Steve Fisher, Nottingham - Comparison of Film scanners

This site was last updated: April 2020

Due to the current Coronavirus lockdown ( April 2020 ) its given me time to do a few of those " I must do that one day " projects.

So this is a write up of a comparison I have done of different film scanning devices.

Note that today if you have a high-end digital camera, a macro shooting capability, a method of mounting and backlighting your film /slides and good Photoshop skills you can scan your negatives / slides without using any of the options I use ( dedicated film scanner or flatbed with film scanning options ).

The background to this comparison is that I have been taking photos for over 40 years, the first 25 on film. This resulted in a stack of negatives and slides. With the move to digital in the early 2000's, I needed a method of scanning my film archive onto the PC. The first scanner I purchased was a Pacific 1800u in the early 2000's. It was awful, poor scans, slow and buggy. I decided to wait a year or two until people had been using other products and could give honest feedback on the products.

By early 2003 many film camera manufacturers were making their own film scanners ( Canon, Minolta, Nikon being the main ones ). Some were expensive, some were more reasonably priced. At the the more affordable end of the market Minolta had a good name and appeared to have a good product. So in 2003 I took the plunge and bought a Minolta Dual Scan 3 ( Minolta DS3 ), it cost about 300 pounds. This is the same scanner I am still using today.

In the years since 2003, like most people into photography and technology, I have picked up bits and pieces over the years. Paid full price for a Canon 9900F flatbed for document scanning and its ability to scan Medium format ( and larger ) film. Purchased a Epson Photo 2400 flatbed scanner ( with film scanning capability ) in a sale for 20 pounds. Bought a Canon 9950F with no power supply but all inserts for 5 pounds off Ebay. Bought a 5mp film scanner from Lidl for 5 pounds in the reduced aisle. Found a Plustek 7200 ( with two sets of film / slide holders ) in a charity shop for 25 pounds. So I had many options for Scanning film, mostly I use the Minolta for Film scanning ( most of my images are 35mm ) and the Canon for Large format scanning.

The only real use for the Lidl film scanner is that once the enclosed software is installed and the scanner is attached, you get a 'live view' of your negative / slide on the PC or laptop. The Lidl scanner acts like a video camera reversing the negatives to a positive image as you pass the film holder through the scanner. This allows you to view an enlarged, positive image of your negatives. It means you can quickly scan through your negatives and pick the ones you want to scan in high quality.

What follows is a comparison of the film scanning devices I have. The first part is a visual comparison, the second part is a description of each device and some comments on it. Finally there are my thoughts on film scanning devices and the future options for negative / slide scanning.

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The later text is a bit technical, so I will post the results of the scanning first in my perceived order of quality.

As each device had its own supplied film / slide holders there will be differences in the total area of the negative / slide scanned. To try and normalise the results I tried to scan at 2400 dpi if allowed. The main image is reduced in size, but the segment image is at full scanned resolution.

To try and show the capabilities or otherwise of each scanner I used 4 images. (1) a reasonably exposed slide, (2) - a 30 year old colour negative, (3) a well exposed Black and white negative, (4) a difficult black and white negative - very high contrast due to flash and processing technique. The software used for all the devices apart from the Lidl 5mp was VueScan, VueScan provides support for many scanners no longer supported by the manufacturers on windows 10 ( in my case the Canon, Minolta and Plustek ).

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Below - Scans of a colour slide.

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Below - Scans of a 30 year old colour negative.

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Below - Scans of black and white negative.

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Below - Scans of a very high contrast black and white negative.

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The next series of images are full resolution segments of each scan, again showing the results of the scanning in my perceived order of quality.

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Below - Scans of a colour slide.

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Below - Scans of a 30 year old colour negative.

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Below - Scans of black and white negative.

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Below - Scans of a very high contrast black and white negative.

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Review of the Scanners.

