Film Scanning Rigs Gallery

Very simple setup based on Nikon slide copier ES1

Camera: Canon DSLR

Lens: Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro lens 

Adapter: Nikon ES1 Slide copy adapter 

Light: Canon flash. 

The rail is optional but needed to keep the adapter and camera aligned; otherwise, the adapter would freely rotate around the lens' axis. Changing slides requires certain accuracy, and aligning the slide mount inside the holder is the responsibility of the operator. That's why this setup makes sense only if you plan to scan no more than a couple of dozen slides at a time.

This is a very basic setup which, nevertheless, will provide you with outstanding results. How come, you may ask? The basis of this setup is the Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro lens, one of the top-shelf lenses. At a cost of about 150 USD, this lens provides four very important benefits:

1) It's a "true" macro lens with a truly good "field of flatness."

2) The lens extends to a 1:1 scale ratio, freeing you from hunting for various extension rings.

3) The lens comes in various mounts (Nikon, Canon, Sony), so your lens will be fully integrated with your camera, making shooting a seamless experience.

4) Because the adapter is bound to the lens and camera, the rig is very vibration-proof - you may shoot hand-held if you want.

From a pure engineering point of view, the Nikon ES-1 adapter effortlessly solves one of the nagging problems associated with camera scanning. It nearly frees the user from the necessity of constructing a complex framework that keeps the camera sensor parallel to the film's plane. This absolutely mandatory requirement of any camera scanning setup gets resolved by design - by the virtue of the ES-1 adapter being mechanically bound to the lens barrel. 

So that's basically it - the Nikon ES-1 adapter, a step-up ring, and the Sigma macro lens are all you need to start scanning your slides. 

Advanced High-Precision Vertical Setup #1 - with plumber's pipe

What are the advantages of this setup?

List of components

Pipe 3/4 24"

Flange 3/4

Four 1/4-20 1 1/4 " machine screws /nuts pairs

Manfrotto 2909 Super Clamp with 2907 Reversible Short Stud

Manfrotto 208 3/8" Head Mounting Plate with Lock Screws

Laminate Base Plate

Vlads Test Target ;-)

Benro 3D Geared head *)

NiSi Macro Focusing Rail NM-180 With 360-Degree Rotating Clamp

SmalRig Cage for EOS R

FeelWorld F6 Plus 5.5" 4K HDMI Monitor

Valoi 360 Advancer + Valoi 35 holder + Raleno light

Manfrotto Table Stand

Canon EOS R Refurb from Canon

Sigma 2.8/70mm Macro Art lens

Canon EF to RF adapter

Canon Remote control

*) Items in italic are not essential for 'pipe' copy stand.

Advanced High-Precision Vertical Setup #2 - with Manfrotto Geared Column

New as of Nov 14, 2023.

"Simple" digitizing setup. It is simple, just don't try to calculate the cost if you want to stay sane. To tell the truth, I did not pay full price for any of those pieces except CS-lite. If you patient enough, you can save 25-30% by catching the good deals on eBay and at B&H Photovideo in NYC.  The pictures are the same, just one of them help identify the pieces.

Couple of things to explain the decisions taken: 

Manfrotto 131TC Table mount Geared Column -  this is the sturdiest piece of hardware I ever got the chance to handle. It being on flash sale at B&H for 1/3 of its everyday price sealed the deal. The gear is smooth enough  to not require micro-focusing rail in the mix. 

Leofoto G2 geared head - I like the ability to fine-tune camera orientation with the gears, but without monstrous Benro 3D geared head. 

Overall this setup will work for anything from 35mm film to type 120 to 4x5" and up. It all depends on the specific lens availability and the size of backing light. Shown here Sigma  2.8/70 Macro Art.

Canon software is used to tether camera. Lightroom is configured to import pictures from "hot" folder. Canon utility is much more reliable than any tether built-in in the LR.

Everything else is basically the standard pieces everybody knows about, no specific recommendations are needed. 

Vertical setup in the vein of Salvador Dali "The Elephants"  

Leica BOOWU 16525 Copy Stand, Componon-S 80 mm lens, VALOI film holder, black plastic box with top top suspended on the compression springs for alignment, LED lights. 

There is opening on the side for Canon flash head. The box inside is plastered with the white Styrofoam  essentially making it the light-mixing chamber similar to one in classic enlargers. 

