Recently, a community memberr and Valoi pre-order customer, Richard, posted a set of interesting images on a Facebook page for camera scanning. He compared a scan of a 6x9 medium format frame made with a flatbed scanner to a well-executed camera scan. Thank you to Richard Karash for his kind permission to share the results.
Generally, we at Valoi say that the quality you get from camera scanning 35mm film is significantly better with camera scanning than what you get with a flatbed scanner. However, medium format often demands more from the camera scanning setup to get better results than flatbed scanning. Richard's comparison showed that with the right lens and careful execution, even a 24MP camera can create significantly sharper scans than flatbed scanners.
Here is the full 24MP file scanned from a 6x9 frame, kindly provided by Richard Karash.
Zoomed out on a normal screen you would have a hard time spotting the difference in the two scans - even to the point where there is no point posting it here. As Richard says in his original post, the Epson V600 is good up to quite large print sizes, and thus also fine for any social media use, but when you zoom in or you print a bit larger you will really start seeing the difference. Even if you are looking for that very crisp look on a smaller print, you might spot the difference.
As you can see in the magnified image below, the blue sign in the bottom left corner looks almost like it has a haze over it on the flatbed scan and all the fine hair-line details in the lettering is completely washed out. Meanwhile, you can see clear detail and definition even in high-detail areas looking at the camera scan.
Epson V600 (left) 24MP camera scan (right)
What's the point?
Most of us do not scan for large prints, and though we believe most people should print their work more often, prints are expensive and take time. However, we know that a lot of people want their digital scans to extract as much information from the film as possible - and why shouldn't they? Spending all this money on high-quality lenses for your film cameras and money on professional-grade film - why should you choose to degrade the image so significantly in the scanning step of the process?
Often we hear that camera scanning is great for social media sharing and that sort of low-demand use but yet we seldom hear the same about flatbed scanners. Professionals sell their work scanned on Epson scanners, so if a camera scan is as good or better like this case, then why should camera scanning not be a viable option for high-quality printing? At the same time, we know that camera scanning can be quicker and less fiddly than using a flatbed scanner. The v700 and up might produce slightly sharper results than the v600 because of it's (primitive) focusing system allowing dialling in of focus, but the combination of speed and quality that camera scanning can achieve is not possible from even the most expensive Epson v850.
How can you get this quality?
Richard is one of the most knowledgeable members of the community, so though this scan was taken on a relatively normal resolution camera (24MP), you might be thinking "I would never manage that!". Clearly, camera resolution is not everything - and might not even be the most important factor. While it's hard to replicate his setup exactly, we can learn something here:
Lenses are probably more important than pixel-count or size of your sensor. Richard is known for having tested some of the best lenses out there, and he often mentions the Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, the Sigma 70mm Macro ART and the Rodenstock 75mm APO Rodagon-D 1x. This specific If you are looking to scan medium format in a single capture, looking into a really high-quality lens is probably a good first step. These also don't have to cost a fortune - see our Gear Guide for more information on lenses.
Stability is perhaps the most overlooked metric when considering a setup. Richard uses the ridiculously heavy and sturdy Polaroid MP-4 column (adapted from an old reduplication setup). I would also image he is very careful with not jumping around, and that he uses a remote trigger. A stronger light source, such as the Raleno PLV-S104 that we recommend for the Valoi 360 system, will also help minimise camera shake by giving you shorter shutter speeds. These things, along with using a non-mechanical shutter (electronic shutter) and a mirrorless instead of a DSLR can be the difference between very crisp results and 'OK' results.
Stitching should not be necessary with the right setup. This is one of the main complains people have with camera scanning medium format - stitching takes a lot of time and can introduce geometrical distortion. However, with the level of quality shown in Richard's scan, a huge print could be made.
Flatness is critical when you want this level of quality. One of the likely reasons that the Epson V600 scan is not very sharp, is lack of focusing ability. When you're scanning with a camera you can adjust focus, but flatness is still critical to get even focus across the whole film. Of course, the Valoi 360 holders are quite good at giving you flat film - we dare say the only way to get more flat film is by sandwiching it between two sheets of glass, which comes with its own host of problems.
Would more pixels help?
A question to ask, is if there is if more pixels would actually bring out more information in the 6x9 frame. The answer is yes:
Richard also scanned the same film at higher resolutions, bringing has camera closer to photograph a smaller section and creating a 100MP file. The difference between the 24MP and the 100MP file is marginal but present - the arches on the metal gates in the picture are slightly smoother, more ore texture can be made out in the bright stonework and there is slightly less noise in the blue sign on the 100MP version. If you are scanning for a huge print, this might matter to you but for all but wall-sized prints the original 24MP camera scan would be great.
Thank you so much for sharing the images and comparisons with us and for the great information you give to the community, Richard! You can find him in camera scanning groups on Facebook and on various forums on his internet, and his posts are always extremely informed and informative.