Leica Beoon 16511 (info)
From the moment I restarted using film cameras it appeared clear that if I wanted to share those photos on social medias, I had to scan the negatives into digital images. I then tried several photo labs in UK, to both develop and scan my films. I went to several different photo labs, from the expensive gallery to the cheap street lab. I was looking for a good balance between quality and price, but I was getting very variable results without being completely satisfied (including the price) by the quality of the scan. At the end I just chose the lab that provided enough quality/definition for a reasonable price and kept using that one for quite a long period. Before selling my Fuji X-E1 I had tried to scan the negatives with a macro extension ring, a tripod, and USB remote shutter. For the light source I used my iPhone 6, and a custom 3D printed “inverted” case with a 35mm window on top.
The method itself, to scan film with this setup, is not new at all. It was indeed used also before the digital era, to copy slide and negative film. This was my first attempt to replicate this kind of technique, but the results were not close to the best scan lab I was comparing to, even if promising: it basically needed more time and practice, to improve both the setup and the process. If you are interested in reading more information about this method, check out some great articles and tutorials by Mike Fraser and Dave Lam, like this one: Digitalizing negatives with a digital camera.
I continued to rely to the lab to scan my negatives, while with time I sold the Fuji, and bought a Leica M9-P. I thought the idea to scan my own film was way more impractical with a Leica M: a rangefinder without the live view (that you can use in the newer Leica M 240, or on mirrorless or DSLR cameras). I didn’t give up on the idea completely, and kept searching for some possibilities to achieve the film scan with the Leica M9-P. I thought about a Visoflex with extension ring, but then I discovered the Leica Beoon from this article, and I immediately thought that this vintage item was the way to go.
Leica sold these models (and similar ones) from the 50’s to the 70’s, and its purpose was, and is, exactly to copy and reproduce negative and slide of different sizes with dedicated macro rings and windows. The object itself is great as well, made of solid metal (except the loupe to focus before mounting the camera), with a sound German design that reminds me of a microscope (that is indeed another important branch of the Leica company). The Beoon I bought is complete, except for the manual that is not really necessary, with all the modules, loupe, window masks, box. The only problem I had is that since this item is quite old, and probably not used for a very long time, the metal was too dry. I didn’t think about it, and mounted the modules together. It then got stuck, the module B with the Beoon stand, and the modules C and D together. It’s been really hard to get them separate again, it was almost like the atoms of the metal were merged completely. If you find a Beoon, I strongly recommend to put some oil on the threads before using it.
With the extended tube modules you can reach several macro sizes: 1:1, 1:1,5, 1:2 and 1:3. You also have the same markers on the masks, to be put in the base. No film mask at all means 1:3 (the base itself). I tried several lens, a 35mm, a 40mm, and a 50mm. The Summarit 50mm was the right one for 35mm film (1:1 macro), while for the 120mm film I need to take more photos and merge them together. I think I could manage to find a focal length that works with medium format film, but still needs some exploration.
Once you follow the indication to mount the right modules and window, with the lens attached, you can go and focus with the loupe on top adjusting the height of the bar. The process is quite straightforward and the bar is smooth but firm, being able to move it very little and to focus precisely. Once you find the right focus, swap the loupe with the camera, and take the picture. You don’t need to refocus if you don’t move too much the Beoon around.
I find the sharper results with the aperture set at f11/f16, but each lens has a different one, experiment a bit to find the proper sharpness. Here you can see my first attempt:
While I was still using a mobile phone as a light source, and here the same photo with a LED light box pad:
The difference is worth the 30£ of the pad (that btw I can use for drawings as well, or as an original night abatjour :) )
Of course another very important bit is the post production of the photos. Lightroom can be fast, but you need to experiment a bit with the settings. Take your time because it’ll be very useful in perspective, to optimise the overall process, you will get your time back. The settings also depend on the film itself, on how it reacts. So it’s not trivial to find a general one for all the types of film, but the process can be optimised quite a lot anyway. I created four main presets, 2 for black and white film and two for colour. Usually I change the white balance for each film, taking an empty part of the film as white point.
With Lightroom you can sync between all the photos of the workspace, and apply the changes to all of them in one go, then tune the single settings for each image. The first general set you can save in the preset is to invert the curves of the film in order to invert the colours if it’s a negative. I wish you could just “cmd+i” like in Photoshop, since from now on the settings like black, white, shadows and highlights are inverted as well (scroll to brighter gets darker, and so on). Of course the black and white film is way faster, while colours need more work if you want to be accurate as much as possible without funky Lomo effects. You can download the presets from here, just as reference as I think it’s very difficult that they fit to your film/light. Overall I’m very happy with this setup. It’s not perfect yet, but I already noticed great improvements each time I use it. I think the results you get can be much better than a flatbed scanner, or even a dedicated film one. At least for the 35mm format. And time wise, it doesn’t really take long once you get set with the entire flow.
Originally published at www.claudiogomboli.com.