DIY copy stand for DSLR scanning

I’ve been scanning film using a DSLR for a few years, mostly using an LPL commercial copy stand. It was okay, but had some issues I wasn’t happy about. There’s no built-in way to adjust alignment, no easy way to turn it around to point the camera at the floor, and it was a bit flimsy, making it subject to vibration. I looked at converting an enlarger, but those had issues as well.

A couple weeks ago I decided to try making my own - not my first try at this - but this time it worked out really well and solved all the problems with the LPL stand. The base is a solid wood top from a small folding table I bought from a thrift store for $5. The metal pipe, floor flange and bolts cost about $20. I already had a good ball head and a Manfrotto Super Clamp (such a great tool which every photographer should have anyway!)

The design of the Super Clamp allows it to be loosened up to raise, lower, or swivel to point to the floor with no danger of the camera falling off. The ball head makes it easy to align the camera to the film, especially when using a mirror and live view. I still use live view and a 2-second timer to avoid vibrations.

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Looks awesome! What do you use to illuminate the slides?

I use a Porta-Trace LED light box, which is about 5600K and seems to have a decent CRI. The cheaper ones from ebay are around 7-8000K and don’t render all the colours as well. I have one of these and it’s fine for sorting slides, but not for scanning.

Other notes:

Use a mirror to align the camera to the film.

Camera settings:
Base ISO (100 for mine)
Raw or raw + jpeg
Image rotation off
Live view and 2-5 second timer to avoid vibrations.
Aperture around F8-11 for best sharpness and enough depth of field to cover any film curvature.

After focusing on a slide, remove the slide, stop down about 3 stops using the shutter speed and shoot a “blank”. This shot, of just the light box, will give you a white balance for the raw converter. Also check the histogram on the camera LCD to see how even the light is across the frame. The histogram should be a very narrow column.

Use a real macro lens.

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It should be noted that the design of the Super Clamp means that the it’s offset about 4 cm from the pipe, so mount the floor flange about 4 cm off the centre of the wooden base. Otherwise the camera won’t be centred over the base.

How do you use a mirror for alignment?

Use a mirror that lies flat on top of the light table (or in my case I use a piece of 1 cm thick black foamcore as a mask on top of the light table). Adjust the ball head so that the reflection of the centre of the lens in the mirror is exactly in the centre of the viewfinder (it’s easier if you’re using the camera LCD in live view). If you took a picture you would see the centre of the lens aperture right in the centre of the photo. It helps to turn on the viewfinder grid.

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Wouldn’t be mirror up and cable (or wireless) trigger be better (no Live view would mean no sensor heatup)

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Yes, I’m sure that would work just as well. I started using live view for two reasons, first to more easily centre the film, and second because I used to use manual focus on the macro lens and that’s more accurate with live view zoomed in. Now, with the D800 and the Nikkor 60 f2.8 G micro lens, the auto focus is fast and accurate so I don’t need to manually focus anymore.

Here’s a scan I did a couple days ago with this setup from a 35mm Kodachrome I took in 1978. The slide was underexposed by about 1.5 stops, which I corrected for by a longer exposure while scanning. Processed in RawTherapee, using capture sharpening and some colour correction, then exported to Gimp to retouch a few small pieces of dirt and apply high-pass sharpen in Script-Fu. I reduced it in size here from the full-frame 36 mp shot from the D800.

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Thanks for all the info and pointers! I’ve wanted to build one of these for a while.

You’re welcome Miguel. Feel free to ask any questions as I’ve taught workshops on this process.

Here are some more shots from Nepal. Scanned and processed the same way, but I saved them in low res here. The shot of the villages of Kunde and Khumjung with Ama Dablam was in National Geographic, both the magazine and the book, “Around the World in 125 Years”. The shot of the inside of the tea house was in Nat Geo Magazine.

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If only geared heads would be a bit more affordable …

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OMG these are great!! thanks for sharing that @troodon, can you give us a bit more background on those photos, the trip, why/how they ended up in Nat Geo etc?

@troodon

Did you try to colour manage your “scans” with an IT8-target?

Hermann-Josef

I have a different set up (the central tube of my tripod can be set horizontally) but to attach the camera I have an Arca-Swiss clamp attached to a levelling head. This is much less prone to droop than a ball head…

PS: I had forgotten the mirror trick, in general I just make sure that lines near the sides are parallel to these sides. Now I have dreams of a combo mirror-cum-gray-chart.

No I haven’t tried an IT8 target. I do have a 35mm Kodak Ektachrome IT8, so it would be interesting to compare that to just using the white balance off the light panel. Thanks for the suggestion.

Thanks, the levelling head sounds like a good idea. With ball heads, some are not good at all for this task, but the Manfrotto 498RC4 I’m using holds it’s position well. My one concern with that levelling head is that when it’s in the vertical position, the camera could still droop by turning on the threads. Have you found that to be an issue?

So I’ve been working on trying to get a pile of negatives scanned for a while - the new inversion tool from @rom9 solved the software side of things, but I found fiddling with a tripod to get the camera at the right distance highly frustrating, and resisted buying a copy stand because they are so overpriced. I hadn’t seen any good DIY designs, until now.

Thanks, this is EXACTLY what I was looking for!!!

I happen to also have a macro slider rail, so I’m going to look into something that allows that to be used for fine tuning instead of clamping/unclamping, and maybe throw in some 3D-printed components too… I’m definitely going to be making a Lowes or Home Depot run later this week!

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You’re welcome. I also used a tripod for this a few years ago and share your frustrations, yuck! Yes, a macro slider rail would help with the fine tuning, although it’s not bad just loosening up the Super Clamp. Once it’s set for a particular film size you can just leave it there until you’re shooting a different film format. I have a Minolta macro focusing rail, which is very good, but haven’t used it for this. I also bought a cheap one on ebay a few years ago, but it’s really flimsy. What 3D-printed components will you add?