Scanning without a Scanner: Digitizing Your Film with a DSLR


There is no doubt that digital photography is here to stay, and film has certainly seen better days, in terms of availability and affordability. However, what if you’re a digital photographer who simply wants to shoot a roll of film every once in a while, for fun? Film photography has a distinct look that, even with the latest and greatest 50MP cameras, cannot be duplicated by digital imaging. It’s subjective to say whether one look is better or worse, but there is no denying that there is a unique quality to film. Back in the halcyon days of film photography, you could easily drop your rolls off at the local lab or drugstore, come back an hour or day later, and have nice 4 x 6" prints along with a sleeve of negatives. Nowadays, this simple convenience is becoming harder and harder to acquire, and even if you’re able to find a professional lab to develop your film, you usually won’t want to pay the premium for all of those prints to be made.

This is where being able to scan your negatives makes practical sense. Incorporating a common process that photo labs have been using for years, as well as nearly any kind of printing production process, a scanner acts much like your regular camera; its job is to record an image. The difference is that the scanner is a very specific image-making device, designed only for reproduction. 

Scanning is a common process that most film shooters in the last 20 or so years have come to incorporate into their practice in some manner, whether it is for scanning film or your prints to share online or make digital prints. While a scanner is certainly a sound investment for those who shoot and need to scan large amounts of film, sometimes it is not the most practical investment. If you’re the type of photographer who will only shoot a handful of rolls a year, or if you’re the type of photographer who enjoys using medium and large format films, finding a suitable scanner can become a greater expense.

Luckily for most photographers, a truly sound tool for digitizing your film is something you likely already have: a digital camera. As previously mentioned, a scanner functions much like a regular picture-taking camera, and likewise a camera can be used to perform similar functions as a scanner. Chief among these is the ability to rephotograph or duplicate your film for digital use. And with digital cameras’ resolutions on the rise, along with the wider dynamic range and raw recording capabilities of modern sensors, you now have the ability to produce high-quality digital files of your film for printing and simple online sharing.

The Process and the Tools

The process can be handled in a number of ways, either by photographing your film on top of a light table or lightbox or through the use of a dedicated tool for rephotographing film, such as the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter Set. In either case, the goal is simply to evenly backlight your film and then photograph it as clearly as possible.

In addition to the lightbox, you’ll need a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and then you’ll also need a macro lens. Ideally it will be a true macro lens with a 1:1 or greater maximum magnification, but you can get away with a 1:2 magnification lens with some extra work. Alternatively, you can also use extension tubes, reversing rings, or other accessories to help increase magnification of a lens, but nothing beats the simplicity and accuracy of a true macro lens, especially for this purpose, where you want your results to be as clean and clear as possible, with no distortion or vignetting.

All the basic tools you need to scan without a scanner! Just add a tripod.
All the basic tools you need to scan without a scanner! Just add a tripod.

The final essential item you’ll need specifically for this process is a film holder of some kind—something to keep your film still, in place, and taut. Holders also help with registration and help to expedite the process of photographing multiple frames of film, assuming you can keep the holder in the same place throughout the process. A film holder can take the form of a simple cardboard sheet with a window cut out to fit your film format, or you can find dedicated metal holders, such as those from Negative Supply, for more precise and repeatable results.

Black-and-white 4 x 5" and 6 x 7" negatives photographed with a Nikon D800 and AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8GIF-ED Lens

Now, for the Process

As stated before, the basic premise is to photograph your film against a plain, backlit surface. Ideally, you’ll have a copy stand to hold your camera steady, but a tripod will also work in a pinch.

Load your film into your film holder, whether that be a makeshift cardboard window or a sophisticated purpose-made metal holder; the whole point is to have something that keeps the film taut, registered, and in place.

Blow the dust off your film prior to photographing it. I recommend using a bulb-type air blower for this process as canned or pressurized air might be too powerful in this instance (depending on your film holder). Getting rid of dust prior to shooting will save you lots of time during the editing stages.

You should minimize handling film with your bare hands unless it already has some form of protection, such as a holder. Otherwise grease and oils from your hand can damage the film. Be careful!
You should minimize handling film with your bare hands unless it already has some form of protection, such as a holder. Otherwise grease and oils from your hand can damage the film. Be careful!

Now, with the film dusted, in the holder, and in front of the lightbox, it’s time to get your camera set up. Working in live view (using your camera’s rear screen) is preferred to using a viewfinder, in my opinion. Even better, shooting tethered to a computer monitor will make framing and critical focus much easier.

