DIY Medium Format Film Scanner

Many photographers still enamored with film photography can attest to the unpleasantness of tediously digitizing film negatives. Costly scanners often work slowly, taking several minutes at a time just to convert a single image.

Ken Xu, a photographer based out of Atlanta, GA and a fan of medium format film, devised a way of speeding up the process without spending thousands of dollars. In fact, he made his makeshift with household items paired with camera equipment that he already had on hand:

Using a shoebox and thick book as a base, Xu uses an ordinary film holder taped down to the rig in order to keep his negatives steady. White paper and plexiglass inside of the box diffuse the bright flash of the speed light that illuminates the images. Triggered to a DSLR equipped with a long lens and a dependable tripod, the light instantaneously powers on with just the touch of the shutter.

Although the setup looks a bit crude compared to the sleek flatbed scanners available on the market, there’s no denying the quality of the final results.


Crisp, clear, and gorgeous, it’s hard to justify going back to traditional scanners after seeing┬áthe capabilities of this tricked out shoebox.

“There are sixteen shots…usually, it takes me an hour or so to scan on a flatbed scanner. So this is way faster. You can see it took me about two seconds to focus.”

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3 responses to “DIY Medium Format Film Scanner”

  1. james wilson says:

    That picture looks like crap!!

    • John Masters says:

      I for one, like the photo that is represented here. It’s the modern, high-key look that is extremely popular now. It took me a long time to get used to and sometimes like the high-key look in photos, but now that I have, I’d say this is a good photo in that style. To each, his own, I guess.
      I did a project much like this a couple of years ago.
      My mother gave me 650 (!!!) old, old family negatives dating back to around 1925-1930, sized from about APS-C sized up to 12cm along the long side.
      These negatives were NASTY with age, dust, and with decades of nicotine.
      I bought white gloves, PEC Pads, and PEC-12 solution and patiently spent hours over several days gently cleaning every single negative. I used two whole bottles of PEC-12 spray to clean them.
      The results of the cleaning the negatives was stunning. 99 ouf of 100 ended up being pristine, with no scratches whatsoever, and the few scratched ones were not too terrible. But hey, I’d rather have a scratched negative with my maternal Grandmother and Grandfather at age 20 than none at all! I had never seen photos of my grandparents so young.
      I bought a translucent white piece of plexiglass and a glare-free piece of acrylic and cut some outlines of the various sizes of negatives I had to shoot, and made a setup with my Nikon D90 with and old, sharp as heck Sigma 50mm Macro lens, Nikon SB-600 and would sandwich the negatives between the white and clear sheets and bracket a few RAW exposures of each negative.
      Turning them from negative to positive from the RAW file results in very acceptable images, many of which the family no longer had in print.

      Here’s a link to the photo of my setup:

      Here’s the link to a photo of my grandparents that neither I, nor my siblings had ever seen:

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