Using a DSLR w/macro instead of a scanner to digitize film negs

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by edward_isaac, Mar 11, 2014.

  1. Hi,
    This just came to my attention, apparently some film shooters are eschewing scanners in favor of using a DSLR with a macro lens to make digital images of their negs. You need to make a number of images that you then stitch together (and reverse them, obviously).
    This guy's run some tests and claims the results are superior to a V700 scan:

    This appeals to me because a) I want to digitize only a small percentage of my negs and b) I dislike scanning for various reasons.
    I'd be curious if anyone has had any experience with this technique.
  2. I am sure that there are many who tried these sort of techniques. I used my old 10MP Sony A100 to shoot some 35mm slide film. The results were better than my humble Epson 4490 scanner, which is poor for 35m. However, to do even one roll took a very long time for me.
  3. SCL


    I've tried it out of curiosity, but my (many years old) dedicated scanner beats it hands down!
  4. I did this with a 5D Mk2 and some 6x7 transparencies back in 2009. The results were excellent and actually matched the results from a lab scan of the same slide. I posted all the info on at the time and got the usual biased dismissal from the hardliners on here. I used a cheap Cosina macro lens and the results were better than anything I have ever got from a V500 / V700.
    See here for the 2009 thread:
    Points to note are:
    • Not as convenient as scanning
    • You need to take great care to avoid reflections
    • Make sure the film is flat
    • Make sure camera is perfectly parallel to slide
    • Take care with white balance
  5. The big thing not really discussed is skill and technique. There is no doubt I get high quality scans out of my V700. I can also say with certainty I can't afford a digi that could do better.
    Yes, I'm sure an inexperienced person can do better with a digital camera and a film copy attachment. But there is a reason why it takes me an evening to do a roll of film or two.
    I scan 35 mm at about 40 mpix and get results similar to this without too much effort. Practice, practice, practice.....
    But like I said, it takes time to develop the skill and technique. You need to get your brain, software, hardware, developing and precess all in sync for the best end result. I've been actively scanning film for about 10 years now and I can say my first experiences were less than good... ;)
  6. I agree with you Peter. Scanning is another skill altogether. I've been scanning film for at least 15 years and only those scans I've done in the last 4 or 5 years are what I would call "good".
  7. The first question one needs to ask is, "What quality level do my images need to be?" Yes, the DSLR setup gives better results, but if all you are going to do is print to 8x10, to pick an example, it doesn't matter. If you never print larger than 8x10, a 3.3mp camera will provide 300lpi "photo quality." Not talking cropping, of course.
    If your images are more on the line of family memories, such detail as the author has achieved is not necessary. For my slides and 35mm images of memories or history, I scan them at 2400dpi. That still gives "almost photo quality" for an 8x10.
    Of course, if you have commercial or art images, go for the quality! You think I skimped on my father's 35mm and 4x5 1930's and 1940's Kodachromes? Not hardly!
    Some of the reason for the difference in results might be that consumer flatbed scanners are limited to about 1200 sensors per inch on the bar, IIRC. At least, that was the state of the art not long ago. That means that without interpolation or stepping motor travel of anything less, the maximum whole pixel image that can be attained is 1.44mp over a given square inch! Or, about 2mp for a 35mm slide. That flatbed scanners get up to 9600 dpi ratings is due to stepping motors of fine degree, software that does amazing interpolation, and of course, marketing hype. The differences in a scanner rated 1200, 2400, 4800, or 9600 dpi is just in the stepping motor, one is always stuck with the 1200 dpi across the bar.
    The idea of using a digital camera for "scanning," BTW, precedes DSLR's. But with fixed lenses it's hard to get quality. Focus differences across the image and lens distortions.
    So, bottom line, yes, it's technologically logical that a high megapixel DSLR will give better results than a flatbed scanner at a 1:1 image ratio. A nominal 12mp camera in 3:4 ratio mode, allowing for some cropping from the 2:3 35mm ratio, will give 2700 pixels on the short side, already better than the flatbed 1200 native by well over twice.
    If you can use the performance of a Ferrari, go DSLR. If you will be stuck in rush hour traffic, consider a Chevy.
    My last thought is this: In scanning memory/history images, it's rather nice to set up a rack of 8 or 12 slides, make corrections, and then go mow the lawn...........
  8. This is really a FAQ.
    Recent threads on it at