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The first thing you need to understand is that any visible light image recording device, be it analog ( eg film ) or Digital ( eg a sensor in a scanner or camera ) has a limit to how much data it can record either side of its 'ideal' exposure. This means how much information the device can record when over-exposed or under-exposed, this ability is called the dynamic range of a device. Below is a chart that tries to show indicative dynamic ranges of film, the tested scanners and a modern high-end digital camera ( remember a digital camera sensor does not have a locked ISO rating ).

As you see from the badly drawn curve for the films dynamic range, film had a wide dynamic range. But it had limited tolerance to under-exposure ( 2-3 stops ), however it could be over-exposed by a relatively large amount ( 4 - 6 stops ). The exact amount of tolerance to under or over exposure was dependent on the particular photographic emulsion used by the manufacturer, it was dependent on the ASA rating of the emulsion, the development technique, and type of film ( black and white typically having more tolerance, slide film having little if any tolerance).

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Scanning time

This can become a very important consideration. See the timings below.

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Lidl 5mp film scanner

First its obvious from the photos that the Lidl 5mp film scanner is not very good, it has low resolution, poor colour performance and poor lighting control.

I don't think anyone would use this scanner for archiving any film / slides. I only use it as a quick and dirty method of viewing negatives.

This scanner is a dedicated film scanner using a simple film / slide holder that is manually pushed through the scanner, it has a click-stop that aligns each negative / slide in the holder in the correct position to allow it to be scanned. Once a negative is scanned you manually push the holder though the scanner until the next negative / slide click stops, you scan that negative and repeat until all the negatives / slides have been scanned. Then you pull the holder out the other side of the scanner .

There are other designs of inexpensive film scanners out there, but the results I have seen from several of these ( while better than the Lidl ) are still significantly inferior to a decent flatbed scanner.

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Epson photo 2400 flatbed scanner

This scanner does both reflective ( documents, photos, stamps etc ) and transparency ( Film / slides ) scanning. The film / slide scanning is achieved via a light built into the lid shining through the film / slide holder placed on the glass of the flatbed scanner. It allows 6 negatives or 4 slides to be scanned at once.

You can see straight away that the quality of the scans from the Epson are far superior to the Lidl scanner. The scanner copes with all the samples easily and produces reasonable results.

Another benefit of this scanner is that Epson still provide software support for it ( even though it was released in 2003 ). This scanner can run on Windows 10 with Epson's own scanning software and drivers. This Epson software does the job and can produce nice results.

If your short of cash and want a reasonable film scanner then a model out of the Epson Perfection range may suit your needs. They can be found on Ebay / Gumtree from 10 pounds, just make sure the model you purchase still has the film holders and software support from Epson.

Issues - As its a flatbed scanner, the scanning sensor focus is set to the surface of the glass that you would place your documents / photos on. The focus is fixed and mounting the negatives / slides in the holder raises the film above the surface of the glass. This results in scans that are slightly out of focus. I know some people place the film directly onto the glass under the film holder, but this can ( and just about always does ) result in 'Newton Rings' appearing in the scans. While there are techniques / methods to reduce or eliminate these 'Newton Rings' it takes a lot of time, effort and many scan attempts for each strip of film. I would not recommend trying this.

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Canon 9950F flatbed scanner

This scanner does both reflective ( documents, photos, stamps etc ) and transparency ( Film / slides ) scanning. The film / slide scanning is achieved via a light built into the lid shining through the film / slide holder placed on the glass of the flatbed scanner. It allows 30 negatives or 12 slides to be scanned at once.

You can see straight away that the quality of the scans from the Canon are far superior to the Lidl scanner. It is also slightly better than the Epson.

Part of the reason is that the Canon is better that the Epson is that with this scanner the VueScan software can do 2 passes of a single negative at different exposure levels and combine the output to extract both highlight and shadow detail. Its a sort of simple HDR. It also at least doubles the time it takes to scan a negative.

While still a flatbed scanner with a fixed focus scanning sensor, the Canon does produce slightly sharper images along with more highlight / shadow detail.

