Sunday, June 18, 2017

Poor man's fluid scanning (wet scanning) with Epson V700 scanner

I bet that 90% of the people who bought the Epson V700 scanner to scan film is at least very frustrated with the so-so scan quality from 35mm films and the original Epson film holders.

There are three main reasons for this:

First, (Lack of) Flatness:

The original Epson film holder is, let's say, horrible (to avoid saying any ugly words). It's flimsy, without any structural integrity. The film is always not flat due the lack of compressing bars between the frames.

Second, (Lack of) Focus:

The film plane with the Epson holder is never at the optimal focus. There are just two height adjustments, but it never stays at the optimal height. 

You may try to use a good quality third party film holder like the ones provided by and even use anti newton glass to keep the film strip as flat as possible. Those film holders have several screws for proper focusing adjustment and it's very labour intensive to have all set to the proper height.

The Betterscanning holders aren't cheap but they provide a very ample fine focus adjustment and compared to the Epson holder they're much better. But there are still two problems: It's expensive, specially if you order it with the anti Newton glass plates. And because of the extra glass, there are some contrast loss due to reflexions. The second problem is that the Digital ICE infrared dust removal works very badly with the extra anti Newton rings glass. You mus have pristinely clean films to use the Betterscanning holder (and similar ones).

Third, Too many Air to Glass interfaces:

This will always cause contrast loss. If using the original holder, there's the scanner bed glass between the film and the scanner optics.

Too many air to glass interfaces decreases contrast and may add odd reflections. Usually the reflexions aren't a big problem. Below, that's what happens to a light ray when it hits a glass plate: dispersion and internal and external reflections making it bounce in and between other glass surfaces.

The additional dispersion is almost certain to make the Digital ICE to fail. You may check if it still work.

The dispersion effect is much higher with anti Newton glass because in fact, this kind of glass has one (or both) external surfaces etched to minimize the glass to film contact. The effect of this is the reduction of Newton rings. 

The internal reflectance at an air/glass interface for light rays from a point source in glass. Light rays incident at angles to normal at greater than the critical angle (here, 41° for glass to air) do not leave the material and are reflected at the glass/air interface. source: ASU 

What's fluid mounting (wet mounting) ?

It's when you use a fluid between the film strip and the glass to keep it "glued" to the glass to make it as flat as possible and also to remove one of the air to glass interfaces.

There are two main ways to do this. The first one is to use a dedicated fluid mount holder system, like the one Epson send with the V750. There are some clones on the market.

Epson Fluid Mount
Epson fluid mount for the V750

It's basically a holder with a glass bottom and an alignment support with a printed grid.

The idea is to:

  1. Put some sort of fluid over the glass
  2. Place the negative over the fluid
  3. Allign it using the grid pattern
  4. Cover the film with a transparent mylar or polyester film. You need to apply some fluid over the film, between the film and the transparent film.
  5. Squeeze out any bubbles with a very soft cloth
  6. Place the holder over the scanned flatbed and scan

This works well IF the focus distance between the holder and the scanner sensor is correct. It's the same focusing problem all over again and you still have a damn glass-air-glass path between the film and the scanner sensor.

The fluid mount holder must be at the proper focus distance

The holder has at least two advantages: First, it keeps the fluid out from your scanner glass. Second, it's easier to align the film. But you still have the two problems I mentioned above.

Again, the fluid mount holder is not exactly cheap.

What I'm doing is simply to fluid mount the film directly over the scanner glass. Yes, i know this may sound creepy but believe me, it's completely safe if you know how to do it properly.

The main concern is about damaging the scanner. This is simply the case to not let the fluid leak to the scanner interior. Just use the proper quantity and it will not leak.

Some people use mineral oil as a mounting fluid. Please don't do this. It's a total mess and a real pain to clean both the film and the glass. I've tested many fluids and, believe me, the best one by far is the old good Zippo Premium lighter fluid (black can). It will not attack the film emulsion neither the glass. It's very volatile and will let no residues behind. Just use the minimum quantity you can.

For the transparent film, I use those cheap transparencies used on overhead projectors.

If you're paranoid with the eventual fluid leaking inside your scanner, you can apply a thin silicone rubber sealing on the glass-plastic gap or even using adhesive tape. I use UHU's Patafix for this task.

Mounting directly to the scanner glass removes the last two problems and in my case, a great improvement in image quality.

