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OpticFilm 120 Reflections Tweet This   Forward This

13 September 2013

It's hard to believe we published the first segment of this eight-part review on Feb. 22. The long delay between then and now, as we wrap up our final thoughts, is due to both a generous loan period and some unresolved issues we patiently waited out.

But with the scanner on its way back to SilverFast, the elephant in the room can't be ignored any more. After about seven months with the OpticFilm 120, what do we think of it?

THE GOOD NEWS | Back to Contents

First of all, it's heartening to be able to review any dedicated film scanner these days. It seems they have gone the way of film itself, with Nikon dropping the Coolscan, Minolta disappearing from the face of the earth and the task left to a few flatbeds that haven't been updated in years.

But Plustek has taken up the challenge. Its 35mm film scanners (we reviewed the OpticFilm 7600i a while ago) quickly established themselves as serious players (if not particularly efficient with their manually advanced film holders). And now with the OpticFilm 120, the company has tackled larger format 120 film scanning.

With the OpticFilm 120, we have a dedicated film scanner than can handle anything from 35mm to 120 film, although its 35mm slide holder obscures some 35mm slide formats, as we pointed out.


LaserSoft Imaging and Plustek entered into a unique partnership on this project. As Karl-Heinz Zahorsky, LaserSoft Imaging president and founder, explained, "LaserSoft Imaging has significantly contributed to the development of the scanner hardware for the OpticFilm 120, in close cooperation with Plustek."

The Elephant in the Room. A grayscale scan from the OpticFilm 120.

SilverFast Product Manager Jan Rosse, in fact, took a couple of trips to Taiwan to meet with Plustek engineers during the development of the hardware. And the company has continued its involvement after the product launched.

A HARDWARE PROBLEM | Back to Contents

Earlier this year, Plustek halted shipments of the OpticFilm 120 to address a quality control issue. Several customers had complained about units that did not focus properly.

Our review unit came directly from LaserSoft Imagining in Germany after the company had confirmed it didn't exhibit the focusing problem.

It resumed shipments in June after deciding to test each unit for the problem before shipping. It wasn't able to eliminate the problem but this approach would prevent it from reaching customers.

As we write, though, a number of scanners remain back ordered.


SilverFast ships with the OpticFilm 120 and is the only software that drives the scanner. But Plustek told us that LaserSoft Imaging does not have an exclusive software arrangement for the OpticFilm 120.

Ed Hamrick, the author of VueScan, told us in March he planned to support the OpticFilm 120 as soon as he could get his hands on one. When we checked with him just last week, Plustek still hasn't sent him one.

(The current version of VueScan now supports the OpticFilm 120. -- Editor)

Plustek's U.S. marketing and business development manager Mark Druziak explained the company is committed to working with Hamrick but is working on a new release of the driver before making the OpticFilm 120 available to Hamrick.

Consequently we weren't able to test the scanner with VueScan.

AVAILABILITY | Back to Contents

Availability has been an issue from the start, with pre-orders outstripping manufacturing ability at first. Plustek told us there are currently shipping the OpticFilm 120 but a recent check showed it backordered at both Adorama and B&H.

We asked Druziak about that. He responded:

Right now all retailers in the U.S. and Canada are out of stock. However, if everything goes as expected, within the next 30 to 60 days we should be able to fill all of the existing backorders.

Here are our sponsored shopping links, both offering the scanner for $1,999.99. If you decide to buy the scanner after reading our review, we'd appreciate your support by using these links. It costs you nothing and helps support our efforts here:

Should you order an OpticFilm 120, we recommend doing some focus tests and giving it a run for its money to make sure the unit is sound. Our unit, which was tested before being sent to us, which gave us no problem at all.

SILVERFAST | Back to Contents

We first reviewed SilverFast 6 in 2002 and have reviewed the introduction of its major new features over the years in addition to relying on it to review a wide range of scanners.

We found three main issues using SilverFast 8, only one of which was peculiar to the OpticFilm 120 but all of which affect productivity. As we mentioned earlier, we've worked with SilverFast during this review to address several of the problems but these issues remain unresolved.

Before highlighting them, though, we have to point out that writing scanner software is more than the usual challenge. You simply don't have access to a large group of beta testers prior to shipping the product. It requires not just the software but specific hardware that -- especially in this case -- isn't widely available.


Whenever you preview a holder, you have to adjust the frames SilverFast 8 finds. They are never accurately drawn.