If you find one on Ebay / Gumtree make sure its got its power supply and all its film / slide holders ( has holders for 35mm, 6x6, 5x4 ), but be aware Canon does not provide software support for this scanner in windows 10, VueScan should provide support. VueScan is a software product you have to buy, although you can trial it for free ( has watermarks all over the scans ).

Issues - As the Epson above, but the results are sharper and has more dynamic range. The main issue is software support, consider using an old PC / Laptop running an old version of windows that Canon provide software support for this scanner.

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Plustek 7200 film scanner

This scanner is a dedicated film scanner using a simple film / slide holder that is manually pushed through the scanner, it has a click-stop that aligns each negative / slide in the holder in the correct position to allow it to be scanned. Once a negative is scanned you manually push the holder though the scanner until the next negative / slide click stops, you scan that negative and repeat until all the negatives / slides have been scanned. Then you pull the holder out the other side of the scanner .

You can see straight away that the quality of the scans from the PlusTek are far superior to both the Epson and Canon flatbed scanners.

This scanners focus ( while still fixed ) is targeted at the point a flat film / slide in the hold should be aligned. However some films have slight curves and some slide mounts are not perfect. This can result is focus issues.

Plustek does not provide software support for this scanner on Windows 10.

While Vuescan does not provide multiple exposure options for this scanner , the results are still better than both the flatbed scanners.

If you find one on Ebay / Gumtree make sure its got its power supply and all its film / slide holders ( has 2 holders one for 35mm, and one for slides ), but be Plustek does not provide software support for this scanner in windows 10, VueScan should provide support. VueScan is a software product you have to buy, although you can trial it for free ( has watermarks all over the scans ).

Issues - software support, slight focus issues.

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Minolta Dual Scan 3 ( DS3 )

This scanner is a dedicated film scanner using a simple film / slide holder that is automatically pulled / pushed through the scanner, it auto align negatives / slides and has autofocus to focus on a point on the negative / slide you select. After you have done a pre-scan of all the negatives / slides in the holder and done any cropping, colour / exposure corrections. You just press scan and the PC / scanner combination will scan and save resultant files for all the negatives / slides in the holder. At completion the scanner can eject the holder if required.

You can see that the scans from the Minolta are more in focus than the Plustek ( but only if you look carefully ). This sometimes highlights a human visual issue, it can appear that a slightly out of focus scan looks 'better' than a scan in focus. The softening of the film grain and slight blurring of the edges can make less perfect image appear superior.

This scanner does 2 pass scanning to extract highlight / shadow detail, while there is more information in the resultant file the scan time is around 4 minutes per negative / slide.

Minolta does not provide software support for this scanner on Windows 10, mostly as the company as such does not exist today.

These Minolta scanners are still in demand ( even if they are at least 10 years old ) , expect to pay a Minimum of 150 pounds for a DS3 and up-to 1000 pounds for the high end Minolta 5400 scanner. If you find one on Ebay / Gumtree make sure its got its power supply and all its film / slide holders are intact ( has 2 holders one for 35mm, and one for slides ), they were made of plastic that has grown brittle with age. VueScan provides software support for this scanner in windows 10. VueScan is a software product you have to buy, although you can trial it for free ( has watermarks all over the scans ).

Issues - software support, cost, holders can break ( you cannot get replacements, people have had to buy a complete scanner to get replacement holders ).

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High-end digital camera

Today ( April 2020 ) the dynamic range of a high-end digital camera far exceed film and all of the other devices in the review. The digital world rates the Speed of the Sensor as 'ISO' settings, while it appears the same as 'ASA' for film it is only really to give a understandable guide to traditional film users when they were moving to digital. Digital camera sensors do not have a nominal ISO rating, think of them like a audio amp where you can turn up or down the volume at will and also change the bass / treble at will ( you may get some distortion ). Using this analogy - slide film had a fixed volume, bass, treble. Negative film had a small volume range with a good bass, treble range. With a modern camera, in theory, you could use a high-end digital camera to scan negatives and slides at a far higher quality than using any of the above solutions.