Compose your shot so the individual frame of film is filling as much of your sensor area as possible, depending on the aspect ratio of your digital camera, the aspect ratio of the film, and how closely you can focus. Getting a tight composition is another one of the helpful steps that saves time during post-production and also helps to eke out the greatest resolution possible. It’s also helpful to set your lens to manual focus for this process so you can prevent any accidental focus shifts during the shooting process.

Check everything is in focus on the back of the camera or a tethered computer.
Make certain everything is in focus on the back of the camera or a tethered computer.

In terms of exposure settings, you’ll want to use the most optimum settings possible: highest resolution setting, best quality, show in raw if possible, and using a middle aperture setting or the “sweet spot” of your lens. Also, when making the exposure, I like to bracket my shots by a stop over and under (just to be safe) and also make sure to use a remote shutter release or the camera’s self-timer function to avoid any unwanted camera shake.

And finally, shoot!

Once you get a couple down, you’ll start to develop a rhythm and this whole process will go by quickly. Just do everything in your power to keep your files and film strips organized and clean; you’ll thank yourself later. And one other tip: This process can be used to make contact sheets of an entire roll of film that has been cut into strips and sleeved, just like you’d do in the darkroom. This is an efficient way to get a better look at numerous shots and narrow down which specific images you want to re-photograph rather than having to perform this routine for every frame in a roll.


Equally as important as the actual photographing of your film, the post-production and editing stages are key to getting realistic and quality results from your efforts. If you’re photographing positive (slide) film, then the editing stages are simply doing some color tweaks and removing dust from the frame. If you’re working with negatives, then things can be a bit more complex, especially if it’s color negative film. Below, I’ll walk through a couple of examples of how I converted both black-and-white and color negatives to positive image files.

When converting the negatives to positives, I chose to work in Adobe Camera Raw with my raw files, prior to doing any fine-tuning in Adobe Photoshop. Here are the basic steps I used to convert the black-and-white negative to a positive grayscale image.

1. Since color casts aren’t going to affect black-and-white imagery as much as color images during post-production, I moved straight to the curves in Camera Raw and inverted the curve.

2. I had a pretty flat image, mainly due to the overcast lighting conditions and the development process I use for my film. Much like when recording video or even shooting stills, a flat image is much easier to work with than an overly contrasty one. Here I just bumped the contrast some and tinkered with the other exposure controls before opening in Photoshop.

3. I still have an RGB image when I start working in Photoshop, so I use the black-and-white conversion tool to bring a bit more contrast out of any remaining color in the file prior to converting the image to a grayscale working space.  

4. I use a curves adjustment layer to fine-tune the contrast and brightness of the image.

Nikon D800
Nikon D800
Imacon Flextight 646
Imacon Flextight 646
Epson Perfection 4870
Epson Perfection 4870

Overall, this is a pretty simple process with nothing too special going on. The tonality is really nice, and the photograph of the negative has contained the highlights and brought out the shadow details well.

Moving on to a color negative, the process is going to be a bit trickier due to the orange mask of the film. Scanners are tuned to deal with this mask already, so the effect of it is pretty moot when using a film or flatbed scanner. When photographing the negative, however, it can be more of a concern.

1. The most effective way I have found to negate the orange mask is was to treat it as a strong color cast, so here I pull the color temperature slider down to 2000K to compensate for the overwhelming orange tone.

2. I then move over to the curves tab and invert the curve to give me some semblance of a positive image.

3. My first attempt to bring a bit of contrast to the image here—notice how much more dramatic the shape of the curve is compared to the black-and-white one.

4. Moving back to the exposure tools, I add a bit more contrast and tinker with the exposure, highlights, shadows, blacks, and whites sliders. Note that since you are now effectively working with a negative image, as in how Camera Raw sees it, the exposure controls are in reverse (i.e., moving the exposure slider to the left makes the image brighter).

5. Finally, I open the image in Photoshop, flip the image horizontally since I shot it backward, use a curves adjustment layer to fine-tune my contrast, and move on to working in the individual color channels to keep working at getting a neutral color balance.

If comparing color balance between three capture methods—photographing the film, scanning on a flatbed, and using a dedicated film scanner—it is noticeable how each process negotiates the orange mask of the color negative film in a different manner and requires a decent amount of fine-tuning to balance the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows across the spectrum. The variance in color casts is mainly present due to the comparative nature of seeing three different versions next to one another, but it should be pointed out that none of the images are unusable or show gross, uncorrectable false colors or irrecoverable details.

Nikon D800
Nikon D800
Imacon Flextight 646
Imacon Flextight 646
Epson Perfection 4870
Epson Perfection 4870

Pros and Cons

Photographing your film is a great way to digitize your filmic images from yesteryear or even from yesterday. It’s a sound process that, with a bit of attention to detail, yields some very usable results. I’d argue it’s not quite as good as using a dedicated film scanner, but it is a process that you can perform without needing to buy specialized machinery.

Nikon D800
Nikon D800
Imacon Flextight 646
Imacon Flextight 646
Epson Perfection 4870
Epson Perfection 4870
Details of the black-and-white scan, showing the differences between the negative photographed with a Nikon D800 (left), scanned with an Imacon film scanner (center), and scanned with a flatbed scanner (right).


· Digitizing your film is accessible. Especially if you already have a macro lens and a tripod, the only new pieces of equipment you’ll need are a lightbox and a film holder. This can save you money and space, especially if you’ll only seldom be digitizing film.

· Gives results that easily rival many low- to mid-range film scanners. Considering how incredible many of the latest digital cameras and lenses are, it’s no surprise that they will yield image quality that surpasses many of the more affordable scanners out there.

· Can accommodate different film formats and types. This is a big one; many film scanners, even high-end ones, only support 35mm strips of film. This means if you have an archive of medium format or large format shots, then you’re out of luck. By photographing film, though, you’re only limited by how large your lightbox is.


· Difficult to get consistent results. One of the biggest benefits of a dedicated film scanner is how easy and efficient it is to get repeatable results.

· Time-consuming. Again, compared to a dedicated scanner, it can be a more drawn-out process to manually photograph your film one frame at a time compared to a film scanner with built-in motors and batch scanning features. If you’re only scanning a few frames, it’s no big deal, but if you’re digitizing hundred or thousands of frames, a scanner will make the process much easier.

· You get out of it what you put into it. Not necessarily a con, per se, but a harsh reality is that you need to be very precise throughout this process to get the best results. You need to ensure the film is kept taut, so sharpness isn’t affected, make sure your exposure is spot on, and manage to get a good digital conversion. When scanning, many of these concerns are automatically taken care of.

Nikon D800
Nikon D800
Imacon Flextight 646
Imacon Flextight 646
Epson Perfection 4870
Epson Perfection 4870
Details of the color scan, showing the differences between the negative photographed with a Nikon D800 (left), scanned with an Imacon film scanner (center), and scanned with a flatbed scanner (right)

Overall, I admit that I’ve been surprised many times by how well the process of “scanning without a scanner” really works. I’m still an avid film photographer and rely on my film scanner as an integral part of my process nowadays, but I’m grateful to know that digital cameras can also be a useful complement to my filmic process. Digitized images have the potential to show tremendous depth and color and can even be pushed further if you were to make multiple exposures of the same frame and stitch and composite them together. It’s exciting that a digital camera can be the new unlikely addition to your bag of film tricks.

Let us know if you have any questions about the process, or share your stories on photographing your film, in the Comments section, below.


Very informative. Thanks. Always learning new things from this series. I guess nobody does slide shows anymore. 

For the best 35mm slide scanning results I use my classic Nikon Coolscan 5000 ED with Lasersoft Silverfast Studio. Even after all these years the results are consistent and high quality. But to respond quickly to a request like "oh you took a picture of me in the 70's in southern France" I use my Nikon D850 with ES-2 adapter and AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED and a Fiilex print viewing LED lamp with diffuser at 5000K.  Being able to "Live View" preview scans of slides and negatives on the D850's monitor is a big advantage. Except for the ES-2 the lens and lamp serve other purposes as well. The high CRI of the V70 and constant 1600 lux at 15 cm allow for consistent results.

How would be the scanning result with a Hasselblad CFV-50C (50MP) digital back? How different will be the result from a Imacon Flextight 646? And what Hasselblad lens or camera you would suggest to use with CFV-50C to scan 6x6 films? (The price of the back today is almost the same as high end scanners like Epson 12000XL)  You can also take advantage of the digital back for photography. 

Unfortunately, we have not done any testing using the Hasselblad CFV-50 Digital Back (50 MP), so I would not be able to comment on the scanning result using this particular back.  That being said, the process indicated above would still be the same if you are using a digital camera or digital camera back for your planned usage needs, so you may follow the above tips while using your Hasselblad CFV-50 Digital Back.  The main benefit would be you are using a larger sensor and larger pixels.  You may use a macro lens such as the Hasselblad 120mm F/4 CF T* Makro Lens with your V-system Hasselblad body and the CFV-50C digital back.

Is the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro with 1:2 magnification ok for scanning negatives?

Ideally you'll want to use a lens with a 1:1 maximum magnification if possible, but in a pinch that lens will be okay for certain applications. Since it's a lens with a 1:2 ratio, you won't be able to fill the entire sensor area with the frame of film you're photographing (assuming you're photographing/"scanning" 35mm film); you'll only be able to fill half of the sensor area and only make use of half the resolution your digital camera has. This might be okay if you're using a camera like the EOS R5 with a 45MP sensor, where you'll still be able to theoretically achieve a 22.5MP image of your film with that lens. If you're just sharing your "scans" online or printing in smaller sizes, this should be fine.

Thank you!

Your answer was very helpful!

Thanks for the article and ideas. I've been doing DSLR scanning for a few months now, mostly using advice from a course on Kelby One. I shoot with a DSLR, lightbox, and film holder, the lightbox and holder made by Kaiser- expensive but excellent quality. On the processing side, an option is to use Lightroom with a plugin called Negative Lab Pro. And no, I have no relation with the company :-) I think it's a great product for about $100 and it works on RAW files. In processing, you use the LR eyedropper to click on a clear section of the film and that sets your correct color temperature for all photos on that roll. After cropping the images to get rid of non-film parts of your image, you convert to a positive in Negative Lab Pro and can tweak in numerous ways after that. The only I think minor downside is that some LR sliders are reversed (because it doesn't know it's a negative) so you may have to slide toward lighter to get darker etc. Since I do almost all adjustments of color, contrast etc. directly in Negative Lab Pro this is not generally an issue for me.

In answer to Prithvi R. below, although I set my camera at 5000K it's totally irrelevant since LR can change it to the correct white balance, generally around 2400 temp, -25 tint for the Kodak rolls I've processed to date.

James F.! We so appreciate your taking the time to share and explain some of the aspects of your own techniques and workflow. This is the sort of dialog among our readers that we hope to encourage here at Explora. Thanks so much!

Does anyone have any suggestions about setting the white balance on my mirrorless Panasonic G9 and using a LED light panel for scanning slides. I think the light is daylight.


Your best bet is to refer to the G9 user manual for setting white balance- once there, you should have a specific option for a daylight setting or a custom setting that you can tune into the specific color temperature of your LED if that's what you're looking to do. Better than dialing in your white balance in-camera, though, would be to shoot raw so that you can fine tune this later during post-production. Even though white balance can be freely adjusted in post when editing a raw file, it's still good practice in my opinion to get white balance close (or just use Auto WB in most cases) so your exposure decisions are reasonable, too.

I attached a photo of my scanning setup in my previous comment i submitted just now, but it apparently didn't come through unfortunately.

This my compact horizontal DSLR scanning setup that I built recently using the EFH and a Raleno 116 video panel. The camera platform is fixed and the EFH/Raleno platform is adjustable vertically, and tilts left/right and front/back on springs using the black knobs; and slides forwards/backward along linear rods on ball bearing bushings.

It can accomodate my Nikon D850 (FF) and my Nikon D7000 (APS-C) with Sigma 105mm macro and Nikon 55mm macro lenses. With the D850 I can scan 35mm and 6x6 with the 105mm lens by moving the platform back and forth, and could scan 4x5 with the 55mm lens with the appropriate negative holder. With the D7000 I can scan 35mm with the 105mm lens and 6x6 and 4x5 with the 55mm lens. The tilting mechanism allows me to ensure the film plane is parallel with the sensor plane within a small fraction of a degree, confirmed with a digital level, and is square with the sensor frame with small adjustments of the knobs.

This my compact horizontal DSLR scanning setup that I built recently using the EFH and a Raleno 116 video panel. The camera platform is fixed and the EFH/Raleno platform is adjustable vertically, and tilts left/right and front/back on springs using the black knobs; and slides forwards/backward along linear rods on ball bearing bushings.

It can accomodate my Nikon D850 (FF) and my Nikon D7000 (APS-C) with Sigma 105mm macro and Nikon 55mm macro lenses. With the D850 I can scan 35mm and 6x6 with the 105mm lens by moving the platform back and forth, and could scan 4x5 with the 55mm lens with the appropriate negative holder. With the D7000 I can scan 35mm with the 105mm lens and 6x6 and 4x5 with the 55mm lens. The tilting mechanism allows me to ensure the film plane is parallel with the sensor plane within a small fraction of a degree, confirmed with a digital level, and is square with the sensor frame with small adjustments of the knobs.

You mentioned using a lower magnification macro lens, how would that work? I want to scan 35 and 120 film and am looking at a 1:2 macro lens.

I have set up a copying stand and a light table, to copy positive transparencies.  What I am unable to explain is the required +3 f-stops exposure compensation, so that decent exposure can be achieved. The slides are well balanced and correctly exposed. The +3 compensation is necessary for all my slides.
Can you think of any explanation?

The +3 stops of compensation may be due to the amount of light emitting from your light table, the lens being used and your ISO setting. We invite you to contact us today via Live Chat on our website until 8PM ET or call 1-800-606-6969 / 1-212-444-6615 until 7PM ET so we can discuss your options in greater detail. 

Back in the day, :I was trained to produce AV presentations using multiple projectors to do animations. It required a good deal of slide duplication. We used a professional slide duplicator that included a flash mechanism and a standard to hold the camera. It was made by Durst I think or Spindler and Sauppe. It's the perfect instrument to mass produce duplicate slides. If you are serious about slide duplication, try to find one on the used market.

I bought the Kenko extension tube set for Sony (A7R3) but even with both tubes I cannot focus close enough to copy 35mm slides/negs. Any suggestion as to how I can do this?

Frank G. wrote:

I bought the Kenko extension tube set for Sony (A7R3) but even with both tubes I cannot focus close enough to copy 35mm slides/negs. Any suggestion as to how I can do this?

i amusing the Sony 55mm lens

APS-C mode gets me close to filling the fram but with the loss in pixel dimensions. Probably equivalent to cropping in Ps. I also have a 35 & an 85 lens. Any better suggestions?

This is really good information!  I've got a question about your examples; I don't see any mention of what format these are?  The satellite dish looks like 120 roll film, and the old car looks like 4x5.  Though I guess the close crops kinda make that a moot point.

I have been using the Nikon ES-1 on the Olympus 60mm macro with an extension tube with great success, digitizing slides in the archives of our community's museum.  The extension would likely not be needed with the 30mm f/3.5 lens.  The ES-2 appears to have a locking screw which would overcome the slippage which can occur with the ES-1: this is not a focus issue if using auto-focus, but size and rotation result in pixel loss.

Remember to turn off all image stabilization (applies to light table, too) and preset the colour balance.  Using skylight, I do the preset by pointing at the sky without a slide inserted immediately prior to each copying session—the sky is very blue!

And what about the "direct function" on the Nikon D780 : color neg -> positive without the orange mask ?

A note regarding shooting with a light panel: Leaving the area surrounding the negative or slide unblocked will reduce the apparent contrast of the digital copy. Even though your recorded image may not show the unblocked light panel, the lens is still being flooded with stray light, and this will influence your final image.

I suggest cutting a sheet of matboard (preferably solid black) a bit larger than the light source, with an area cut out for the size of the film. This will eliminate the stay light.  Also helpful is to keep the room light as dim as possible - especially important when copying color negs or slides. 

Note that there are some excellent Photoshop plug-ins that make color negative conversion really easy, far easier than doing it manually.  I've used Colorperfect for years, and it works magic most of the time, but oddly fails once in a while, in which case I use manual methods.  There are also newer, reputedly better, plugins. 

I use the ES2 with the 60mm Nikkor on my D610. For a light source I shoot directly into a Profoto flash with an umbrella and put it at about a 4 foot distance from the camera. I use a small Ganaray focusing light once in a while to check sharpness since the Profoto’s modeling light is not bright enough to accurately focus. I shoot at f11 so i don’t worry about film flatness. No need to bracket once you find a perfect exposure on an image with a wide tonal range. I shoot everything RAW. 

Very informative article. Thank you. I haven't done camera scanning myself. But I've compared having photo labs scan the same film via camera scanning and Tango drum scanning. Though nothing ever beats the Tango drum scanning, the camera scanning is pretty good. The biggest problem that I encountered with the camera scans is huge amounts of dust in need of retouching. I suspect blow guns aren't going to do the trick, to be honest with you.

Sort of jumping in the middle here.  Very interesting article and discussion.  I have a definite interest in this area, re-ignited by my discovery of a number of 4 x 5 B&W negs, vintage probably 30’s to early 1950’s documenting people and equipment in forensic laboratories.  I have found, what for me is a great tool - a CamRanger.  I am using a Canon 7D on a desktop Quadra-pod which nicely straddles a thin LED light panel. I am capturing the images on the camera card in the usual fashion but am using the CamRanger plugged into the camera and it linked wirelessly to an iPad.  With this arrangement, once the negative is positioned, I can adjust exposure, aperture, tweak the focus (zooming 2x on the iPad display) and trigger
the exposure without touching the camera, stand or even my work table, making vibration a non-issue.  It makes hunkering over a vertically mounted camera or adding a angled viewfinder unnecessary.  And at my age, not having to hunch over the camera is a big plus!

I'm going to try this on 4x5's taking several shots and stitching them.  The stitching software seems to want to make a panorama with shots taken from one point, and then correct that into a perspective from that point.  I want to move the subject so I get I get individual shots without that panorama perspective type of distortion.  Does anyone know of stitching software that will allow "orthographic" stitching?

