“Violence and technology… Not good bedfellows!” The throwaway line echoed in my mind. It was originally uttered by the fictional character Eddie Carr, a quintessentially late-90s tech guy reluctantly deployed with his more charismatic cohorts into yet another dino crisis in 1997’s forgettable film, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Doctor Ian Malcolm smacks the tech nerd’s computer. In his nerdy wisdom, Eddie protests.
And though our dearly departed Eddie Carr was indeed right (smacking a computer rarely works), I no longer care. My perpetually annoying Plustek 8200i SE film scanner deserves violence. It has wasted ninety minutes of my life, and now it sits with a strip of film sticking out of its scan slot. It vibrates pitifully and blurts an obscene electronic fart. It is no longer technology, no longer a film scanner. It is a four-hundred dollar whoopee cushion, and it deserves to be punched.
But since my wife sits comfortably reading at the far corner of the room, I restrain myself and gently touch the machine’s power button. In the heavy silence that follows I make up my mind. I’ll smile now, pretend to be fine, wait until nightfall. No one will ever know. When the house is asleep, I’ll drown my scanner in the pool.
Early next morning (being of sounder mind) I ruminate over coffee that there must be a better way to scan film. Because scanning film is awful. It is quite literally the worst part of shooting film.
The shooting is fun. The cameras are fun. The developing is, if not fun, at least interesting, allowing plenty of variables and room for experimentation and a sense of suspense. The resulting film photos are fun. Darkroom printing is fun. Even organizing our negatives is satisfying in a Marie Kondo sort of way.
But scanning film is tedious and boring and frustrating, and achieving good results is hardly assured. The machines are loud and bulky. They cost a lot. The scanning software is poor and cumbersome. The whole thing is just awful, and I’m not alone in thinking so. I remember an article written by Josh Solomon in which he rightly rants on the subject.
And just when I’ve reached the nadir of both my coffee and my rumination, I remember that I’m a Nikon fanboy and that I own a full-frame Nikon mirrorless camera. And recall further that, for years now, Nikon has offered a truly refined way of digitizing film. The Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter. Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner?
I run to the bright red landline telephone in my office which connects me directly to B&H Photo’s Emergency Freakout Line, shatter the protective glass box that encapsulates it, and make the call. A day later my kit has arrived.
What’s in the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter Kit’s box?
The Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter arrives in a long box emblazoned more than fifty times with the Nikon logo. Inside we find the following:
- Nikon ES-2 Negative Digitizer
- Nikon FH-4 Strip Film Holder
- Nikon FH-5 Slide Mount Holder
- 62mm Adapter Ring A and 62mm Adapter Ring B
And that’s all! Five pieces of finely made plastic which, over the course of my life, effectively buy me an extra few months of free time, with the added bonus that my film scans happen quickly and easily, and that the images turn out great. Imagine.
I will also need a Nikon macro lens with a 62mm filter thread, which Nikon offers in both of their major mounts. However the ES-2 cannot be used with all Nikon macro lenses, such as the Nikon Z 105mm which I reviewed earlier in the year. For me, a Nikon Z mount camera owner, my only choice is the Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm.
Here are all of the lenses which Nikon makes that are compatible with the ES-2.
- Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED in conjunction with the included 62mm Adapter A (Nikon F Mount)
- Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D in conjunction with the included 62mm Adapter B (Nikon F Mount)
- Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 40mm f/2.8 G
- Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm f/2.8 (Nikon Z Mount)*
*Used in this review
How it Works and Practical Use
Setting up the ES-2 is simple. In my use case, I attach the adapter ring to my lens, the ES-2 to my adapter ring, load a film strip into the film strip holder or a slide into the slide holder, set the camera to Aperture Priority, set the aperture to f/5.6 or f/8, point the camera at a light source, and shoot. The lens automatically focuses at a 1:1 reproduction ratio (true macro) and a photo of my negative or slide is made.
Only a few finer points must be considered.
First, I must make sure that everything is attached correctly and that the rotating adapter is oriented such that the image area is recorded nice and level.