Leica BOOWU 16525 allows for pretty shake-resistant base while being very portable as well. The only drawback of BOOWU is that threads inside are M39, which is a bit narrow for the chosen lens . That leads to the slight vignetting  of the scanned image. 

The box itself is suspended on the springs and held with knurled bolts to allow for accurate alignment between film plane and camera sensor. 

The LED lights for modeling light are some arbitrary 5v lights from Amazon.


Horizontal setup with Canon slide duplicator and Oben MFR

This is classic "horizontal" setup. Vintage slide duplicator from 60 years ago, Oben micro-focusing rail and Sunwayfoto rail which holds everything together.  

Vintage slide duplicators from Minolta, Canon and especially Nikon are very durable and well executed pieces which can handle both mounted slides and rolls or strips of film. 

Unfortunately. most of them have film gate slightly smaller then 24x36 mm and that can lead to unwanted masking around frame edge. 

Alignment-wise those assemblies are not bad, as theoretically they have to exhibit declarative alignment - notion that when pieces are locked in place, the setup becomes aligned just by virtue of all pieces been machined precisely. But it very hard to deal with Sire Isaak Newton and his laws of gravity - the heavy lens in the configuration shown my act like the leverage pulling the lens' front element down and ruining alignment. One has to be very careful with that - sometimes using lens collar helps alleviate the influence of gravity .

Vertical Setup with Beseler Slide Copier with 4x5 adapter and 4x5 Vlads Test Target

This old Beseler Slide Duplicator has a number of very attractive features. 

First of all it is massive and all still construction. The built-in light can be direct or go thru classic dichroic head making it capable of producing back light of different colors. On the other hand you may pull the lever on the side and switch to flash light. The unit can handle the majority of film formats - shown here is 4x5" configuration.  

The approximate life-time of the halogen lamp is just 50 hours, so make sure you can get spares before committing to the unit. For this particular one, the bulbs are still readily available.

This unit takes 35 and type 120 negative carriers for Beseler Printmaker #6737 series which makes film handling pretty straightforward. See 

I modified the top plate and add knurled bolts (not shown)  to allow for push-pull fine film plane alignment. 

Setup based on JJC Photo Slide and Film Digitizing LED Light Kit

In the previous entry  (see "Very simple setup based on Nikon slide copier ES1" ), we discussed the pros and cons of the simple, so-called "horizontal" setup based on the Nikon ES-1 holder and Sigma 2.8/50 Macro lens. I made the point that this setup is good (in fact, very good) for an ASP-C type of sensor. Based on my own experience, for a full-frame sensor, a macro lens with a focal distance of 60mm or longer is better suited. Let's continue our exercise with the full-frame sensor (Canon EOS R) and a 70mm Sigma 2.8/70 Macro Art EF mount lens, along with another Nikon adapter kit - the ES-2.

The limitation of the previously discussed setup was its inability to scan anything but standard 50x50 mm mounted slides. Certainly, in the age of 3D printers, it would not be terribly hard to devise an insert to scan film in rolls, but let's leave it at that for now.

Now, suppose we are taking the next step and want to add film strips to the roster of scannable media. Everybody who shot film 20+ years ago and took rolls to the nearest pharmacy or even professional labs has those ubiquitous folders with (supposedly) neatly arranged and indexed strips of 4-5-6 frames of 35mm film. Some folks have already spent very long days and nights cleaning those strips and feeding them into film scanners - all those Epsons, Nikons, Canons, Plusteks, you name it. I have yet to meet a person who would say it was great fun. Anyway, most folks are familiar with scanner film strip holders, and it was only natural that once Nikon started making kits for camera copying, the same strip holders became the workhorses - or rather carriages.

Nikon, throughout history, has been very consistent in offering excellent means for slide/film copying. Many of these devices are still very much in demand today, and we will come to discuss many of them.

Today, for pure illustration purposes, we will discuss the Nikon ES-2 kit. I think I will be able to illustrate certain points before we switch to more advanced designs. Unfortunately, I don't have my own kit (I think it's too expensive for what it does), and I cannot honestly start gushing about it. It is still sold under the name "Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter Set" for US$139 at B&H. But... I can discuss working with a Chinese knock-off sold for half of the above price on Amazon as "JJC Slide and Film Digitizing Adapter Kit for Negative Copying and Film Converting to Digital, Replaces Nikon ES-2 Photo Digitizer Converter for Select Canon Nikon Sony Marco Lenses." By the way, if you decide to buy it [and I am completely neutral in that regard], go for the set titled "JJC Photo Slide and Film Digitizer Converter with 10-Levels Brightness LED Backlight for 35mm Slide and Negatives Copying Scanning to Digital for Select Canon Nikon Sony Macro Lenses," which includes a light source.

