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Best Scanner for Medium/Large Format Film?

Tim Layton , Nov 02, 2010; 12:41 a.m.

Hi, I need your help. With the ever-changing world of technology and gadgets, I wanted to check with everyone here about a new scanner or improved scanner software.
I currently scan my 6x45, 6x7 and 4x5 film and slides on an Epson V750-M scanner and I typically use Silverfast AI 6 as my software for scanning. I wanted to check with everyone here to see if there was anything newer on the market that supposedly produces higher quality results.
Is there a new scanner or new software that will produce better results for MF and LF films/transparencies than the Epson V750-M and Silverfast AI combo? I fully understand "better" is a highly subjective term.
Thanks for your time,


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Edward Ingold , Nov 02, 2010; 01:22 a.m.

Most people would agree "better" means more resolution, dynamic range and DMax. If you mean "affordable", then read no further.

For 4x5 and smaller, you would look at Imacon, Scitex (flat bed) or a drum scanner. For medium format and smaller, a Nikon LS-9000 is an option. A new Imacon is in the $20K class. You can find an used Scitex flatbed for about $12K. The Nikon, if you can find one, is about $2300 with an optional (but necessary) glass holder.

Q.G. de Bakker , Nov 02, 2010; 02:00 a.m.

I guess it is safe to write this below Edward's "then read no further". ;-)
One of the Imacon (now known as Hasselblad) scanners. They will do all formats up to and including 4x5", and are the best you can get.
Very expensive...

Ingemar Lampa , Nov 02, 2010; 06:50 a.m.

Agree with all previous advise.

And now for a word of caution: like anyone, I would love to get my hands on even a 2nd hand Imacon and behold - I found one on the fleebay at the very very reasonable initial price of US$2.200. Person was registered in Sweden, where also I was born, so I asked a few questions in Swedish about the scanner. The seller replied in what looked like "google translation" and then offered me to buy it for US$1.100 only - outside of the bay...Even saying that it would be promptly delivered from China (not Sweden) as soon as payment was received. I turned and ran of course.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is..." Beware...

Rodeo Joe , Nov 02, 2010; 07:25 a.m.

Scanner development has now been abandoned by most manufacturers, so unfortunately the dreaded Epson has little competition in the "affordable" category.
Just an idea: It's quite possible to get high-resolution digitisation by re-photographing your slides or negatives using a modern digital camera. A 5x4 can be reproduced by stitching several digital frames together. This way you can circumvent the 10K pixel TWAIN limit and probably do a "scan" in far less time than a flatbed takes. You'll need a bright and consistent lightbox and a decent digital camera with a low-distortion macro lens (Total cost new ~ $2500 US). You could even extend the dynamic range by altering the exposure of one set of digital dupes and then use HDR software to do exposure stacking.

Tim Layton , Nov 02, 2010; 10:17 a.m.

Thank you for all of your responses and suggestions so far. To give you a little more background in my thinking. I pondered the differences between film and digital as it relates to the final product. I have found in my own tests that unless I am shooting college sports and some wildlife I find myself going back to my medium and large format cameras for a superior final product. My initial tests with the Epson V750M and the Silverfast AI software has given me good results. I am looking for great results and it seems like the manufacturing world is pushing us another direction. For a lot of my work I don't mind the much slower work pace and the added step of scanning to get the image into my digital workflow. I am most concerned about the final product and controlling costs.

I could easily invest $20k or more on a number of medium format digital cameras that will be outdated in a year or two. I was thinking that if I made the investment in the scanning technology instead of the next wiz bang digital camera I can keep using my medium and large format film cameras year after year and by updating my digital workflow (i.e., scanner software, Lightroom, Photoshop) . I think about the RZ67 Pro II that I bought new over a decade ago that still produces stunning images within its intended target. I think about my Nikon D3S and how it will be outdated in the near future and that is why I am going down this path of exploring these options.