There is the Photomerge command in Adobe Photoshop which will allow you to combine images into one image without any distortion. It is mentioned on the following support page from Adobe.

thanks all for all the contributions! I suppose hi quality enlarging lense with rings / bellows would provide a hi quality results as well. as anyone tried or could share experience / setup with these? thanks!

Also, I'm wondering about the optics used for the scans. These micro lenses (Nikon 60 or 105VR) are excellent, but not perfect. I'm wondering has anyone tried for this application, the arguably best macro lens; the Nikon 200mm f4 micro? Unequaled for edge to edge sharpness, less distortion and falloff in corners, etc. You'd have to be able to be quite a bit further away from the film of course. 

I'd be interested to try the 200mm lens as well, but you're right about the working distance being more of an issue and I think camera shake will also be a bit tougher to deal with. I have a feeling that the practical differences between the two will be pretty negligible; I think you might be even better served by photographing film with a higher magnification lens at greater-than-life size-and then compositing.

I found this to be a very interesting article as I am trying to find my way to the best solution to bring my film (past and present) into the digital realm. Since this was written, there are a few new options. I'm particularly looking at the equipment from Negative Supply Co. They seem to be determined to create an ideal DSLR/mirrorless scanning methodology that gives us a current, affordable approach. Moreover, one that is less likely to be devalued by obsolescence as it's only limited (or rather, enhanced) by improving resolution and technology of the cameras used. In other words, their equipment in theory, should become more effective as the cameras do. They also seem to be trying to ensure that their film carriers hold film flat and secure, which I'm sure could be a factor in the examples in the article above. Has anyone had occasion to see these types of scans, or similar, made with a >45 megapixel sensor compared to say, the Imacon, or even Nikon 9000? 
Very curious to hear any input...thanks! 

Hi Robert, I haven't had a chance to try the holders or copy stand setup from Negative Supply Co, but I've definitely been looking at their site for the last few months. I appreciate what they're doing for sure, because film flatness and registration are the two main issues when it comes to photographing your film opposed to scanning. The limits is, eventually, going to be the camera you're using with this application, unless you're stitching and compositing frames. The upper hand that an Imacon or a drum scanner has is their physical design; a drum. The film surface is going to be much more even and taught when it is pulled against a drum versus laying flat, which becomes exponentially more of an issue as your film format increases. Even with these holders, there's going to be a minor penalty in some lost sharpness due to an uneven film surface. And if you use the larger format carrier with glass, then your resolution is slightly compromised with the addition of a new glass surface. Their film holders definitely look like they'll improve film flatness for copy shooting, but I don't think it's possible to get it on the same level as a drum...and then I'm not sure at what point is rephotographing a not-perfectly-flat plane better than using an antiquated drum scanner? The rephotographing method is definitely the way of the future though, and is the technology that at least has improvements to come.

Hi Bjorn, 
Thank you for the reply. Very good points you have. In your original article, do you feel that if the film flatness and registration had been better, the resulting scans would have been sharper with more detail with the DSLR scan? I wonder what other factors would permit a DSLR scan to get closer to the Imacon/drum quality which is very good. Or perhaps not possible? 
I'm glad to hear you also are watching Negative Supply. One of my concerns with them, is that they are having some difficulty creating and/or maintaining inventory. These are well-designed pieces, but in the big scheme of things, not that difficult to produce, especially as they are not made overseas. There's something else I think. But the idea of a highly refined form of DSLR seems to be the best hope for the foreseeable future.
I do agree on the more ideal scanning methodology of drum scanning; it solves film flatness and the use of glass to achieve that flatness. I would love to have and use one, but they aren't really being built anymore or modernized; so initial cost, maintenance, parts and people to repair these units is and will become more difficult. Which is why I have been looking for other solutions. With the resurgence of film, I am very surprised that there are not more new or current options to scan film (properly), other than the use of flatbed scanners, which is not the best approach. I wonder if the relatively fast exposure of a DSLR to capture a film negative, can compare to the slow, multi-pass approach used in a Imacon/drum scanner. Can the DSLR ever get the 'depth' in even a long-ish exposure...
So many factors and things to understand make it difficult to proceed in any direction...

Hi Robert- Yes, 100%, I definitely think film flatness contributed to some of the sharpness issues...but in all honesty I think that was part of the process I was trying to show off. And maybe in retrospect that should be something worth highlighting more. When I did these shots, I was trying to perform the task of "scanning without a scanner" in a simple manner with tools and items I had around home. The intended output for this type of capture, with this amount of effort, has to be much more casual than expectations for an Imacon. On the other hand, if you're building complicated or sophisticated rephotographing setups, then I think you can only expect your results to improve with more precision.