Wet mount directly over the scanner glass
Epson V700 at 2400 dpi

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Zeiss Nettar 515/2

Zeiss made many cameras under de Nettar name, with various choices of formats, lenses and shutters.

Like all Zeiss cameras, this one is very well made, with an black enameled body with a nice leatherette finish. 

Zeiss Nettar 515/2

Compur Shutter and Nettar Anastigmat

The one I have is a prewar 6x9 with a Nettar Anastigmat and a Compur shutter. It uses 120 film and gives 8 beautiful and large frames. The last Nettars were built in 1955.

The lens, a 105mm f4.5 uncoated triplet is quite simple, with the expected optical aberrations for this kind of lens, specially at large apertures and at the corners, but it can be sharp enough if stopped to f11. Keep in mind that this lens is uncoated and very prone to flare without using a suitable lens hood. This lens works beautifully with black and white film.

Nettars have many shutter flavors: Compur, Prontor, Pronto, Vario, Prontor-S, Prontor-SV, Prontor-SVS, Klio, Telma, Derval and Vero. Yes, is this crazy. There are at least 12 Nettar types: 510, 510/2, 515, 515/2, 516, 516/2, 517/2, 518/2, 515/16, 516/16, 517/16, 518/16

My 515/2 has a nice Compur with 1s to 1/250s + B and is supposed to by one of the "high end" Nettars along with the top model with the Compur-Rapid (1/500s) and a f3.5 Nettar Anastigmat.

There's no rangefinder, just a barebones foldable viewfinder (open type, Galilean) for framing.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Takane Mine Six IIF

Ever heard of the Takane Mine Six IIF ? No ? Don't worry, this is one of those obscure Japanese folding cameras from the '50s.

It was made by Takane Kogaku. You can find some historical and technical information on Camerapedia .

Takane Mine Six IIF

The first thing you put your eyes in is the beautiful Takumar lens. Yes, a Takumar, nothing that you usually see over there. It's an Asahi T-Takumar coated 75mm f3.5 triplet. The diaphragm iris has 10 blades and a beautiful almost circular shape.

The shutter is a COPAL with speeds from 1s to 1/300s plus B.

Contrary to the vast majority of folding cameras with Copal and Compur shutters, the focus is not done by rotating the first element, but by moving back and forward the entire shutter/lens assembly. If you try to rotate the front lens you will unscrew it, be advised.

Takane Mine Six IIF lens and shutter

One interesting thing is the possibility to shoot in 6x6 or 6x4.5 formats. There's a switch near the viewfinder to overlay the 6x4.5 mask over the 6x6 viewfinder. If shooting in 6x4.5 you'll need to use a built in foldable mask for the film, but you can't shoot both formats on the same film roll. 

There's a coupled coincident image rangefinder for focus adjustment. The viewfinder is very basic.

I would rank this camera along with the AGFA Isolette with the Apotar but better than Agnar and Zeiss Nettars. 

Repair tips:

If you see small perforations or even small tears on the bellows, you may try to fix them using black liquid electrical tape. It worked in my case.

If you need to CLA the lens/shutter assembly I have good news. The front group (2-element) goes out simply by unscrewing it. The rear element likewise.

The shutter mechanism is exposed after removing the first element and the retaining screw round the lens thread. Then remove the cover plate and apply lighter fluid all over the gears. Let it dry and then lube the gear axis applying a light mineral oil with a toothpick on the proper places.

If you need to clean and relube the shutter remove the front and rear lens groups first. 

Clean the lenses using your preferred method and reassemble everything. Easy peasy.

The rangefinder adjustment is done by a small screw mounted on an L shaped part, visible on the lens and shutter image above.

The focus adjustment is awkward. Its helicoid is accessed by the rear side and it's a pain to adjust. Just use a spammer to adjust it, but be careful to not damage the bellows.

If you need to disassemble the helicoid, I wish you good luck...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The myth around the Nikon "universal" mount. Not so fast !

Before some people start to go crazy about what I wrote, be advised that I have used Nikon for years. From Nikkormats to D800. So just relax and read before raging against someone who dared to say something against your god. =) 

It's all about Nikon and a huge legion of its users and fans saying about that Nikon has the most backward compatible lens and mount system on earth, and because of this you can use any Nikon lens on any Nikon body. Wrong. Very Wrong.

