A better way to scan film on a flatbed

While digital cameras are certainly taking over the world of imaging, there is still a healthy market—albeit a shrinking one—for photographic film. Maybe it’s playing with vintage rangefinders, toy cameras or Polaroids, maybe it’s just liking it as a medium, or maybe it’s a living, but film still has relevance for some of us. Getting that film into your computer can be a bit of a quandary, however, especially since the number of slide and flatbed scanners seems to be dwindling. (How best to transform film from its analog form to the digital world is one of the questions I’m asked most frequently, especially by people looking to preserve old negatives and slides.)

I’m still shooting quite a bit of film, and I have some dedicated film scanners and a couple of good flatbed scanners. I have been working on a review of the latest version of LaserSoft Imaging’s SilverFast scanning software—one of the few pro-level solutions still being developed today—but the quality of the film holders supplied by some of the scanner manufacturers hasn’t really been as good as I’d like. They’re flimsy, and they don’t really keep the film flat. Luckily, I ran across a solution that has really impressed me in the short time I’ve been using it: Doug Fisher’s custom film holders.

Doug offers holders for medium-format film, as well as a holder that will cover the entire scanning area of many Epson, Microtek and Agfa scanners (including the old DuoScan T1200, one of my all-time favorite flatbeds). His inserts are made of rigid, high-quality plastic, unlike the flimsy one that seem to ship with most scanners today. To help keep the film flat, Doug has developed a simple, but ingenious, locking mechanism for holding the film in place without requiring glass. He also offers variable-height film holders, which let you adjust the clearance of the insert to optimize the sharpness of your particular scanner.

He also offers glass inserts for many scanners, which come with a coating to minimize the tiny concentric rainbow patterns, known as Newton Rings, that can show up in film scans.

If you’re old enough to remember when drum scanners ruled the earth, you’ll remember the use of the wet mount, which gave you the best possible scan, minimizing film scratches, Newton Rings and scanner moire patterns. (Epson came out with a scanner last year, the Perfection V750-M Pro, which includes a fluid-mount accessory kit—I’m hoping to get a chance to play with it later this summer.) Doug is also offering a variable-height mounting station that can be used in either wet or dry mount modes with the Epson scanners as well.

The holders range in price from $35 to $100, depending upon your needs, but if you’re regularly scanning older film formats, panoramic film, or medium- or large-format film, they can pay for themselves pretty quickly. I’m getting much better scans in less time, without the film curl that had been driving me crazy.

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