Review - D850 as a Scanner

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by Mary Doo, Nov 25, 2017.

  1. I always thought it was a weird feature to have, especially on the D850. (Tell me Df users would have used it on a load of old film for convenience and dislike of computers, and I'd believe you.) I don't object to the scanner hardware, but with the possible exception of it providing metering information (Nikon: please stop trying to be clever and just give us ETTR) I can't imagine why it wouldn't be better to capture raw and let software handle this.

    I actually do have a fair stack of film (mostly slide film), although enough is 120 roll that this widget won't do much for me. But I'd rather get a convenient rough scan during development and if I ever shoot something amazing on film, I'll get it drum scanned.
  2. Well, you can still use the D850 in normal picture-taking mode to digitize film as you would any other camera, except likely the sensor is better so you can get a better quality result. As for the resolution IMO film should be scanned at the highest resolution possible, so the D850 seems like a good opening in this front, in 5 years maybe Nikon have made a better automatic process. Color negative film is easy to use in a purpose-made scanner software but it doesn't seem like people who are using digital cameras to "scan" color negatives are getting the expected color out of it, and this is probably why Nikon implemented this feature. As with everything there is a first try, then the next iteration, until eventually they get it right.
  3. Thanks, Mary. There are a number of online resources that help with color DSLR scanning. Speed and focusing ability are the real advantages. It's quite possible to get good results with b&w 120 scans off light tables and copy stands with 24mp+ cameras and macro lenses. Suspect Nikon will actually make this work with firmware updates across multiple DX/FX cameras.
  4. Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
  5. The Petapixel review parallels my own experience with "scanning" color negatives with a digital camera, and often with a dedicated scanner (Nikon LS-4000/8000) as well. I have used a Sony A7ii, A7Rii and most recently, a Sony A9. In practice, there is very little difference between RAW images in these cameras, although non have the built-in negative conversion software of the Nikon D850. There is little if any detail in color film that can't be resolved at 24 MP or more (maybe even 12 MP).

    The elephant in the room is the orange mask, a residue of the development process, intended to reduce the contrast of the image. The density of the mask is inversely proportional to the density of the image - the more color dye, the less the mask dye. Furthermore, there are differences between emulsions in the relative sensitivity of the color layers, including the gamma. Consequently you can filter most of the mask, but not all. Fortunately the remnants can be removed in Photoshop, using Curves and Levels.

    That said, I have had mixed results using Silverfast, and generally poor results using the "Color Negative" option in Photoshop Curves. I therefore totally understand the author's difficulties with the D850 function.

    The key to success depends on consistency. That way you can duplicate the conversion process without too much tweaking. The negative itself should be well-exposed under constant lighting. Indirect lighting, such as filtered through leaves, open sky, or sunset take more care. The copying setup must also be consistent. I set the white balance without film, and lock it to a particular color temperature, fixed aperture (f/5.6-f/8) for optimum resolution, and fixed ISO 400 or less), for best dynamic range. Auto exposure, with the shutter only, can compensate for exposure of the original film to some extent. Digital cameras do not suffer from reciprocity failure, and little noise occurs in exposures of 1 sec or less (typically 1/4 second). I also use a consistent light source, and a daylight LED bulb works very well. Finally, I use manual focus, since auto focus is ineffective at or near 1:1 magnification (35 mm to a FF sensor).*

    I start by using "Curves" to optimize each color channel independently. This removes the orange mask and provides a reasonably good color balance. I then invert the image (ctrl-I) from negative to positive. At this point, normal color adjustments (tweaking) can be used to balance the image.

    * To focus at 1:1, you need a finely-adjustable lens to film setting. In practice, I copy at slightly less than 1:1, rough focus using a sliding tube (Nikon ES-1), bellows or focusing rail. I can then fine-tune the focus using the lens, over a very limited range. Once focused, it holds true if you are reasonably carefully handling the setup. The Sony cameras offer 5x digital magnification for grain-sharp results. The focus spot can be moved to any part of the frame. Auto focus can be used if the magnification is significantly less than 1:1, using a DX camera for example, or for copying larger negatives (e.g., 120 film).
  6. I might be mistaken, but doesn't Vuescan have the ability to import a 16 bit TIFF and handle it as if it was a scanner generated file?

    That would make the conversion from colour negative to positive a lot easier.

    I really don't know what all the fuss is about with the D850's 'scanning' facility. It's not new, it's not big, and it's not particularly clever. Any DSLR could do the same with a small firmware update to the 'paintbox' menu.

    Even my Android smartphone image editor can make a decent job of negative to positive conversion, and has a curves tool capable of correcting tone and colour.
  7. A negative taken under "sunny 16" conditions is easy to convert. If the exposure is off a bit, or the light is other than daylight, it can be very difficult to achieve a pleasing balance. Using the black/grey/white droppers is generally useless unless you include a color chart in the image. What natural scene has pure black, neutral grey or pure white (with details)?

