Essential Film Holder

for Camera Scanning






Updated September 2021


Getting GREAT images from your Camera Scanning

User Guide and “Tips and Tricks”






Applicable to all Camera Scanning tools, systems and techniques and anyone interested in Camera Scanning of 35mm and 120 film.


As I’m the creator of the Essential Film Holder, all examples and tips will relate to the Essential Film Holder. That should not be a surprise!


However, those starting out with other systems will find many useful chunks of information in here too, so read on.


And if you have not yet opted for a proper film holder and are still at the experimental or ‘cardboard’ stage, then I’d encourage you to look at the home page for the Essential Film Holder, here.



So, What’s the Essential Film Holder all about?


The Essential Film Holder is a tool to facilitate digital camera ‘scanning’ of film.


It’s “just” a film holder that holds your film while you take a picture of it with your digital camera.


It’s been thoughtfully designed to perform the “essential” functions of a film holder for both 35mm and 120 film formats at an affordable price.


Yes, the Essential Film Holder DOES have a few bells an whistles. It’s configurable and adjustable to suit your particular set-up , accommodates BOTH 35mm and 120 format up to 6x9, includes a high quality light diffuser and with its metal- and glass-free construction, it will never scratch the surface of your light panel.


But there’s always a downside...


No, it’s not as pretty as a film holder from Negative Supply, but it does not cost £1,000+ which is, arguably, significantly over-engineered. If you are looking to spend that sort of crazy money then click here for the ‘works’. Their web page is as pretty as their product.


However, if you are looking for a solid product or ‘tool’ that simply does its job in an unassuming, workman like way,  then the sub-£100 Essential Film Holder is what you need.






Essential Film Holder Background


It’s origins are quite simple to explain.


As a photographer of many years, I’ve picked up a few image awards using both film and digital cameras.

Whilst digital images are ‘clean’ and often of a far higher technical quality, the “feel” of film is sill only available from film itself.


Being highly familiar with a digital workflow of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, and having reached an acceptable standard (to me) of film developing at home, I wanted to get my film images into the digital domain as easily and as quickly as I could. The magazines call this a “hybrid work flow”.


I used, and, to be honest, I still occasionally use my Epson v600 flat-bed scanner, but the time it takes to scan a roll of film, especially 36 shots of 35mm film, is very significant indeed.


So, I started to try out camera scanning and, whilst the initial results were encouraging, I had issues with my set-up and kit being used.


Using bits of cardboard for a home-made mask and film holder gave interesting enough results, but nowhere near the quality, or stability of set-up, that I was looking for.


The challenges I had were the obvious ones...


·        keeping the film flat

·        getting the camera properly aligned and keeping the entire set-up in one position for long enough to capture a roll of film


·        getting the backlighting right so that it didn’t product horrible ‘blobs’ on the image.



And, let’s face it, I wasn’t going to pay £1,000+ to solve those apparently simple challenges!


I wasn’t EVEN going to pay £350 to solve those challenges.


(Although I should declare at this point that I did buy a ‘solution’ from a Far East company, got stung by import duties, VAT and shipping costs, and nearly got burnt by the blistering heat that thing gave out... and I had a strip of film badly scratched by their cheaply made film holder. £325 toasted!


And so the EFH came into being, and the output of my camera scanning went up exponentially, both in terms of quality and speed.


I was, at one stage early in the marketing process, considering the tag line


“90% of the functionality at 10% of the price”


...but I haven’t used it yet. Mainly because I’ve come to realise that the EFH does 95%+ of the functionality of the £1000+ solutions at LESS THAN 10% of the price! ...and that tag line sounded a bit “spammy”.


Camera scanning is, of course, not the same as conventional scanning, in a flat-bed scanner, for instance, like the Epson Perfection range.


However, if you are reading this page, then you will have a digital camera that is likely to be capable of taking images of frames of film that are easily good enough to rival the quality of such consumer-grade flatbed scanners.


You will soon be able to judge for yourself how capable camera scanning is.


If you are using a latest generation high-end DSLR such as Canon 5D Mk IV, DS DR, or a Nikon D800, D810 or D850 then the results you will be able to produce will be astonishing.


Even mid-spec cameras can product stunning results. As can mirrorless too.


In fact, almost any camera with 12Mpixels resolution or above will be able to rival the quality of a mid-priced flatbed...


...and be able to scan a roll of film in a fraction of the time it takes to do this with my Epson v600 scanner !


I’ve even experimented with using my iPhone to capture film images!


The film can be either negatives or positives, strips or uncut rolls, curly or flat!


(Note that the EFH happily accommodates mounted slides. Both 50mm (2¼ inch square) mounts and also 70mm slide mounts for 120 transparencies are supported with a additional optional mask)



About this guide


This guide will help you get those amazing results from the Essential Film Holder (EFH)


There are a few DOs and DON’Ts that you should be aware of.