Next, the light source used to backlight the negative or slide should be as uniform as possible (but truthfully, this is not super critical). A soft-light, LED light panel, or a diffused photo studio light works perfectly, but since the ES-2 has a built in light diffuser it works surprisingly well even in non-uniform light. I’ve shot some of my scans using a computer screen, a random LED strip light, even the sun.
After the film or slides have been scanned, I upload the images to my computer as I would with any digital camera, and edit the shots in Lightroom (Photoshop or whichever preferred editing software works too). I would also need to perform these edits if I had made the scans with a dedicated scanner, but in another win for Nikon’s solution, the images that I’ve made with my Nikon Z are infinitely more editable. I can create far more balanced and refined photos with the ES-2 system than I ever could with my scanner, and I’m further afforded greater creative control.
I’ve now used the ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter to scan the film photos that will be used in many of my upcoming film camera reviews and film profile articles. The time that it has saved me and the quality of the results is simply astonishing.
In the past I’ve scanned with macro bellows and slide copier attachments. I’ve used copy stands in which the camera dangles precariously vertically. I’ve tried flatbeds and Kodak Pakons. I’ve said “to hell with my wallet” and sent my film to be scanned by labs all over the country, spending my money to save my time.
None of these are ideal solutions.
The macro bellows and copy stands and flatbeds take up too much space, they’re slow to set up, and the results aren’t good. The dedicated, old scanners are expensive, take too long, and it’s easy to imagine that this aging tech is on its last legs. Sending the stuff out to labs is outrageously expensive, and if I’m honest, the results I get back from most labs have never blown my mind.
Nikon’s ES-2 kit is without a doubt the best (and only) true solution to scanning film quickly, effectively, and without compromise.
I can shoot, upload to my PC, and edit in Lightroom to completion an entire roll of film in ten minutes. Scanning that same roll with my scanner takes 45 minutes, and then another frustrating half hour attempting to edit my poor scans in Lightroom.
There’s just no comparison in which scanners make sense. No other method beats this kit in time, cost, results, or quality of life.
The only real downside to Nikon’s kit is that the ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter requires that we also own or buy a macro lens. While this is admittedly an additional initial cost, let’s consider the prospect from a camera nerd’s point of view. So, I have to buy a beautiful, amazing, niche-filling macro lens that will allow me to make photos that no other lens can make? Is this a bad thing?
Even if I have to buy both the ES-2 kit and the newest Z mount macro lens, the Nikkor Z MC 50mm F/2.8, I’m spending a grand total of approximately $750. Consider that my Plustek 8200i SE film scanner cost me $400, and remember that it did one thing only, and it did it badly, slowly, infuriatingly. With Nikon’s kit and lens, I’m able to scan my film effortlessly, quickly, and happily, and when not scanning, I can use the lens as a standard 50mm lens and as a dedicated macro to make impossible photos of peppercorns [see the review].
And of course there’s the caveat that, if shooting negative film, we’ll need to know how to invert a negative in Lightroom. This is easy. Take the tone curves and invert them. Copy and paste for each frame.
For color negative film, the same is true. Invert each color curve and then fiddle with white balance, exposure, and tint, until we get the results we want. Once done for one image, create a preset and simply apply it to each frame of that type of film for the rest of your life. And if it’s too much work to bother fiddling with your color film shots, buy the Negative Lab Pro plugin for $99, which effectively reduces this process to a single click.
Lastly, I should mention that Nikon’s D850 DSLR, which works with this adapter and the corresponding F mount macro lenses, actually has a dedicated ES-2 Film Digitizing mode in which the camera automatically corrects negatives to positives. That’s pretty incredible (even if it only outputs JPEGS).
The road to finding a scanning solution has been long and annoying. I can’t imagine how much money and time I’ve wasted scanning film, nor do I wish to try. But I’ve finally found the answer. A Nikon Z series camera, a Nikon macro lens, and the ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter; these tools will allow me to shoot more film, save time, and waste less money. Without hyperbole, this is the best photography product I’ve bought in years.
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