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An alternative to film scanners

by SuperUser Account 01 Oct 2019

I discovered this book last year: a long lost collection of photographs from the 1960s and 70s, shot on Kodachrome 64, which documented the old East End of London landscape before its redevelopment. The quality of reproduction, in particular the subtle colour rendering, was outstanding, and I was interested to read the technical notes which stated that the 35mm slides had been photographed using a high quality digital camera, rather than scanned, as Kodachrome is a difficult film to scan to retain full colour fidelity. In passing, if you have an interest in London history, much of publisher Hoxton Mini Press's catalogue can be recommended.

So with the increase of camera megapixels and the current paucity of scanner choice it was good to see a bit of lateral thinking from Kaiser, who have repurposed an enlarger film carrier to form a rigid and adaptable holder for mounted slides or film strips. The 2457 FilmCopy Vario sits on a suitable light panel (it's supplied with a mat surround to prevent light spill) and a camera is then set above it. You don't need an expensive copy stand - a tripod works equally well. The lens will of course need to be able to focus to allow a 35mm negative to fill the image area. Alternative carriers are available to adapt it to 120 formats and also 24x66 Xpan landscape format, and it's also available as a kit with a high quality matching light panel.

Our not-very-scientific test used a Fujifilm XT-20 24MP camera mounted on a tripod (on the office floor as you can see). We tried the Fuji zoom, but whilst this could just about focus on the slide, the results were not encouraging. Fortunately, my old 55mm/f2.8 Micro-Nikkor was to hand, and mounted on a Novoflex FUX/NIK adapter, significantly improved matters. There are many similar old macro lenses available on eBay, usually for not much money (even the Nikon only fetches about £90).

The Kodachrome 64 slides were randomly selected from a 1982 vintage collection taken in Hong Kong, and at Lo Wu on the border of Hong Kong and the PRC. A quick look on Google Earth shows how much this area has changed in 37 years!

The camera white balance was set to auto, ISO1600 and aperture priority,and it was easy to shoot the sequence in a few minutes. Once set up, one picture every 30 seconds would be easy to achieve.

We then scanned the same slides using a Nikon Coolscan V ED (LS-50), sadly, and prematurely, discontinued by Nikon, along with the LS-5000 ED and LS-9000ED. As a result, all of these excellent scanners fetch high prices on eBay in good condition.

The LS-50 has 4000dpi resolution and produces 15MB jpegs, whereas the APS-C sensor XT-20 produced 12MB files - still 6000px along the long edge, big enough for a near A4 size print. The scanner takes about 3 minutes to pre-scan and scan each slide, and despite being on the Kodachrome setting, required quite a lot of yellow to be dialled in to offset the blue cast produced on the default setting.

A side-by-side comparison of four pictures appears below. No sharpening or levels adjustment has been made. There are links to 3000px resized versions below the pictures.

Fuji XT-20 file  Nikon LS-50 file

Fuji XT-20 file  Nikon LS-50 file

Fuji XT-20 file  Nikon LS-50 file

Fuji XT-20 file  Nikon LS-50 file

I think you'll agree that the Fuji results are pretty impressive. There's maybe a little more detail, especially in the highlights, from the Nikon scans, but you'd have to do quite a bit of work to get the contrast and vibrancy of the Fuji versions.

No doubt, with a full frame camera with even higher pixel count, and careful set-up, the results would be even better!