I'm not sure if and when re-photographing film, with a camera that is, would catch up to a drum scanned version. The funny thing is that true drum scanners precede Imacons, and Imacons are simpler versions of a true drum scanner since you don't actually have to wet mount and tape the original to the drum; the Imacon is a "virtual drum" since it's just bending the film around a drum during the scan. I'm not sure if flat scans will ever catch up to these (honestly am unsure) because Imacons themselves were not quite up to the same quality as a true drum scanner; each generation seems to compromise a bit of quality to gain a bit of convenience.

Also, you might consider at what point are you trying to record more information than is actually present in the film you're photographing? And what is your intended output?

Hi Bjorn, 
Yes, I understand what you mean about scanning without a scanner and the inherent limitations. I also agree that even if a technology comes along to achieve fairly good film flatness, it likely wouldn't be enough to approximate the drum scanner quality. For me, I'm not trying to exceed the information present in the film itself (which isn't possible of course(!)), but rather to not lose any more than necessary. I guess I would like to see a modern method of scanning come forward that can achieve the quality, acuity and resolution of the drum scanner/Imacon, without the very expensive, somewhat antiquated (and physically large) hardware. I would like to be able to make roughly the same large print size through my own scanning technique that I might expect from a pro lab scan. This is why I'm seeking the best macro lens with edge-to-edge sharpness. The original film likely suffers from some falloff in the corners, depending on which lens was on the camera. To then 'scan' that film with a lens which suffers from even mild sharpness degradation towards the corners only will further compromise the resulting image/large print. That's just one inherent limitation.
I would really like to see a better way to scan. Today, it may sound like a tall order, but I don't think it really should be. Technology can move so quickly. We're merely trying to equate an at-home solution to match the lab technology and standard of at least 15 years ago...shouldn't be too unachievable. I think this a great time for Canon or Nikon or whomever, to realize that film is very popular again; not only being shot, but for those staring at their massive archive from years ago. If they revisited where they left off, I think we would have better options than flatbeds to digitize our film. And/or not have to resort to odd arrangements of macro lenses and film holders. There might be a market there. I think Negative Supply is going to be offering one of the best film carrier systems for those that want to try that approach. But as I think we both agree, it can only go so far and there are shortcomings that it cannot resolve. That said, for someone like myself that has not the space, the budget or the know-how to keep and operate a Hassleblad/Imacon scanner, the film carrier/macro lens scanning approach is likely my best bet. ...I think... It is my uncertainty which leads me to read and study further, which is how I found your excellent article. 

I have a Nikon 5000 35mm film scanner.  Time and waiting is the issue with it.  I also have a bunch of old omega enlargers with a bunch of old but very good enlarging lenses.  I find using the color head inverted on the baseboard and a 75mm Fujinon enlarger lens, a metal 6 frame 35mm film holder and it's base for a 4x5 enlarger offers a close to flat film experience along with a flat field lens in the enlarging lens used is probably better than the macro lenses mentioned would have.  the carrier is also a boon in going from on image to the next with negative strips.  What I do find annoying is the additional time in dust control post processing, and the time in naming the files to reflect the original names for the negs/slides in my storage.  Naming can be done in advance in the Nikon software, and you can do 6 frame strips automatically.  It also includes dust/scratch control in the scanning process which can be automatically implemented, though it adds significantly to the time it takes to scan each image.  

If final results are for printing and cleanliness of the scan is paramount, scanner if probably the better way to go.  If on the other hand, you want to create a library of lots of images for review for selection of those you want to later use, the speed of camera scanning (less the time to name the files) is much quicker.  Lastly, the time you need to PP the images after camera shooting may negate the speed of shooting if you are too demanding of image quality in the camera scans.  I have played with a PP plug in for photoshop or lightroom, that does a very good job of reversing the neg images too. I think it is Colorperfect previously mentioned.

With a library of about 500,000 images on film....this is a task I never seem to have the time to tackle any way which is a shame as I am sure I have a lot of film images that might still have value...though at the prices now being paid for usage, I have to wonder if it is worth the time needed.

Any experience using the Fujifilm GFX 100 for digitizing 35mm or 120 negatives?

Personally, I don't have any experience using the GFX 100 for this purpose, but I think it would be a really great application for the ultra-high resolution in combination with the GF 120mm f/4 Macro lens or maybe another adapted lens. The 120mm f/4 lens has a maximum magnification of 1:2 at 1.5', so you'll likely be needing to crop into your images a bit...and this is where the 100MP will really come in handy.

