Can This $300 Scanner Really Keep up With a Scanner More Than 10 Times the Price?

For film photographers, digitizing negatives (and slides!) is a crucial part of the process. For many, myself included, finding an affordable option that does a good job is a challenge.

Brought to you by Kyle McDougall, this video sought to compare the Plustek OpticFilm 8100, a $330 scanner, with the Nikon Super Coolscan 900, a scanner that was discontinued years ago but is largely considered one of the best scanners of home scanning and only available now for several thousands of dollars. Without giving too much away, I was pretty shocked to see some of the results from McDougall's comparisons. Overall, while the Plustek did not perform on par with the Nikon in my opinion, I think it did surprisingly well and for the price tag, value comes into the question.

Like many photographers, I have a love-hate relationship with digitizing my film. I love to see the conversion right after it's made and I love that the time spent per image is still only a fraction of what I would expect to spend on a digital image (and that's including the scanning time and time spent cleaning the dust!) Personally, I've digitized my film with my Sony a7R II and my Epson V600 and have had good luck with both though I'm always looking for ways to improve my scanning efficiency and quality. The one thing that really holds the Plustek back in my opinion and the reason I won't personally be picking one up for myself is that it can only scan 35mm film. 

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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Wow, that's impressive. Must say, I'm tempted to get one and shoot more on film this coming year.

The bane of these modern scanners is that they're "pre-focused", and you're at the mercy of the production line to make sure yours is properly focused on the main film plane. They tend to compensate for out of focus scans by applying digital sharpening. The beauty of the Coolscan 9000 is that it not only can focus anywhere on the film plane, but had a Newtonian glass carrier option that guaranteed your scans are completely flat and focused throughout.

He admittedly did not use curved film, which would show up the shortcoming of pre-focused scanners in that only a portion of your image will be in focus, depending on the severity of the curvature. I've had to sometimes perform 2 scans (center and edge) with my Minolta dImage 5400 scanner and stack them in Zerene Stacker to have an image focus clear across the live area if there was significant film curvature.

That said, chances are you're still going to get a better quality scan from one of these scanners then you will form a flatbed, which are also pre-focused. Plustek also makes a 120 film scanner, the OpticFilm 120 Pro, for around $2200. Again however, it's a pre-focused scanner, and no glass film carrier, and 120 film curvature can possibly be a greater problem. If Plustek offered a glass carrier for their OpticFilm 120 Pro I would consider it.

However if 35mm is all you scan this OpticFilm 8100 will probably serve you much better than a flatbed.

I bought one of these a couple of years ago, the image quality is meh, although if you combine exposures the dynamic range is decent. I used the included software and Silverfast for scanning, colors were always all over the place. But the real issue is speed, this thing is so slow it takes forever to scan your film.
I eventually switched to digitizing film with my digital camera and the Negative Lag Pro Lightroom plugin, way better quality, predictable colors, and instant results.

Side request: what make/model 11x17 inch flatbed scanner do folks love for digitizing a world of flat art, especially photo prints that are larger than 8 1/2 inches? ( I'm frustrated stitching 2 halves together, especially when the shadows are opposite on semi-3-dimensional works such as painted brushstrokes. ) Thanks.

As far as I know the only game in town is the Epson V700. There are other 11x17 scanners but they appear to be optimized for document copy and not photographic. Anything with brush strokes that you want to accentuate should really be photographed.