Solving Scanning with the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Kit

Solving Scanning with the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Kit

2000 1125 James Tocchio

“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.

Cooper’s never looked better.

Half frame shots from an upcoming review of the Kodak Ektar H35 half frame film camera.

I’ve even found time to go through batches of old slides purchased online, including this old, deteriorating slide from Tokyo shot sometime in the ’60s (I think), and the shot from Hawaii below.

The Downsides

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).

Final Thoughts

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.

Get your own Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter from B&H Photo

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • You should give the Negative Supply stuff a shot! It’s way nicer.

    • I’ve used them. Nice kit, but they cost what, $300 for the basic 35mm scanning kit? And their products have to be set up on a copy stand, requiring surface space on a desk. NS is great, and we’ve worked with them to cover their releases in the past, but I’m not sure their products are the solution I was looking for, personally.

  • I know what I want for my birthday now.

  • Thanks for this article. I’ve been kicking around various solutions–my ancient V700 scanner, macro lens + light table with neg/slide holders, etc.–and have had my eye on the Nikon kit for a while. Might have to give it a try after this. Oh, and thanks for mentioning your settings as well!

  • Great article !

    I more or less reached the same conclusion a few months ago, when I started scanning films using the ES-2 kit with an old manual focus 55mm micro nikkor + a PK-13 extension ring + a 52mm -> 62mm stepper ring. The results are quite pleasing and I can scan a film in than ten minutes.

    The digitizing mode of my D780 works great for inverting black & white films. Color negatives are a bit more tricky as the color balance is sometimes totally off (especially with picture of flowers with lots of green leaves in the background).

  • If you like the Nikon kit, you’ll love the Valoi Easy35 – it’s the same design concept, but no film holder, just scan whole-roll sliding through. It has a couple bends in the film guide that force the film flat. It’s even faster with less futzing than the Nikon, and they offer a dust brush attachment.

  • Why is it limited to a few lenses? Is it the filter size, one could use a step-up, or is it a special Nikon mount? And it seems to be for 50mm lenses, correct, so not with a 100mm macro due to the distance? I have a few Minolta macro lenses…
    In generally I’m happy with old Minolta scanners (not that expensive and good enough), they take a bit time but run automatic for the strip. Medium format I use a V800, but yeah, that’s bulky. Raw scans with vuescan, inversion and editing with darktable’s negadoctor module (great Linux software, but I think it’s now also working on Windows and Mac).

  • You pretty well glossed over the difficulty of editng colour negs. I have done what you say (and more) and the presets work for several frames but not all. Each film also has a different colour mask.

    I find that getting consistent, natural, colours is almost impossible despite having tried every technique that I can find.

    • Fair enough. I will add a bit of context to the article, but to address your point here, you’re right in that it’s not as easy as black and white. However, I had never inverted color negatives once in my entire life prior to one week ago, and after fiddling around with my scans in Lightroom for about two minutes, I had achieved pretty good results. I’ll also mention the wonderful Lightroom plugin Negative Lab Pro, which works to reduce this process to one click – of course, at a cost of $99…

      • Negative Lab Pro is great, but it hardly means that one’s editing process for color negatives is reduced to one click. NLP certainly simplifies the inversion process, into one click, and perhaps that’s all you were referring to. But editing color negatives is definitely more intense than black and white, IMO.

  • Interesting, how this twice cheaper Chinese offering compares with the Nikon’s one:

    • Indeed that would be a good product to compare it with. At the very least, the Chinese version won’t say Nikon on the box.

      • But I like mine to say “Nikon” on the box, like all of my other stuff that I’ve never had any problems with and that I’ve had for, some of it, four decades,

  • Thanks for the article! Can you please share a full raw file of a scan somewhere? It would be interesting to check how precise the alignment is, it would be visible near the edges of a frame. In my own experiments with home-built camera scanning rigs this was the most problematic thing. I.e. the problem is one’s scans look good, but the grain at the edges is slightly blurry due to this or that misalignment. It’s visible only when zoomed in, but nevertheless it kind of bothers you inside once you know it’s there. At least this is so for me, so I went back to a dedicated film scanner.

    • Sure. I’ll continue scanning and upload some full size images. You should also be able to click on the ones in this article and get a larger version. Hope this helps.

  • Thanks for the detailed article! Could it theoretically also work with a mirrorless from a different brand, like a Sony A7?

    • Yes, it will work with any camera brand. If your macro lens doesn’t have a 62mm filter thread, you can use a step-up or -down adapter. Note also that if the lens’s working distance is short enough, you can attach the film holder directly to it (using a step-down adapter if needed).

