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Camera Scanning - Various Topics

  2015 January 29    Film   Scanning


In a previous article I detailed what may be the best, most cost-effective method for scanning slides:  macro capture with a DSLR. 

I know that other people have experimented in the past with DSLR's and bellows, but I wanted "simple", "easy to get", and "affordable".  That's why I chose to employ a light pad and copystand. 

This article answers several questions I've gotten from readers.

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In This Article

Question 1.  Does macro capture work with negatives?

Question 2.  Can I use lens XYZ and some cheap extender rings?

Question 3.  Can I use a bridge camera for macro capture?

Question 4.  Will my Canon / Nikon macro lens be able to auto-focus on the film?

Question #1.   Does macro capture work with negatives? 

(And if so, how well?)

The answer is Yes, pretty well. 

I've answered this in more detail here.

Before I began doing macro capture, I was having CD's made at photo labs to save time.  They like to use very high contrast, which causes highlight clipping. 

Macro capture allows you to avoid this clipping.  Learn some advanced techniques and you can even bring up the contrast without as much clipping.  Your images will appear that much more professional (speaking of which... you are charging the going rate for your work, aren't you?)

Anyway, you're going to have to experiment with contrast and levels adjustments so that your macro captures of negatives are not too faded, but at the same time the highlights are not blown out.

Question #2.   Can I use Lens XYZ and some cheap extender rings?

The answer to this one is also probably "Yes", with some considerations. 

Canon tubes are pricey, and good (modern) DSLR lenses are also expensive.  The thing is, though, when DSLR owners go around pillaging old film camera lenses, it makes it that much harder for film photographers to afford them.  So, I'd rather not recommend that as a widespread solution.  

The kit lens on an entry-level DSLR is great for pictures of people and landscapes.  Problem is, (A.) it requires a "smart" extender ring to function, and (B.) it's not so good for macro capture anyway.  It loses too much fine detail (although it's still better than a cheap flatbed scan). 

You're trying to do an archival capture that faithfully transfers the original to your DSLR (I know, digital is not really "archival", but you get my drift).  

Very few people will notice the loss of fine detail in pictures that were taken with a DSLR kit lens, but you will notice the loss of fine detail when you're using that lens to capture slides and negatives. 

I would highly recommend a macro lens that was made for your DSLR and which offers 1:1 macro.  If you use a Canon DSLR, please read my review of the EF 100mm f/2.8 USM.

If you absolutely can't budget a macro lens, you can "sometimes" do OK with a manual-focus lens and the appropriate adapter and extender rings.  Here's where it gets tricky.  Some lenses do not focus properly with adapters.  One of the worst ones, believe it or not, is the Canon FD lens on an EOS camera body.  You'd think Canon would adapt easily to Canon, but no.  They designed it in a way that requires a special adapter with its own optics, and nobody makes an affordable adapter that has good optics.  Come to think of it, there's no longer anyone making an FD to EOS adapter with good optics.   The good news is that you're not focusing to infinity, so you can actually get by with a cheap adapter.  The FD to EOS ones all have optics and advertise "infinity focus";  most fail to do this;  and they can be very soft at wide apertures.  I actually recommend doing macro capture at f/8 or f/11 anyway. (Well, with APS-C you're probably better off with f/5.6.)

As an aside, I'm actually kind of glad that FD lenses don't adapt well to EOS cameras.  It keeps a lot of Canon film camera lenses from being pillaged by DSLR users, which would drive the prices up (as it has done to Nikon lenses).   Nevertheless, I do sort of wish I could use my old 50mm 1.8 FD on my Canon DSLR. 

Now, where were we.  Just know that the "affordable" extension rings and lens adapters can get permanently stuck on your lens, camera, or both.  The extension rings usually stick on the lens, while the adapters usually stick on the camera  (so if you use both, you can ruin all your photo gear.  Yay!)  

You can't natively mount a Canon FD lens on a Canon DSLR, but if you had the adapter and an extender ring, this would be a good passable solution for macro capture (again, no infinity focus required for this).   If you have some other make of lens, and you have the right adapter, then go for it... just remember that cheap adapters can get stuck in your camera and/or on the lens and wreck something. 