The real fact is that Nikon has no total backward compatibility and even worse, even lenses and camera bodies from the same year may not be compatible. The nikon mount is a mess by definition. Some lenses can even damage some bodies.

Lenses from 1959 to 1976 are the original A mount type. They can't be mounted in ANY Nikon body except pre-Ai bodies and the ones that have a foldable aperture index tab on aperture coupling ring, like the flagship Nikon DS. 

If you try, for example, to fit an old Nippon Kogakku 50mm F1.4 from 1970 , not modified to Ai, on ANY camera without the folding tab you may break the body's aperture coupling ring and stuck the lens.

There are two types of autofocus lenses, with the AF motor built in the lens itself and without it. 

Lenses without motor won't AF on camera bodies that don't have motors. 

For example:

The D5XXX has no AF motor on the body neither the aperture coupling ring. You can use AF lenses with motor and Ai/Ais manual focus lenses that have electronic contacts. No contacts = no light metering.

The D7XXX has AF motor and the aperture coupling ring. You can use all lenses on it , but any old "PrĂ© Ai" lenses.

There are even lenses with and without aperture ring. You can't use any lens without aperture ring in any non AF nikon, for example, the FM2. The FM2 will accept just Ai/Ai-S lenses or AF fullframe lenses with aperture ring.

The mess:

- Pre Ai lenses
- Ai and Ai-S manual focus lenses with aperture ring
- AF lenses with and without built in motor
- AF lenses with and without aperture ring
- Full frame and APS size sensor sizes
- Cameras with and without aperture ring
- Cameras with and without built in AF motor


- If you have an OLD Nikon like a Nikkormat you need a pre Ai lens with the famous "horns" to couple the lens aperture ring with the camera aperture ring. 

Be advised that there are TWO "horn" types and they're not compatible and mounted in opposite ways.  Pre Ai lenses have the aperture coupling "horns" facing to the lens front. Ai and later lenses have it facing backwards, to the lens rear. If you plan to use an Ai lens on a pre-Ai body you need to reverse the horn orientation to have the proper coupling.

Nikon Pre-Ai coupling "horn"
Nikon Ai coupling "horn"

- If you have a camera like the FM, FE, FM2, N2000 you need an Ai / Ai-S or pre-Ai converted to Ai lens, with aperture ring for proper metering.

- For autofocus cameras like the D70 and D5xxx you can use AF lenses with or without aperture ring but you need the AF motor on the lens to have autofocus. You need lenses with CPU for proper light metering.

- If we're talking about high end autofocus cameras like the D600 and D7xxx you are allowed to use all nikon lenses but NOT pre-Ai ones, unless they were converted to Ai. Those cameras should work with all AF lenses, with or without autofocus motor and aperture ring.

- Finally if your camera has a retractable tab on the aperture ring you'll be able to use any kind of Nikon mount lenses on your camera.

If you want a really universal SLR system, go for Pentax. All K lenses work in any K bodies and you can also use M42 screw mounts on a Pentax K body.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mamiya 645E: Medium Format SLR

The Mamiya 645E is a medium format SLR that proved the concept of a professional specs camera in an affordable body.

Mamiya 645E

It has an internal metal chassis and a platic body. It's still very well made, and it's like a sort of EOS Rebel cousin. It's indeed a very reliable camera. Maybe the best example of "plastic fantastic" equipment. 

Main features:

  • Uses 120 film and shoots frames of 6x4.5 cm. This is more than three times the area of a 35mm film
  • It can be used in aperture priority or in manual exposure mode, with AE lock and exposure compensation from -2 to +2
  • Has a HUGE, extremely clear viewfinder with a split image and microprism focusing aid.
  • Shows selected shutter speed on viewfinder
  • Exposure time goes from 8s to 1/1000s
  • Diopter adjustment from -4 to +4
  • Mechanical film advance
  • Manual focus
  • Flash hot shoe
  • Uses one 4LR44 alkaline battery

The standard lens is the very fine Mamiya Sekor 80mm F2.8 and it's extremely sharp, one of the best medium format lenses I've ever used.

Note that most of the MF 80mm lenses have maximum apertures around F3.5-4.5 .

The metering is center weighted and usually very precise with negative film, but depending on the situation you may need to compensate in some situations if you're using positive film, for example, making photos at a sunny beach or snow.

There are plenty of lenses at a very fair price on market.