Plus there are a number of myths that the “experts” like to thrust upon you, in the same way that, in any field, there’s almost a protectionist approach to the sharing of information.


Being generous, let’s call them “perfectionist” rather than “protectionist”.


In this guide, I’ll point out where a particular aspect, method or equipment might generate a result that is more practical than perfectionist. In this way, you’ll be able to better judge the quality of your own results.



How the EFH works


It’s simple.


The EFH is delivered to you in MY recommended ideal configuration.


Once you have become familiar with its parts and how to use it in your set-up, you may decide to take it apart and re-assemble it in a different way. And that’s perfect!


Once assembled in your chosen configuration, the EFH sits directly on, or over, your light source. This could be anything that emits a white light, such as a tablet or LED light panel.


Don’t worry about scratches to your light panel – all the parts in the EFH are made from plastic that will not scratch or damage your light source in any way.


At a size of 180 x 110mm the EFH is perfectly sized to sit on top of an A6 LED light panel or an iPad Mini.


Above the EFH, you align your camera. If you have a macro/micro lens, that’s great. If not, then an extension tube works fine...more on all this later on.


Your film (strips or entire uncut roll) then passes through the EFH dual layers.


In the “v3” product version, these layers are set at a 0.5mm gap with a “guide layer” to allow your film to be aligned perfectly.


Then move the film to align with the aperture in the EFH, and with backlight on, take the shot. Done.


Then on to the next frame – reposition the film within the aperture without moving the EFH or your camera and take the next shot.


Repeat until roll completed.


After you’ve gone through a roll or two, you’ll be able to digitize a 36-shot roll of 35mm within 4-5 minutes or less.



Layers of the EFH


The EFH is made up of a number of “layers”. Depending on the exact version you chose, these act as masks to allow light to only hit the film surface at the desired or allowable locations, meaning that the camera shot will be perfectly frames and extraneous light will be prevented.











Layer 1 – Diffuser – this sits at the bottom of the product, nearest the light source


Layer 2 – Base for 120 formats


[0.5mm Spacers]


Layer 3 – Top for 120 formats


Layer 4 – Base for 35mm format


Layer 5 – 0.5 Spacer layer and guide for 35mm format strips


Layer 6 – Top for 35mm



All layers are plastic.


Layer 1 is the diffuser, it is cast acrylic, Perspex SPECTRUM OPAL 1TL2 material, which is optimised for white light, and for consistency of light transmission across the entire sheet . The 1TL2 grade transmits 51% of light across the entire spectrum, from below 380nm to above 790nm - that’s the entire visible light range for humans.


That’s what you need for a diffuser in a top-performing scanning product.


Note that some other film holders use the much cheaper materials for diffusion and these can (and do) create colour shifts by preventing certain parts of the light spectrum to pass through. That’s pretty bad – you don’t want this sort of thing going on as it’s pretty tricky to sort out at a later stage, especially if, as in one case, the light colouration is not even across the diffuser!.


Layers 2,3,4 and 6 are also cast acrylic chosen for it’s stability, toughness and resistance to warping over time. These are all in a non-reflective, matt black colour. Not a coating, but the entire material.


Layer 5 is just 0.5mm thick and is made from acetal. This is chosen for it’s toughness when in thin sheets and for it’s ability to be made to very precise thickness over wide areas. The shape of this layer has taken some time to get right.  It allows for 35mm film to be fed into the assembly, guiding the location of the film strip and then making sure it cannot move beyond an allowable 0.25mm width through the entire channel. This makes sure that the 35mm frame will exactly line up with the aperture.



Update: in the latest “v3” version of the EFH Essential Film Holder, a similar guide layer system is used for 120 film too, making sure that the image area of the 120 film is perfectly aligned.



All layers have been precision laser cut, meaning that dimensions of all parts are super precise, with a precision of greater than 0.00005 meters. That’s 1/20th of a millimeter, before you ask.



Default assembly


As delivered, the EFH is in its “default configuration”.


This allows you to get started as fast as possible – for 35mm, just position over a light source, feed in your film and you’re off!


For 120 film formats, simply remove the top 3 layers by unscrewing the 4 plastic wing nuts, removing the layers and re-applying the wing nuts to ensure the 120 layers are held firmly.


Then it’s just a case of putting your film in and capture.



Scanning different film formats


There are many different film formats that can be scanned in the EFH.


35mm and smaller using the 35mm layers


The 120 film layers can scan 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8 and 6x9 for starters.


Because of the geometry, scanning of 35mm with full sprocket holes is also possible by using the 120 film mask layers.


If you are the sort who will always want to scan 35mm sprockets and never want to scan just the 35mm image frame, then it is possible to replace the 35mm layers with ones with a wider light aperture to accommodate this – just drop me an email and I will be able to sort you out.



Alternative configurations


Well, there are many options and choices – many of which will be explained below in terms of optimising your scans.


However, if you are only ever going to be interested in 35mm films you have the option of removing the two 120 layers and converting the EFH into a 35mm only configuration.


