Tools for Digitizing Your Film Photography
With the digital era of photography came a lot of comforts that made photography only more accessible and affordable – from shooting hundreds, and at times, thousands of photos to a memory card, to instant development of your images to the back of your camera and computer screen. But despite these significant advantages, film still has a place in plenty of people’s workflow. And while we’d love to rent film cameras too (Trust me, we’ve looked into it dozens of times), it’s not a viable model for our business.
But film photographers have a much more laborious workflow – from developing the film to scanning the film, and then doing post-production if desired – and we’d like to at least help with those film photographers who are doing it for the film aesthetic and tones. And so, we offer a couple of different tools to digitize your film. Today, we’re going to take a look at two of our most popular film conversion systems, discuss how to use them, and which one might bring the best results.
The first of the two tools we’ll be looking at today is the Epson V850 Pro Scanner. As a scanner, the Epson V850 Pro is a flatbed that offers film scans of a large array of different film sizes – from 35mm film strips to medium format, 4×5 film slides, and even as high as 8×10 large format film. Including the film holders and slides with the scanner, the Epson V850 looks easy to use, in a robust and professional-grade package. At 6400 dpi available for film scans, I suspect this scanner to offer really high-grade scans – something that isn’t always available at film development and scan services.
Perhaps one of the coolest products I never knew existed is the Nikon ES-2 Digitizer. Introduced in 2017, the Digitizer was met with skeptics but largely went unnoticed by the general photography community. With the use of a Nikon D850, and a Nikon micro lens (for my test, I used the Nikon 60mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Micro), the Digitizer puts a cap-end onto the lens, with a film tray, allowing you to scan your images with the help of the digital sensor. The process looks incredibly intuitive, though results depend on your light source and workflow.
Scanning with the Epson V850
Going into the Epson V850, I was initially pretty intimidated. The system itself is large and looks incredibly complicated by comparison. However, the software included was incredibly easy to use, and explained the process pretty well. The resolution I was able to get from the Epson V850 was very impressive, giving me images that exceed a 50-megapixel equivalent. However, when scanning the images at the highest resolution, I found the process took about 15 minutes per image, which makes scanning a couple of rolls of film an all-day process. Fortunately, the machine runs quietly, with little to no light leak, and with the help of the included film slides, you’re able to scan in 18 images at a time, so you can start the process and come back a couple of hours later to see how it went.
I suspected the machine would require some calibration and retesting to get it running correctly, but to my surprise, my first attempt at scanning went well. In particular, I was really impressed with the scanner’s ability to reproduce color film – giving rich film tones that digital photography sometimes still struggles to achieve. Given my timeframe with the system, I couldn’t go through and see all the settings (I’m happy to do that later if there is interest), but I got the system running in about 20 minutes ofset-upp time.
Scanning with the Nikon D850 & Digitizer
While the setup process of the Epson V850 wasn’t particularly difficult, it really pales in comparison to setting up the Nikon D850 and ES-2 Digitizer. This innovative system works in an incredibly intuitive way – by attaching a film strip to your lens, allowing you to use the digital sensor of the camera as a scanner. The idea is brilliant, and I initially thought that it could be made for several different cameras, but Nikon has restricted the system to just the Nikon D850 and a Micro lens through the camera’s built-in software. But the setup process is simple, you attach the Micro lens (I went with the Nikon 60mm Micro lens) to the camera body, and the film scanner system screws onto the end of the lens much like a UV filter would. From there, you just load your film strip into the system, and set the camera to film scanning mode in the live view settings. From there, you simply point the camera to an even light source (I chose a video light with a 3×4 softbox attached), and take your photos with the camera.
The entire process of the Nikon D850 and ES-2 Digitizer took all of 5-10 minutes to set up, and because we were using a digital sensor, the process of “scanning” the film took all of a few seconds per film strip.
Comparing the Scans
Using both the Nikon Digitizer and the Epson V850 on the same film, I figured it was worth comparing the two scans to see which one performed better. Below are a couple of comparisons of both color and black-and-white film, and I’ll share my thoughts after the break of images. Special thanks to my friend Nette for supplying the 35mm film to scan – be sure to check out her excellent travel guides here.
Of the two scans, I had the Epson V850 set to its highest resolution and assured that the scan bed was clean and free of debris (though despite that, there is quite a bit of dust and debris in the photos). For the Nikon, I shot everything in JPG (the default when shooting in scan mode) at its highest resolution to make for a fair comparison. Of the two, I thought both of them did a fair job at scanning the 35mm film into digital – though the Epson V850 was better, especially when handling color film. Of the two, I found that the Nikon often lacked dynamic range and contrast in the images, giving them a more flat appearance. While neither of them could really compete with professional grade scans, both of them offered scans that would be more than what the average person would need for social media or sharing online.
To sum it up, I found both scanners pretty good at doing what they are designed to do, but still falling short (as suspected) by some of the uber-expensive scanning systems developed by Hasselblad or PhaseOne. Of the two, I found the Epson V850 to offer significantly better results. Either way, both are great options for digitizing your work – particularly if you have a large batch of film sitting idle in a box somewhere. But what do you think? Are you a film photographer and have your solution for scanning film? Chime in in the comments below.
And again, thank you to my dear friend Jeanette for loaning me some of her 35mm film to scan into these systems. Be sure to check out some of her work and incredible travel guides by clicking here.
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