- 35mm F3.5 
- 45mm F2.8
- 55mm F2.8
- 70mm F2.8 Leaf shutter
- 110mm F2.8
- 80mm F1.9
- 80mm F2.8
- 80mm F4 Macro
- 120mm F4 Macro
- 150mm F3.5
- 150mm F4
- 210mm F4
- 300mm F5.6

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Apple Photos Sucks

One of my biggest frustrations about software in the recent years was the Apple Photos, intended to be an iPhoto replacement.

Compared to iPhoto, there are some improvements. The user interface is cleaner and more fluid to use. Some image controls are cool for beginners, like the rotation tool.

Other adjustments and tools, like color presets, crop and retouch tool will make beginners happy, but they are very limited.

The only GOOD thing is that it allows the use of extensions (plug-ins) like DxO for Photos and some other ones.

Photos also induces the user to keep everything on iCloud, something I really don't have love for. 

But Photos has some serious caveats in my opinion:

No Star Rating ! Apple says that now you have to do is to create keywords like "1star" , "2star" and so and use those keywords in the search field. Seriously ? Are you kidding  ?

No Flag, Color or Rejected ! Instead Apple thinks that just a like is enough. This is stupid.

Bad search tool, specially compared to Aperture's.

No more hierarchical keywords.

Apple Photos as a DAM ? Just if you don't have any other option.

You can organize in albuns, prepare photobooks, order printed photos and other simple tasks. 

In short, Apple Photos is fairly good just for organizing in a chronological (timeline) way cell phone photo collections.

If you need something good and free, you may try:

- Darktable (DAM , Raw converter and image editor)
- XnViewMP (DAM with basic image adjustments)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Apple Aperture is Not Dead (for now)

We all know by this time that Apple stopped to maintain its image editor and DAM software known as Aperture.

There are many rumors about why Apple decided to discontinue it, from supposed deals with Adobe to cut the costs with future updates. Who knows ?

The fact is that Aperture still rocks. And rocks well.

  • Excellent DAM capability. It can manage very large libraries easily and it's very comprehensible. I did some experiments with libraries up to 35k photos and 400+ gigabytes on size ! But my advise is to keep the original files not in the Aperture's Library, unless you plan to use Aperture Vaults and/or a Time Machine backup.
  • The best, by far, search tool. You can search by name, size, rating and so many other properties (Like Exif) in a way that no other software goes even close.
  • Has a very good raw engine. It's not part of Aperture itself, but part of the operational system and used by other softwares like iPhoto and Photos. From time to time, Apple updates it.
  • The image editor is very good, if you don't need layers. It's for image adjustment not for modification.
  • The retouching tools are amongst the best.
  • Its library backup system is very advanced. It can make copies (Apple calls them Vaults) locally, on network and even on remote servers on the Internet.
  • Can use external editors.
  • I tested it with MacOSX El Capitan and works flawlessly.
  • It can tether lots of camera models.
  • It's extremely stable.
  • Excellent documentation.
  • Low cost.

But honestly, read the manual. There are so many features that you can overlook. I know that reading manuals sucks, but at least try.

There are other quite neat features, like dozens of high quality plug-ins and a fantastic degree of integration with Apple Automator and Applescript.

Recently, Google released the whole Nik Collection for free and they work as plug-ins for Aperture.

The Nik Collection is made of:

Analog Efex Pro: Simulates film/vintage look
Color Efex Pro: Effects, retouching and correction tools
Silver Efex Pro: Simulates Black and White film
HDR Efex: Self explanatory
DFine: Noise reduction tool
Viveza: Simple sharpening tool
Sharpener Pro: A more complete sharpening tool 

There are other cool plugins that deserve a look:

DxO Film Pack: Professional film look simulation
DxO View Point: Professional geometrical corrections
Noiseware Professional: Professional noise reduction

The later versions of the RAW engine can handle fairly well the Fuji X-Trans raw files. Much better than Adobe Camera Raw. The raw engine is part of the operational system, not Aperture's.

The bad thing is that Apple removed it from Application Store, but if you purchased it before, you'll be able to download it again. My advice is to make a backup copy of the application itself and keep it in a safe place. 

So, if you have a Mac, take a look on it while you still can.

Update: There are reports about being possible to run Aperture on Sierra. Since Sierra isn't in my update plans, ate least for the near future, I'll not test it for now.

Update 2: Tested on Sierra and running.