    in addition to those given above by other posters here.
    In terms of the use and advantages of scanners vs. camera copying, there is no disputing taste and the advocates tend to be 'sticky'. My personal 'story' and discussions of aspects of scanners vs cameras are at
    I can only say that I have tried everything from long term use of a Honeywell film to film copier (Repronar) back in olden days to more-or-less modern scanners, including attempts to copy with a macro lens and bellows, etc.
    After doing more than 60,000 slides, more than one way, I very much prefer a dedicated film scanner for quality and human ease of work (e.g., Canoscan 4000FS, various old Nikon scanners- all discontinued but for sale used). They are harder to find, and good ones are expensive. For occasional work (and for larger negatives) I use a Canoscan 9000F and 9950F flatbed film scanners.
    A copy stand, light source and macro lens on a digital camera is just fine if you're only doing a few at a time, on widely scattered occasions (assuming you can leave it set up).
  9. I used a D70s some years ago instead of a scanner for a few hundred slides from my college dorm years. The scanner that I had (LS-1000) was way too slow.
    I took a small plastic bottle, I believe from mayonnaise cut off the bottom, painted the inside black, and then held it onto the lens with rubber bands on the outside. The length was just right so that with a slide at the end, it was in focus. I don't remember the light source I used, maybe lights reflecting off white paper. I have an AI Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 that I bought many years ago.
    I could do slides at about 5 seconds each. Maybe a minute on the actual scanner.
    I now have a Dual-Scan IV, which is still pretty slow, but I use it more.
    For color negatives, one would need to do the appropriate matrix transform, not so easy to do.
    Mostly I wanted them good enough for screen resolution, maybe with a little zoom, not for making large prints from.
  10. The real problem is deciding effort vs result. It isn't all art. Digi-scan is not a bad idea, and if it were not for those appliances doing 4/3 instead of 3/2, there would be a bigger market. Most of the camera attachment gizmos tend to cater to slides.
    Looking on the net I found the Wolverine F2D20. It's a dedicated 20 mpx film scanner that doesn't crop. I might even look into that. Everything I shoot isn't always worth the full blown effort.
  11. I've done this will several hundred slides and negatives. I also have way too much experience scanning film with
    dedicated desktop film scanners, flatbed scanners adapted to scan film, and some experience with Imacon/Hasselblad
    Flextight scanners.

    My guide in the process to make "camera scans" is chapter 12 of "The DAM Book" by Peter Krogh (available
    through website). just about everything you read, including that link you posted about the "camera as scanner" process is mostly a second or third hand derivation of that information.

    What you need: As the saying goes , " garbage in, garbage out" so you need a high quality lens, a camera with both decent pixel count
    (depending on your needs, 16mp or greater) and 12 stops or greater of dynamic range, a way to hold the film parallel to
    the sensor plane of the camera, diffuse and even lighting of the film, and you should shoot using the camera's raw format and not it's JPEG format.

    The advantages of using a good camera instead a scanner are the following:
    - you have more control over where the true plane of focus is, especially if your camera has a live view function that you
    can use via tethering to your computer.
    - all film have a natural curvature to them and because lenses have an aperture control, you can adjust the depth of field
    by stopping the lens down., something you cannot do with a scanner.
    - the result is a true raw file not a JPEG or a TIFF. (Yes Vuescan and SilverFast have their own raw formats that for the
    most part only their respective software recognizes.)

    But most importantly , what is by far the largest benefit is sheer speed. With my set up I can make a very high quality "camera
    scan" of a piece of 35mm film in about a minute as opposed to the 7-10 minutes to make a comparable quality scan with a
    dedicated film scanner like a Nikon Coolscan LS-5000ED.

