Recommend camera/lens combination for scanning 4x5 and 6x7 negs


I’m trying to figure out the best possible combination of camera and lens for scanning my 4x5/6x7 negs with the caveat being my budget, which is up to 1000(1200 max) euros. I thought I had it narrowed down to Sony A7 mk 1 , but I just read about the shutter shock so I guess it is a no-go. Resolution is important as I have plans to print big and i don’t mind doing multiple shots and stitching. That being said I guess I will need extension tubes?

Bonus one:) Do you have some recommendations on how to make/buy a negative stand that could be easily moved for the purpose of making multiple shots of the different parts of the same negative?


Will you be happy with the resolution given by the ‘long side’ of the sensor matching the ‘short side’ of the film? If so then 3 overlapping frames should be OK for both 5"x4" and 6x7 cms. If you want to stitch in 2 dimensions to get more resolution then things start getting a lot more tricky (and time-consuming).

A low-tech method for stitching in this way is to have your negative carrier on the light box in the normal way but fixed so that in cannot move its position (cardboard frame, blue-tack - I said it was low tech). Have the light-box and negative carrier on a smooth base board then slide the whole light box across your base board against a straight edge fixed accurately at the correct angle to align with your stitching direction. This works best with a proper copy stand though, in my case a Durst M605 enlarger with the camera copy accessory that actually has a smooth melamine surface to the baseboard. You can mark up the straight edge to show the positions for movement for each of the formats. It’s actually pretty quick to do that way and works very well.

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With your budget as low as yours, I’d have a look at ebay or APS-C and micro 4/3 cameras and laowa lenses. You don’t need monster resolution, but you might want to make sure to get a lens with the lowest possible distortion for easier stitching. Macro lenses tend to have minimal distortions at 1:1, but not necessarily at other imaging ratios. I’ve scanned many 4.5 x 6 negatives with a canon EOS M6 and even though it is a comparatively old camera and without stitching, it produces captures that deliver what I want.

Stitching is really only necessary if you want to print mural size, books and 8x10 in pictures can do without imo. There’s more to a picture than looking at it close up to see pixels or noise :wink:

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Certainly no point using stitching to capture resolution that you’re not going to use. As a guide a 24MP camera has a sensor size of 6000 x 4000 pixels so assuming you fill the whole frame with your 6x7 cms (67mm x 56mm) - you won’t, quite, but as a guide.

Unstitched - 4800 x 4000 pixels / print size @ 300 dpi = 16" x 13.3"

Stitched (3 overlapping frames) - 7200 x 6000 pixels / print size @ 300 dpi = 24" x 20"

Stitching is quite a lot more trouble and to a certain extent negates the simplicity of camera ‘scanning’. Neither method will capture all the detail from a good sharp well-exposed 6x7 cms or 5"x4" negative/transparency but will that matter for your needs?

As far as cameras go I think a flip screen on mirrorless (so with focus peaking) makes life easier.

I see that I put in figures for 6x7 cms (normally 67mm x 56mm so 1:1.2) rather than 5" x 4" (normally 121 x 96mm so 1:1.26).

Sticking with the above figures for both 6x7cms and 5"x4" you could also represent them in terms of the equivalent resolution on a film scanner, an Epson flatbed perhaps. In this 24 MP sensor example you get:

6 x 7 cms single shot (4000 px short side) - 1814 dpi
6 x 7 cms - stitched - (6000 px short side) - 2721 dpi

5"x 4" single shot (4000 px short side) - 1058 dpi
5" x 4" stitched) (6000 px short side) - 1587 dpi

Can you please elaborate more on possible issues with stitching in two dimensions? Until now I was hoping it was in the “easy” realm of “Photoshop-will-handle-it”. I think I could squeeze in some $ to buy sony A7r II.

I’m not advocating it! Too much trouble, I don’t do it myself. However if you really wanted to capture all the detail from 5" x 4" or 6x7 cms with camera scanning you might want to go closer and capture smaller areas at a time so then you’d need to shift both horizontally and vertically and combine, say, 6 frames.

A 42MP Sony A7 RII will theoretically enable you to print larger but to an extent that will depend upon the quality of the originals and the quality of the lens. Might be a better option for the one shot route though depending upon the size of the prints you want to produce. Not sure you’re budgeting for a copy stand either as it stands.

For single shot copies, there is a unavoidable loss because of the different aspect ratios of the film and the camera sensor.

With pixel perfect alignment:

  • Copy 6:7 onto a 2:3 sensor → lose 4/18 of the sensor pixels (22%)
  • Copy 4:5 onto a 2:3 sensor → lose 3/18 of the sensor pixels (17%)
  • Copy 6:7 onto a 3:4 sensor → lose 2/16 of the sensor pixels (13%)
  • Copy 4:5 onto a 3:4 sensor → lose 1/16 of the sensor pixels (7%)

In reality, a margin is needed for slight misalignments.

Are the negative sizes you mention cms or inches? How large do you want to be able to print and at what resolution in pixels per inch printed output? Without knowing these details it’s not possible to give you fully reliable advice. Also, please remember that when you stitch multiple photographs of the same negative, you need to allow some overlap wherever the successive images need to be joined, otherwise the stitching program will be unable to stitch them properly or at all, so any calculations you make about the number of photographs per negative and the final stitched image dimensions you end-up with need to take this into account.