    Silverfast has curves for many emulations, but has limited success unless the image is taken under controlled situations.
  8. All that applies equally to a dedicated film scanner Ed.

    WRT finding a white point: clouds work very well for that, or as a grey point. In portraits, the white of the eye makes a good neutral reference, and the pupil a reasonable black point.

    In any case, my own reason for favouring colour negative is its colour flexibility. I can impose my personal pre-visualisation of the colour palette, rather than being stuck with Kodak or Fuji's chemists' idea of what the world should look like.

    I also got into the habit of exposing a greyscale/colour swatch on the first frame. It was amazing how this improved the quality of proofs I got back from the processor.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2017
  9. I've said before many times, and I still see no reason to change my mind, the camera solution to digitizing film works but not nearly so well as a decent, dedicated film scanner like the Nikon Coolscan 9000. I've posted a lot here on the subject. I note also that I have done over 60,000 images, not the mere 50,000 that the author of the link brags about.
    It's a tedious job no matter how you do it, but even with something like a Universal Repronar, with a camera with a really good macro lens, it does not match up to real film scanners in ease of use or image quality.

    one of my posts at LINK (we used to be able to post images directly, but that broke in 2, so just scroll past the gibberish at one point)
  10. Exactly my experience. However a scanner gets you to the point of tweaking color faster, but not, unfortunately, any better success with problematic images.

    Although I have two excellent scanners, a Nikon LS-4000 with a roll feeder and an LS-8000 for film up to 6x9 cm, I force myself to rely on using a digital camera for copy and Photoshop for conversion. The artful Nikon scanners have been discontinued, remain very expensive on the used market (more than original), and film adapters even more expensive and rare. These scanners are complex devices, with unreliable repair service availability. I hope to pass on my experiences in a manner which will be useful, effective and enjoyable to those who missed the scanner era but have a legacy to recover from film.

    I am certain that software will be developed which will make the conversion process a one-click operation, hopefully within Lightroom where blocks of images may be placed in a queue. The still unshipped Nikon ES-2 is a high-quality film holder, used with a true macro lens, for both slides and film strips. I'm sure others will follow, beyond the flimsy high-diopter versions so common now.

    I have a collection of 200 rolls of negative film, exposed in 2001, as yet unscanned, and decades of rolls not tied to a particular topic. There was never enough time before I retired, and strangely, even less time now with my "second" career in audio/video production. I can scan up to 5 rolls per hour (5-10 times as fast as a scanner) using a camera. Slides need no post-processing, and I can delay converting negatives, or redo the conversion as my skill and software improve.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2017
  11. I came across an ES-E28 at a recent camera fair and bought it for £9 UK (about 12 US bucks). It was designed to be used on some of the Coolpix cameras, and has a small 30mm-something thread. Apart from that, it's almost identical to an ES-1, and I presume the currently vapourware ES-2. The ES-E28 came complete with slide and filmstrip holders.

    I haven't yet attacked it with Dremel, Araldite and a Cokin adaptor-ring to convert it to a useful thread size, but it doesn't seem too big a job.

    Anyway, the point is that these things are out there now if anyone can be bothered to do a little DIY and doesn't like Nikon's inflated asking price for an ES-2.
  12. The idea of connecting a 30 mm tube to a 52-62 mm lens, without vignetting, sounds intriguing. There are other inexpensive adapters which will attach to a DSLR lens, often with a high power diopter in lieu of a macro lens alone. The diopter lens in some is removable.

    The virtue of the Nikon ES-1 is that it is all metal, solid, and holds its adjustment without wobbling. It is also relatively compact, so that I can leave it attached to the lens, stored in a spare camera bag with other closeup accessories (rails, etc), for convenience. Any device that requires assembly, particularly with rigger's tape and cardboard, is not likely to see much use.
  13. "The idea of connecting a 30 mm tube to a 52-62 mm lens, without vignetting, sounds intriguing."

    - I'm pretty sure it would vignette quite badly Ed. Hence the intended Dremel attack. On measuring the ES-E28 attachment thread, the inside diameter is only about 25mm.

    My initial intention was to epoxy a 52mm threaded ring to the rear, and ream out the hole to the inner diameter of the new threaded ring. On further examination, the rear of the E28 looks as if it can be unscrewed, and there's enough 'meat' in the E28 body to fit a sliding tube and set screws.

    Another option would be to fit a rod such that the whole thing can be mounted onto my PB-4 bellows. In either case the ridiculously small aperture mounting plate will need to be removed or opened out.

    In any event, no tape or cardboard will be involved in the conversion.

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