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What's Happening with Film Scanners?


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The only "cheap" scanner that is within reach/affordable for consumers and still decent quality which I'm aware of is the Pictor Pro:

The only other decent "low budget" option (assuming you're not building the entire scanner from scratch) would be to buy a Retroscan Universal MkII and modify it, in my estimation you'll need to budget for around $14K if you want a decent quality dual-format scanner. The hardest part is adding gates to it to get the film perfectly flat, but there should be a commercial product available soon (aftermarket gates) that you can buy for the Universal MkII, but be aware they won't work with the older Moviestuff machines since they had a different design. If anyone has a Universal MkII please send me a private message, my mate who designed the gates may want to get others to test them before fully going to market with them to ensure they'll work with other machines besides his one.

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On 12/16/2021 at 8:13 PM, Dan Baxter said:

The only other decent "low budget" option (assuming you're not building the entire scanner from scratch) would be to buy a Retroscan Universal MkII and modify it,

The mod that the Retroscan really needs is a 4K camera.  Do you know of anyone who has modified a MKII with a better camera/sensor?

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Yes I do. And the guy I know will be able to offer an upgrade service for them as well if someone want to pay to have it done. But I think the intention is to document the changes properly so others can DIY if they want to (except the gates obviously).

Here is a 35mm sample: https://www.transfernow.net/dl/20220109HDyQjB0f

That's scanned with a 4K camera, a high cri LED light and a prototype gate to hold the film flat.

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As with all digital technology the main component costs of building a good film scanner have come down considerably, especially the camera. The new Sony Pregius line of Global Shutter CMOS sensors are very good and 4K/5K is very attainable for the hobbyist in their 3.45micron and 2.75micron pixel sensors.

The trick is building a film transport and really good LED Lamp and then the software to glue it all together.

I can tell you that the high end R,G,B,IR LEDs used in the Xena scanners I helped co-develop cost about $900.00 in just LED parts but that is designed to be a high end lamp. I would imagine an enthusiast could run a acceptable LED lamp which costs 1/10 that and other middle market scanners probably fall somewhere in the middle for those parts.

Good, Cheap,Fast pick two they say but film scanners inevitably will become higher res and fast enough and the costs will be pushed down.

YMMV

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Is there some reason people go for LEDs rather than incandescent, which I'd view as stabler and with better colour quality?

I guess you can change colours quicker on the LEDs rather than a mechanical filter assembly.

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Sure, but you can mount the light somewhere away from the film. It'll necessarily be somewhat distant anyway, given the need for a variable RGB colour filtration box. That's how it was always done.

The origins of colour grading

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2 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

Sure, but you can mount the light somewhere away from the film. It'll necessarily be somewhat distant anyway, given the need for a variable RGB colour filtration box. That's how it was always done.

 

You don't necessarily need the filtration if you choose LEDs with the right spectral characteristics. Any variance from the target peak wavelengths can be compensated for in the color processing pipeline (in scanner, before anything is written to disk). This is how almost all of the high end scanners work these days.

Incandescents also tend to dim over time. For example, the lamp in a Northlight has to be periodically replaced (every 1000 hours they say) because it will eventually dim to about 50% of its initial brightness. It gets to the point where the scanner can't compensate for the shift, in software. LEDs tend to be more stable over longer periods of time. Lasergraphics, for example, states an estimated 100,000 hour lifetime for their LED lamphouse. 

Without the need for all that filtration, you can make a much more compact lamphouse, too. Essentially, some LEDs pointed into an integrating sphere. That doesn't take up much space, so it brings down manufacturing complexity and cost. 

 

Edited by Perry Paolantonio
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Northlight is a metal halide discharge lamp (or, now, an LED retrofit). I remember them looking very cool compared to room lighting of the time when I did some work for Filmlight in 2006-2007, though more with Baselight. Yes, they would absolutely fade over time, but I'm not sure incandescent has much liability there.

Personally I like the idea of notch filtering a broadband source more than trying to mix it with LEDs. The amount of screwing around people have to do in order to get LEDs to be consistent enough is enormous. But maybe I'm thinking too much like a homebrewer, I don't know.

P

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Well, the Imagica 3000V (Admittedly an ancient machine) used a 24V 250W Halogen lamp and a series of mechanically actuated filters. The lifespan of that lamp was 150 hours. At the speed it scanned (30 seconds per frame), you probably had to go through 2 lamps for a feature! ...though it wasn't really intended to be a feature film scanner, more for discreet VFX shots and early DI work. 

I think the next version, the Imager XE, may have used a similar setup though, but I'm not 100% positive on that. @Robert Houllahan  would know as he had one for a while. 

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2 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

Northlight is a metal halide discharge lamp (or, now, an LED retrofit). I remember them looking very cool compared to room lighting of the time when I did some work for Filmlight in 2006-2007, though more with Baselight. Yes, they would absolutely fade over time, but I'm not sure incandescent has much liability there.

Personally I like the idea of notch filtering a broadband source more than trying to mix it with LEDs. The amount of screwing around people have to do in order to get LEDs to be consistent enough is enormous. But maybe I'm thinking too much like a homebrewer, I don't know.

P

The Spirit uses a 750W Xenon lamp with an ingenious mechanism for removing the heat from it's output the is capable of putting out allot more light than the LED lamps in modern scanners and this combined with the very large photo-sites on the CCD line arrays gives it great ability to scan dense negatives and prints in real-time with good results and low noise. The electronic ballast and lamp plus the filter array and other optics like the heat dissipation system are hella expensive and complex.

The "newer" Imagica ImagerXE had a Xenon lamp and a (I assume hella expensive) large fibre optic tube to send the light to the gate from the bulb.

Today's LEDs are really good and keep getting better and if you use the right R,G,B,IR LEDs and enough of them in an integration sphere with some of the new holographic diffusion you get a lamp with excellent variability in color to match the film stock characteristics and the big added bonus of diffuse light to help conceal scratches. The LED lamp will far outlast the Xenon one (or another lesser capable hot lamp) by a huge margin. The LED lamp is very compact and as they are typically pulsed to match the film frame / camera taking shutter timing they don't need a huge heat-sink and the power draw is minimal.

 

 

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17 hours ago, Robert Houllahan said:

Good, Cheap,Fast pick two they say but film scanners inevitably will become higher res and fast enough and the costs will be pushed down.

YMMV

I feel you can add "versatility" to that adage: Good/Cheap/Fast/Versatile. That's what you're compromising on. The example I showed is with a white light as mentioned, a true RGB light will improve the results and will also give greater versatility to recover faded film. You're also compromising on the speed of the workflow with the example I uploaded (4K on a Retroscan) as you have to capture to camera raw then debayer and then convert that to Prores. That example also hasn't been stabilised in post. A Lasergraphics will go straight to Prores and stabilise the film in the scan.

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On 1/10/2022 at 1:31 PM, Robert Houllahan said:

The "newer" Imagica ImagerXE had a Xenon lamp and a (I assume hella expensive) large fibre optic tube to send the light to the gate from the bulb.

I have a 24" light pipe from the 3000V, which I would imagine is pretty similar. Been meaning to turn it into an LED desk lamp. It'd be pretty cool looking: round on the lamp end (1" diameter), and a rectangle on the film end, something like 3/8" x 2"

Edited by Perry Paolantonio
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23 hours ago, Perry Paolantonio said:

I have a 24" light pipe from the 3000V, which I would imagine is pretty similar. Been meaning to turn it into an LED desk lamp. It'd be pretty cool looking: round on the lamp end (1" diameter), and a rectangle on the film end, something like 3/8" x 2"

Interesting to know that light pipes are used (..or were) in scanner's backlight systems. I almost bought one from Edmund optics a few years ago but it was too small diameter - would not have been covering enough for 35mm. How big is the lightpipe and are there other lenses involved in the design ? Just curious - not thinking of using this idea.. my scanner LED system is really fine.

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Just now, Robino Jones said:

Interesting to know that light pipes are used (..or were) in scanner's backlight systems. I almost bought one from Edmund optics a few years ago but it was too small diameter - would not have been covering enough for 35mm. How big is the lightpipe and are there other lenses involved in the design ? Just curious - not thinking of using this idea.. my scanner LED system is really fine.

I took that apart quite a while ago. If I recall, though, there was a box with the bulb and three filters, each one actuated with either a small stepper motor or a solenoid. I can't remember which and I never took pictures of that. In any case, the light was installed inside a reflective chamber, and the light pipe was attached at the top. In the attached color image, from the manual, you can see the end of the lightpipe at the top of the enclosure, in the bottom image. The filters are off to the side, and are move into position between lamp and fiber optics as needed. 

In the B/W picture you can see the area behind the gate. This was under a flip-up door, which you had to lift in order to change the gate, and this exposed the other end of the light pipe (the black rectangular box). Basically, this was a narrow rectangle of light, a bit wider than the line array below the scanner. It was mounted to a stepper-motor driven linear slide, which moved it in parallel with the line array. Between the lightpipe and the film is a curved piece of diffusion material. 

In this scanner, the film stays still, and the line array in the belly of the machine and the light source behind the film, both sweep past the frame together. It's kind of insane, really. Everything about this machine was ridiculous. You had to wait an hour before you could scan to let the lamp stabilize (don't forget it only has a 150 hour lifespan!), and it actually had a timer built in to block it from accepting commands until that hour had passed. It took 30+ seconds per frame to scan, and it had mainframe-style boards, one for each color, to do the processing. But, it was from the 90s...

So yeah, that lightpipe is best used as a desk lamp at this stage...

 

Screen Shot 2022-01-12 at 03.56.14 PM.jpg

Untitled.jpg

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