The title says it all, who will take the privilege of 35mm scanning duties…

In one corner we have the Nikon 55/2.8 Micro Nikkor, PK-13 extension tube, and a Sony a7. The Micro Nikkor, with the PK-13 extension tube, is capable of true 1:1 macro and has an excellent reputation. I’ll have to admit, I thought getting everything set up and in perfect focus would be a lot easier, but once its there you don’t have to move a thing and actually goes pretty fast. Live view, the rear screen, and magnification help quite a bit – I for one would not want to try and do this all through a viewfinder.  Yes I agree the set up isn’t perfect, but for now I’ve got the negative sandwiched between two pieces of glass with my iPhone serving as a back light. A macro copy stand or bellows would make this a piece of cake – but, these are things I’d never use except for this purpose so they seem like silly purchases.

The iPhone is missing...but something had to take the picture

The iPhone is missing…but something had to take the picture

In the other corner we have the Plustek 7600i.  I use Vuescan to run the Plustek and only run 1 scan at 3600dpi. I also turn all other options off, save as 16 bit greyscale Tiff DNG and import the true negative file into Lightroom and use Lightroom to invert the tone curve and get a final image. After some trial and error I think this produces the best results, for me.  I’ve tried multiple exposures, locking in black points and exposure levels, and scanning at higher dpi…Those all make the little Plustek take forever to scan and in the end I don’t see a big enough difference in the results to justify it.  Especially for posting on the web – maybe these changes would make a difference if you were printing from these files.  But now that I have the Durst D2 beast up and running, I’d rather just make a wet print.  Plus at 3600dpi, the files are over 30 megabytes – anything bigger than this seems overkill and a waste of hard drive space.

Pakon 7600 and negative strip holders

Pakon 7600 and negative strip holders

On to examples.  Plustek on the left, Micro Nikkor/Sony a7 on the right.

Example 1

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.22.34 PM

At 100%

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.21.31 PM

I’ll be honest I had only used the Micro Nikkor/Sony set up once, for the first photo in the series seen above. I asked my wife to see if she could tell the difference and almost immediately she picked correctly between the two. The Sony was much sharper than the Plustek.  I was convinced the Plustek would need to go.  More tests were needed…

Example 2

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.23.29 PM

At 100%

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.24.30 PM

Example 3

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.25.10 PM

At 100%

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.25.39 PM

One thing I notice for sure, is that you are dealing with more surfaces with the Sony set up – I did my due diligence and cleaned the glass for the first shot.  The next two I didn’t, and you can for sure see how dirty it ended up being.  Not using glass, or maybe just using the Plustek scanning holders may improve this.

I think the Sony RAW files have slightly more latitude, or play, once in Lightroom when compared to the TIFF DNGs from the Plustek. This could be useful if you have a crappy negative – There is no doubt you could get good results with the Plustek with a poor negative also, but it would take 4-5 minutes with multiple exposures…for one negative.

If you want the absolute best negative to print from either would give you a very good result.  The Plustek may take a little longer to scan, but getting excellent results from the Sony takes more steps and is for sure more tedious.  Keeping everything fingerprint and dust free and aligned is a pain.  Maybe using something else to hold the negatives would clear up the muck and the grime seen above.  As I mentioned earlier, now that I have the wet darkroom up and running if I want a print I’m going to use the Durst – so getting the best scan for printing doesn’t make a difference for me personally.

The Plustek just works right out of the box – its pretty dang sharp and I’m more than pleased with the files it produces.  For posting on the interwebs, I’m not sure its worth the hassle of getting the Sony all set up.  Now, if you owned a set of bellows, a macro rail, or a macro copy stand already the story may be different.  There are plenty of other people that get fantastic results from something very similar to my Sony set up.  If I had a simple rig to get focus perfect, or nearly perfect, quickly then I could see how this could go pretty fast.  Thats the problem though, to get something that is better than the Plustek takes a lot of work.  For me, at this point in time anyway, the Plustek is sticking around for my 35mm negatives.  I’ll leave the Micro Nikkor and Sony for the 120 stuff.


2 Responses to “Plustek vs Micro Nikkor”

  1. mewanchuk

    Very intruiging post, Jordan…

    I actually would not have expected such decent results from the macro setup!

    In an a way, it seems a bit sacrilegious (a digital *picture* of a film negative??) but I guess that’s really what a scan is, anyway.


    Certainly worth exploring further if you can get the dust issues sorted out. (It’s not like you can use ICE/iSRD on the B&W film anyway!)

    All the best,

  2. jkjod

    I am for sure going to keep using that set up for the medium format stuff – its a breeze and I think the results are very good. Just need to shoot more medium format, I guess 🙂


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