I need advice with finding a good way to focus

Hello everyone!

I’m experimenting with a Nikon D5000 and a 1:1 macro lens to digitize my negatives. I’ve been using a V600 for a while, but I notice that this really makes a world of difference. In the future, I plan to upgrade my DSLR, but it does the deed adequately for now.

The only thing I run into is focusing well on the film grain. The D5000’s display isn’t sharp enough to see grain in detail. And with software like Camera Control Pro 2, I get a low resolution preview. It works ‘‘okay’’, but it is very flawed to focus with that quality.

Also have an example scan here. But this is an example of what the focus is right now.

I’m curious about the opinions on this problem with focussing! :slight_smile:

Anton Bos

I wonder if you are just using the focus ring on your macro lens to adjust the focus? If you can it is easier to see the focus snap in if you set your lens up for the correct magnification/framing but then are able to move the camera and lens together, on a macro rail for example, or by adjusting the height on a copy stand. Also, you need to check that your lens doesn’t suffer from focus shift but if it doesn’t then adjust the focus with the lens wide open and stop down to your chosen aperture before taking your picture. Apologies if you’re doing all that already.

This is no help to you right now but using a mirrorless camera with focus peaking is, literally, a revelation after using a DSLR for camera ‘scanning’.

Thank you for your response. I don’t have the option with my lens to use auto focus. So I focus with the focus ring, so manually. Everything is reasonably stable, at least that’s what I suspect. Maybe it’s good to buy a good tripod, or something like that. And I also fill the frame as much as possible to create the highest resolution and not have to crop a lot.

Although I am always looking for improvement, I am already quite satisfied with the results. It’s just a bummer that I can see it in low resolution when I photograph the negatives.

Anyway! I’m going to look up information about focus peaking. Thanks for that advice :smiley:

Actually I wasn’t meaning to use auto-focus, I don’t. It’s just that moving the camera and lens together somehow seems to make the eye judge the actual point of focus more easily, especially if the lens is wide open of course but then your setup needs to be solid enough so that you can stop down the aperture without risking changing the position of the camera with respect to your film holder. Of course if you are using a film holder that is actually attached to the lens like the ES-2 or copies thereof then that isn’t possible.

I use a Fuji and they are pretty affordable, they even made Bayer sensor cameras (e.g. A3, A5) that are just as good, some might say better, for camera scanning. Alternatively the Sony A6xxx series of APS-C cameras are well suited. Nikon mirrorless are pretty pricy unfortunately, they came late to that party.

I’ve got a film holder so thats fine. I am gonna experiment further with it.

Buying a new DSLR is not in my budget right now. I want to achieve the best with what I have at the moment. I am gonna buy a new tripod. But thanks for the suggestions, I’ll keep it in mind for in the future!

I need to correct myself actually, I’ve had more time to think about it.

The effect I was trying to describe does have an explanation, it’s just that I’d never thought about it, just noticed it. I think it goes like this.

Say you have the camera and lens suspended above your (separate) film holder on a copy stand, at least for the purpose of this explanation and you have adjusted everything so you are happy with the framing. If when you go to precisely focus the lens so that it moves ver so slightly away from the sensor then you are increasing the magnification slightly but at the same time you are moving the lens closer to the film so in terms of focus they tend to cancel each other out to a degree. Similarly if you focus the lens so it winds back towards the sensor slightly (and I mean very slightly) then you are decreasing the magnification and at the same time moving the lens away from the film, again there is this compensating effect which means that the focus does not snap in as it would if you leave the lens alone and move the camera and lens together either away or closer to the film in its holder. There is only a slight difference but there is a difference.

Also, I was wrong about the ‘ES-2’ example. This is different because the film is then held at a fixed distance from the lens so it will snap in and out of focus if you adjust the focus on the lens.

I imagine that none of this applies for modern internal focusing macro lenses but I can’t speak for them as I’ve never used one, I either use a 55mm Micro-Nikkor or an enlarging lens on a bellows.

Agree 100% that it’s easier to focus by keeping the magnification constant (i.e. not moving the focus ring) and either moving camera+lens in relation to the film or vice versa. This works both for traditional macro lenses and more recent ones with “floating” elements or internal focusing.

This also helps to control with breathing, when the effective focal length changes as we focus to different distances.

You would have a much easier time focusing if you could tether the camera to a computer with a high resolution display, magnify the image of the negative on the computer display and view it through a decent quality reading-type magnifying glass. This way you would see the image detail and the film dye-clouds (so-called “grain”) very clearly as you focus. Normally, the magnification is determined mainly by the lens to sensor distance and the focus mainly by the lens to media distance. Adjust both till you are in focus at 1:1 magnification if that is what your macro lens is specified for.