I’m not sure where I got the idea to use some ancient Fuji Super G, exposed at EI 50 in the LC-A, as my first test of the Negative Digitizer function in the newish scanning camera (the Nikon D780). I’m also not sure how expired the roll of Super G was, or how it was stored… it was in the fridge for a couple of years, and I either bought it as part of a grab-bag of expired film, or received it as a gift,* but who knows how it was stored before that…
If you’re not aware, some of Nikon’s recent (as of 2017 or so) cameras have a fancy negative digitizer mode. In Nikon’s words, the “negative digitizer feature uses in-camera processing to generate correctly-colored positives by reversing the colors in the photos of film negatives.” Hummm. I hope it does more than that, and think it probably does. The literature suggests using a Nikon 40mm or 60mm macro lens and the Nikon ES-2 adapter, but I did ok with the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro, the Pixl-latr, and the Raleno PLV-S104.
The camera gives the option to play with brightness and dial in some settings, but you have to shoot in an automatic mode. It also only outputs in Fine JPEG, and will not work in a RAW + JPEG mode, which seems very silly to me.
My process pretty much requires a RAW file to really dial in color and exposure, and isn’t at all compatible with JPEG files. The Negative Digitizer could save me some time, probably, if I spent the extra time to dial in settings. Alas, I scan on a copy stand these days, and so the screen is upside down and at an elevation that strains my back after a time. I can usually get through 2 rolls with no trouble, but three is pushing it, and four or more leaves me aching for days. If I had to stand there fiddling with settings upside down for every image, I don’t know if I could stand it.
Given the age and condition of the film, the base fog, the light piping, and etc., it’s hard to judge color accuracy, but I believe my process wins out over the Nikon version. Horses for courses, and all, and the Nikon does produce images with higher contrast and more saturation than I tend to bring out, but it feels a bit unnatural. The dandelion orange (above) is much closer in mine than the Nikon one, for example, though it did get a brighter image and got the stone color and exposure close to correct.
And here, while my versions are a bit dark, the color of the morning light on the yellow roses is close, while the Nikon is unnatural and quite garish.
With more work, I bet the Nikon Negative Digitizer could prove useful for me, but like FilmLab, I’m not convinced it would really benefit my process much.
I do need to give FilmLab another try… and maybe I’ll give the Nikon Negative Digitizer another try too… maybe. One day, maybe.
DPReview tested the Negative Digitizer (with the recommended 60mm Macro and ES-2 kit) and got better results than I did, though, to be fair, they used film that was shot fresh and lab processed, and were willing to play around with the brightness and framing for every shot in camera. Also, to be even fairer, what’s-his-name did the scanning while lounging on a sofa… I do mine hunched over a desk. There’s also an extremely thorough review over on PetaPixel from Peter Krogh (of DPBestFlow.org fame) and I could learn something from Krogh’s setup and methods, and share in his conclusions, if not his optimism.
Anyway, the function is useful, I suppose. It would be more useful if I could shoot a RAW file alongside it, and maybe Nikon will add that in a firmware update one day. And until then, my process works well enough, and I’m well-practiced with it after, what, 6 years now? I’ll keep chasing improvements, though, and one day a better method may come along.
*I had two rolls of Fuji Super G in identical canisters and shot both simultaneously: this one in the LC-A and another in the XA. You’ll see some of the same images come through at some future point, when I do another head to head with them…