Getting the Band(ing) Back Together

Dear readers, I have been living a lie. For the past little while, I’ve assured you that I was settled on film scanners. That I had made my (flat)bed and was relatively content sleeping in it: a Plustek Opticfilm 8200i for 35mm and an Epson V700 for 120.

Guess what? I may have spoken too soon.

I was quite content with the Plustek Opticfilm 8200i until recently. It’s a very competent scanner, if a little on the slow side. It has a few issues, like the lack of automated feeder for film strips, and the need to scan at its claimed — if unattainable — 7,200dpi setting to achieve its actual effective resolution of 3,250dpi. But with a little time and patience, the 8200i produced decent results that were hard to beat at the price.

That is until that most dreaded of things started to appear: BANDING. Yep, vertical streaks ran through my image. Like a lot of banding, at first they were faint and forgettable. Then they became more visible and difficult to ignore.

I contacted the local distributors, FVE, and they suggested the banding would most likely be dust in the mirror box. They offered to clean it for a small fee, so I sent it off. A couple of weeks later, I got the scanner back and it was happily free of banding. However something was out of alignment because the scans were much less detailed than my results from prior to the servicing. What was previously film grain looked like blurry clumps. The scanner’s resolving power seemed little better than an Epson flatbed.

At time of writing, FVE is awaiting stock to swap over the scanner for a new unit. I must note this is above and beyond for them to do. They have offered really wonderful service and I am indebted to them for their help over the past couple of months.

Despite FVE’s remarkable assistance, these issues with a current model film scanner have raised the same issues I have been considering since 2014, when I purchased, then returned, the Plustek Opticfilm 120:

“The real issue is the long term: how reliable is it? Will it be able to be serviced if there is a problem? Will Plustek still be around in almost 6 years’ time? Or will I be left with a unwieldy paperweight on my desk?”

Or when the same issues appeared when I purchased, then repaired, then repaired again, then returned, the Pacific Image PF120 Pro:

“My biggest concern is what happens should a problem occur outside of the warranty period… [film scanners] are specialist devices which may not exist in a similar form in even 3 or 4 years time.”

Although film scanners still exist, it appears that neither Pacific Image and Plustek can build a product to the same standards as Nikon or Minolta did earlier this century. No matter how good these current scanners are on paper, if they can’t last, they’re not worth it.

Therefore, the only logical option open to me — other than to cease film photography all together — is to repurchase a Nikon Coolscan 5000ED. Yep, four years after selling my Coolscan, I’ve taken the plunge on another one from eBay’s most reputable Coolscan specialist. It’s currently on its way to me and I hope to up and scanning within the next couple of weeks. To say I’m looking forward to it is an understatement. I’ve never achieved quality close to what I achieved with my Coolscan since selling it and I’m confident that, in the intervening years, I’ve improved my mad scanning and workflow skillz.

Needless to say this won’t be my last post about scanning…

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