While this is true the issues are the ease of scanning and the production of decent final image files. First you need to create a negative / slide scanning platform. You will need a macro lens function implemented on the High-end digital. A method of mounting the negative / slide, A backlight with stable colour balance. There are some lens / all in one ( negative / slide mount + macro lens ) solutions that can be attached to the High-end digital camera, but these don't provide the light source. Also for negatives you need to reverse the colours / negative black and white image. While it should not be difficult to reverse black and while negatives, colour negatives are a completely different matter. All colour negatives have a base layer that is coloured ( some appear orange, some bluish, some pinkish ), to create a final image file ( a JPEG / TIFF you can view / print ) you need to correct for this base layer. Then there is the issue of the colour balance ( was the negative exposed in Daylight/ Tungsten / Flash ) and correcting this. While it is possible to correct all the colour issues with software, its not a click and go solution. you would have to send a significant amount of time doing corrections to the scanner file.

Most Software used for digital cameras is designed to process JPEG, TIFF or RAW files, and the filters / presets in these software products are based around native camera files ( mostly JPEG and RAW ). These is not a product like VueScan that could process all the different colour negative film stocks.

Maybe a high-end digital camera manufacture will produce a 'one box' solution ( lens, mount, light and software ) for Negative / slide film scanning. But don't hold your breath.

You can use your high-end digital camera for negative / film scanning expect issues, expect to headaches. But it can be done once you have set everything up ( especially if its only for black and white negatives / slides ).

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General comments and notes about film scanning

Film scanning can be a real time eater. do not expect to get through a box of Negatives / slides in a couple of weekends.

Just how bad is the Lidl 5mp scanner ? - I did dismantle it to see how it was built. The scanner is a short tower about 25cm tall with the film / slide holders feeding through the tower via a slot each side near the base. Inside the tower is a single PCB with a very basic Camera module mounted on it, the PCB is fastened to the top of the tower with the camera module pointing down. At the very bottom on the tower is a single LED mounted underneath a white translucent piece of plastic. Once the tower is plugged into a USB port on a PC and the scanner software loaded the LED lights, the camera starts and an image appears in the software on the PC. You can then slide a film / slide holder into the slot near the base, select the type of film on the PC software ( slide, colour negative, black and white negative ) and view an enlarged image of the film. You scan hit a scan icon to 'scan' the image, you can then do very limited, very poor quality corrections to the image and then save the image to the drive on the PC. The good thing about this solution is its fast and easy to use.

The design is ideal for a typical person wanting to digitise some old family film /slides. The issue is the execution of the hardware, its just cheap and nasty. I have suggested before that if a quality manufacturer ( Canon?, Nikon? ) took this idea and designed and implemented it properly they could have a new revenue stream. Given the renewed interest if film photography along with peoples old cardboard boxes full of film negatives and slides, and with the collapse in the market for compact digital cameras ( everyone uses their phone these days ). I believe a major manufacturer could use / re-purpose all their compact camera technology to reasonably easily create a higher quality, higher resolution version of this 5mp scanner. It could have a 12-16mp camera, and could be designed to use a zoom feature to support many film formats ( 127, 126, APS, 110 - each new holder at additional cost? ) apart from 35mm.

As the "owner" of my parents/ grandparents film archive I have been working through the collection. Most of the old Black and white negatives are fine, but many mid 60's to mid 70's colour negatives are fading. These emulsions used a C22 film development process and it appears is the result is unstable and the negatives are fading, plus different colours are fading at a different rate. If you have any mid 60's to mid 70's negative films I would get them scanned ASAP. In the mid 70's Kodak introduced the C41 process, these C41 negatives appear to be lasting better.

Remember that consumer film and camera lenses in the 50's, 60's and 70's were not that good, and they could only produce a negative resolution equivalent to 4-10 mp ( depending on format / camera ).

