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25 July 2016
We've been working with the Plustek OpticFilm 135 for five months now. We've scanned a variety of films with it using both the company's new QuickScan Plus software and Ed Hamrick's VueScan, the only two products that can drive it.
At their request, we've made a number of recommendations to Plustek on improving QuickScan Plus, which delivered unusable scans on Mac OS X. And we suggested it would behoove the company to cooperate with Hamrick on a version of VueScan compatible with the scanner.
That's because on a hardware level the OpticFilm 135 delivers higher resolution scans than the typical flatbed scanner or all-in-one device. In fact, the scanner is capable of such high resolution that it picked up the RGB lines on our Polachrome slides.
So we like the hardware. But hardware alone does not a scanned image make.
Scanning is a black art. There's a lot to learn before you are able to get consistently good results. We've been doing it since the last century and we are still regularly frustrated (if often rewarded).
So we're going to consider the OpticFilm 135 based on skill level. On the one hand is the amateur with a bunch of negatives and slides to digitize. And on the other is the serious amateur who wants to turn film into digital files that make good prints.
FOR THE CASUAL SCANNER
Plustek insists the scans made by the Windows version of QuickScan Plus are acceptable. We weren't able to test the scanner on a current Windows setup.
What we can confirm, however, is that it the Mac version does not produce usable results.
That's unfortunate because QuickScan Plus provides a very simple interface to the black art of scanning that should make it easy for even inexperienced users to digitize their film.
VueScan, in contrast, does produce exceptionally good results with the OpticFilm 135. In its Basic mode, it can be simple to use, too, but that won't let you tap into powerful options like profiling the scanner, applying negative profiles and using multiexposure to increase the dynamic range of the scan. Professional mode will do that, but you have to know what you're doing to use Professional mode.
So if the goal is simply to digitize family negatives and slides to enjoy them on your monitor, the OpticFilm 135 disappoints.
We recommend you consider an inexpensive flatbed like the $168.98 CanoScan 9000F Mark II, which can also do automatic defect removal. It will be able to get through more material faster than an all-in-one device with a transparency adapter, but even an all-in-one may be a good enough option if you have one already or need a printer and copier too.
FOR THE SERIOUS AMATEUR
There are two issues for the serious amateur to consider.
One issue is that the OpticFilm 135 can not do an infrared scan. That means it can't detect physical defects liked dust and scratches in the film. Which leaves it up to you to repair them.
Even with a superb tool like the Healing Brush in Photoshop CC, it takes hours to spot scans. It's worth it for exceptional images but rarely for a whole roll of film, let alone a lifetime of filmstrips and slides.
Then there's the issue of cost. You can, at the moment, get the $400 OpticFilm 135 for $299. But you'll also need VueScan Professional, the version of VueScan that does film scanning, for $89.95. And an IT8 target (about $50 with shipping), although you can use our ICC profile as an alternative. Total outlay: abut $440.
Plustek does sell a scanner that can perform an infrared scan and even handle medium format film, but the OpticFilm 120 will run you $1,800.
But if you want a more versatile unit than the 35mm-only OpticFilm 135, we think you'll be happier with the $900 Epson V850 Pro. It can do defect removal and scan film and reflective copy larger than 35mm. It also includes IT8 targets and LaserSoft Imaging's SilverFast software, so there's nothing extra to buy.
So to whom would we recommend the OpticFilm 135?
With VueScan and an IT8 target (or our profile), the OpticFilm 135 could be just the ticket if your collection of film consists of 35mm filmstrips and slides that have been meticulously processed and cared for over the years.
You'll appreciate the high resolution the scanner can deliver and will be able to wring some lovely images out of the scans regardless of the original material. With clean originals, you'll minimize the time you have to spend spotting defects but you'll still have to spend some time on that.
We've run more than a few of our favorite film captures through the OpticFilm 135 to archive them as high resolution scans.
And those scans are more than good enough for large-sized, exhibition quality prints.
In conclusion, the inexperienced amateur with an array of negatives and slides to digitize for monitor viewing or small prints is better off with a good flatbed. So we're not awarding any photo corners to the OpticFilm 135 for that use.
But if the black art of scanning doesn't scare you, the OpticFilm 135 with VueScan and an IT8 target will deliver excellent high resolution scans. You'll have to spot them manually but it will be worth it if you want to make exhibition quality prints from them. In that case, no photo corners for QuickScan Plus but three out of four for the OpticFilm 135 (it really should have infrared).
(Editor's Note: This is the sixth part of a multi-part review of the Plustek OpticFilm 135. Links to the other stories are in the main table of contents at the top right of each story.)