A Photographers Guide To Scanning 35mm Film.

Across the internet on every photography forum there are threads about choosing the right film scanner. Which scanner performs the best for a certain price? Or, just getting into film photography, which scanner is right for me? There are many options for digitizing film that it may seem a bit overwhelming. Over the years I have used several methods, such as DSLRs with a macro lens photographing the film on a light box, and several different types of film scanners.

The scanners I have used are the Hasselblad Flextight X1, Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 and Epson v500. In this review I will cover operation and general information on the scanners. As well as present examples and 100% crops to showcase the main differences in image quality. I have chosen these scanners based on their differences in operation and price. This review is based on scanning 35mm film.

A brief introduction of each scanner.

  • The Hasselblad is a “virtual” drum scanner, meaning it bends the film carrier over a curve for optimal image sharpness. The scanner also captures raw files, which are .fff files. And has an optical resolution of 6400 dpi. Each scan takes 6 minutes when scanning at full resolution, wether it’s color or black and white.
  • The Nikon is a dedicated film scanner which still comes highly recommended, even after being discontinued and unsupported by Nikon. The scanner has an optical resolution of 4000 dpi. Each scan takes about two minutes when scanning at full resolution.
  • The Epson is a popular flatbed scanner due to it’s price and image quality. The resolution of the v500 is listed as 6400 dpi, though I have found 3200 dpi to be optimal, with no added resolution above 3200. Each scan take about a minute when scanning at 3200 dpi.

I used the Hasselblad Flextight X1 with FlexColor 4.8.13. The Nikon CoolScan was used with Nikon Scan 4.0.2. And the Epson v500 was used with Epson Scan 5.1.

Getting right into image quality. These are all straight out of the scanner, no post production.

Epsonv500U 1Epson v500

Epsonv500S 1Epson v500 Sharpness on

Nikon 1Nikon CoolScan

Hassy 1Hasselblad X1

What is first noticeable is that each image looks great when posted on the web at a reasonable size. The Nikon has more contrast than the Epson. And the Hasselblad is noticeably brighter. Now lets look at the 100% crops.

EpsonU 1 100%Epson v500

EpsonS 1 100%Epson v500 Sharpness on

Nikon 1 100%Nikon CoolScan

Hassy 1 100%Hasselblad X1

  • What is now noticeable is that the Epson is very soft and flat straight out of the scanner.
  • The Epson has a sharpness function in the scan software, however the image looks like it suffers from slight artifacting.
  • The Nikon looks great with nice sharpness and clear rendition of the film grain.
  • The Hasselblad looks great as well, with a slight edge over the Nikon.

Epsonv500U 2Epson v500

Epsonv500S 2Epson v500 Sharpness on

Nikon 2Nikon CoolScan

Hassy 2Hasselblad X1

Now 100% crops

EpsonU 2 100%Epson v500

EpsonS 2 100%Epson v500 Sharpness on

Nikon 2 100%Nikon CoolScan

Hassy 2 100%Hasselblad X1

  • The Hasselblad produced noticeably darker tones.
  • With the Nikon and Epson looking similar to one another when it comes to color.
  • The Nikon again, looks great with nice sharpness.
  • As well as the Hasselblad.
  • The Epson again suffers from being soft.
  • And with sharpness turned on in scanner the image looks better than the samples from black and white film, however there is still slight artifacting in the darker tones.

Epsonv500U 3Epson v500

Epsonv500S 3Epson v500 Sharpness on

Nikon 3Nikon CoolScan

Hassy 3Hasselblad X1

Now 100% crops.

EpsonU 3 100%Epson v500

EpsonS 3 100%Epson v500 Sharpness on

Nikon 3 100%Nikon CoolScan

Hassy 3Hasselblad X1

  • The Nikon looks great with nice sharpness and clear rendition of the film grain. It has nice contrast and, to my eye, looks better than the Hasselblad.
  • The Hasselblad looks great as well, though slightly brighter straight out of the scanner.
  • The Epson again suffers from being soft.
  • And with sharpness turned on in scanner it shows slight artifacting.

Conclusion.

I think it’s safe to pass on the Epson v500 for 35mm film, unless the end result is to post photographs online at 6×10” at 72 dpi. However, when it comes to printing, the images do not hold up well.

The Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 performed extremely well in this comparison, and in my opinion, is the scanner to get. It has superior image sharpness and quality of rendering the film grain. I have made 16×20” prints from the Nikon which are beautiful. It’s also worth checking out the other Nikon scanners, such as the 5000/8000/9000, depending on film format being used.

The Hasselblad Flextight X1 surprised me the most in this review. From what others have written about this scanner, it is made out to be leaps and bounds above anything else. The Hasselblad does have a slight edge over the Nikon Coolscan 4000 when it comes to resolution, but is it really that noticeable? To my eye, the difference in image quality is small, and it’s great to see the old Nikon hold its own against the Hasselblad. A huge plus to the Flextight X1 is the fact that it’s new and still supported by Hasselblad. Not to mention the fact that it captures raw files. And Xpan users rejoice, as the Hasselblad Flextight X1 has a holder to scan the 24x64mm frames.

Quick notes about issues that can arise on these scanners.

The Epson v500 suffers from haze forming on the glass. As I have shown here with my v500, this haze is located inside of the scanner.

v500Haze

It is very easy to do this cleaning yourself, taking only minutes.

v500clean

A guide can be found here for cleaning the glass on the Epson V500.

http://www.lomography.com/magazine/141581-cleaning-the-internal-glass-of-an-epson-scanner

Though it does not show how to clean the top section of glass, which also needed to be cleaned on my scanner. The sample photographs posted in this review from the Epson were created after I cleaned the glass.

The Nikon SA-21 film strip adapter LEDs can, over time, fade and prevent the scanner from operating correctly. My SA-21 would not take Alford HP5. However I took the SA-21 apart and found a strong layer of dust on the LEDs. So I carefully cleaned them and now the SA-21 works perfectly. Here is information about the LEDs on the Nikon SA-21.

http://janburke.de/index.php/blog-en/130-replacing-photo-sensors-on-nikon-sa-21-film-feeder

I do not own, and have not used the Hasselblad Flextight X1 extensively. So I cannot comment on issues that may arise from use. However, I found it difficult to scan images in the middle of a six frame film strip. The first frame of the strip had to go through the hole at the top of the film holder, not recommended.

All images copyright 2015

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