    The downside: "dust busting" you want to start with really clean film.

    However In my experience, neither a dedicated film scanner or even a "camera scan" made with a 36mp Nikon D800 is in
    the same league as a drum scan made by a superbly talented and fastidious craftsman like Lenny Eiger of
  12. I have a couple of serious issues with the article the OP linked to

    1) "Flatbed Scanner: Epson V700

    The film-holder height has been calibrated. I did not use fluid mounting, but I taped the films to the film-holder and/or used
    glass to keep the films flat — fluid mounting should only make a difference in terms of absence of dust, appearance of the
    grain clumps and, possibly, slightly better.

    Actually he's completely wrong here, fluid mounting increases dynamic range in my experience and sharpness by
    eliminating two air to surface interfaces

    Age then mentions drum scanning.

    Making high quality drum scans is a level of craft that approaches art in the demands and expertise of the person making
    the scans. There are also significant qualitative differences in the machines themselves.
  13. Thanks for all the responses, and for the links to the other threads. I did try to search up an existing thread on this but I guess I was not familiar with some of the key terms.
  14. The scan I provided was a fluid scan on a jig I made adjusted for optimal hight. I do get better dynamic range and sharpness. The scan I have shown was only processed for "slight" sharpening and spot removal.
    It's not a magic bullet for dust removal. If anything it will make it more apparent. Clean negs are always required. However chemical "spots" are reduced significantly.
  15. Thanks for posting this. I have a lot of old 35mm slides from my dad that I started scanning on a V500 but eventually gave up because it took too long, a few minutes per scan at best, if you were going for good results. I'm going to try my hand at making a jig for holding and illuminating the slides in front of my macro lens. At least I think I can get OK digital files of a box of slides in an hour that way. At best, the results might be better than the scanner's.
  16. lwg


    For 35mm I tested my D800E with a bellows against a Scanmate 5000 drum scanner and a Canoscan FS4000US. In my experience the D800E won hands down for ease of use, and the quality was about the same as the drum and better than the Canon film scanner. I wrote it up here.
    Someday I hope to build a negative stage that slides to handle MF and LF with stitching.
  17. "This appeals to me because a) I want to digitize only a small percentage of my negs..."
    If you want to digitize only a small percentage of your negatives one option to consider is to not do it yourself but to scan them professionally. One excellent choice is the Hasselblad Flextight X5 scanner.
    It may cost you a few bucks but will save you many hours of experimentation and probably a huge learning curve.
  18. With the macro technique care must be exercised to have even illumination. If not, the small apertures used for copying transparencies may show imperfections or other flaws in the light source. Of course, if you already have the macro gear or can easily borrow it, by all means give it a try and see if the results are acceptable.
  19. Hello,
    I read this thread with interest. I was set to digitize my 4x5 and 8x10 chromes from "back in the day" and my trusty old Linotype-Hell Saphir Ultra 2 up and died on me. It was too cost-prohibitive to repair so I began looking around.
    What I settled on is a plate from Multistitch. ( ) Since I have the 4x5 gear already (Cambo SCX) I set up a plexi light table as a copy setup with a strobe behind it, sort of like the light mixers on the old 4x5 color enlargers. I set my 4x5 above it with an enlarging lens ( Schneider Componon 135mm 5.6 ) and shot images for stitching with a Canon 5D2.
    The results were comparable to the scans that I had done previously of 4x5 transparencies. Considering the amount of time I always had to spend "cleaning up" after the scanner I am very pleased to have been forced to seek another way to do this.
    At 100% on screen the scanner is ahead by the slightest margin, but without "pixel-peeping" of the highest order there is no observable difference. In prints up to 13 X 19 I see no difference at all.
    I am looking forward to trying the multistitch out for some still life shots when the "scan" project is complete.
  20. My PB-6 Bellows has a slide copying attachment that fits on the front of the bellows. I have used it reversing a 55mm f?2.8 AIS Micro Nikkor on my D700. The results are not bad, but they are not up to the quality I get with my Nikon Super Coolscan LS-8000 ED

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