While this comparison was about old scanners you can purchase new windows 10 supported Epson flatbed scanners with Film scanning support ( Canon as well ) and a couple of manufacturers produce reasonable quality dedicated film scanners ( Plustek, Reflecta ). There are also a load of other suppliers of film scanners that appear to be a step up from the Lidl scanner, a lot of these appear to be clones of a couple of basic designs ( if you buy one of these make sure you get a 14 day return option just in case its as bad as the Lidl ). There is even the option to use your phone to scan film / slides. If your requirements are basic and you are not looking to print over 10 x 8, one of the cheap and cheerful solutions may do. But if you want to archive digital copies of negatives / slides or want to print copies please consider getting a scanner that produces files with a wide dynamic range.

If you are trying to use an old scanner consider using a old PC / Laptop running a old version of windows that supports that scanner. This is what I do, I have a old XP laptop running all the manufacturers software. But I almost exclusively use VueScan for doing the scans, this means I don't have to learn and remember individual tricks and behaviours of each piece of scanning software. This XP laptop is running XP striped down to just what I need, Wireless is disabled and I never connect to the internet. If I want to transfer files to my main editing desktop I use a USB and only transfer the files to the main PC, I never transfer files back to the XP Laptop.

To get the best out of most scanning software takes time, you need to learn what the software can do and how the options impact the resulting image.

Don't bother scanning at over 3200 dpi unless you are using a very high quality dedicated film scanner. All that happens is that the scanning time increases with no real increase in output image quality. As an example I once turned on all the options and did the highest resolution scan I could on the Canon 9950F. The scan took over 45 minutes for one negative, and the output was only a tiny bit better than a 2 minute scan.

Personally, if I want to get the best file out of the scanner to process in a full photo editing package ( PhotoShop etc ), I always output my scans as 48 bit TIFF files. This results in large files but all the information generated by the scan is retained. Output the scan to a JPEG always loses data in the highlights and the shadows.

Of course there is the option to send your negatives away to be scanned. It works, its costly ( prices are usually a base price ( for a USB drive ) of around 20 pounds plus a cost per negative/ slide ) its potentially risky - losing negatives / slides in post. But the good sites have access to very high quality scanners ( Hasselblad Flextight etc ).

For anyone who wants to see Film Scanners reviewed properly and tested scientifically goto ( https://www.filmscanner.info/en/FilmscannerTestberichte.html ) , these guys are serious about film scanning.

What is the future for Film Scanning? - My guess is it will be based around the Smart phone ( probably using RAW support ) remember 16mp is plenty of resolution for 35mm . The smart phone market is fast and innovative, they have an idea, they just build it and see if it flies. The 'traditional' photographic companies seem like the old soviet era with five years plans. They are slow to respond, worried about impacting existing products ( pissing in their own back yard ), blinkered vision, limited innovation. These 'old' companies spend far to much time looking back and remembering how it was. The world has changed, and while the Mirrorless cameras being produced are nice and appeal to avid photographers. Its a shrinking market, the smart phone with CP ( Computational Photography ) is striding forward with confidence and innovation. The 'old' companies are only now starting to admit that their products need to simply link to Smart phones and online / social network services. If 'old' companies want to compete in the new world, they need to forget committee decisioning, focus groups, fiscal analysis. Build a small team of young bucks with an older open minded leader and give them free rein to try something new or something old in a new way. But I doubt this will happen. Remember once the photo world was ruled by a company called Kodak, many people under 20 years of age will not be awarer of this. The Business mantra "Past performance is no guarantee of future results" is repeated because its true. no company has right to a specific market or to dominate a market. Once your at the top the only way is down.

What will probably happen - I would not be surprised to see a quality 'one box' solution produced for the smart phone ( a specific model / manufacturer - help drive sales? ), it would do multiple exposures for increased Dynamic range, fully support different colour emulations and film sizes. And would cost less than 100 pounds ( possibly a lot less ).

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I can be contacted at SMF@SMFPICS.COM