Happy 2019! Here’s to a better year full of achieved goals and better life, whatever circumstances may be. And of course, a year of photos. I kicked off 2018 with a new blog and the inaugural post being a review of the iconic Pentax Spotmatic. It seems fitting that, a year later, I review a piece of equipment that one can consider “digital retro” which can be used to process the images that come out of such a camera. For the first time since 2000, I have upgraded my film scanner. All the film images I’ve ever done have been scanned on the Pacific Images PrimeFilm 1800i, astoundingly still available on amazon.com. Yielding an image roughly 9 megapixels (for those digital aficionados who measure such things, let the debate begin), it has performed well for decades.
I’ve been looking for a successor for a couple of years now, especially given my growing pile of old film negatives and the resurgence of film, resulting in a growing pile of new film negatives. The catch has always been the same – I want to upgrade a lot, but I also do not want to pay a lot. The scanner I chose is actually available new on amazon for $165.00 U.S. That isn’t a terrible price, considering many scanners used for film go for higher prices offering a lot more, or for the same price offering a lot less. I felt like I could do better though, especially considering this scanner is not current (discontinued in 2005).
So, I turned to the other place frequented by the connoisseurs of the technical – eBay. I ended up finding this scanner, nearly new in box with everything for $70 after shipping. And as an added bonus, the seller was the Humane Society. Not only a great deal for less than half the price of amazon, but also a purchase that will benefit homeless animals. This purchase, with 90% of the sale going to the Hilton Head Humane Association, is in honor of my cousin’s recently departed Chihuahua mix named appropriately “Little Dog.”
In any case, the first question you are probably asking is why this scanner? Well, already mention is the price. Like every other piece of gear I mention on this site, I wanted to get good value for the money. There is the technique of “DSLR scanning” and I have experimented with this with some success. To really make full use this method, a good 1:1 magnification macro lens is needed. Those are expensive. Even cheap used on ebay, they’re still expensive. One can still have good success using a lens extender (which I have done), but it still doesn’t end up looking much better than my old scanner. There are also other inexpensive options out there, such as the Kodak Scanza, which go for around $150-180, but they do everything in JPEG format (fine for slides but bad for film negatives because you’ve got to have the extra data to work with them, and that is lost in JPEG compression). They also aren’t that high a quality from what reviews have shown.
The advantages of a good dedicated film scanner are several. For one, if its software permits, the image can be saved in a loss compression format, allowing you to essentially treat your film negatives just like RAW files. That means all the technical software goodies of the digital camera are available to salvage images that weren’t shot just right. There are professional wedding and portrait photographers that can set up their own lighting just the way they need it and nail the exposure every time, but when you’re doing artistic photography, many times, you play with the cards you’re dealt. You use the light that you have, and if you’re lucky, you’ve got a good flash with you to help out (I am still learning how to use one).
How much of an upgrade is this? Firstly this scanner works at 3600 dpi – yielding an image that is approximately (and I say approximately because the debate over the measurement of this number is endless) 18 megapixels. More or less, this means that a film image is equal in resolution to what comes out of my digital Canon SL1. This scanner also utilizes LED lighting and has built in dust and scratch removal, making a lot less work. Despite being discontinued in 2005, this scanner still supports Windows XP all the way to Windows 10.
Additionally I know Pacific Images, so I am comfortable with them and I felt familiar with their products. The remaining question stands – what do images look like on this thing?
The setup was surprisingly easy. As promised, it looked brand new. Considering their software forced me to update the firmware in the scanner the first time I ran it, it’s not been used in a very, very long time at least. Surprisingly, it ran perfectly in Windows 10 even though it’s old enough it bears the “designed for Windows XP” logo on the box. The images are as claimed, about 18 megapixels and nearly equal in resolution in comparison to my Canon digital camera. Actual film grain is visible, which is thrilling. In the test photo I scanned here you can actually see the texture in the floor tile. Considering the scan is whisper-quiet compared to the literal grinding jack hammer sound that the old scanner made, I am quite happy.
I scanned one b/w shot of the outer hallway of the National Cathedral on Ilford Delta 400 film (TMax chemistry) done long ago on the Canon Rebel 2000. I also scanned one color shot of a tree in fall, which I have posted on this site before for comparison.
Neither of these utilize the “digital ICE” feature that is supposed to automatically take out scratches and dust. In case you wonder that stands for “Image Correction Enhancement” and I had to look it up on google. The jury is out on that, more testing is needed.
Shoot photos, not each other!