With lab fees (developing, scanning, and shipping) costing me around $15-$20 per roll, I knew I had to find a more economical solution if I was to pursue this hobby long term. There are tons of cheap scanners, like the Kodak Scanza and Wolverine Titan, which I’ve tried with lackluster results. These are more geared to those looking to digitally archive old family pictures. I’ve also tried flatbed scanners like the Canon Canoscan 9000F and Epson V700, great for their versatility, but not the best at producing high resolution 35mm scans.
Enter the the Plustek OpticFilm 8200i, a dedicated 35mm film scanner that manages to strike a balance between (relative) affordability and high quality scan output. It’s priced at $400 new, but used ones have gone for as low as $250 on eBay. In short, this is a great scanner that has turned out to be one of the most valuable investments I’ve made since I got into film. Having it has made me shoot more, because I’m not constantly thinking about how much each frame is costing me each time I press the shutter.
Why I like it
- It makes great scans, on par with ones I’ve gotten back from professional labs. By far the 8200i’s most compelling feature is its advertised 7200dpi scanning ability. The reality is that quality tops out at 3600dpi, meaning anything higher only results in larger file sizes and longer scanning times. Despite this, the scans are still more than acceptably sharp, and in some cases are sharper than lab scans.
- Convenience. The Plustek is about the size of a loaf of bread, small enough to keep on a desk or store nearby. I’m able to scan on my laptop as easily as I can on my desktop. You also don’t have to wait for scans to return from a lab or worry about them getting lost in the mail.
- It gives you complete control. As you’ll see below, the edges of some of the lab scans were cropped, and color correction was added at the discretion of whoever scanned it. The Plustek gives you complete control over how your pictures look, as well as the format and size of the files.
Scan Comparisons – Lab vs. Plustek
The images above were scanned in .JPEG format using Silverfast 8, at 600ppi, 3600dpi with auto sharpness and iSRD enabled. No other settings were used.
Things I don’t like
- No automatic motor drive. Developing two 36 exposure rolls of film means scanning 72+ pictures, which takes up most of a night. I’m tied to my computer until the scanning is done. Pacific Image PowerFilm Scanner (which I am waiting to see more reviews before trying). This would allow me to do other things while scanning, instead of needing to manually advance each frame after it’s scanned.
- Long scan times. But considering the high quality scans the Plustek puts out, I can’t really complain. Some ways you can get around the long scan times are to reduce the dpi of the pictures you don’t care about and only scan the best pictures on your roll.
.JPEG Scan Times
|Scan Time||20 sec||30 sec||45 sec||3 min 30 sec|
|File Size||282 KB||1.1 MB||2.8 MB||10.8 MB|
- Silverfast 8. While scanning at 3600dpi takes about 45 seconds, editing each frame in Silverfast 8 takes an additional 15-30 seconds too. I spend between 1-1 ½ hours scanning a 24-36 exposure roll of film.
The Silverfast 8 software it comes with has some very useful features, and I’ve used it fine since I got the Plustek over a year ago. It has its limitations, however, particularly in usability and intuitiveness. It is not user-friendly software by any stretch, and it took me about a dozen rolls to figure out which settings to use to get scans I was happy with. On a positive note, the software is fairly stable, and once you get your workflow figured out, things go much quicker.
I’ll save my thoughts on Silverfast for another time, since this review is about the Plustek, but it is worth mentioning since a scanner is nothing without its software.
Tips for successful scanning
- 3600dpi is the sweet spot. Scanning any higher produces little benefit, at the expense of much longer scan times and larger file sizes. Scanning lower and you begin to see a decrease in image quality.
- Scan in JPEG. For a long time I scanned images in .TIFF format to get the highest quality scans. Then I did a few comparison tests and realized I can’t tell the difference between the two formats, yet my .TIFF scans were taking up over 50 MB each. Unless you know you need to scan in .TIFF, you should probably scan in .JPEG. It’ll save you a lot of time and storage space. Now my file sizes are about 5 MB per scan. Compare the two for yourself to see which is best for your needs.
Comparison of .JPEG and .TIFF file sizes
|DPI||JPEG File Size||TIFF File Size|
|1200||282 KB||5.8 MB|
|2400||1.1 MB||22.9 MB|
|3600||2.8 MB||56.1 MB|
|7200||10.8 MB||210.7 MB|
- Get more film holders. They’re two for $20 at B&H. I have 5 holders, allowing me to scan up to 30 frames without needing to worry about cycling negative strips. Also, number them because they all look the same
- Be aware of the scan area. Silverfast automatically applies some type of filter based on what’s in the scan area. Dark areas and blown out highlights can have a significant impact on the color of your scan, even without any editing on your part. See below: