On digitising (Part 1 – the gear)

I am in the fortunate position that following the end of home schooling there is a spare desk in the house so I’ve been able to set up a reasonably permanent digitising/scanning station. It isn’t immune from being dumped on by other people off-loading their junk onto the nearest clear(ish) space but on the whole it’s generally ready to go at a moments notice.

So, what do I have on the desk? The one indulgence is a proper copy stand. I did buy a cheap stand from a certain auction site but it almost toppled when I added the camera and, not for the first time, I decided it had been a false economy. A tripod would not have been practical given the lack of floor space around the desk and as I wanted to have an ever-ready desk-based system I came to the conclusion that a copy stand was the most practical option. After researching and then checking prices I purchased a Kaiser RS2XA copy stand which on checking this morning has gone up considerably in price since I bought mine. However, having a rock-steady means of holding my camera and lens with a good-sized baseboard has made home digitising a far more pleasant experience in the long run.

The camera I use is a Fujifilm X-T3 and this is paired via an adapter with a Nikkor Micro 60mm f2.8D lens. Both pieces of kit were already in the gear cupboard (my digital set-up is a Fuji mirrorless system and pre-Fuji I worked with full frame Nikon DSLRs). A cable release (just sneaking into frame bottom left) is permanently attached and held in place with a blob of blu-tac.

I have a generic A3 lightpad which I use for looking at negatives and a small Kaiser Slimlite Plano, which was a birthday gift and probably more than I actually need, that I use to illuminate the negatives when digitising. Also on the desk is a normal desk lamp. I work with the curtains drawn and room lights off so this gives me a spot of light when reloading film holders etc and is easily turned on/off without leaving the desk.

I haven’t done any testing to see whether it is strictly necessary but I like to exclude as much extraneous light as possible so have made some masks from old mounting boards into which the film holders can be sat. The usual small tools of the trade such as dust blower, pens, loupe etcetera sit at the top of the desk along with the 35mm film cutter (every 35mm photographer should have one IMHO). To the right are scissors and a small plastic box to hold trimmed negative ends prior to them making their way to the bin. A minor thing perhaps but it’s great not having bits of negative strewn across the desk!

Holding the negatives is the aspect that I’ve seen more words written about than perhaps any other aspect of digitising negatives apart perhaps from which software to use. My approach, as it is with all aspects of this, is to keep it simple. I have a couple of Lomography DigitaLIZA film scanning masks which for quite a while were all I had. Effective but fiddly and certainly not time-efficient when digitising a lot of film. So. when it first came out I invested in a Pixl-Latr film holder which came with a diffuser as part of the kit and several “gates” which can be used to mask-off the negatives. I will write more about using the Pixl-Latr in Part 2 but suffice to say it’s still in use despite adding a second system to my kit a few months ago.

The Effective Film Holder came to my notice during one of the Lockdowns and after a lot of reading and thought I purchased one as, based on my experience to that point, I felt it would complement the Pixl-Latr. It’s not going to spoil Part 2 by saying that my hunch was correct and that these two relatively inexpensive systems together meet all of my home digitising needs.

In Part 2 I will talk about my experiences using these two film holders. I had intended to also use part 2 to write about how I set-up the camera and my workflow once the negatives have been copied thus making this a two-part series. However, as I typed, part 2 quickly became longer than expected so these aspects will be covered in Part 3. Fingers crossed I don’t end up with a four-part series!

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