's room for many interests, especially if it's a hobby. I'm from the Flat-Earth Society home base (Iowa), and I've never found them to be easily insulted, much less persuaded. They're sure they're right, but always straining to explain away the facts.
  7. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Apology accepted!

    Hmm... I'm always insulting
    Vincent, even though he
    withholds my bananas...
  8. - As much as that!?
    If you shop around you can halve that easily.
    Here's the kit I've been using:

    Item 1, as you can probably read, is an Astron slide/film copier attachment. I picked it up for £10 (~ $15 US). It does need a macro lens to screw onto the front of though, and the film-holder arrangement isn't great.

    Item 2 is an obsolete Nikon ES-E28 attachment, with the useless 28mm screw thread bored out and a 42mm camera flange fitted. It then accepts item 3, a set of cheap M42 extension tubes plus Pentax thread reversing ring.

    The ES-E28 cost me another £10, but came complete with multi-frame filmstrip and slide holders. The camera flange came from a scrap Zenith E, bought for £1, and the extension tubes and M42 reverser cost about £5 as a bundle.

    So, total outlay about £26 (say $40) and a couple of hours labour.

    I was going to post comparison 'scans' from using the above on a 24 megapixel Nikon D7200 against a dedicated film scanner. However, when I dug out the film scanner I discovered the drivers weren't compatible with anything more recent than Windows 7, and the scanner was no longer supported by the maker - Pacific Image.

    I did get it working - sort of - but it was far slower than I remember. The framing and focus were off, and the resulting part-frame scan had awful colour. So much for a fair comparison!

    Anyway, FWIW here's a digital camera scan from an old colour negative.
    I didn't even notice medallion man on his balcony when I took the picture.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2018
  9. The way I figure it, it's just that everything is downhill from everywhere else.
  10. There's no substitute for a good macro lens. That's the heart of the system. I bought a 55/2.8 Micro-Nikkor for $120 and a PK-13 extension ring (for 1:1 magnification) for another $25. I already owned a Sony A7ii and a Nikon lens adapter. The slide attachment brought the cost over $200, but not by much.

    Slide copiers disappeared for a long time, but have enjoyed a recovery in the last couple of years. The Nikon ES-1 was the first one I saw that didn't come with a cheap +10 diopter built in. It was not compatible with common film strip holders, so I used one that came with my LS-4000. Those go for about $200 on the use market, but are only as thick and wide as a cardboard mount.. The Nikon ES-2 comes with holders for both slides and film strips (up to 6 frames) - bingo!

    The ES-1 fits a 52 mm filter ring, and provides the right working distance for a 55/2.8 AIS micro. The ES-2 is designed around a Nikon 60/2.8 Macro, with extension for the AF-D and AF-S versions. The 52 mm adapter was designed for a 40 mm Macro, and didn't have enough extension for the 55. I took care of that with a 52-62 filter adapter.

    The whole assembly is solid enough that I don't need a tripod, nor to make adjustments between slides. I was pleased with the results using a 24 MP A7ii, but 42 MP using an A7Rii was an order of magnitude better, and definitely grain-sharp.

    One of the gadgets you list is a reversing ring. Was that for the lens, or to make something fit to the lens? Reversing the lens doesn't help when you're near 1:1, and it's an awkward substitute for the right extension tube.
  11. - The reversing ring is needed to adapt the M42 extension tubes to a 52mm filter thread. The tubes are then screwed to my 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor + M tube, and the converted ES-E28 is screwed to the other end of the extension tubes.

    I would have adapted a set of 52mm filter-thread tubes directly to the ES-E28, but they're not so easy to come by. Only Nikon's K tubes fit the bill I believe, and they're not cheap.

    By trial-and-error, I discovered that extension tubes 3+4 are needed when using a DX camera for copying, and only tube 2 for use with a full-frame camera. The thinnest tube, number 1, allows 'zooming in' for a slightly cropped framing.

    The ES-E28 also came with a 6 frame filmstrip holder and a 2 frame slideholder. The setup sounds pretty much identical to your ES-2 arrangement.

    For lighting, I fit a speedlight to the hotshoe of the camera and point the whole thing at a white-painted wall. There's actually enough power in the camera's popup flash to do the job, but it runs the camera battery down quite quickly.

    Focussing is done by LiveView with a small LED light pointed at the copier diffuser.

    FWIW, I also have an f/2.8 55mm Micro-Nikkor, but found it inferior to the f/3.5 version in this application.

    P.S. There's a Polaroid branded device on sale that appears functionally the same as an ES-2. I believe it contains a 'macro' dioptre, which I think can be removed.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2018
  12. - But those exact same complaints could be levelled at an enlarger lens. The fact that they weren't, over a period of several decades, shows that they're not an issue at all.

    And what makes you think a scanner lens is devoid of those defects? Sure, the distortion and vignette may only be seen in one direction, but I'm pretty sure it's detectable if you really look for it.
  13. A point I omitted for the sake of brevity. However a scanner lens is optimized for a single distance (give or take a mm or two), FOV and aperture. Just attaching an enlarger lens, designed to fit a lens board, would require a bit of cobbling. Life is too short to re-invent every wheel.

    I have a set of Nikon K extension tubes, which weren't expensive at the time. Like any obsolete yet desirable equipment, I'm sure scarcity and demand have driven up the price. As it turns out, they aren't needed for either the ES-1 or ES-2. For the latter, a readily available 52-62 filter adapter was sufficient.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2018
  14. - Hopefully! But having seen the results from some scanners, I do wonder.
  15. I was thinking of Nikon and Hasselblad scanners, not Plustek. In the near drum scanner category are Scitex flatbed scanners, used for large format and graphic arts. You pay handsomely for that kind of quality. By comparison, Nikon scanners were a bargain.

    I have an older Epson with a real lens, which promised 1600 ppi, but delivers about 1300. It cost something like $1400 nearly 20 years ago, before flatbeds got dumbed down.
  16. I was thinking of Nikon scanners, not Plustek, also Flextite and drum scanners. and Scitex scanners, used for large format and graphic arts.
  17. - I was looking more in Epson's direction.

    I had a Plustek 7200i for a couple of days. 7200 ppi? No way! But an acceptable 3600 ppi.... if you've got several hours to spare for each roll of film you want to scan. Plus time spent tweaking the colour to something halfway-decent.
  18. I apologize for being so anecdotal. It would be far better to make direct comparisons. Sadly, I have very few MF scans on my computer. 15 years ago, disk space was at a premium, and each 6x6 scan at 4000 ppi, 16 bit TIFF, was over 216 MP. It would be a major effort to revive my LS-8000, at least in the busiest time of year for my business. It's an important issue, and I plan to be back later with examples.

    I have MF film handling for copying pretty well in hand. In lieu of a copy stand, I use a Novoflex focusing rail with a slide holder attachment. It's a solid, well aligned setup, but the film is not well shielded from ambient light, which must reduce the contrast. I'm half serious about digging a LF darkcloth out of the closet and draping it over the setup. Or I could do it in the dark of night (too many windows to block). Another possibility is to use my Hasselblad with a bellows attachment to do the copies. It's only 16 MP, but 4080x4080 pixels is comparable to a similar cropped from a 24 MP 35 mm format. However that would suggest. using an $11K setup (used price) to do a lesser job than a $3K scanner.
  19. My CS9000 is working fine, and I'm running Nikon scan under Windows 10.
  20. If you have questions about my setup, as shown in the article, or questions about the images I posted, just ask here.

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