Photography / Hands-on Review

Things We Love: Imacon Flextight 646 Film Scanner

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Every photographer has that dream piece of equipment that they aspire to own someday. You know, the one thing that’s just a little bit out of reach, whether because of price or rarity, or even just because you can’t justify owning it. It’s that one piece of gear you think about often and tell yourself that it will change the way you make photographs. No matter how incorrect this statement might be, you hope to someday catch your judgement off guard and splurge on something lavish. Well, maybe I had some loose judgement one day but, after years of debate, I finally convinced myself to get my dream piece of equipment: an Imacon Flextight 646 film scanner (or the Hasselblad Flextight X1 in its newest iteration). While it certainly didn’t change my life, or put to rest all my wildest dreams, it has opened new doorways to how I can produce photographs and it has allowed me to continue to use film as a viable medium in the age of ever-improving digital cameras.

Looking back a decade, when I was still in school getting my undergrad degree in photography, I was fortunate enough to have unrestricted access to several of these impressive machines. You might say I took them for granted, with how casually and infrequently I used them, but I didn’t. I was always in awe of them almost to the point of intimidation. There were so many rules about how not to use the Imacons; they are fragile, temperamental, and, most importantly, expensive machines. I used them when I needed to, but somehow convinced myself that flatbed scanning was just as good for my needs. I was wrong. After graduating and continuing to use a flatbed scanner, my film photography needs grew (physically) as I started to print larger and larger. My eye for quality also became more refined, and I expected more out of my imagery. Spurred on by peers’ ultra-sharp images, made from the latest digital cameras, I realized my basic film scans weren’t cutting it anymore. I was losing the battle of trying to justify my inferior scans, and started resorting to outsourcing my scanning jobs to professional labs with their own Imacons or drum scanners. The catch to this was that turnaround times were slow; I had to be very selective with what I scanned, and I was essentially at the mercy of whomever was operating the scanner. I had no room to experiment or try out some less-than-perfect exposures because the outsourcing process only worked out of precision and decisiveness.

Skipping over many parts of the story, and after a long bout of mental back-and-forth, I seriously set out to acquire an Imacon with the justification that I would offer to scan other’s film for a modest fee to help recover some of the costs. I stumbled across an old Flextight 646 online one day, emailed the seller, drove upstate to pick it up, and put it in the passenger seat with a fastened seat belt on for the trip back. The process of acquiring my dream piece of equipment was over after only two days of searching and years of mental debate.

But the real question is: was it worth it? Yes. Having immediate and constant access to one of the finest specialty machines in photographic history, as far as I’m concerned, has brought an air of relaxation to my process. I no longer must fret about making scans or unreasonably justifying my desire to shoot film. The scanner diminishes these excuses and lets me concentrate more on the actual shooting process, rather than being concerned with production hiccups. This value, in many ways, has alone been worth the price of admission. And then, of course, there is the quality of the scans, and the subsequent large-scale prints I now feel more confident in making.

What are some of your dream cameras, lenses, or other photo tools? Have you ever experienced finally getting that one piece of equipment that you always wanted? Let us know, down below.

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