This is not what you'd expect considering that there are only so many holders with only so many positions so they are all known. Why can't the frames be drawn accurately, saving you some time?

LaserSoft Imaging explained it isn't getting the data from the scanner to accurately position the frames, as they do with the Nikon Coolscans.

Even if you're just scanning one image, this is a problem. But when batch scanning, it's a productivity-killing problem we wish had been resolved while we still had the scanner here for review.

To resolve it, Plustek would have to update the OpticFilm 120's driver since the firmware is not updatable in the field. You'll be able tell if a new driver has been released by monitoring the Plustek download page.


On both Mac and Windows systems, scanning large film at high resolution hangs the system. Plustek told us SilverFast doesn't do any error handling for out of memory conditions.

It did warn us when a frame we had drawn exceeded the TIFF specifications, though. So we're not sure why it doesn't calculate its memory requirements before scanning.

Dedicating a high-end machine to a time-consuming task like scanning always struck us as a bad idea. We like to keep an older machine (with the old drivers) happily connected to our scanners for the deliberate process of scanning. But with 10,600 dpi scans on a 120 frame, that's not practical.

Our recommendation is that while 4-GB of RAM is sufficient for most tasks, you should bank on 8-GB for scanning 120 film at 10,600 dpi.


We've complained about scanning software user interfaces for years. We don't like any of them. VueScan is not much more than a set of tabs with lists. SilverFast 8 has a bit more thought behind it than SilverFast 6 but it still heralds from a roll-your-own day in user interface design, as if there were no existing standards.

That's the way of the Windows XP era, perhaps, but it's quite contrary to modern computing, where interface conventions are observed to the happy productivity of all.

An example or two will illustrate what we mean.

When you resize the main window in SilverFast, you actually change the magnification of the preview, rather than the size of your window on the preview. And if you want to restore the original magnification, double clicking the magnifier tool won't do it. Because it isn't really a tool. It's actually a button with a popup menu.

Another example is the Overview function. On a 13-inch laptop screen, you have to expand the vertical icon display from one long column to two columns to find it (and if the mouse slips off the narrow panel, you have to do it again). A 13-inch laptop is half the price of the scanner and together they make a nice scan station -- except for this.

Once you do get Overview to scan your film holder, it scans all the frames in the holder, whether they are populated or not.

You then select which frames to scan. And that's when you run into a problem.

The selection status is visually ambiguous. You can, indeed, manage to make a custom selection but the blue highlight that first appears on all of the frames doesn't simply signify selection.

A frame is selected when it has a rounded blue frame on it. An unselected frame is white, with no blue. So what are the blue frames? There seem to be three states where only two are possible. Or two selected states when there should be one.

What would like to see?

Well, move the Overview tool up so we don't have to chase it, for one thing. It gets far more use than the PrinTao button that we can see all the time.

After that, we'd like SilverFast to scan the whole holder but only select frames in which it finds images. If there are selected images we don't want to scan, we should be able to click on them while holding a modifier key to deselect them, as with any other selection.

The advantage? Not only do you not have to learn how to make selections in SilverFast but you don't have to teach anyone else how to do it either.

It is a mystery to us why SilverFast employs such odd selection behavior.


SilverFast has been around a long time. And despite the issues detailed above, under the hood there is some real excellence.

Here's just a few things we appreciate:

  • SilverFast's iSRD defect removal does not add any softening to the image, for example.
  • Its Multi-Exposure option greatly extends the tonal range of the scan.
  • Its bar-coded IT8 target color calibration is a pleasure.
  • NegaFix has a library of 120 film profiles.
  • It's method of adjusting a quick prescan before making a full resolution scan is clearly the most efficient approach.

The company has also tried to ensure an intelligent approach to scanning any image with its WorkflowPilot. As Zhaorsky put it:

The WorkflowPilot, which has been specially developed for SilverFast 8, can be described as quintessence of the experience our experts have gained over decades. This intuitive-to-use tool guides you in the correct order through all steps that are required for your individual workflow. The WorkflowPilot was inspired from my experience as a pilot with a commercial license. Pilots are using checklists assuring and safeguarding the success of all operations in aviation. Likewise we are now giving you, as a SilverFast user, this safeguarding process to achieve brilliant results with all your images.

We like using the WorkflowPilot but we couldn't use it with the OpticFilm 120 because you can't scan multiple frames with it. To use the Automatic Document Feeder necessary to scan more than one frame, you have to turn WorkflowPilot off.

