Digital Camera Scanning Is the Best Way to Digitize Film

For film photographers, digitizing film is arguably the most important part of the workflow. For me, there is no longer a debate of what is the best approach. Using a digital camera to digitize film is the only way. 

Brought to you by Kyle McDougall, this video goes through Kyle's process and experience of digitizing film using a digital camera. More specifically, he is using his Fujifilm X-T4 equipped with a 7artisans Photoelectric 60mm f/2.8 Macro Mark II. The film is secured by the (expensive) VALOI 360 film advancer and holders

In this day and age where the overwhelming majority of photographs live exclusively on our phones and occasionally make it to social media and an even more select few get printed, digitizing film has never been more important. That said, the actually digitizing process can be a real pain. The gear and process can easily get more expensive and time-consuming than any other part of your photography. I used to be a real fan of the Epson V600 (review of it can be found here); before I stopped using it, I had crossed the 2,500 scans threshold. Nowadays, however, I have exclusively been using pixl-latr (the review of which can be found here). The time it takes to digitize any one negative is now a fraction of what it takes with a flatbed or a designated 35mm scanner, and the results, in my opinion, are just as good or better. True, you have to clean the dust off of the scans, but that was already a task required for black and white film. 

I expect someone will say that drum scanning is the absolute best way to digitize. And sure, drum scans are now and will continue to be superior in their quality, but they are inarguably impractical for 99% of what the typical photographer needs digitized.

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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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While I agree with the logic, and conclusion of this article, I am disappounted that it states a conclusion, without describing the process, justifying the conclusion. I personally use a Nikon D850, with the PB4 bellows and slide copy unit, along with the 55mm f2.8 micro nikkor, lit by the Neewer 160 LED light. The adjustments in the camera include contrast and saturation, allowing some in camera controls, without using the RAW file in post. And, a 45 megapixel file makes a wonderful print!

The video goes into the details of the process pretty well.

I use the besler dual mode slide duplicator, the CMY adjustable filters are amazing for adjusting for anti halation layer on C41. I use old rstock enlarger lenses but any flatfield lens will work. Enlarger lenses are readily available but the focal length will be dictated by the film format.

Tried several Epson flatbeds, even the latest of old Konica-Minolta 5400 II 35mm film scanner (released ~2005), but each option required lot of time and nursing and the results were so-so at best. Until I started taking direct photos of old slides and negatives. Instead of hours and days of scanning, new workflow takes 15 minutes for the setup and maybe a minute per frame. Negatives require additional post time to flip colors, still just minutes per frame.
The winning combination for my Fuji X camera includes Nikon's ES-2 slide holder/adapter that comes with two trays, one for slides another for film strips, and the TTArtisan's 40mm/f2.8 Macro that allows full frame capture (when fully extended). As with any manual lens without electric contacts it may take few tries to get perfect focus. While 60mm macro works with full frame cameras, that results in partial frame on the APSC cameras, and the incompatible working distance.

For 35 mm film I would agree - for posting on IG I would agree. For medium format and above I would disagree especially for prints. I would think done correctly a good hi rez scan would yield much better results. I'm not an expert but it seems like you are taking a 6x7 image and downsizing it to a crop sensor size image? I get that it's faster but if that is the metric -then just shoot the fuji x?

I think it depends on the megapixel count of your camera used for scanning. Resolution is the number of megapixels in a digital camera so a crop sensor with higher MP count than the scanner you're using is still going to have a better file because we can control the light coming through the film. Ultimately, yes, someone could pay to get a ultra high resolution drum scan but that costs a lot of money and time. Bang for your buck, it's going to be hard to beat a high MP digital camera scan.

I get that digitizing film images allows for using modern digital " light room" techniques on them rather than having to use chemicals etc. That is great for those of us who never had the opportunity to experience a light room back when we were shooting film and maybe even better for those who did use light rooms at the time. Also I understand digitizing film images is the only way to share them electronically. Yet I have a sticking point. Those who do film say for a first time now and who do not either have darkroom prints made or do them themselves will never truly have the film experience.