Semi conclusion update: August 17, 2018
During the past two months I have been experimenting and testing various ways to digitize film negatives with a digital DSLR camera, my conclusions so far "it depends" For the most part it works really well depending on film size, and how big the resulting digital files end up being. I have been doing a lot of comparisons between the camera copy method and using a film scanner.
I have tried all sorts of experiments, first I devised a system of using an 8x10 view camera as sort of a reverse copy camera, it did work just fine with 35mm negatives and even my medium format negatives. I finally settled on using a good copy stand, this one made by Kaiser which was given to me on long-term loan. It's probably the best method as it easier to square up the camera so it accurately lines up with the negative or slide. All one needs is a light source, I have a customized lightbox with LED daylight balance bulbs or I can use a drawing lightbox, mine is made by Huion sold by Amazon.
Here are some of my observations so far...
35mm film: Without a doubt using a digital camera (Nikon D7200 camera with a Nikkor 60mm macro lens) to copy 35mm negatives or slides, produces far better results than what I could achieve with my flatbed scanner, (Microtek model F2). The results are very clear and it makes a real difference in capturing the minute amount of detail from 35mm negatives, which every bit of detail is needed if making prints around 33 x 48 cm (13" x 19") in size. The D7200 has a 24-megapixel sensor which makes for a 13 x 20-inch print @300 dpi. If I photographed the negative with a Nikon D850 at 45.7 megapixels (which I don't own) it would make a print at around 27 x 18 inches.
120mm film: There is a slight edge to the camera copied images, I photographed the negative in two parts then stitched them together in Photoshop which gave me a finished digital file of around 19 x 19 inches from 6 x 6 cm negatives. The same negative scanned looked quite good actually, it's just that the camera copy negative showed a bit more detail. With some extra sharpening applied to the scanned negative, I was able to match the camera copied negative. However, I would prefer to use a minimal amount of sharpening. Plus I am shooting all my camera copied negatives in raw format (Nikon's NEF) using in-camera jpeg works fine too, except that the sharpening is already included.
4x5 film: Not much difference here, if I squint really hard I could maybe see a difference but there really wasn't any. I photographed the large format negative in four parts and then stitched them together. A fair amount of work actually compared to a single scan and with no real discernible difference.
5x7 and 8x10 film: No difference, depends on the print size. My scanner can take quite a while to chug through a scan from an 8x10 negative or a slide, especially if its big enough to make a 30 x 40-inch print.
Semifinal thoughts: If you have no scanner and are shooting some film these days or have some old negatives or slides laying around, and you have a reasonable digital camera on hand (12 to 24 megapixels), and a macro lens (but not essential), you can achieve some very good results if you have good technique. If you already have a flatbed scanner and want the very best from your 35mm or medium format negatives try copying them with a digital camera. If you already have a dedicated film scanner, like the Hasselblad Flextight X1 or X5, then you have the Mercedes of scanners
Original Article starts here:
A while back (July 11/2018) I wrote about my experimental idea with adapting my 8 x10 view camera as a sort of makeshift copy camera to digitally copy my film negatives. I made a bunch of parts to attach to the camera in order to make it work. And it did work to a degree, except I found that the wood field camera was not exactly lined up perfectly so it was hard to square and level everything up since I was photographing various sections of the negative and stitching them together.
Before I started this project I had already concluded that my cropped frame Nikon D7200 with 24 megapixels produced better detail from the negative than my Microtek F2 scanner. If the scanner was a camera it would be about 6 megapixels. I found that my scanner is only able to optically produce about 1000 dpi or 3X the size of the original negative anything larger gets interpolated.
A couple people mentioned a copy stand, at first I didn't have but just a few days ago one magically appeared (thanks Michael!). For my light source I have tried a suggestion to buy a LED light pad that artists use for tracing, it about 20 x 30 cm in size, works quite well, with good daylight white balance of 6000k.
My unique light box that I am using is constructed from an old 8 x 10 contact printing box that I acquired from a photo swap and shop, I have been using it for years as my light table, but the lights I was using were not very bright, so I installed some regular daylight balanced (5000k or better) LED light bulbs and it works great and look good!
I am using the copy stand with camera and lightbox with the film attached to metal film holders, I position the camera once, move the film negative around and photograph various sections of the negative, then using photoshop I stitch the photo files together to make the original negative or slide. It works very well and lines up perfectly square. The example I posted here (which has been downsized for the internet) was made with four separate images with my Nikon D300 (12 megapixels) in raw format, and a 60mm Macro lens. I then combined all the images to make one, which made for a 40 x 50 cm print @300 dpi. With a newer camera with more megapixels, I can make even bigger prints.
Lead photo: Copy stand and camera digitizing process.
1— Top photo: Gellatly Bay, West Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, October 1994. Copyright © Gary Nylander. Copied from 8 x 10 slide (positive film) Tachihara 8 x 10 field camera, 300m lens. Fuji Velvia film.
2— Middle photo: Mt Rundle, Banff National Park, September 2017. Rolleiflex with 75mm lens. Kodark Ektar film. Two-stitch combination made with Nikon D7200, 20 inch wide print @300 dpi.
3— Bottom photo: three picture combo showing the camera capture process, using a Nikon D7200 camera and 60mm macro lens. From the left, the original 35mm negative made with a Leica III camera circa,1936 and an uncoated 50mm Summar lens. Middle frame shows the enhanced negative after removal of orange coloring. On the right is the completed digital file with final color corrections and dust removal, ready for printing. The photo was made at Royal Roads University Gardens, October 2011.
Update: (July 31, 2018) I have decided to go with a copy stand to photograph my negatives, follow this link: Film meets digital technology, version 2.0
Here is my idea that I have been working on recently to get as much detail from my 35mm and 120 negatives by using a DSLR camera and a macro lens to photograph my negatives instead of scanning. I have a flatbed scanner and it does a good job on my large format negatives (4"x 5" to 8" x 10"), but anything smaller and it quickly loses resolution. For this set up I am using a Nikkor 60mm ƒ2.8 macro lens with my Nikon D7200 (24 megapixels cropped sensor) camera, I then stitch the medium format negatives together using photoshop.
I made a special bracket to hold the camera securely onto the front standard of my Tachihara 8 x 10 view camera and the negative is held in place where the film holder normally would be, in the back standard of the camera, I made a negative film holder and bracket to hold those pieces in place as flat possible. The bracket is made of ebony and aluminum with a clamp-like device that fits on the front stand of the view camera with the lens board removed. All the parts I used are made from scratch with all raw material that I found around my home workshop.
I use the front rise and fall of the view camera to help centre the negative. Since this camera has no side to side shift, I adapted an old Rollei sliding panoramic device so the camera and lens can slide from side to side also helps to centre the camera. To light the negative I pointed a flash at a white wall. I still have some issues to work out, the panoramic device doesn't slide that well, which was made for a lighter Rolleiflex so kind of panoramic device the slides from side to side (about 4 inches).
So far the results look promising, I scanned this same 120 negative with my flatbed and my camera and macro lens setup which a fair amount sharper, at least when I zoom in on the photo. All the parts I used are made from scratch with all raw material that I found around my home workshop.
Powers Creek (No. 7-16) West Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, April 2018. Copyright © Gary Nylander. Copied from 120 film negative. Rolleiflex camera, 75mm lens, Rollei ISO 25 film developed in HC-110.
Update: Posted below is a scan from one of my 35mm negatives, on the left is made with my Microtek F1 scanner on the right is the same negative copied with my Nikon D7200 with 60mm macro lens. The difference doesn't show quite as much because of the small jpeg size. Those interested can email me for a large size image. firstname.lastname@example.org
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