If you have a boatload of slides or negatives to capture, or you think you might upgrade your DSLR soon anyway, then you could always just dedicate your old DSLR to macro capture.  Then you would never have to remove the kludgey macro lens-extender ring-whatever from your camera.  That would be good, because I almost had one of these rings ruin a Canon DSLR when trying to remove it. 

Lens adapters are a good example of something that looks very simple to make, but you and I would have a very difficult time making a good one ourselves, even with a machine shop.  Durable alloys, close tolerances, etc... there's actually a lot to it.  I try to tell myself this every time I look at the price of camera gear.

One More Thing

Here's another problem with non-macro lenses.  When you use them the way they're intended, they have a reasonably flat field.  Use them with extender rings, and corner sharpness often goes away.  

Using a 50mm prime lens as a "macro" is really not very good.   Actually it's awful, unless you like the Holga effect of blurred corners.

Lens adapters and extension rings are really only good for macro lenses that can't quite do 1:1, such as the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 AIS.  If you don't mind some wobble, that lens will work fine.

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Question #3.  Can I Use a Bridge Camera for Macro Capture?

Answer:  Yes, probably. 

For 120 and 4x5, absolutely.

The trick is to get a 35mm slide close enough to be within the macro focus distance.  Your bridge camera will probably not do macro focus unless it's almost all the way zoomed out. 

This introduces barrel distortion to the captured image. 

You can correct this out by using the "lens distortion" filter in your image editing software.

I have successfully used a Canon SX50 (available here) with an Albinar High-Load copy stand and a Logan A7A light pad.    The A7A seems to have sporadic availability. There's another brand that looks like the identical unit, and at the moment you may be able to get it through this link.  If you can't get that one, my next choice would be the Artograph 6 x 9 inch LightPad, available through this link.

The light pad should be set on a couple of thick books to elevate it.  Don't forget to make a frame mask out of black construction paper, so that light doesn't spill around the edges of your slide and ruin the capture. 

It really helps if you lay a piece of ANR glass on top of the slide / mask so it stays flat. 

Once you get a system going for macro capture with a bridge camera, you may find it's just as good as a DSLR.  Just know that the zoom lens resets every time you turn off the camera.   The other drawback is that the smaller sensor tends to blow out highlights more easily than a DSLR sensor, but if you control the bridge camera's exposure carefully, it probably won't be an issue. 

I was pleasantly surprised at the capture quality.  Figure on losing a bit of the effective resolution due to the camera's use of a less-than-perfect working distance, so with a 12 megapixel bridge camera you could get a good solid 10-megapixel capture.  

Or, mess with it and see if you can do two separate captures and stitch them together.  Usually I don't bother with that, but if you had something special, it might be worth it.

First, here's a 100% crop from a flatbed scan.  This was an Epson V500...

Next up, the Canon SX50 capture of the same slide:

Hello, Night?  Meet Day.

The difference is pretty amazing.  Who would have thought a bridge camera could capture slides this well? 

Now that I've found the SX50 is great for this purpose, that's one more reason to recommend it.  Incredible zoom for wildlife photography, very good daylight image quality... as long as you're not primarily doing low-light photography, the SX50 is a keeper.  I know that sounds kind of like an ad for this camera, but I am pleasantly surprised with its quality.  Full review here.

Question #4:  Will My Lens Auto-Focus on the Film?

This one is easy.  I don't know offhand of any macro lens that can autofocus on film or slides.  Technically they can, but they won't be very effective.  They'll try to autofocus on everything else but the film!

Digital cameras and lenses were not really designed for this use, so they didn't put R&D into getting perfect AF on a 35mm slide.  That would be a tough problem, because focusing on a chemical image in a transparency is a lot different from focusing on some trees or a butterfly.

Use manual focus instead.  Once you set everything up properly, you shouldn't even need to re-adjust the focus for each frame.  (Use a piece of this to flatten the film.)

Is a macro lens still worth it?  Absolutely.   If you use Canon, here's a lens that works great. 

If you want weather-sealing and image stabilization (which add extra versatility), get this lens instead for your Canon DSLR.


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This has been a short Q&A about camera-scanning or macro-capture of film.

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