Any Side By Side Comparisons of Camera Scans vs Imacon, Plustek, etc?

TL;DR In my limited experience there’s not much to choose between them, and the quality of the light source may be what matters most.

Possibly I’m in a minority here as I just use the equipment I have rather than buying expensive gear in search of the best results.

My basic setup is Nikon D700 (12, count’em, 12 Mpx), 60/2.8 AF Micro Nikkor from the 1980s or 1990s, a 1960s Minolta slide/film strip holder, and a Mecablitz 45 for illumination.

A kind friend also lent me her late husband’s Flextight 343. I’ve used this mainly for 6x6 trannies and negs, but also for some 35mm colour negs that I’d previously “scanned” with the D700.

Overall, there’s not much to choose between them. The 343’s fff gives about 3000 pixels across the height of the frame vs the Nikon’s raw 2832, and of course they’re full 3 colour pixels rather than Bayer-synthesised. On first conversion, the Imacon images seem a little softer and subtler, and the D700 ones a little crisper. But I can get equally pleasing results from each.

I suspect the most important difference may be in the light sources. I had to replace the fluorescent tube in the Imacon and couldn’t obtain one to the original spec. The Mecablitz flash tube is also a non-ideal light source, but differently so. The consequence seems to be that a Nikon scan may be extremely difficult to get a good colour balance while the Imacon scan of the same image is less trouble—or the other way around.

The implication I draw from this is that a modern DSLR and an optimised light source would beat the FT343 on quality and overwhelm it for speed and convenience.

I also have a few negs that I scanned about 20 years ago with a Coolscan LS-2000 and recently re-did with the D700. Where the negs were still in good condition, I prefer the D700 results.

Just intrigued about that statement, is it that the Metz 45 is too large to easily accomodate in a setup, or too powerful, flash is potentially a good light source I would think. My difficulty with flash is that of course you need a focusing light as well and the problem of bracketing the exposure by adjusting the light output since there isn’t much tolerance with changing the aperture away from the optimum.

Hi Harry,
You’re right, spectrally a xenon tube is pretty good. But it’s fiddly to set up the big hammerhead 45 to give perfectly even light across the frame and the right intensity for the optimum aperture and leave room for focusing lamps.

Also, I’ve come to feel that the optimum light source for DSLR scanning is the one mentioned or described here recently: an integrating sphere lit by controllable R, G and B leds so the adjustment for old colour images can begin with the light source.

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Is something like this commercially available?

[quote]Is something like this commercially available?

I guess so, as an item of scientific equipment. But it was this post from Damien that put the idea into my head, and I think he made his own sphere:

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This looks like a useful reference:

I think that this is how Noritsu & Frontier scanners work as well, and then for the highest of high end there’s this:

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Thanks for the explanation, I can understand the science that woud mean that the integrating sphere with separate RGB LEDs could produce the best results, particularly for colour negative, but the ones I’ve seen mentioned do all seem to be ‘work in progress’. I certainly don’t have the knowledge to make one anyway. DT Heritage use LED panels, very good ones I’m sure but LED panels just the same.

Thanks. Looks like it’s not going to be practical to go down that road.

The Imacon film grain you refer to can just be aresult of the Flexcolor software settings. To have no grain, you have to set the sharpness to (-2) not to (0).

The X5 is the newer version of the 848 and it has a different light source which, which I believe is softer and therefore minimizes abrasions on the film. The 848, I believe is a more focused light and therefore sharper. I am not sure about the comparison for light sources. I use the 848 with liquid scanning fluid from Scan Science, which is no longer available. The maker of that fluid who was an expert in scanners, told me that the 848 would give me the sharpest scans due to the change in light source.

I’m puzzled by what you say here, how did you use scanning fluid in conjunction with an Imacon? Also with Flextight software the ‘Unsharp masking’ needs to be set to -120 for no sharpening, the default figure of 0 gives what Imacon consider to be an acceptable level, but others disagree of course and in any case it will depend upon the original.

Sorry it took me so long to reply. Yes you are correct it is -120 and we have found that we have more control over sharpening if we use that , then the Imacon “0” setting. Using the “0” setting is actually sharpening the image twice, which is not as good as just doing it once.
The wet scan process for Imacon was developed with a now defunct company Scanscience. I think their url was - now it says under construction so maybe they are coming back in some way. They invented a new kind of scanning fluid which was alcohol based not oil based as scanning fluids are (all as far as I know). So they evaproated and you did not have to clean it off the film and film holders. I used my imacon 848 to test their scanning fluid and figure out what thickness Plastic overlay worked best for me. It was .003 - they cut the overlays and sold them to fit the imacon holder - i used 35 mm x 6 frame size. I don’t know how to reach them now as the closed down the business. But the scans I got were sharper than drum scans with less grain. The owner told me this would be the case and it was true. (I did do multiple tests with drum scans as maybe they could have been made sharper with software while scanning, but the one i used for my test was done by a top lab to my specificatioins.

Thanks, I’m glad I asked the question, a fascinating reply. I wonder if they are about to rise again though there’s a much smaller user base now I imagine. Perhaps they are thinking of supplying the ‘camera scanning’ market.

I don’t know if wet mounting will have any advantage to a camera scan?
By wet mounting , I mean putting the film between the acetate strips with fluid.

Imagine putting the wetted film onto the backlight’s diffusor.
Adhesion should hold the negative fairly flat without even putting something on top.

Potentially it would I think, they’d have to be important negatives or transparencies, people do it. It would be on glass though, I haven’t tried it yet but Gamsol is supposed to be a good fluid to use between the glass and the cover sheet. They do sell wet mounting kits for Epson scanners, or at least they did, and Betterscanning made fluid mount holders, though in fact they do seem to have a website still though it’s dated 2021.

you have to be careful about bubbles in the fluid. When I use it with the Imacon, I sandwich the film between two plastic film holders (just strips of the acetate, which I have cut to abut 2.5 inches wide. Then I have to squeegee it to get the bubbles out. So I don’t think it would work without this process.

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