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Its around 6x7cm and 10x12.5cm (4x5 inches). I want a longer side to be 1m in length printed at 300 (or in the worst case min 240) dpi.

Well I’m sure you’ve done the maths anyway but just for reference that means on paper you’re looking for 12000 x 9600 pixels @ 300 dpi, 9600 x 7680 pixels @ 240 dpi. That’s taking both formats to be 1:1.25 aspect ratio for simplicity.

That certainly means stitching then, and quite a lot of it. Have you got a lot to do? I’m thinking a scanner might be more appropriate.

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OK, now we have something to work with. If you want a print with long edge 39 inches (1 meter) at 300 ppi (not dpi - we are dealing in pixels, not dots - common mistake perpetuated by the scanning industry) you need 39 inches x 300 pixels in the long dimension = 11,700 pixels. If you use for example a full-frame 35mm camera whose long edge would be 6000 pixels, a single shot will not give you the number of pixels you need for printing without resampling. So you will need to stitch to give yourself the requisite number of pixels on the long dimension. You can do a similar calculation for the short dimension, in which case the sensor short dimension is 4000 pixels. By calculating for both dimensions you can work out the optimal layout and number of shots for stitching, making sure to provide for overlap so the stitching will work. Even if you used a 60 MP camera such as a Sony a7r4 which has a long dimension of 9504 pixels, you would still need to stitch for obtaining the roughly 12,000 pixels to populate the print size you have in mind. When selecting a digitizing system, the camera is less important than the lens. For optimal results you should equip the camera with a flat-field copy lens that is optimally corrected for digital imaging. With a budget constraint I would recommend prioritizing the money on the lens and then select a camera that can be used with it.

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I wanted it at first but the guy with the only flextight in my country passed away and with him the opportunity for high-quality scanning. Now my option is to travel to another country which is not something I want to be doing often just to scan my negs (I m a bit wary of sending them via post-like services). I tried scanning 6x7 with epson V700 and was very disappointed with results.

Do you have a lens in mind? I guess no 1-1 macro lens will enable me, on its own, to get close enough for stitching distance, so some extension tubes will be necessary?

Well I was edging towards suggesting the Epson V7xx/8xx range with the wet-mounting accessory so that is disappointing indeed. Mark D Segal has an excellent exhaustive review of the Epson V850 on DPReview so he is very well placed to advise there.

The problem/challenge here is that you are jumping in at the deep end of camera scanning with your requirement for 1m wide prints. From the example I gave above at 300dpi that equates to 4354 ppi, at 240 dpi around 3500 ppi from the 6x7 cms format (I was using dpi as it was simpler to stick to the units scanner manufacturers use). The latter is certainly at the outer edge of what the Epson has been shown to achieve, but then I think the Imacon is ‘only’ 3200 ppi for medium format. My old Precision II is anyway.

If you go for the 42 MP A7RII then that gives you 7952 pixels on the long side so that will give you the 240 dpi printing resolution with 3 overlapping frames. Which lens though? Yes, a flat field macro lens, or possibly an enlarger lens, on a bellows or extension tubes (normally the former). The lens that Mr. Segal uses will swallow the budget in one go though, even if you could find one. How about, just to get going, a 55mm Micro-Nikkor via an adapter. As I said, you’ll really need a solid copy stand in my opinion.

Incidentally, stitching from 6x7 (long side of sensor to short side of film) will not mean 1:1, you’ll be capturing a frame of around 60mm x 40mm. You might actually get away with just 2 frames.

Time2: Forget about Flextight scanners. Very good in their day, but their day is over with. The products are discontinued and being mechanical devices they are prone to failure and need spare parts to repair. Parts and service are very expensive. And it’s time-consuming to use. It’s high resolution can be replicated with camera and lens for less money and less aggravation. I would not go out of my way to buy one of those scanners.

On the subject of lenses, firstly, I would like to recommend staying away from Schneider products unless you know that the specific piece you buy is in excellent condition and there is little to go wrong with it. This is because their customer service is atrocious. One of the most irresponsible companies I’ve ever tried to do business with.

That said, a good set-up would be a copy stand with a bellows to which you can attach the camera at one end and the lens at the other. If you can find a good enlarger lens it may give you the kind of results you are looking for without breaking the bank. The key thing is that its image circle should exceed the diameter of your camera sensor, and the focal length should allow you to use it on the copy stand comfortably at a short enough distance to do the multi-exposures and far enough distance is you want to include the whole negative in one photo. People use a range of solutions from 50mm to 120mm macro lenses. I am using an 80mm and it covers all my needs from 35mm to 82x107mm negatives (yes, an odd -ball size from the 1940s!).

On the subject of PPI, when the final output will be a print from a quality inkjet printer, it’s worthwhile paying attention to the input resolution to the printer when deciding on the scan resolution. For Epson professional printers (e.g. 3800/3880/5000/900/800/700/600) the input resolution to the printer driver is 360PPI. For equivalent Canon printers it is 300PPI. So, whatever resolution you dial in to your captures, to prepare the file for printing either you move the resolution to 360 (for Epson) in your imaging application (Lightroom or Photoshop, whatever) or the printer driver will do it under the hood for you. The best image quality is assured without resampling - which means capturing enough pixels to maintain this resolution throughout the processing chain, but capturing within a range of say 240-360 you’ll find quality will be fine.