eXtensions - Monday 6 July 2020
FilmBox: Scanning Negatives on iPhones
By Graham K. Rogers
Not long after I found my first medium format camera, I bought a flatbed scanner. While the best results might come from a drum scanner, these are prohibitively expensive (thousands of dollars). Two flatbed scanners were suggested: the Epson V800/850, and the Canon 9000F, Mk II. I chose the latter which I picked up in central Bangkok for about 10,000 baht about 5 years ago. It came with software on a disk, but I eschewed this in favor of VueScan, which has a slightly dated interface but does the job well.
120 film from Agfa Record III scanned with Canon 9000F
The size of medium format film these days is about 61mm or 2.4". It is called 120 as this is Kodak's numbering system (220 film is the same 61mm width, but the rolls are twice the length.)
6 x 6 film from Hasselblad scanned with FilmBox (left) and Canon 9000F
Prasat Muang Singh - 35mm film scanned with FilmBox
Once it seems stable, the photo button is held for 3 seconds. There is also a voice-activated option. This works better than the 3-second button hold which may allow shaking, but it did not work every time for me. When it does, it is much better. I tried a browser page on my MacBook Pro with its slanted screen initially, but had better results - especially with regard to physically handling the negatives and phone together - when I tried a white screen on the iPad Pro. I laid this flat and treated it like a mini light table.
Early morning ride out - 35mm film scanned with FilmBox
The image scanned using the Canon is a little different at 8148 x 5165, TIFF of 46.3 MB, with an image size of 8 x 5 at a resolution of 1022 pixels/inch. At 72 pixels/inch that would give an image of 113.5 x 71, although a better print image would be 40" x 25 at 200 pixels/inch. The scanner output is always going to be better, but that is not the real point here. An app like this might be useful when away from usual resources so that the image can be viewed and judged effectively in limited circumstances. It could also save me the effort of bringing the scanner out from its storage space if I just want a quick look.
For those using 35mm film, who are the targeted user group, there is a use for this app, but it is limited as most shops that develop film these days would also scan the negatives for a fee. I prefer 120 film over 35mm partly because when scanning I find the smaller film so fiddly to handle. This provides a quick way for me at least to gauge the value of output, perhaps allowing me to save time: only scanning the best of the images, rather than the whole roll.
The app will score when someone finds a box of old negatives left in an attic somewhere. It would be handy to see if there were any usable images (and what the content is) before taking the process further. There may also be that one photograph that has been kept along with its negative, that could be refreshed and used online.
The app itself is limited in terms of output, especially compared with a scanner, either one already owned or a service by a photo-developing shop. I am also not convinced by the price structure: a monthly payment of 179 baht ($5.73) or a 5-year plan for 599 baht ($19.19). My Canon scanner is available online for around 7,500 baht nowadays.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)
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