Over the last few years, I've migrated back to mostly film use and away from digital cameras. In spite of that, it's nice to have digital copies of all pictures for sharing online and to ease getting drugstore prints. That said, the quality of film service at one-hour places has generally slipped badly in the last few years. Since most people are using digital for family snapshots, most of the film that comes through is actually from disposable cameras, and they treat it accordingly. Since none is assumed to have gotten careful exposure or focus better than a fixed lens, they don't try very hard to get the most out of the images. Even if they do a good job of exposure and color correction on the prints, the supplied Photo CDs always have 1.5 megapixel images. Why use an old 35mm if you get back digital images that are camera phone quality?
Recommend this product?
The solution is to buy a film scanner. It's easy and rewarding to develop black and white film at home, and you can take color rolls to the one hour place for a $3 develop only. Once the film is ready for scanning, there are quite a few choices. If you check my other reviews, you'll find the other scanners that I've used in the process of doing this film scanning. Basically, you'll find two types: film scanners like this Plustek OpticFilm, and film-compatible flatbeds like my Epson v500. If you're looking for easy and quick scanning, I'd recommend the flatbed. The v500 can scan 12 negatives in one shot, and the v700 can do even more. The only real problem with a flatbed for scanning film is that it's just not quite sharp. Unsharp mask can lend an appearance of sharpness, but the detail might not really be there.
This is where the Plustek has a real advantage for me over the Epson. It really does seem to scan much sharper than the Epson, even though they have similar max resolution. In practice, neither actually captures its official resolution, but the Plustek ultimately gets more resolution and does so with tighter apparent focus than a flatbed. I no longer apply any digital sharpening to my images as it's simply not necessary. The official resolution of this scanner is 7200 dpi, but it actually captures about half that. This is a problem of most scanners that isn't likely to change. This scanner is sufficient to make a 15 megapixel image that really does look sharp and pleasant. The flatbed captured more in the realm of 2400 dpi, for a roughly 8 megapixel image that didn't have as sharp edges, either. Because of its increased resolution and sharpness, it would make an excellent choice for someone who uses half-frame cameras.
I used to do 10-16 multiple passes on my scans in order to get better shadow detail, but that's far less necessary with the Plustek than with the flatbeds. For one thing, the Plustek seems to capture many B&W films at a grain level, at which point it's less about software and more about what the film caught. Aside from fairly slow films, grain is usually pretty visible on B&W scans on the Plustek. This is good, since it lessens the amount of detail lost due to disparity between the scanner's resolution and the film's resolved image (if the resolution of the film and scanner are similar but not identical, considerable possible detail is lost to scanning artifacts). It also gives the scanned images a much more realistically film-faithful look on the screen. That said, I have done multiple-pass scans on the Plustek and ended up with misaligned ghost images more often than I did with the Epson. I'm willing to forgive that because I just don't need as many passes, but it would be a big problem if extra passes were more helpful. With the Epson and especially the HP, many passes visibly improved highlights and shadows of scanned pictures. With the Plustek, a single pass is usually so much better that I usually don't use multi-pass. If I did, I know I'd have to rescan sometimes because of the ghost images. The Plustek is capable of doing two scans with different exposure, again to improve dynamic range, which requires two passes. It's worked well for me so far. The scanner and software combo seem to do a good job of getting 2 scans aligned, but somehow not more. It doesn't require any warm-up time before scanning, and doesn't have any distracting light leakage from the sides.
Even with very curled film, this scanner never has Newton rings on the images. Newton rings are an artifact of the film's curl causing it to touch the scanner's glass, and are a pain to deal with as rescanning sometimes doesn't get rid of them. They were quite common with both of my flatbeds. Since this scanner works a different way inside than the Epson, there isn't a chance for the film to make flat contact with glass and get Newton Rings. This is very helpful since Newton Rings are nearly impossible to see on thumbnails and might require a rescan much later.
Because I've had to do fewer passes of each image, I can scan much more quickly with this scanner than my flatbed, though it does require the user to move the film carrier manually for each image. I could start my old one scanning and leave, and it would scan 12 without needing me. This one won't do that, but motorizing the carrier would've certainly increased the price a bit. If you're present during scanning, you can scan a 36 exposure roll fairly quickly, faster than the v500. However, the inability to scan unattended would be a problem for some people.
The Plustek scanner includes SilverFast SE scanning software, which is excellent and works very well. The version of it that works from within Photoshop has many options greyed out on mine for some reason, but all features work properly when running the standalone program. The Plustek also works well with the VueScan software that I've long been using, and which I sometimes still use.
It includes two film carriers, one for negative strips and one for mounted slides. The one for negatives has little dividing bars for each image, and does an excellent job of holding the negatives as flat as possible. That said, it's hard to load without touching the film, as it doesn't have any parts to hold the strip down as you close the holder. The slide holder is excellent and uses spring loaded clips to hold the slides in place. It couldn't be any better. Both holders have stoppers on them to give the user tactile feedback as the holder is moved from image to image. Aside from motorizing the carrier, it is as easy to position as possible. Slide it until it clicks, repeat. It has doors that cover the film slot when the carrier isn't going through, to keep dust out. That's excellent and thoughtful.
Unlike many scanners, including Plustek's models that end in "i," this scanner does not have infrared dust removal. Since I scan a lot of B&W (which is incompatible with IR dust removal) and IR removal can't be used when making a RAW image scan, I didn't feel like paying for it. For someone who does mostly C41 and E6 color, the IR removal might be worth it. I don't favor software dust removal, either due to loss of detail, but the dust removal built into Silverfast SE worked pretty well. Unless you really don't have time to spend a few minutes with Photoshop's healing tool, it's still best to avoid it due to detail loss.
The Plustek also includes a padded nylon case, which is handy if you wanted to travel with it or lend it to somebody.
It seems that the big names have either left or plan to leave the film scanning business. Plustek so far appears to be doing a good job of filling the void. The ones from Nikon have autofocus and motorized feed, but then they cost a lot more. Autofocus would bring a little more resolving power, but again it's a cost compromise. For less than $300, this scanner offers most of the performance of the big names (and Plustek's higher models) without most of the price. It's a whole lot cheaper than a 15 megapixel digital SLR, and offers you the creative control of using different films. It also allows you to scan older films with excellent quality. The only big downside is that it can't scan any format besides 35mm. For many users, that's not a downside at all.
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Amount Paid (US$): 250