DSLR Scanning: Hands On Review with the Negative Supply MK1
Before I kick off this review, I want to send a very special thank you to Negative Supply for sending a demo prototype MK1 unit to test over a weekend. Be sure to check out Negative Supply’s MK1 Kickstarter. Also, a very special thank you to our co-host, Steven Wallace, for allowing me to borrow a majority of his gear to do this review!
The film photography industry is certainly seeing a revival. However, it is nowhere recovered. Major corporations died out like the dinosaurs, others still on life support. As a result as this significant shrinkage of the the market, corporate innovation has has hit a major stall. Photo labs around the world suffer because the the mighty Fujifilm Frontiers and Noritsu scanners are old tech. Many of the machines still producing digital images from major Labs like Dunwoody Photo, Indie Film Lab, Richard Film Lab are running scanners that are easily approaching (or have surpassed) 20 years. These labs are screaming for SOMEBODY (*cough* *cough* Kodak Alaris) to bring back a commercial level scanner back to the industry.
Epson is one of the incredibly few companies still actively manufacturing flat bed scanners. The v850, released in 2014, has been Epson’s flagship scanner, however we have yet to see Epson push to make flatbed scanning for film better.
While major corporations have left the market with a giant gap for innovation, somebody has come in to fill that void. Hobbyists, Builders, engineers, and developers with a geekery film photography are utilizing open source applications, 3D printing, and micro computing devices to push the innovation the film photography community desperately needs.
I had the privilege to interview one of the co-founders to Negative Supply, AJ Holmes. In our podcast interview, we learned about what inspired them to build film advancing devices for a growing trend in film scanning: DSLRs. The MK1 used in conjunction of a light table, a DSLR and macro lens, and a simple tripod allows photographers to increase their workflow in scanning film faster than the traditional flat bed scanners. After the interview, I asked AJ if it was possible to demo one. AJ replied that it was absolutely possible!
A couple weeks later, the MK1 arrived. However I did not have a macro lens for Sony Mirrorless. Steven was very kind to allow me to borrow his 10-year old Canon 50D with the EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. With my sturdy tripod, I got to setting up the review!
There are several advantages to using a DSLR for film scanning:
- Workflow: film scanned with a DSLR is MUCH faster than flatbed.
- Optics: The optics in a macro lens is much better than a flatbed.
- RAW Capture: Many of todays DSLRs capture 14-bit raw for better editing flexibility.
- Tethering capabilities from the camera straight into applications like Adobe Lightroom.
The MK1 is a solid unit. It is not made with cheap 3D printed plastic. There is heft to it. The unit has an input and output allowing the film to enter one side. As the film is fed across, a wheel with rubber washers catches the film. With a twist of the knob the film advances to the output side. The rubber feet on the bottom of the devices allows the unit to grip the light table well, decreasing the likelihood of the device moving around if the table is bumped.
For the demo these are the manual camera settings I used for color negative:
- Aperture: f/8 for optimal lens sharpness and depth of field for capturing the film.
- ISO: 100 for using the cameras native ISO. Since the 50D was manufactured in 2008, old cameras are not known for the superior ISO performance we are accustomed to today.
- Shutter Speed: 1/6 Sec. because the slow ISO and smaller aperture.
- White Balance: The LED light table is daylight rated. So the Canon 50D was set manually for that rating.
Within a couple minutes, I completed a 24-exposure roll of Kodak Gold 200. The images were captured directly into a Lightroom collection. Now that I have these negatives, how the heck am I going to convert it. This is a question that plagued photographers until recently.
One of the major drawback to DSLR scanning in the past was color correction. Because of the film’s orange hue, color correcting negatives was a long and tedious process… until recently. I purchased a license for Negative Lab Pro, a program recently created as a Lightroom plug in that streamlines the color correction process. I will have to do a separate review of this application. You can check them out with a free trial!
After doing a white balance on the outside frame of the image (per NLP’s instructions) and using a simple Noritsu or Frontier color profile, I was able to quickly change individual negatives. This was accomplished by using a hot key and a single-click to covert the image into a positive.
Color Negative: Kodak Gold 200
Images shot with a Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom– Shot at EI 200 – Scanned at
15 Megapixels on the Canon 50D with the EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro.
Slide Film: Kodak Professional EKTACHROME E100
Images shot with a Canonet QL 17 G III – Shot at EI 200 -Scanned 24 Megapixels using Sony A7 III and the FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro
I’d like to add, I am incredibly happy with the slide film results. Coming from using a Frontier scanner, I was never happy with the results. Using the Sony A7 III and the 90mm Macro on a light table really took advantage of the film’s beautiful dynamic range and render it much better than the commercial scanners and consumer flatbeds.
100% crop of 15 Megapixel images of Kodak Gold 200.
I am quite pleased with the results. These images did not include any color or exposure tweaks. All of these images are using a standard Noritsu color profile. I find the images to be incredibly sharp. With the macro lens’ superior optics, the grain in the images seem much more defined and sharper. I find that the camera’s RAW capabilities and static white balance made guessing colors less of a challenge.
There are couple critiques I’d like to add to the unit. Since macro photography will be in use, image precision is key. I wish there was a film plane indicator on the MK1. This would allow photographers to accurately measure the distance from the film plane on the MK1 to the plane where the camera sensor is located. This would add an extra level of precision to measuring the distance.
Secondly, the instruction state “Concave side up.” This is a bit confusing. Many cases, my film lies down pretty flat so I had to pull a couple rolls of film to see which side was which. I wish it would just say emulsion side down (or up), to remove any confusion on which side the film should be loaded. If we’re handling the film, we can easily see which side is the emulsion.
Thirdly, curvature, the film does lie down pretty flat inside the holder. However, working with Frontiers, a pressure plate applies down on the frame. Adding that ever so slight pressure ensure the film is even flatter when it is captured.
Lastly, a film mask. The film gate is quite wide. I assume to have the ability to scan X-Pan frames, however just adding a mask would make it every so slightly easier to see the frame line up. This doesn’t affect functionality. I think this is just a user preference.
While many people say this unit is expensive, In a way, I agree. I return that statement with a question? However how much do you value your time? For people with high amounts of volume, this process makes film scanning much easier and far more quick that scanning on a flat bed. As a working photographer, I see this a great return on investment. My gear is repurposed and not sitting idly for the next session. Additionally, a full ‘kit’ to get into DSLR scanning is not as expensive as one would think. Using and repurposing old digital equipment, like the 50D used in this review was a great example getting into DSLR scanning. I’ve even spoken with people who have spent less than $300 on a camera/macro. It can be done.
Overall, I am really happy with the MK1. I think this product has great potential and I personally think current backers will be happy with the result they will get. I plan on purchasing one, myself! Stay tuned for more updates on this. We are working on a comparison with the Epson V850 with rather ‘colorful’ results.