However, it’s not actually necessary to do this as the design has carefully position the 35mm aperture over that of the 120, so light can hit your 35mm negative unimpeded.


One of the interesting alternative configurations is to adjust the height of the diffuser above your light source and then to adjust the height of the film above the diffuser.


When I was finalising the design of the EFH, I did lots of studying and testing and experimentation.


My generalised conclusion?


If the diffuser sits approx 1/3 to 1/2 the way from the light source to the film, then that’s about optimal. The light at the diffuser is evenly distributed with negligible fall-off at the edges of the diffuser or colourisation effects and then the light falling on the negative is about as even as can possibly be. I’ll illustrate this with a few test shots later on.


Of course, that is the feature of the high quality diffuser material I chose for the product.


If you get the urge to “play” withy our set-up and EFH configuration, then your local hardware store will likely sell compatible parts – just look for “M5” sizing. Note that I’d advise sticking to plastic parts rather than metal as metal could cause damage to the EFH and/or your light source.


In Use


In it’s simplest usage, pop your camera on a tripod, and position a light source under the lens


Then it’s simply a case of sliding in your file, aligning with the aperture on the layer mask and then shooting.


Yes, it really is that simple.





You can use either a tripod or any other sort of support for your camera. A copy stand, for example of ideal too.


Remember that your choice will depend on whether you want a fixed installation or something that is more portable, making use of some of the existing photo kit you already have.


In the picture, above, I use my old heavy metal Manfrotto 055 tripod with the centre column swung to the horizontal configuration and with a Manfrotto 410 geared head. (Also seen is a LED light pad – more about light sources shortly).


Personally, I have always preferred geared heads as they allow for smaller incremental adjustment, whereas a ball head is more suited for wilder and wider ranging faster movements.


However, that’s just personal choice.


Use whatever you have and whatever you feel comfortable with.


Note that as the camera needs to be pointing at your light source, most likely in a vertical position, please make sure your tripod is adequately set up so that the whole thing can’t topple over!! It’s easily done.



Light source


So, this is the first topic that will, undoubtedly get a reaction from the purists and “experts”.


Once you dig into this topic, then all sorts of terminology will come to the fore...most notably “CRI”, lux, colour temperature and heat.


So, what’s the quick and simple guide summary and guidance here....


1. Use what you have


If you have an iPad (3rd generation or later) then use that. Set up a page that’s white (use email app or anything that shows a mostly white screen), crank up the brightness to the max, turn off any timeouts and you have a light source.


Ditto, if you have a Samsung Tablet 7” and above will be fine.


Some of the later iPhones (7 or later) will be fine. Earlier ones back to iPhone 5 are OK-ish.


All these devices generate a surprisingly pure light that covers most of the visible spectrum from around 300nm up to just under 800nm.


The problems with these devices is that the brightness can be variable, the evenness of the light over the screen surface can be poor and nailing all the time-outs can be like searching for a needle in a haystack.


2. Buy something cheap


If you are going to want to have a permanent or at least semi-permanent configuration that is either static or wheeled out when you want to scan, then you may be better off getting a light pad.


LED light pads come in many forms and in many qualities.


At the very entry level are what are often called “tracing pads”.


You can buy a small one on Amazon for less than £8. These will not have an integral battery and will need a microUSB power lead. Some are supplied with a power plug, some not.


In the picture above, this is exactly one of those Amazon LED Tracing pads. Unbranded from China. The one shown has 3 light output levels, very dim, dim and not very bright. You can see my USB charge bank powering the light. Those three light levels add a £2 to the price, and is actually entirely pointless.


Now, the purists will tell you this is a cheap and nasty solution. And they might well be right.


However, the major challenge with these pads is that the LEDs are widely spaced and can show up on your camera scan shots. And that’s true.


One of the reasons for this is that these LED panels have a very very poor light diffuser (if they have one at all!).


Take a shot of the LED panel on its own and it will look like this....





...lay your film down on this sort of surface and you will easily see this ghastly mottled pattern on your DSLR image.



This is, however, not an issue with the EFH because the performance of the light diffuser sorts out this nasty effect and ‘converts’ the discrete LEDs into a more homogenous light sheet, like this (same image set-up, just with the diffuser inserted)...





Now, these cheap panels are not very bright, and that means you’re in for longer exposures to capture your film image. However, you have a tripod or solid stand and as long as your settings are appropriate, this should not be an issue.


3. Buy a more expensive LED panel


You could step up a bit and spend far more on an LED panel that is designed for, for example, viewing film negatives in the style of an old fashioned light box.


Kaiser offer a number of these and on paper these are much better. Solux and SORAA too, though these are getting pretty expensive.


Usually, the only real difference compared to the very cheap LED panels is that these will have an attempt at a diffuser sheet over the surface and possibly better quality LEDs, though not always!


However, the positioning of the diffuser is inadequately separated from the LED (it’s too close) to be really useful and you will often get uneven light flares from the panel, with light going off in all directions, bouncing around and messing your shot.


If you get strange orange blobs on your camera scan shot, then the positioning of the diffuser is most likely a factor.


Again, the diffuser layer in the EFH can be the saviour as this is a far better diffuser than you will find on even the most expensive LED panels.


These more expensive devices, such as from Kaiser and Solux (and others), will be far brighter than the super-cheap panels and this will give shorter exposure times.


4. Go for a video light


Once common light source is to use a video light. There are many unknown brands of light from China, and the one I use is well reviewed from a company called Raleno. It’s dimmable (useless feature for what we are doing), has an adjustable colour balance and an integral battery.  The most important feature is, however, its bright pure light output that has a CRI of 95. 


CRI is the colour rendering index and is a calibrated range to international standards. There’s a load of information you can look up yourself on the background and meaning of the CRI number, but for what we are doing, a CRI >90 is going to give you noticeably better results than any of the previously mentioned light sources.


What does a CRI of 95 mean? It means the colour spectrum is wide enough to encompass pretty much all the visible range in a way that is even, so no colour hot-spots. It means the power output of the light is sufficiently high to avoid dark patches and it means the light “purity” is going to be mostly consistent over time...i.e. it’s not going to fade and drift. Think of it as a kind of “goodness rating”.


I’m sure the “experts” will be able to give you far more (superfluous) information if you search the web or Facebook groups.


Again, these are LED based products. Again the EFH diffuser will significantly add to the quality of the light hitting your negative.


One of the downside of these sort of lights is that they can get warm. Leave a video panel on for an hour or two and the body of the light unit will be warm to the touch.


That should not worry you unduly, as I’ve found it easy to achieve a scan of a 36-shot roll of 35mm film in under 10 minutes.



Do note, however, that there are a couple of LED lights that can, and regularly DO cause some challenges.  One in particular is the Aputure M9 light (and similar clones). This light consists of just 9 huge LEDs that are spaced at 1-2cm apart and the chances of getting hot-spots and uneven light are pretty high


Whilst this is a challenge for the Essential Film Holder (and any other film holder for that matter), by increasing the light-to-diffuser distance, you can still get great results, but you will need to experiment. If that’s not for you, then despite the attractiveness of the M9’s small form-factor, you may well be better off with something like a Raleno 116 light.



5. Proper lamp


As the experts will say, if you want the high quality light you need a proper bulb. The mythical (and mystical) CRI measurements to “proper” bulbs will hit 98 of more... i.e. almost perfectly pure light.


I’m not going to profess to knowing too much in this area, as in all my camera scanning time, I’ve always been happy with one of the earlier solutions.


BUT, the common bit of information is that wherever there is a ”real” bulb in a box, it’s going to get very very hot if you leave it on for more than a few minutes.


Some all-in-one film holders from the Far East utilise the “bulb in a box” approach. They should come with a warning label, a hazard sticker and a fire blanket !!


Darkroom and/or enlarger bulbs are a great example of this. Use an enlarger lamp and you get a pure light source that can be blindingly bright. But the damned things get so hot you need to consider them a fire risk



Diffuser positioning


Having explored the options for light sources, you may wonder what happens if you shuffle things around on your EFH.


If you are interested is changing the gaps between the layers then there are a few things to watch out for, most notably the positioning of the diffuser layer.


Using a low cost LED light panel is, the “experts” will tell you a big no-no for camera scanning. They will quite rightly tell you that if you place your negatives directly on these light panels (LED or otherwise) then the light pattern will be visible on your final image.


And that’s correct.


However, the EFH include a very high performing diffuser layer.


BUT the positioning of it needs some thought.



Look at the images to the right. These were taken using a typical EFH set-up (mine!) and show what happens when things move around. No film used in these, just straight shots of the light source in different configurations.



Pic#1 - no diffuser at all, DSLR focus is on the panel itself.

The individual LEDs are clearly visible. With no diffuser this pattern will appear on your DSLR image.

This is why you should never place your negatives directly onto a light panel unit!



Pic#2 – The diffuser sits directly on the panel.

Whilst this shows that the diffuser is working, the proximity to the source is causing all sorts of issues. This is how many (often very expensive) all-in-one film holder solutions end up being configured. It's easy to think that you just slap a diffuser layer on the light source and you get diffused light, but that's only partially true, especially when you are trying to capture larger negatives. Light fall-off is clearly an issue outside the central zone.


Pic#3 - Just a few mm separation makes all the difference, but then you end up with edge effect that would be a nightmare to sort in post production (PS/LR/etc). Yes, you could do a ‘flat-field correction’, but that's not so easy. This shot had the diffuser at just 2-3 mm from the front of the LED panel.


Pic#4 - Top surface of diffuser now further away from the source and the light evens out nicely. I would be happy to be using light like this. On the full res image I can see that there is just maybe 1-2% fall off right at the very edges where I show the dark black border.


This is the default positioning of the EFH diffuser. To be specific, the top surface of the diffuser is 16mm above the light source.


Pic#5 – So whilst distance from the light source is good news, things can go too far. Here, the diffuser is around 5 cm away from the source, and now the dominant result is one of harsh vignetting.


So, if you are experimenting with the position of the components of your EFH, then it’s always worth taking a series of your own test shots to ensure that your light is sufficiently even, before you start to get out your negatives! The geometry matters!



Stray light


Stray light can be a real problem when camera scanning.


The design of the EFH affords a huge amount of protection as the layer mask extends around the film aperture by a sufficient amount so as to reduce this stray light. That’s by design.


However, there are some things to note.


If you are scanning during the daytime, then you may well have trouble. Your DSLR is so sensitive to light that it will pick up even the smallest amount of stray light. Think about it. If you shoot the stars on a dark night, your sensor is able to capture the pin-pricks of light in the sky. So if you have daylight streaming in through the window onto your camera scan set-up you should expect trouble.


Similarly, if you have a large LED panel (e.g. an A4 or A3 panel) that is way larger than the plan area of the EFH (which is just a shade off A6 size), then there is going to be more light bouncing around than you want.


The solution is to mask off the extra light. You can use a simple black cardboard frame that you sit on top of your light source, with a hole cut in it for the EFH to sit in.


When I’m using a small LED panel (as in the picture earlier), or my video light, I use black electrical tape to block the light from the panel that falls outside the EFH.


Why electrical tape? Because it does not leave nasty glue residue when you remove the tape.


You’re trying to get ALL the light coming through the EFH diffuser layer, not around it!


Then either do your scanning in the evening, or better at night, with the room lights off, or simply draw the curtains.


If you have a darkroom, then that’s always an option to avoid stray light, though you might think that somewhat excessive!



Lens Choice


Now we’re getting into the tricky areas that will have the “experts” foaming at the mouth.


When I started camera scanning, I read that you needed to have a high quality macro lens to do a “proper job”.


I looked at all the “proper” macro lenses in the Nikon range, including the latest 105mm macro lens at £900 and some 3rd party lenses at not much less.


Well, I did not have a macro lens and wasn’t going to buy one until I saw the need.


After all, for an investment of £1000 on a macro lens, I could get hundreds of images drum scanned!


So what to do...


If you have a lens that can focus close, use that. Even if your scan only covers half the frame.


Do the maths – you have a 50MPx camera (say) and your 35mm image if half the height of the frame and half the width. So that’s 25% of the full frame area. Or 25% of 50MPx. So you will have your 35mm frame captured as a 12MPx image.


That’s not bad for a no-investment solution. The best I can get from my Epson V600 flatbed scanner is around a 6MPx image equivalent and that’s after spending hours tweaking settings and tone curves.



Next up, get some extension tubes. These can be either cheap and manual or expensive and automatic.

Personal view here, don’t even bother with anything other than the basic manual extension tubes.


Extension tubes generally come in a set of three, giving you 6 combination of extension distance. The basic manual ones are as complicated as drain pipe. Yes, you can buy super quality branded extension tubes (like the Nikon PK range) that will set you back £100 for the set, or you can buy, as I did, a very basic set of 3 tubes from Alibaba (or eBay) for less than £8.


Manual tubes have no electronics. You lose all “fly-by-wire” controls over the lens aperture and you have to change settings on your lens by hand. This means that Nikon “G” lenses become rather tricky to use. You can use them, but you’ll be running at ‘wide open maximum aperture...which may not give you the best optical quality.


Electronic extension tubes will convey the control signals from your camera through to your lens. However, these sort of extension tunes will be far more expensive. Whilst they will work OK, you don’t really need them.


What length of extension tube to use? It depends on many factors. However, you’re trying to get the negative image to fill as much of your DSLR frame as possible. Trial end error will tell you the right combination of extension tube lengths to use and this will depend on your lens focal length and your sensor size..


If you have a choice of lenses then longer is better. I use a 105mm lens and this allows me to capture 35mm film frame with a 3cm extension tube and a 6x9 frame with a 1cm extension.


If your lens is 50mm you can still find a combination that will adequately work.


Any less than a 50mm lens will likely cause problems with distortion and aberrations. Frankly the geometry of the entire set-up will not do well with a wide angle lens.

Please don’t have high expectations if you are trying to camera-scan with a 28mm lens.


So, for example, an 85mm lenses would be fine to, but I’d just not bother with a 28mm lens.


If you do want to get (or already have a macro lens) then 60mm, 85mm, and 105mm will be fine.



Zoom lens v prime lens


Well, the “experts” will tell you that a zoom lens is not good for close-up work.  It’s certainly more difficult to use.


However, that should not put you off.


If you don’t have a suitable prime lens, then you’ve got to use what you have. If that’s a zoom lens, then use it.


Give it a go, and you might just be pleasantly surprised. Set it at 50, 60, 100mm, or thereabouts, and get those extension tubes out.


The most common challenge here is that many zooms creep when pointing directly up or directly downwards. If yours does, then you either need to find a way to lock it, or you have to shot only at the extremities. That may be OK, it may not be. You have to decide.


If you feel the need to tape your lens to secure the barrel, use electrical tape, not masking tape, not sellotape or packing tape. The glue on electrical tape is generally designed to not leave any residue when applied to hard plastic.


Whatever lens you use, the aim is to capture a full film frame on your DSLR at maximum possible size without distortion, utilising the full digital sensor area. That will give you the best quality shot.



Focus mode


If you look at camera scanning tutorials (sic) on YouTube, you will see many people using autofocus.


I do not recommend this, although this is up to you, clearly.


If you have auto extension tubes (or a autofocus macro lens) then you can focus as each shot is taken.


However, think about the set-up here – you have a tripod fixing the camera position and the EFH holding your film in the correct position, so it all is solid, the distance from your lens (or more correctly your camera’s sensor) will not really move.


So why do you need to focus for each shot? With a bit of practice and experience at camera scanning you will realise that you don’t really need to refocus for each shot, just don’t change the set-up.


And that means that you can rattle through an entire roll of film without touching the focus ring. That’s means speed!



Shutter Release


You’ve gone to the trouble of locking your camera to a tripod, use a stable film holder, managed the incident light and set up your light source to the best of your knowledge.


So it makes sense to ensure the camera is not rocking when it takes the shot.


And if you are setting up at home, with, for example, the tripod on a carpeted floor, or perhaps a sprung wooden floor, or worst of all, a carpeted sprung floor, then the settling time after a jolt can be surprisingly long.


You have two choices.


Firstly, use a cable release. Line up your film in the EFH window and click the cable release button. Don’t touch the camera body at all. That will ensure most vibrations are avoided.


Or use self-timer mode. You press the normal release button, jolting the camera, it wobbles over the course of a few seconds, finally coming to rest after, say, 10 seconds and then the time fires the shutter.


If you are manic about this, then you use both. Cable release combined with, say, a 5 second timer.

That’s what I do.



Metering for the shot


This one took me a while to sort out.


See, I’m generally a landscape photographer and I tend to meter quite carefully to ensure that the exposure is where I want it to be. Not quite Ansel Adams Zone perfect, but something along those lines for the digital era. Expose to the right, and all that.


So, my natural instinct was to actually meter around the frame then set my exposure accordingly.


For camera scanning, that’s a waste of time!


Nowadays, for camera scanning I set my camera to it’s most advanced automatic matrix metering setting and trust that it’s going to give a pretty good meter reading. And it does. Almost without fail.



Camera Exposure Mode


There are only two real options here.


Aperture priority mode (or whatever you camera calls it) where you set the f/ number on your lens or camera and the camera determines the shutter speed.


Full Manual mode


The choice will be determined by experience and your confidence.


Initially, I started out working in full manual mode and would take a meter reading for each frame, adjust the shutter speed until the EV of the exposure was ”right” and then I took the shot.


Over time, and with a bit of experimenting, I found that almost always that “right” was, for me, at about +0.75 stops over the matrix meter reading.


Combined with the use of best matrix metering, I set my Nikon D850 to overexpose by 2/3stop and trust the matrix meter to get it right. That 2/3stop makes all the difference.


You do not want to underexpose when camera scanning. If you don’t believe me, try it and check the results.

You’ll see film grain and digital noise in the dark areas as quite distinct phenomena.



Aperture Choice


This is quite a simple topic.


You’re trying to get the best quality image from your lens.


You have a stable set-up with tripod etc, so choice of aperture is not bound by having to snap your offspring playing football in a once-in-a-lifetime under-11 cup final.


Typically, the “sweet spot” for most lenses is usually in the range f/5.6 through to f/11. Across my Nikkor lenses for both my digital camera (d850) and Nikon film camera (F100), the lenses I use are best at somewhere around f/8.


“Best” meaning sharpest, least aberrations  and least distortion.


So that’s what I use. f/8.  Done!


If the exposure time gets to more than a second or so, then I need to change something in my setup. In this case, I opt to change ISO rather than anything else. Read on...



DSLR ISO Setting


Use the base ISO of your camera unless you need to adjust it.


On my D850, that means ISO64. That’s quite low.


Sometimes, I need to avoid the super-long exposures that result from breezy light modern-style shots from film.


Remember light scene on film = dark negatives, then when they get inverted they revert to light.


If the DSLR shutter speed get crazy long, then I have the choice to moving from my ideal f/8 to, say, f/2.8 or jacking the ISO up to 400.


I know my D850 is perfectly good at ISO400, whereas I know that my usual lens starts to have some sharpness issues at f/2.8.


So I opt for the ISO increase as the lesser of two evils.


You will have to decide your trade-off based on your own camera and lens performance.



Full frame or crop sensor settings (FX/DX)


Either is fine.


One “trick” is to se a full frame camera in crop sensor mode. In Nikon speak, use the FX camera in DX mode.

That has the effect of changing the crop to 1.5x smaller.


Think of that as turning, say, a 105mm lens into a 150mm lens, though that sort of speak will get most people shot thee days.


That might mean that you can avoid massively long extension tubes and the resulting optical funnies.


It does, however, turn a 50MPx camera into a 24MPx one. You may well be better leaving the camera on full frame and cropping the image in post production in Lightroom or similar. Just depends if you like to see a full image in your viewfinder or if you can handle the prospect of “cropping in post”.



Getting everything aligned


For some reason this is yet another topic that seems to get the “experts” all ‘testy’; I have no idea why.


The object is to get the film as parallel as possible to the DSLR camera sensor.


If you are a purist, then you will spend ages getting the pitch, role and yaw all within a hairs breadth of perfect.


Whilst I fully agree that you do not want massively tombstoned images, there is a limit to how accurate you just need to be.


After all, these days, with Lightroom, you can correct most geometric errors with the click of one or two buttons and have a perfectly squared-up image.


However, I do think it’s good to get to an “about right” position as best as you can in a reasonably quick time.

After all, one of the pleasures and advantages of camera scanning is the ability to get through a roll of film faster than mucking around with a flatbed scanner.


The trick – use a mirror.


With the EFH, place a mirror flat on the diffuser layer.


Line up your camera to view the mirror through the layer aperture, as if you were lining up to shoot a film frame.


Using Live view, what you should see is the out of focus image of your camera, pointing directly back up the lens.


If you are using an autofocus macro lens, then your reflection will be in focus.


If you are using a manual lens with an extension tube, then the image will be out of focus as you are now looking at the object at twice the distance (it’s a mirror, right?!?)


Either way, you can still see the centre of the lens.


We’re assuming here that the EFH is all “square” – that’s a fair assumption, unless you have opted for a whacky configuration.


So, if the mirror is laying flat on the diffuser, then when the camera is looking directly at itself, then you know that the EFH is aligned with your camera.


When you’re aligned, things should look a bit like this...





In this example, (including the dusty mirror!) you can see that the camera is slightly OUT of alignment - add the two corner to corner diagonals and they would cross to the right of the lens as pictured. So I’d simple move my camera to the centralised position.


In Nikon Live View, I can make visible the focus point at the very centre of the image... this acts like a target. When the image of the lens is centered on this Live View spot, then I’m aligned.


Yes, there’s some scope for errors with this method. However, you will never end up more than a fraction of a degree out of alignment in any direction.





As can be seen in the previous section, there can be dust floating around.


Dust can be an issue if the dust settles on your film. Remember, you’re aiming for a high resolution, high quality capture of your film surface and any dust will be captured too!


However, there’s really no need to get paranoid about it – there’s more than likely more of a challenge with blotches on your DSLR sensor than there is of having marks on your negatives, even if quite roughly handled!


The “Experts” will tell you that you need an anti-static brush made of Mongolian yak hair to clear your negatives of dust just before you use your DSLR to capture the images.


One film holder solution (yes, that £1000+ one again) even has a brush system attached to their film holder to do just this.


Even one of the more recently released film holders has an optional brush that can be bolted on at the point the film enters the holder. Frankly, there’s more chance of your negatives getting scratched by the brush than there is of you being crippled by dust.


In practice, a bit of simple housekeeping is all that’s required.


A quick wipe around the work area with a damp duster, 30 minutes before you get your negatives out, usually minimises the dust on nearby surfaces.


Then, I suggest using a Rocket-style air blower across your negative before pressing the shutter if you are concerned about dust.


Or simply don’t bother about dust and see what happens. Different homes have a different baselines in their dust and that depends as much on location and prevailing humidity as it does on when the vacuum cleaner was last used!



Film up or down?


Always a common question when scanning film, no matter what system you use.


Again, “experts” have their views. Some agree with me, some don’t!


For camera scanning, you want to have the NON-shiny side of the film pointing toward your DSLR.


Here’s why.


When you take your original shot on film you shoot onto the NON-shiny surface.


The light source is in front of the camera and the shiny back of the film is black, usually against a pressure plate or similar.


Now when you scan film, regardless of the method, the arrangement is somewhat unnatural as you are shining light through the film and capturing the image seen on the other side.


When you are capturing that image on a DSLR you run the risk of light bouncing around everywhere.


By having the NON-shiny surface towards the DSLR lens then any reflections that might come from the lens right back onto the film are largely avoided from re-reflecting back to the DSLR.


Another point of view is that the DSLR is capturing the same surface that was used in the original shot.


Either way. What’s clear is that there’s a fairly decent majority consensus for having the NON-shiny side toward the DSLR.



Newton Rings


With flatbed scanning, using plain glass plates anywhere in the system has the strong chance of creating problems, most notably Newton Rings. That spurs talk of “museum glass”, “Anti-Newton glass” and lots more beside.