  • Many thanks for the article. I use the Chinese JJC version mentioned above and it works great in combination with a Nikon 60mm f2.8 d macro lens on my Nikon D600 body. Initially I had to experiment a little since I could not find advice on the internet whether to photograph the film with the emulsion side of negatives facing the camera/lens (letters on negatives facing backwards) or the other side of the negative. After many tries of photographing both sides of the negatives (and with a little imagination thrown in!) my Nikon 60mm 2.8 d lens seem to focus easier and more precise with the emulsion side facing the lens, also resulting a slightly sharper digital images – this obviously result in an extra step in the process (in post) when converting the negative to positive (having to flip the image around 180 degrees horizontal in post) but in my case definitely worth the effort for a better (albeit slightly better) end result. Regards

    • Philip… are you still using the JJC version? I have been thinking about trying it out and wondered if you would still recommend it? Thanks.

  • Scanning is absolutely without a doubt the main issue holding film photography back today. I too have tried dozens of labs and compared their scans, with varying degrees of success, but none are able to capture the full range of tones (and colors in the case of slides) present on the film itself. It’s amazing how much better slides look on a light table than scanned. They have so much detail in the shadows & highlights that the scan cannot capture, and better color too. I think that for film photography to be used in the high quality applications it was intended for, like magazines and large glossy print coffee table books, the focus today must be on getting better scans that are able to capture all of the detail of the original film. You may have found a good solution using camera scanning. The next step is going to be for the photo labs to offer this kind of scanning at the time of film development. Northeast Photographic in Maine offered camera scanning on 35mm chromes a few years ago; it would seem they’ve moved away from it except for large format, turning to the speed and dust-busting technology of the Noritsu instead. There are many factors to consider, but I do believe you can be the best photographer with the best lenses & camera, but it all really does come down to the scan. And unfortunately, right now, the scan is the weakest link.

  • Great article!
    I just wish it also worked for 120 film. Do you know of any options similar to this, but for 120 film?

  • I’ve fiddled around with this setup and a D850. I used the 60mm Macro lens for Nikon F. It’s nice and it works. Anyway, I dropped the use of it because I only got jpeg files. This does not fit in my workflow with usual raw files.
    Greets Dirk

    • I’m confused. How is it that you only got jpeg files? Your D850 shoots in RAW also, no? Or was the issue the fact that you did not wish to purchase Negative Lab Pro for Lightroom, and add inverting RAW files of negatives into your workflow?

  • Boy wouldn’t it be great if such a kit existed for scanning Medium Format film? Although, if I’m honest, I think the different frame sizes of medium format film would make such a scanning setup difficult to manage. And such a setup, by it’s very nature, requires you to capture an entire film frame in one go, via your digital sensor. Depending on the camera one is using to scan the film, you’d end up with a final image that could be anywhere from 8MP to 60MP in pixel density. That’s quite a big range, and what’s the point of shooting medium format in the first place, if your scans aren’t going to be any bigger or higher resolution than if you scanned 35mm film?

    Personally, I scan my film using a Fuji X-H1 with adapted Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens attached to a home-made copy stand I built. I use the stock film holders from my Epson v550, with ANR glass inserts to hold the film flat. For a backlight, I use a Kaiser Slimlite Plano LED lightpad. I shoot Fuji raw.RAF files, invert using Negative Lab Pro, with editing in Lightroom. Let’s say scanning film is a process. I wouldn’t at all mind having the ability to use my existing camera and macro lens setup with a similar adapter for scanning 35mm film. But for my medium format work, I’d be back to the copy stand and film holder setup. Generally, when scanning medium format film I take 4-8 overlapping frames with my X-H1, depending on the medium format frame size I am scanning, that I later stitch together to form one high-res negative image prior to converting with NLP. The 24MP sensor of my X-H1 is just not enough for scanning medium format film, IMO.

  • There’s only one problem with this idea. It’s very **expensive**! The cheapest Nikon Z body (Z5), a macro lens I’d absolutely never use, this kit, and the expense is well over 2000€, while Plustek scanners are usually below 500€. Sure, VueScan isn’t free, it takes more than half an hour to scan a roll of film and scans are no more than ~18 megapixels, but at least there’s no need to invert negatives, there’s no fiddling with colour correction afterwards, just straighten and crop-out the borders, and you’re done. Not only less expensive, it’s also less fiddly and potentially faster. 🙂

    Or, at least, that’s my experience after almost a decade of scanning with Plustek scanners. 🙂

  • If the Adapters are 62mm and the filter size on the 50/2.8 is 46mm, won’t I need a 46-62 step up ring?

  • I’m using the old f-mount 28-105mm D (has macro capabilities and a 62mm filter thread) on a D7500 body and I’m getting very decent results (images are about 10mp). I adjust the NEF in Lightroom afterwards.

  • Can you scan an uncut roll of negatives with this? My guess is no, but I’d sure love a work around because most of my negatives are uncut and I plan to keep them that way. Thanks!

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio