First some background:

I am a photographer who likes to use film negatives, and who mainly shoots 6x6 medium format (Hasselblad 500CM) and some occasional 35mm (Pentax KX).

I own an Epson v550 flatbed scanner. The scans are acceptable, but they seem quite soft to me, especially if I inspect the negatives for sharpness with a magnifier.

Things I have tried to improve sharpness/resolution:

  1. Scan at higher DPI: this only adds more noise above ~4800 dpi
  2. Scan directly on the glass plate: apparently, the focus plane is already calibrated somewhat above the surface, as this technique resulted in a loss of sharpness for me (in addition to the appearance of Newton rings).
  3. Scan using the holder with ANR glass slide on top. The ANR glass sometimes produced strange artifacts and seems to increase the noise in the scans, especially for 35mm film.

Also, I feel that the dynamic range of the scanner is not capable of capturing the full dynamic range of the film.

Because I am frustrated with the inferior quality of my scans, I would like to give "scanning" with a DSLR + macro lens a go. My question is the following: What DSLR + macro lens setup should I buy, considering it is used only for scanning film?

(a Pentax lens that would fit my KX would be a bonus, but not a requirement)

I imagine I have the following requirements:

  • Price: of the total setup should be under 500 euros. Second hand/older models are not a problem.
  • Lens: can be a fully manual lens, as long as its a sharp macro lens with something close to 1:1 reproduction.
  • Camera should be able to shoot in RAW
  • To get the most out of the dynamic range of the negatives, I imagine a HDR mode would be extremely helpful (yes, I am shooting slide film too)
  • Resolution: I am not really familiar with all the megapixel requirements, as I am a film photographer, but I think it should at least be above 10 megapixels. (preferably more)

I understand that it might be hard to give a definitive answer to this question, but I feel an answer would be helpful to this site, as film photography still is quite popular and people are using DSLRs more and more to scan film.

Edit 1: as pointed out in a comment, my goal is to shoot one negative frame in multiple parts, and stitch them together using software on the PC.

Edit 2: I will mainly be using color negative and positive film, but also the occasional black and white film.

Edit 3: The reason why I am considering a camera setup instead of a dedicated 500 euro negative scanner, is because tests have pointed out that you can get much more detail from your negatives with a camera setup compared to for example a drum scanner: http://petapixel.com/2012/12/23/why-you-should-digitize-your-film-using-a-camera-instead-of-a-scanner/ Also, I use different film formats (for now 35mm and 6x6, but definitely 4x5 in the future) and like the flexibility a camera setup offers. However, if it turns out that there is a viable scanner alternative, I will consider it.

Edit 4: Here are two examples of the results I'm getting. 120: https://flic.kr/p/KfJdw1 35mm: https://flic.kr/p/xFE6BJ There are more examples on Flickr. I feel there is a lack of sharpness, but I'm not sure if this is due to too high expectations or limitations of the current setup. Camera/lens/film details are included on the photo page.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ So you're willing to spend 500 euros on a lens because your 100 euro scanner isn't good enough? Have you looked at the quality of scans you could get from a dedicated film scanner in the 500 euro price range? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 21:33
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Color negatives, or B&W? The DSLR setup can be quite good for slides (see scantips.com/es-1.html ), however color negatives have the orange mask to be removed, which is about out of range for editor software. Shifting colors so much clips at digital 255. The Photoshop Curves tool has a Color Negative Profile that shows this. Whereas scanners instead remove the orange in analog, by increasing scan time of the blue and green channels, which is unlimited, no clipping. \$\endgroup\$
    – WayneF
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 22:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I've seen much better results from V700 and up than the author of that PP article was getting. So have most of the folks leaving comments. Read the one by "niccolo" in particular. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 7:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Those profiles are created using true color management processes: taking a photo of a legitimate test chart, developing the film, scanning it and then using proper tools to measure the output and create a profile with correction curves. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 19:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If it's a one-batch only scan, rent a NIKON Coolscan 9000ED. Buying 2nd hand still would be too much for your budget (but hey, you get an effective resolution almost down to film grain). \$\endgroup\$
    – FarO
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


You might want to look at a used Bowens Illumitran - these were purpose designed for slide copying, and apparently (with the right holder) can go up to around 4x5" (though I'm not sure if that applies to all the versions). Basically, a flash unit (with optional contrast control) and a bellows unit.

see (for example) http://members.bitstream.net/tlmartin/copiers.html for more info, or just do a web search.


One thing to watch out for - most lenses use a curved area of focus rather a planar one. For example, if you have your focus set at 1m, everything in 1m radius should be in focus, which is a curved shape. Since you're shooting a flat object, a negative, it's worth noting.

There are exceptions, notably the Zeiss Planar lens.

There are slide duplicators like this. One would hope their optics would account for the planar issue.

One thing I'd suggest is to get a professional scan done on at least one image to create a baseline for what you want from a good scan.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the suggestion about the planar field of focus. The slide duplicators would be an option for 35mm, but I can't find any for 120 or 4x5. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruben
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 20:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Almost all true Macro/Micro lenses are very well corrected for field curvature, especially when using them at their optimal aperture setting around f/5.6-f/8. Since you have total control of the light illuminating the slide/negative as well as the length of exposure, that shouldn't be a problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 4:04

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