With the EFH, there’s no need to use any form of glass to keep the negatives flat.


In fact, there is no need for glass to be used at all. No fringing, no ‘Newton Rings’ and no sharp edges to handle.


The entire film holder is metal-free, and glass-free, so no scratching your negatives or your light panel (or iPad)!



Positives AND Negatives?


Yes, of course.


Positive film is no more difficult to scan with your DSLR than a film negative.


The subsequent conversion through to a JPG file can, sometimes, be more complicated, however there’s absolutely no reason why the final result should be anything other than spectacular!



Sprockets and film borders


One of the most often asked question pre-sale is “can I include sprockets and borders in my camera scan image?”


Yes, of course.


I think it’s quite nice to have the option to include sprockets and borders at the scanning stage – after all, they can be cropped when you post process.


So the design of the EFH allows for this, and full sprockets and boarders are supported by design.


Check out the sample images on the home page to see what you can achieve.


That said, there’s a note of caution here. If you are trying to tame stray light, then sprocket holes are one of the main causes of problems with 35mm scans. They act as injectors of stray light across the film surface, some argue they inject light THROUGH the film body too.


Whilst it is sometimes nice to capture the mood of film by including sprockets especially, directional light and stray light can, and will cause you issues. So, if you are “going for it” close the curtains, switch off the room lights, lights from phones and other devices and then you should be OK.


If you are the sort who will always want to scan 35mm sprockets and never want to scan just the 35mm image frame alone, then it is possible to replace the 35mm layers with ones with a wider light aperture to accommodate this – just drop me an email and I will be able to sort you out.



Converting your  negative images into positive images?


I’ll be adding more detail on this in the near future – I might even set up a new webpage to cover this.


There are plenty of different methods from inverting negatives in Lightroom or Photoshop (or in many other image editing packages).



Cut to the chase... My recommendation is to get some software to help you out 


Whilst there are now around 4-5 different software tools you can use, some costing nothing and some costing more than your PhotoShop subscription, the most widely talked-about is Negative Lab Pro which is a Lightroom plug-in, currently costing $100 (around £85).


I have no relationship with the makers of Negative Lab Pro, so my recommendation is based purely on my own experience of having tried-out pretty well all the methods of conversion and all the different tools.


Negative Lab Pro works very well indeed - it’s a nice, stable piece of software that has a watermark-free trial mode so you can see for yourself if it’s worth $100 to you.


One of the things that makes Negative Lab Pro so popular is that it allows you to emulate the look of lab scanners (like Frontier & Noritsu), which is rather tricky to do by hand.


I strongly recommend you take a look. It’s more than likely that you will end up using NLP, so you might as well just take the plunge and save yourself loads of time and hassle.



Really don’t want to spend the $100? Then I’d recommend checking out Photoshop tools to do this. Many of the tools you might use are already built-in to Photoshop...they are just well hidden.


Equally in Lightroom, there are some common techniques for flipping a negative into a positive, some more successful than others. At version 9.2.1 of Lightroom, there are no native tools to handle negatives...who knows if that situation will change.


Therefore, it’s worth spending a bit of time checking out the methods that suit you best in Lightroom – I’d suggest looking for articles, videos that talk about “Tone Curve Inversions”.



Before I finally settled on NLP, I created my own process for converting negatives involving a set of Photoshop actions that I have created, that can be run from within Photoshop or as Droplets, on my desktop, after I copy images from my DSLR to my computer.


These action sets are also converted into custom LUTs – Look Up Tables – to translate colour and tone from the negative into a positive image.


These LUTs are then, in turn, mapped into a set of Lightroom Profiles that I can apply on import of images into Lightroom.


This may all sound quite complicated, and in truth they took a while to get the Action sets “right” for my workflow, but once created, to apply them in Lightroom is now as simple an selecting them from the “Profile” drop-down choice in the “Basic” panel.


Trust me, save yourself the time and hassle and just get Negative Lab Pro.



Feedback, Questions, Suggestions


Do let me have your feedback, thoughts and suggestions – both on this page and on the EFH itself.


You can email me directly at and ask questions and I’ll help out if I can.

I’m not one of those “experts”, I’m just a keen photographer who loves working in both film and digital.


Or better still, send me photos of your camera scanning setup. Even better if it includes your EFH!





Hopefully, this little guide will have shown that there little to be afraid of in Camera Scanning, and that you most certainly do not have to spend a fortune on new kit, cameras and backlights.


You probably have all the equipment you need to get going. Just add an Essential Film Holder and you’re all set!



If you’ve read this far and have already purchased your Essential Film Holder, I again say a BIG thank you.




If you have yet to buy your EFH , then you MUST click here right now to get your own Essential Film Holder and unlock the creativity of your film photography.


What are you possibly waiting for?








All information on this page and information relating to the EFH is  © Andrew Clifforth, 2021