But let's see what sort of issues this new design brings along with its new extended capabilities. Obviously, it's good that the holder preserved all important features of ES-1: self-alignment, ease of use, and as Serhiy Rozum noted, the hood protects the original and lens from stray and ambient light. Anyway, I decided to check if the lens I use for Full Format scanning - Sigma 2.8/70 Macro Art can be employed with this adapter. It happened that I only needed a 49-52 mm step-up ring to join the lens and the adapter. More to that - the extension tube built into the adapter should be almost completely collapsed into the adapter for my lens to go into a 1:1 scale.

So again, we can build a very simple setup - camera, lens, step-up ring, adapter, and light source – now for a full-frame sensor.

While this adapter does have a screw to lock the extension tube in the desired spot, the necessity to push the film holder forth and back through the adapter leaves no chance to keep it (the holder) in the required configuration - namely focused. Let me note that according to my direct measurements, this Sigma 70 mm lens at f/8 and magnification factor 1:1 has a depth of field of approximately 0.3 mm in either direction – just to give you a real sense of what we are dealing with in terms of precision. Besides, I don’t like having very long protruding elements – one wrong move, and the lens can be damaged.

Here is a compact scanning station capable of scanning slides and strips of film.

Now, the obvious advantage of the JJC kit is the availability of the variable intensity light source in a very compact package. So far, I don't know how good it is for color film scanning, but for b/w, it should be fine. At least there's an extra slot where I can put a diffuser or color filter if needed. The light is bright enough - much brighter than, say, in Lomography Digitaliza+ . In the end, it's the presence and low cost of the integrated light source that makes this adapter viable at all. But let’s continue our engineering review.

But first, let's discuss for a moment one issue that almost never gets mentioned when people discuss their setups. It's about getting good focus. Now, for almost all the designs - vertical and horizontal - folks make the same almost unconscious decision when it comes to focusing. By looking at someone’s rig, you can immediately tell if the wrong pattern is implemented. The telltale sign is the absence of a micro focusing rail (MFR) under the camera/lens assembly. The absence of a rail almost guarantees that the owner of the rig will casually complain about hard-to-achieve focus.

Make a mental picture of the typical design: there are a camera and a lens somehow mounted to a pole or a rail, and here is the massive adapter with the film, with some backlight often used to support the adapter. Both ends are now immobilized in the name of stability.

Now, suppose one needs to refocus the lens because the next slide mount is of slightly different thickness. The operator rotates the focusing ring, and the lens starts moving in search of a new focus. Note that ideally, we want to adjust the distance between the lens and film or between the lens and sensor. But in fact, if we are focusing just the lens and not the whole camera/lens assembly, we are changing two (!!!) distances - we are increasing the distance from the lens to the film and simultaneously decreasing the distance between the lens and the sensor. We are doing two for one - with the results putting great strain on our eyes. The sharpness changes way too fast – because we are affecting two distances at once, and both at the same factor. By the way, in those types of setups, the camera AF often gets confused too - with the lens starting to make wide moves and wasting our precious time.

What we should be doing is changing only one distance - the distance between the object (film original) and the lens. In that scenario, the observable focus changes are much slower, more pleasant to the eyes, and - probably most importantly - keep the reproduction scale constant. 

And here are all the pieces that went into the design – that's just for entertainment purposes only - but some may see it as an expense report ;-)

#mysetup #vladstesttarget (C) Vladimir Serebryany, 2022

Horizontal Setup with Componon S 100 mm Lens and Nikon slide duplicator.

Note how long the whole contraption is. You may go for 100 mm lens only if you have all the pieces already scattered around - otherwise do something else. Note all the extension rings - i probably collected all of them laying around. But most importantly, note the M42-M42 helicoid and M42 to EF adapter which make whole thing possible. Micro-focusing rail here is for reason - after all is set and done it's micro-rail which you use for final focusing.  The reason for that is that turning helicoid makes lens move between two fixed points : sensor and film - nightmarish scenario as it is very hard to stop at max sharpness when  lens moves relative to both film and sensor. With micro-focusing rail this is business as usual - because lens and camera move together relative to the film and all common principles of focusing apply.

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