What Nikon lens for scanning 35mm, 120mm and glass plates negatives?


I’ve been using NLP for while now, scanning 120 negatives with my epson 600.

I’d like to go for DSLR scan, because i’m planning to take more 35mm photos and because I want to scan a large collection of glass negatives. Collection has different sizes, i guess the biggest are 16,5 cm x 12 format.

Any recommandations for a Nikon lens for D850 that can do 35, 120 and glass negatives?

Is it better to have a short focal distance (60 instead of 105?) Or does focal length not effect quality? Is the only difference that you need to make a setup with a larger distance between camera and negative?

Thank you all!

There are a few websites that publish measured lens data like dxomark.com or photozone.
Other sites list personal experiences and/or opinions.

If you plan to buy a macro lens, make sure that it has the ability to reproduce the scale you need, e.g. 1:1. Many “Macro” lenses only go to 1:2 which means that you’ll also need an extension ring. Longer focal lengths give you more space to work and require more distance for the reproduction of the glass plates. This means that, depending on what kind of setup you use, you might prefer longer or shorter lenses. Lenses can also have a different focal length at short distances. Check out the specified min. focusing distance.

My personal advice is to get a lens with a tripod collar, specially if the lens is heavy. This can be an extra cash-out.

The D850 is an awesome camera for this! The Camera Store in Calgary lent me one for 3 weeks to digitize a collection of historical negatives for a show.
I normally use a D800 with a Nikon 60mm f2.8 G micro lens. I love the auto focus as it’s fast and accurate - just as good as manual focus, but faster and easier to use. I’ve had various Nikon 55 f2.8 manual focus macro lenses. Good optics, but only go to 1:2 so I’d avoid it for 35mm as extension tubes are a pain. My backup macro lens is a Sigma 70 f2.8, which is great optically, but clunky in its auto focus, so I manually focus it.
The 60mm focal length is excellent for this range of film sizes. For 35mm film at 1:1, it’s close enough to the film that I find it easier to remove the lens hood but that’s not a big deal. A 105 mm lens would mean the camera is high up on a copy stand for the glass negs. Optically, both are good. Stick to the "sweet spot"aperture of f8 - f11 and adjust the shutter speed for exposure changes.

I’m curious - are the glass negs lantern slides?

I use the Nikon macro 105 / 2.8, it gives great results but you do need space, it’s about 8” (200 mm) from film to end of lens for 135 and about 12” (300mm) for 120, add to this the length of the lens and camera - probably another foot or 300 mm), so you need a high copy stand or whatever you use. I’ve never done anything larger than 120 so the distance with my 105 lens will be pretty large for what you want to scan. I suppose the maths could be done but I’d guess a couple of feet or more.

Can anyone comment on a comparison between the two
Nikon macros, 60 and 105? I’d be interested, thanks.

Imaging Resources has reviews of the various macro lenses. Both the Nikon 60 and 105 are excellent, especially in the G series. https://www.imaging-resource.com/lenses/nikon/reviews/#primeLenses
Several years ago I had an older 105 Nikon macro but it wasn’t as good as my current 60 G series lens. I think the G series have improved substantially in both the 60 and 105. Another benefit of the G series is the fast, quiet and accurate auto focus. No need to manually focus anymore for film digitizing.

Thanks for the info, I have just tried to hire one but only one place hires them at a third of the price of buying new - won’t bother.

Can I ask, what’s the distance between the end of the lens and the film when doing 135 (approx).

Thanks again.

Check the tech. specs of the lens of interest and calculate as shown in the following
example for the AF-S Micro-NIKKOR 60 mm 1:2,8 G ED used on a Nikon FF camera.

Note these values

  • Closest focusing distance (CFD) at 1:1 = 185 mm (between sensor and object)
  • Lengh of the lens (LOL) = 89 mm (from lens mount to front of the lens)
  • Flange distance (FD) of F-Mount = 46.5 mm


  • Distance between lens front and object = CFD - (LOL + FD)
  • Distance between lens front and object = 185 - (89 + 46.5)
  • Distance between lens front and object = 49.5 mm

Please note that spec figures can be rounded, the result might therefore be an approximation.

Theoretically, a 60 mm lens should reproduce 1:1 at a focusing distance of four times the focal length. If we consider this, the lens chosen as an example has an effective focal length of 185/4 = 46 mm.

Looks like Digitizer’s calculations are right. I just measured and came up with almost the same number. From the front of the lens to a 35mm slide was 48 mm.
From the front of the lens to a 5x7 inch negative is 285 mm.
This is with a Nikon D800 and the 60 f2.8G micro lens.

Note that for 35mm slides, there is still a bit of the slide mount in the photo as the inside of the slide mount is about 23 x 35 mm, or slightly smaller than the full frame sensor on the D800. Of course, an APS-C sensor will crop tighter with the same lens, thus eliminating the inside edge of the slide mount if desired.

Very interesting, I was curious due to my set up potentially not allowing a very close distance but 50mm is fine. unfortunately I would have little use for the 60mm lens other than scanning If I bought one so I will stick with the 105 which is great for portraits etc when not scanning. It’s a cracking lens.

Do you think there is a noticeable difference in scan quality between the two? Those of you who have used both.

@Jp1, as far as I read from your post, you already have the 105 lens. If this is so, why bother about other lenses?

If you feel that your lenses could do better, you can find measured data such as MTF diagrams, which might better reveal the potential of the lens. Other than that, all lenses behave pretty much the same: turn to focus, snap. If I’d have to choose between two equally good lenses, I’d select the one that comes with a tripod mount. It helps to get a little bit of more distance in the situation you describe (50mm min. distance) and produces a stable connection for the lens.

Hi everybody!

Thank you so much everyone for all the information. I’ve learned a lot. For my purpose a 60mm seems to be the best option.

@troodon the pictures are from the archives of a criminal investigation departments. A treasure for an Historian-photographer :blush:

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What year are those glass negs from? Sounds fascinating.

From the earlie twenties until the sixties. They kept glass plating quite long :blush:

Glass plates until the sixties? I had no idea, and have to ask why. In any case, I’m sure there’s some fascinating material in there.

Because they were old fashioned I guess :slightly_smiling_face:

Later this year I might share some stories about it.