Rodeo Joe mentioned using a light box and a macro lens on a DSLR. I've thought about that but wouldn't I be limited to the capabilities of that DSLR and then I would lose effective pixels because of the aspect ratio differences that would force me to crop? For example, If I used my Nikon D3S and one of my top end Zeiss Macro lenses I would end up with a 12MP image, where as if I scanned that same negative or slide I would end up with a 100MP or more image depending on the scanning DPI. I just want to make sure I am not missing something before I don't pursue that option.

Thank you and I look forward to more thoughts and suggestions.


Edward Ingold , Nov 02, 2010; 10:47 a.m.

Rather than seeking advice, you are trying to revive the pointless "film v digital" debate. You're preaching to the choir, but what's new about that?

(1) Digital cameras do not become obsolete after two years unless your competition has something to offer your present equipment can't match.

(2) Not all pixels are equal. Roughly speaking, direct digital pixels are worth three off the film. A 6x7 negative yields approximately 90 MP, which would be matched or exceeded in every practical aspect (except USAF resolution targets) by a 30+ MP digital back.

(3) There are several MF digital backs with more than 30 MP selling for $13K new (the H4D-31 a complete camera for that price), and used backs are becoming more available as they are supplanted by 60MP backs.

(4) There haven't been any new scanners for nearly 5 years, and far fewer being produced than ever before. It is likely that Nikon is simply selling off existing inventory of the LS-9000, and perhaps Hasselblad as well.

(5) For me, a digital back gave new life to my Hasselblad equipment, making it a professionably viable tool, whereas scanned film is strictly for personal use (artisan photography, if you prefer) due to the time required, incremental cost and general inconvenience.

Marc Batters , Nov 02, 2010; 10:51 a.m.

1) You state that you could easily invest 20K in MF Digital.
I'm not sure if that means, what you would have to pay for your needs, or what you are willing to pay/afford?
2) You state that you want to control costs.
3) You want the best quality results.

The following has been said here, and in many other sites and forums.
If you want the best quality film scans from MF and LF, go with drum scans.
You have to decide, based on your volume of printable images, or keepers, if owning a (possible) 20K scanner is in your budget.
If not, then you continue to use your Epson for preview scanning, and send your keepers to a lab with a drum scanner.

Only you, know the best answer.

Tim Layton , Nov 02, 2010; 11:03 a.m.

Edward and Marc thank you for your responses. I really was not trying to stir up a film vs digital debate. I am just going through this journey and struggle at this point and time and I am sure many have come before me that I know nothing about. Maybe I did not say it very well, but what I was trying to say was: I could invest $20k in a new H system (e.g., H4D-31 and a couple lenses) or I could potentially invest a similar amount if some scanning technology and continue to use my film equipment to get similar results while leveraging this solution over a much longer period time lowering my total cost of ownership over the same time horizon. What I didn't realize and learned from this thread was the abandonment of the scanner technology by manufacturers. I also did not know that the film and digital pixels were not equal as Edward pointed out. Marc had an excellent point about continuing to use the Epson as my "preview" and for my fine art large prints send out for drum scans. I appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge and I come away from this with some very good input and new knowledge. Thank you.


Stephen Penland , Nov 02, 2010; 12:41 p.m.

Tim, I can appreciate your dilemma, because I was in the same situation but chose a different solution. I was using medium and large (4x5)format film, and I scanned the medium format on a Nikon 8000 and the large format on an Epson V-750. But it seemed as if I was squeezing all that 4x5 information through a very narrow bottleneck and getting relatively little of the full potential out the other end. I had enough 4x5 keepers that sending transparencies in for a professional scan felt cost-prohibitive. In the end, I decided to give up large format, because I was unwilling to invest in and learn darkroom printing. I've since added a Hasselblad 501cm system to my camera bag, and I enjoy it immensely. Fortunately, I can get excellent scans from its output on my Nikon 8000. However, I'm slowly coming around to thinking about a medium format back for the Hasselblad, and I'll seriously consider the Pentax 645D for all of my 645NII lenses. I enjoy film, I like to scan, but some of my favorite films appear to be in jeopardy, and I've never been one to see a strong difference between film and digital: both can be spectacular. Any of these solutions will be expensive, but for what I get out of photography, it will be well worth the cost.

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