I would like to give some background prior to asking my question. I’m new to the forum and relatively new to film shooting. Started experimenting with film around Feb 2021 since I admired “film look” for quite some time already and was never able to get close to it with modern digital.
Back then it was simple decision to make, I already had a lot of Nikon gear, so decided to “play safe” and bought Nikon F100 camera and Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 ED scanner (among other stuff). Never considered camera scanning at that point since I was pretty confident that I want to try “proper” film scanning first.
Scanned results were good and they were something that I was looking for when I was considering making “film move”. The only downsides were: quite apparent “grain” and not-so-good details, especially on quasi-fast films like Portra 400 that I shot the most.
To lessen these issues I decided to go with MF around May this year. This was also no-brainer since I’ve always wanted to try TLRs and especially Rollei TLR. I’ve bought Rolleicord Vb and started shooting with it. The downside of that move was that I haven’t had enough funds at the time for coolscan 8000 so basically was shooting without ability to scan my shots properly at home. I have access to coolscan 8000 that one friend of mine possess, but it’s really inconvinient way. I also have Epson V750 pro that I tried to use for at least checking my shots, but results from it were so worse than those from coolscan color- and DR-wise, so I dropped using it even for checking. It was not worth the time.
Now it seems that closer to spring 2023 I would be able to afford coolscan 8000 that would cost me around EUR 1500 for scanner itself and another EUR 500 for 3-rd party scanning frames, because originals are quite bad at keeping MF film flat.
Since I have some time before pulling the trigger on coolscan, I’ve started exploring alternatives.
For those two years I’m shooting film, I’ve got a number of shots that I’m very pleased with but also some that I’m not so satisfied with and part of that unsatisfaction goes from limitations of Nikon Scan software: it clips highlights, it has quite strong contrast curve without any user influence on it, it has pre-defined orange mask and films that deviate from that value, come out of Nikon Scan with color cast that should be corrected in post, it uses sRGB as a working color space and that clips red colors when doing inversion. But when “all stars align”, than it can produce really good scans without or with minimal tweaking. It usually very good with Portra on portraits and with Ektar on landscapes. And since those are two film stocks I shoot the most, I still use this software. Tried ViewScan as Nikon Scan replacement but was not satisfied with it’s negative inversion results, despite it having most of the Nikon Scan issues resolved. Never considered SilverFast because of their odd licensing policy and pricing.
To overcome Nikon Scan shortcomings I went for positive scans and manual inversion. That had limited success with some shots, but amount of fiddling with the scans and number of correction layers in PS were too high to carry this on. Than I tried several inversion plugins and settled on NLP as one of the most popular, in active development and non-destructive workflow solution. That move helped with a lot more shots than manual inversion, but some shots I was still unsatisfied with. Mostly it’s Ektar on portraits. I know that it’s not this film’s primary use case, but results from it are so good that it’s hard to resist to attempts to master it, even for portraits. And I saw really stunning examples of portraits shot on MF and Ektar.
I started thinking then: maybe, since NLP originally was designed for camera scans, I could get better results when I’ll do camera scan instead of film scanner scan. I researched NLP, Photrio and some other forums for the past weeks and was overwhelmed by the amount of issues one need to solve and/or investigate to even approach the quality of result, that one could get from a coolscan, not to mention rival it. I get the idea of camera scanning for 135 film. If one already have a digital camera, macro lens, tripod, iPad or flash as a light source, one can get working solution quite cheap. Amount of details on most 135 format color film that I saw on my scans are just a tad bit better than shots from my 10MP D200. So basically any relatively modern camera will do. Also there are a lot of old slide duplicators of different flawors, so issues like light source quality and shake are almost non-existent in such setups (when flash is used as light source and film is mounted directly on a macro lens).
But MF is completely different story. In order to not resort to stiching, one needs to have a high MP camera (preferably) or one with pixel-shift (I assume less preferably, because this increases exposure time thus increasing chance for eventual shake-induced blur). Next, I saw no ready-made quality solutions for mounting film directly on macro lens (for MF film). Therefore, one needs to have a sturdy copy stand and those beasts aren’t cheap. Then it’s a light source. I haven’t sold yet to affordable white LED solutions and their marketed CRI values, but also haven’t seen any ready-made solutions for use with flash or halogen bulbs that I’m confident are having very good spectrum distribution. The only area that more or less covered is negative holders. There are plenty of them at various price points, but what I’ve got from researching topics, Negative Supply ones are the best in terms of film flatness and ease of use. But they aren’t perfect either, I saw some complaints and suggestions for improvements for them also.
And then I started calculating the cost of camera scanning setup:
Camera - FujiFilm GFX 50s - around EUR 2000. This model was chosen for better aspect ratio in relation to 6x6 scanning and for separate use as a normal digital camera, kind of a digital back for various old manual lenses. I could use Nikon Z7 as an alternative, but the price is basically the same.
Lens - Pentax 645 120mm f/4 macro (manual version) - around EUR 200
Lens adapter - Various models - around EUR 200
Copy stand - Kaiser RS-1 - around EUR 550
Negative holder - Negative Supply Basic Film Carrier 120 - EUR 220
Light panel - Negative Supply Light Source Basic (99 CRI) - EUR 335 (and that one is really weak, one need to have PRO version costing EUR 1000 to get relatively short shutter speeds)
All of the above totals at EUR 3505. That is around the cost of coolscan 9000 in EU. So I don’t really get the benefit of spending almost twice the price of coolscan 8000 beside increased speed of scanning. And coolscan 8000 speed is something I can easily live with doing other stuff while scanner is busy scanning film. My volume of film is around 20-30 rolls per year and that also contributes to the equation.
And, finally, my question is: Am I missing something? Or the speed is actually the only benefit of far pricier setup? Especially given that in comparisons between camera scanning and coolscan, like one here from Kyle McDougall Film Scanning with a Fujifilm GFX100S (My Coolscan Replacement) I clearly see that I (among some other commenters) like coolscan’s versions more despite the author’s comments of them being almost equal. And that’s on video!
My Flickr page in case anyone interested in my results from current setup is this one: Yarilo
P.S. I’m not into DIY things, I prefer to spend money on quality tools rather than spend my own time or sacrifice comfort or quality. That could explain price points in my list.
P.P.S. I’m aware of coolscan’s limitations in regard of serviceability and it’s issues with FW chips in 4000 and 8000 and banding in 8000. I’m ok with slow speed due to use of just single CCD line and intend to get a unit with FW chips replaced and whole unit serviced from Frank Phillips in US.
P.P.P.S I may accept that camera scanning, when done right and with a lot of resources spent (as financial as well as own time ones, on researches and skills improvements) could yeild a better results than ones from coolscans 8000 and 9000. I still would like to begin that path in the future just out of curiosity. But I just don’t want to start this path right now given it’s complexity and price tag involved (if I’m not missing something obwious).
Thanks in advance for any inputs!