Camera scanning, or DSLR Scanning, is often said to be worse than 'proper' scanners. So, below we will compare film negatives scanned on a camera and a flatbed scanner.
We have chosen a Micro 4/3 camera (the smallest common camera sensor available for system cameras) because we often have people ask why you would bother shooting medium format film, but then scan it on a tiny sensor. The scanner is the best flatbed scanner for the consumer market - the Epson V800.
You can find the exact setups used for scanning below the comparisons, or by clicking here.
We will look at one medium format, black and white image shot on FP4, then at a 35mm black and white image on grainy Santa 1000 (@400 ISO) and then at three colour slide images shot on 35mm Kodak Ektachrome E100.
All the files are available at the bottom of the article if you want to have a look yourself:
120 medium format FP4 shot at 100 ISO, developed in XTOL 1:1 (Rolleiflex 2.8F)
35mm BW Santa 1000 shot at 400 ISO, developed in Microphen (Nikon F80, 50mm f/1.8)
35mm Kodak Ektachrome E100, developed in E6 Tetenal (Voigtländer Bessa L, 21mm f/4)
Black and White 6x6 Negative
The full image looks like this. Next we will zoom in and look at details.
The Epson v850 does really well on this medium format negative, but as you can see, there is an extra level of sharpness in the camera scan while not introducing any more noise or artefacts. Particularly the seam on her jacket sleeve and her lips are noticeably sharper.
All sharpening settings were turned off, and the images are exported directly from the RAW/TIFF files.
35mm Black and White Negative
This is how the full image looks like. Scroll down to see the details.
The difference for 35mm film, even for grainy, high-speed film like Santa 1000 is quite significant. The sharpness level you get from DSLR scanning is quite stunning. The Epson v850 flatbed scanner has also introduced strange lines in some areas of image that you can see for example on the left shoulder of the road.
35mm Colour Positive (Ektachrome E100)
To compare sharpness we will again first look at the full image. Sharpening was put to 0 on both the TIFF file from the Epson V850, and on the RAW file from the camera.
The comparison here is very striking - sharpness on the camera scan is extremely high, while the Epson scanner's sharpness would only be fine for smaller prints, but would require a lot of sharpening processing to make a larger print.
In the following picture we will compare some colours in a natural daylight scene.
The colours are very similar in quality, which is a good thing for both because they both look excellent. On brightly coloured scenes, the Epson scanner tends to scan a bit flatter with less saturation and contrast than a camera, though they can both easily be adjusted to look very similar to one another.
We have seen a comparison of the Epson v850 flatbed scanner vs DSLR scanning/camera scanning. In these comparisons we saw that DSLR scanning has a considerable advantage in sharpness on 35mm film and a small advantage on medium format film. We also saw that the colours from DSLR scanning are just as good as those from a flatbed scanner.
A lot of people think cameras introduce weird artefacts in images or impart their own characteristics on the film image. In this comparison we see that this is not more true for camera scanning than it is for flatbed scanners. The reality is that scanners are just specialised camera systems, not magic boxes that convert your film to a digital file. With a properly-set-up camera scanning setup, the results will not impart any special characteristics onto the film.
To say it in different words, scanning using a camera is not the same as taking that same digital camera out into the field and using that - when scanning with a camera, you still capture the characteristics of the film, not the characteristics of the digital camera.
What equipment did we use?
Two setups were used for camera scanning in this article. All scans were scanned with RAW or TIFF, and left unsharpened in Lightroom before export (without sharpening).
For 35mm (BW and Colour):
Canon RP 24MP Full-Frame camera
Canon 100mm USM for EF-mount adapted to R-mount
For 120 (BW):
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk III (Micro 4/3)
Olympus 60mm f/3.5 Macro
VALOI 120 Holder