Four questions...   I would like to use the Nikon ES-2 digitizing adapter on a Sony a7R IV body.  The ES-2 was really designed to work best with the Nikon AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED lens (62mm filter size) on a Nikon D850 body.  I would prefer to not have to buy Nikon equipment.  1)  Are there any other short range FE-mount macro lenses with a 62mm filter size you would recommend.  I was thinking about the Voigtlander Macro APO-Lanthar 65mm f/2 but the filter size is 67mm.  2)  Do you know if that extra 5mm on both the focal length and the filter size would impact my being able to get the full image or a precise focus.  3)  Alternatively, if I were to get the Nikon lens, can you recommend a FX-E lens mount adapter?  4)  Will the additional space of the adapter between the lens and camera body have an effect on the crop?

Hi Chester, The bigger issue of using a lens besides the Nikon 60mm f/2.8 will be the minimum focusing distance, and not so much the filter size. The Voigtlander has a 12.2" minimum focusing distance at 1:2, whereas the Nikon is 7.3" at 1:1. With the Voigtlander, you need an additional 4.9" of extension just to get anything in focus, and then the film will also end up appearing smaller in the image frame than it would with a 1:1 magnification.

If you're set on working with the Nikon ES-2, then I think your best option would be to work with the Nikon lens and adapt it to your Sony camera with an adapter that gives you aperture control ( Having an adapter that supports AF isn't super critical since you'd just be working at minimum focusing distance. And the additional space of the adapter between the lens and camera won't affect the crop; it's somewhat mandatory to achieve accurate focus, actually.

If you're willing to look outside of the Nikon ES-2 but still want to work with this type of camera-mounted slide duplicator method, you might also check out the Novoflex Castel system, specifically the Castel Digital Slide Copying Attachment ( and maybe the Castel Mini focusing rack (

Another solution could be the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens ( along with a 55mm to 62mm step-up ring. This would be a pretty straightforward way of working with the ES-2, with the only trick being that you'd need to pay attention to focus pretty carefully.

Would a step up ring not be a lot simpler and cheaper? The ES-2 is widely used and recommended even using non Nikon equipment.

It depends.  As Bjorn indicated in his previous reply, it is not just the matter of adapting the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter to your lens.  The lens' minimum focus distance, the lens' magnification ratio, and to a lesser extent, the lens' focal length all also matter for proper usage of the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter.  If the lens' minimum focus distance length is too long, or if the lens has less than a 1:1 life-size magnification ratio, it may not be possible to achieve focus, or you may not be able to capture the full frame, or fill the frame of the image of the slide you are trying to duplicate.  While some people use the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter on other brand lenses or lenses with different focal lengths, in some cases, they must also purchase extension tubes that are placed between the rear of the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter and the front of your lens to obtain proper focus and framing.  (We do not sell extension tubes designed to be placed between a lens and the ES-2 Adapter, but some people purchase them from other sources or they manufacture their own).  In some cases, such as the last reply from Bjorn above, a step-up ring will work, and may be simpler and cheaper.  Just keep in mind this is not always the case.

Assuming one wants to get the entire 6x7 negative onto the 36MP sensor, I am thinking that this would equal a Nikon 'scan' at app. 2200 dpi vs. Imacon's 3200 dpi ... I am assuming app. 4900 (Nikon sensor) pixels covering the 2 1/4 Inch short side of the film, which gives app. 2180 dpi. Could this perhaps explain the difference between the B/W images, Imacon vs. Nikon?

If you place the shorter 56mm side of the 6 x 7 negative along the shorter end of the 3:2 full-frame sensor of the Nikon D800 DSLR camera’s 36.3 megapixel sensor, the approximate area size (in pixels) that would be covered by the medium format negative would be 4912 x 5877, which would be approximately 28.86 megapixels.  The Imacon Flextight 646 User Guide states on page 20 that the maximum resolution in PPI at full scanning width for a 60 x 60mm or 60 x 70mm negative when using the original holder is 3200 PPI.

I used a Canon EOS 6D to scan a couple hundred slides from the 1940s and 1950s, and I was very happy with the results. I wrote up a description of the process here: It's not as involved as yours, but people might still find it helpful.

The flextight images are vastly superior but the DIY setup would be acceptable for small prints I guess...

Be sure to turn off your vr or is when shooting on a tripod. Otherwise it will not be as sharp. 

Most VR lenses made in the past 10-15 years automatically sense when they're on a tripod and turn themselves off. In the Canon world, there are even lenses with an IS mode specifically for shooting with a very long lens mounted on a tripod. Rather than countering camera/lens motion, the counteract the vibration caused by mirror slap and sutter movement. All of the IS II versions of the Super Telephoto series have this feature.

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