Nikon Coolscan 8000 vs camera "scanning" for 6x6 MF and NLP: am I missing something?

Hi all!

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!

Hi Yarilo, I cant reply to every point you made, but I know a little about coolscanning and using a gfx as scan camera. At first: the grainyness is typical fot the coolscan series. There is a tool to reduce it onboard, i tried it, but it additionally reduces scan"speed". So I rarely uses it. The best way is to scan as a positive, as you descibed (nikon scan). I never had clipped highlights by doing this (coolscan 9000). You can also change the gamma in the preferences to a softer version. And there is a tool that lets you eliminate the orange mask in the scan process. “Analogverstärkung” in German, unfortunately I dont know the english term for it. Because the scan process is to slow I scan most of my films with Gfx50s, Tamron 105mm Macro (Canon EF Mount) and medium format masks from NegativeSupply. (In the beginning I used a Sony A7rIII.) Only when I need additional resolution I use the coolscan.To be honest, I think that the differences regarding colors and how the final scan looks like between all these different ways to digitlize film are overemphasized. In my mind the truth lies in what you like and how much time you want to invest. There is no wright or wrong. The biggest differences in color and “quality” of the final image I noticed I produced by using NLP differently and different version of it. Here is the biggest source for improvements and changes, more than in scanning diferently. Hope that helps a bit. Kind regards, Oliver
okay as an addition here is described how in Nikon Scan the scanning can be edited, how, the gamma can be changed and what settings lead to neutral mask: Perfect Slide & Negative Scans | Nikon Coolscan, Nikon Scan | Scanning | ColorPerfect

Hey there – Welcome to the forum!

I do 100% agree that (camera) scanning is a hard art to master and will require some serious investment (both budget and time) if your need is to work with medium format film primarily. 35mm is a very different story, though to get to really good results, will still require some serious dedication.

The results of Coolscans are just awesome. This device is build for a single purpose and it does it brilliantly. You will definitely yield better results with a Coolscan vs. camera scanning, as long as you’re not willing to dig the subject of light and tackle that yourself. If you’re willing to work with white light, HighCRI is the way to go, though the real magic in scanning is given with RGB lights only (and this requires the right LEDs, with correct wavelengths, etc). RGB scanning is the closest to the RA-4 process you can get. The coolscan does exactly that, as all other professional scanners (e.g. Fuji Frontier) do.

From Kyle’s video you linked, this is exactly the difference you can see in the pictures. Most prominently greens and reds are rendered differently using RGB vs white light. Mainly due to the fact that full spectrum white LEDs have an abundance of yellow. Greens turn into yellow-ish tinted green and reds tend to render more brown-ish.

If you’re interested, check Kyle’s video at 13:09 and compare the reds and greens. You’ll also find that the slight yellow tint of the garage doors disappears in the camera scan. I assume this is due to the mathematical appraoch of NLP to compensate for yellow light in white LEDs (but that’s only a guess as I don’t know the inner workings of NLP).

After all, the Coolscans are a very solid choice and given the prices of the 8000 model, also more budget friendly than camera scanning (for medium format), if you expect same quality levels.

To make things short: If you don’t need a digital camera for your photography and medium format is your thing for film, go with the Coolscan + VueScan software.

Nerd-self addition:
If I wouldn’t be the nerd I am, I would happily take a coolscan over camera scanning any day of the week. I love tech, I love to tinker around with things and I’m now working on an RGB light source, which will allow camera scanning to really match Coolscans and Fuji Frontier results, allowing for full colour separation and which can handle colour negs as well as b&w and slides. Not sure when this will materialise or if it ever will… That’s to be seen (and also part of the fun).

Hi, cvandebroek, thanks for such detailed answer!

You’ve added reassurance to my findings. Part about White vs RGB LED is especially valuable, since this is not a well-covered topic.

I’m kind of semi-nerd myself. I like to tinker with different tools, both hardware and software, but as an end-user. It would be no fun for me to design such things from scratch, even if (as with RGB LED sources) there aren’t many commercially available products of such kind and I’m in a need of one.

It seems that right move for me is to go with coolscan for now and watch the market for bringing RGB light sources to life.

As for Fuji GFX 50s as a general-use digital camera, unsatisfaction with commercially available color profiles for modern digital cameras is the main thing that turned me towards shooting film. It seems that I’m in the minority, but I used to “aestheticaly pleasing” profiles of old Nikon CCD cameras and sterile profiles of modern digital just not my cup of tea. I get the idea of endless possibilities in editing, that modern digital provides, but prefer Kodak’s way: “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest”. It’s now not as simple as it was in golden days of film, but nevertheless I find “film way” much more simpler (comparing to modern digital) for me to get the colors I like.

I’m in the process of learning “profile making” craft, so maybe one day I’ll be able to get from modern digital the same colors I easily get from my good old Nikon D200, but until that day comes, there is no need for GFX in my “general photography” use cases.

Thanks again for your inputs, highly appreciated! And good luck with your RGB light project!

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You may definitely be interested in this device: NIKON Coolscan LS8000 LS9000 universal film holder (#7) - YouTube

Maybe it’s the custom mask you mentioned before. If not, you can reach the creator of these masks by email: – Super friendly guy with great advice and also connections to people selling both the 8000 and 9000 scanners.

I’m very much with you when it comes to the frustration of digital photography. Even though film requires attention to detail and even here a level of manipulation is required, I much more prefer the base it provides as a starting point than the “tabula rasa” approach of digital, where every image can be whatever you want it to be. Paradox of choice, likely :slight_smile:

Good lights are sparce and if good, frustratingly expensive. That’s my driving factor to get an RGB light done. Also… Fuji Frontiers and Coolscans won’t last forever.

Thanks for the link to holders video, I think it’s the guy I’m planning to buy holders from, Stephan Scharf

Yes, exactly. These masks are such a great addition to the Nikon Coolscan.
Should have been the factory default.