I am starting the process of testing the cutting-edge pixel-shift technology available in some digital cameras to use as a film scanner.
Before we jump into the technical details, I want to share my motivation for exploring the new pixel-shift technology that is available in some of the latest generation mirrorless digital cameras.
I have been using professional flatbed and drum scanners for many years to scan my film, mostly large format film, but also 35mm, and all the various 120 formats.
The size of these systems is huge and they take up a considerable footprint in my office, not to mention the technology is aging quickly.
My drum scanner produces very high-quality professional results, but I want to explore newer options to see if I can produce the same quality scans with an alternative approach. I am also concerned about the long-term viability of using the dated drum scanners.
I have no idea how this will turn out, but I feel compelled to explore this and compare the results. I define results in terms of the finished prints. While pixel-peeping may be interesting or fun, all that really matters, in the end, is the quality of the print. My drum scans produce professional quality images and they are able to keep those magical and unique qualities of analog film. I will be looking at the technical as well as the subjective when comparing the various prints for my style of photography. More on this as the testing process proceeds.
In theory, the new high-resolution pixel-shift technology available on some select digital cameras could be a game-changer in many ways. But, I don't really know if the perceived benefits are true or not until I do the tests myself.
Pixel shifting is a method where a digital camera can produce a high-resolution image from a lower resolution sensor with a reported cleaner image.
The process works by taking several images via a sensor that physically "shifts" to different positions. Pixel shifting for color images is designed to improve the bias known as the Bayer pattern. Bryce Bayer of Kodak invited this digital camera filter pattern to be used with CCD and CMOS digital sensors because the human eye is more sensitive to green. The bias towards green is thought to produce a better color image via a digital sensor.
The pixel shifting method is able to produce a high-resolution image, typically 3 to 4 times the base resolution of the camera with an increased color resolution that is free of color moiré. Think of taking several overlapped images and combining them in the digital darkroom for a higher resolution image, but with the added advantage of producing a cleaner image.
Typically a static subject will always perform the best and since my large format film isn't moving, I think I should see the best possible results that pixel-shifting can offer. The combined multiple exposures will not only produce a much higher resolution file but a RAW file with less noise than a single capture.
In summary, it appears that I should be able to produce a native RAW file with a pixel-shift digital camera as opposed to a .TIFF file with my drum scanner and the digital image should be the best-case scenario using this form of digital scanning.
If all this works out, I will be able to replace my 150 lb. mechanical drum scanner with a new device that weighs just a few pounds and a fraction of the size. And all of this along with being the latest generation technology. It is simply too tempting not to test and explore this option.
I am always an advocate of doing your own testing and forming my own opinion based on my first-hand experience, so that is exactly what I am doing.
EQUIPMENT USED IN ROUND 1 OF TESTING
I am using a Kaiser light table to illuminate my film and a Beseler Copy Stand that is based on the design of the 45V-XL enlarger. I wanted a rock-solid solution that would produce good results and I feel these choices are good options.
I am currently focused on testing 4x5 film, so I am using my Beseler 4x5 Negaflat glassless negative carrier with a piece of black foam to lay over the light table in areas around the negative carrier and film. This carrier holds the 4x5 taught and perfectly flat which is a key variable in getting a good scan. The carrier is fairly thick and has some small feet on the bottom which keeps the film elevated above the Kaiser light table which is exactly what I want. I learned this trick when I compared wet mount scanning to dry mount with my Epson scanner.
I plan to do single high-resolution single exposure digital scans as the first step and then do some multiple high-resolution exposures to create very large high-resolution files that should be capable of printing massive mural-sized prints.
Based on some initial tests, I am liking what I am seeing so far in both single exposure and multiple-exposure scans.
As you can see from the screenshot to the left, this multiple exposure scan produced a 24,406 x 19,080 pixel high-resolution file. That is effectively a 465Mp camera with a resulting 1.59Gb RAW file in the form of a .DNG file.
I need to be able to make very large prints for my NatureArtRxTM portfolio, so these tests are critical for me. Even if you don't need to make these very large prints, the simplified workflow and time savings alone could be worth ditching your desktop scanner for a pixel-shift scanning setup.
I can tell you the images look very sharp and at least as good on my monitor as compared to the drum scans, but I won't really know how well these scans perform until I get deeper into the testing and ultimately make the prints. The initial findings are definitely encouraging.
If these tests go well, I will investigate options for 120 roll film and 35mm too.
You should note that these tests with the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II are with a Micro Four-Thirds camera which makes this even more amazing to me. I did not expect the initial results to be as good as they are. In the future, if this goes well, I will source a Panasonic S1R full-frame mirrorless pixel shift camera that produces a 187Mp high-resolution RAW file as opposed to the 80Mp Olympus RAW file. This is where things could get very interesting and possibly game-changing.
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