And that, unfortunately, led to lots of problems. Even though we're no stranger to SilverFast, after the last update we spent three hours trying to get the OpticFilm 120 to scan that elephant image with the specifications we wanted.

During that time, we experienced settings that were reset after we changed them, crashes that required restarting SilverFast and a failure to communicate, let's call it. SilverFast would start scanner initialization, for example, and just wait forever while the OpticFilm 120 sat there waiting for a command.

These problems ruin productivity. And while you may be able to train yourself to work around them eventually (with a checklist of your own), forget about training people to use the software in a production environment.

OPTICFILM ISSUES | Back to Contents

On the hardware side there are topics to discuss, too. None of them bad news.

Firmware vs. Driver

Clearly the most serious issue with the OpticFilm 120 itself is the question of whether or not the firmware can be updated by the user. After spending $2,000 on the scanner, it would be infuriating to learn that and only an updated model solves a persistent and annoying problem like the framing issue.

Druziak told us that updates to the scanner's behavior are handled not by firmware but by the driver. In the time we had the scanner, though, only one driver update was made available -- and that only for Windows.

But the good news is that the company is working on a driver update that would do what we've come to expect from firmware updates. That is, change the scanner's behavior.

That Back Door

The back door has turned out to be superfluous. We left it open when we installed the scanner and never did close it. The back slot has a small cover to keep dust out, just like the front slot. If anything, the clearance required for the back cover is about what the scanner needs to move the holders around. But since the data and power cable connections have to be disconnected to close the cover, we left it open.

Future Platform

Druziak suggested the OpticFilm 120 may be the platform for future of Plustek products. A less expensive 35mm-only unit, for example, might be based on the OpticFilm 102 design.

We have to wonder if there will still be film to scan by then, though.

EVALUATING THE 120 | Back to Contents

Evaluating a scanner involves weighing several factors. Here's how the Plustek OpticFilm 120 stacks up:

  • Resolution: The best we've been able to achieve here at about 4,500 dpi.
  • Dynamic Range: A moot point with the multi-exposure option of modern scan software -- but no complaint.
  • Color Depth: 48-bit can't be beat.
  • Film Holders: Very nicely designed holders, among the best we've used.
  • Connection Speed: Not a problem with USBS 2.0 High Speed, even at high resolution.
  • Software: Wonders under the hood but a confusing and unreliable interface.
  • Calibration Target: Included and painless to use with SilverFast.

SUMMARY | Back to Contents

Two things are clear after using the OpticFilm 120 for several months to scan all sorts of film through a handful of SilverFast software revisions.

We achieved our finest scans of the test images we've ever managed. But it wasn't easy.

We never achieved a level of productivity with SilverFast 8 that we felt was adequate to recommend the scanner in business environment. We simply spent far too much time wrestling with SilverFast to get what we wanted.

Though we remain concerned about the firmware issue, the company has explained that the OpticFilm 120 relies on driver updates rather than firmware updates to the scanner's behavior. But until it's released and SilverFast updated, we aren't lifting our alert.

So here's the deal. If your time is not money, you'll get some beautiful scans from the OpticFilm 120. If you're thinking about setting up scanning stations in your lab, you might want to wait for the new driver and a revision to SilverFast and/or VueScan.

We waited a few months to tell you that, but we can still draw no other conclusion.


Thanks, very through and well written review, easy to understand, hope that Plustek/SilverFast gets their issues sorted out.

-- Gary Nylander

Thanks, Gary. We very much appreciate the feedback -- and share your hope. -- Mike

I've read with great interest your review of the Opticfilm 120.

I have owned an Opticfilm 120 since May 2013:

The first Silverfast versions (8.01 can't remember release number) as you mentioned coming with the scanner were really buggy, but now it's quite stable since 8.01r35 (at least on Mac OS X Mavericks 10.9.1).

Scanning at 5300 dpi/48bit Medium-Format negatives works great.

Silverfast even updated to 8.01r36 with lot of bug fixes and enhancements (I will install it tonight):

-- Gilles Celli

Thanks for the update, Gilles. Without the 120 here, of course, we can't expand our experience to revise our conclusions.

But we would note that our complaint about SilverFast was not limited to the bugs. We felt it was in dire need of a complete rewrite. Of course, we could say that about almost any scanning software. The user interfaces are crude, however sophisticated the algorithms beneath them are.

And so we'll stand by our assessment that if you are doing the work yourself, you can manage. But don't expect employees to be productive with these tools. -- Mike

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