Film Transfer With the Nikon ES-2

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Z7 might be such an all around success that it could replace the digital Leica rangefinders. It may replace my aging Minolta film scanner as well. During my winter break photography project, looking for new ideas and techniques, I ran across two presentations (here and here) by Vincent Versace on the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter. By the way, watch both. The first is a clean, more formal presentation, the second is a more typical Versace philosophy of photography course about digital, film and the meaning of life.

I got the ES-2 from B&H Photo in NY and a 60mm Nikkor Micro from KEH in Atlanta. I recommend both companies for honesty, customer service and quality product. So last night I quickly digitized a few images just to try it out. Turns out it’s been at least two years since I’ve shot any film, so my eye is attuned to the current quality of digital black and white. But this wasn’t a test of film, it was a tryout of digital transfer over film scanners.

Using the ES-2 reminds me of the time a long time ago when we made slide duplicates. The only way to get a copy of a 35mm slide used for lectures or scientific presentations was to bring it to the lab for copying. A simple method was this kind of adaptor where you took a photo of the slide with slide film. This is just taking a photo of the negative, moving analog to digital.

The camera gets set to base ISO, f8, autofocus on the emulsions side. The post-processing is simple, just invert the curve in any processing program and the negative is converted. Vincent uses Picture Control in camera or Capture NX-D.

Two very obvious conclusions: 1. Its way faster to capture an image with a DSLR than a slide scanner. The scanner is clearly an older technology used to capture point by point what can now be done simultaneously. 2. The improved resolution doesn’t really matter much. It’s a photograph of grain which, at 100% clearly shows how much better the D850 45 MP sensor can resolve compared to Tri-X. So compared to the scanner, the grain is crisper with the DSLR capture, but the image really isn’t any different. The dynamic range of the D850 was wider than every negative I tried, but I could see how some negatives might benefit from a two exposure combination.

The process definitely makes shooting film more attractive. I’ll probably bring a film camera on an upcoming trip to capture some film-appropriate images. It’s more that nostalgia since film provides a rendering that is even more different than digital than it was a few years ago. Digital imaging in the same format is now into large format quality territory with the improvements we’ve seen in sensors and lenses. So for landscape and documentary work, it seems that digital is far and away the best medium. But for the sense of gritty, you are there, 35mm film still provides its quick sketch of the fall of light and sense of movement.

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