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Smartphone Film Scanner - It's the camera that matters

The Smartphone Film Scanner comes in handy for digitalizing negatives. The resulting picture quality, however, is heavily dependent on the camera used. As somehow expected, the photos drastically benefit from using a good digital camera instead of a smartphone's build in one.

When starting out fresh (or returning to) analogue photography, one eventually is facing the problem of how to digitalize all of those negatives/slides. Even though capturing pictures on film is fun, most of the pictures should enter the digital world after all (neglecting photographic prints here.) The easiest (but in the long run, probably most expensive) way would be to have them scanned professionally. This works out well with a regular 135 cam. As soon as we are talking about a LomoKino or a camera which also exposes the sprocket holes, it becomes kind of obvious that an own scanning solution might come in handy.

Probably the best amateur solution is a solid flat bed scanner. There are multiple websites and reviews, dealing with this topic out there. Personally, however, I am not snapping away a huge amount of film rolls and didn’t want to have another rather large gadget standing around on my computer desk.

Thats why I looked into Lomography’s Smartphone Film Scanner. It is relatively small and doesn’t cost a fortune. I ordered one and tested it with a Kodak Professional BW400C film (exposed by a Rollei 35) which I had recently developed in a professional lab including scans. In that way I could compare the results from the Smartphone Film Scanner with the professional scans.

Before getting right into the comparison, here’s a word of advice – it has been written before, but one cannot stress it enough: use regular batteries for the Smartphone Film Scanner’s light source. Do not use rechargeable batteries which usually have a voltage around 1.2-1.3V instead of the 1.5V of non rechargeable ones. These 0.3V do make a huge difference in terms of brightness of the Film Scanner’s backlight!

Well then, let’s see what the Smartphone Film Scanner was able to produce when paired with my iPhone 5. I used two frames/spacer as well as the new (as of April 2014) Lomo Scanner 2 app. Here is the result. Any editing (inversion, contrast, etc.) straight from within the app.

Photo by quatchi

In my opinion, the picture taken with the iPhone 5’s camera shows quite an amount of digital noise. Of course, Lomography isn’t about the most technical perfect picture. But the noise doesn’t add to the image – in the end, it’s just digital grind instead of a nice analog grain.

The reason for this is that the iPhone camera can’t be influenced in terms of aperture or exposure priority. Its all automatic and iOS quite heavily increases ISO in order to get a short exposure time. As for the sprocket holes: with the two spacer setup of the film scanner, the iPhone’s camera doesn’t fully capture the complete frame plus holes. That’s why I cut them out completely in this picture.

Disillusioned about the picture quality, I took out my proper digital camera (an Olympus E-M5 with Oly M.12-40 f2.8 lens in this case) and “adapted” it to the film scanner. The adaption process mainly consisted of removing the black foam thingy on the smart phone scanner.

Photo by quatchi

In addition to the mind blowing setup ;-) I added a black cloth which I put over the gap between lens and film scanner in order to exclude any scattered light hitting the lens (not shown in the picture).

Next is a picture captured with the E-M5 and inverted as well as processed in Photoshop:

Photo by quatchi

The same image as above but without the grayscale conversion:

Photo by quatchi

The only drawback is, that it takes quite some time to process each single picture. That’s why I was looking for a more “automated” approach. A friend of mine has the VueScan software. I used it to “rescan” the negative. That means, VueScan takes a JPEG as input and applies its settings to it. Attached is the result, which, in my eyes, is too flat and lacks some contrast.

Photo by quatchi

Finally the version which came on the lab’s CD. They probably use a fancy (and expensive) drum scanner.

Photo by quatchi

Verdict:

The handling of the Smartphone Film Scanner is superb. I especially like the handle to forward the film through the scanner. In that way it is quite easy to advance a complete (non cut) film compared to having to change film strips on a flat bed scanner.

The resulting picture quality is heavily dependent on the used camera. My iPhone 5’s camera didn’t do it for me. Using a “proper” camera, however, resulted in quite acceptable photos. Even though, post processing takes some time. This might improve with experience, though. For some pictures, the results of my own “scan” were even better than the lab’s scans. This is probably because the lab is using default values instead of the individual settings used for each picture in my process. VueScan might also suffer from the “default setting” problem.

For all of those pixel peepers out there. Here are 100% ceps of all images:

Photo by quatchi

written by quatchi and translated by quatchi

4 comments

  1. nigell

    nigell

    I've been considering the scanner (once the the updated app for Android had been released) as a way of converting negatives to include sprocket holes, but given the review as a whole, I'm not so sure anymore!?

    5 months ago · report as spam
  2. nigell

    nigell

    Oh, and thanks for reviewing the scanner by the way, it's very informative :)

    5 months ago · report as spam
  3. beblo

    beblo

    To the author: In film scanning, may I suggest that you use a 50mm lens or a normal lens for your dslr camera. A dslr lens with a single focal length is the best, in this case. Set the lens aperture to f/8 or f/11. Focus manually, if possible. Choose the default low ISO setting of your dslr. Set the dslr camera's frame size to 1.5M pixels or close to what your digital montor screen is capable of (where you will be viewing the jpeg file). The dslr camera's image processor will automatically produce an OLYMPUS [brand] picture quality standard based on the [reference data base pictures] programed inside the software. The professional lab film scan(s), and also, including film processing and developing, should be our reference point because their machines conforms to default / factory [photography industry standards]. But, since you are the photographer, " you have the right to retouch / edit / enhance your work". Especially if you are an artist or into art photography.

    5 months ago · report as spam
  4. quatchi

    nigell: As I wrote, I would still recomend the scanner. But not for use with an iPhone. In case you can set ISO and exposure time on your Android phone, this could be a completely different story.
    5 months ago · report as spam

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The original version of this article is written in: Deutsch.