We Answer: What Is the Future of Film Scanning?

Tom B Asks:

In May of this year, Hasselblad silently discontinued their leading Hasselblad Flextight scanners as future Mac updates will be incompatible with their color software.

I’m not sure they really had competitors for quality (other than ancient, cumbersome and fiddly drum scanners), and it makes me wonder where this leaves the high end scanning market in the next couple of years?

It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen with just about anything photo-related in the next couple of years. But let’s talk about the scanning market. There’s good news and bad news.

Let’s Start With the Bad News About Film Scanning

A lot of people say film is growing, but I don’t see evidence of a boom. Much was made of Ilford saying film sales were growing by 5% a year. But growing 5% after falling 90%+ isn’t saying much. And yes, Kodak Alaris brought back Ektachrome. But Kodak also put its film business up for sale. Now let’s talk about scanners. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to focus on dedicated film scanners — not multi-purpose scanners like Epson flatbeds.

It’s hard to imagine a company putting significant resources behind a complex hardware device for a tiny market. I noticed something interesting. Every single model aside except one uses USB 2.0. The lone exception is the $29,995 Blackmagic Design Cintel Scanner 2, and that’s not even designed for still photography film anyway.

The USB 3.0 specs were announced in November 2008! What does that tell you about the state of film scanner development? Don’t expect much in the way of improvement in film scanners. They’re probably at the end of the line in terms of technological development, which doesn’t bode well for their future in the market place.

The Good News About Film Scanning

The good news is that the film scanner industry should be dead. But it’s not. And if it’s not dead by now, then it’s got some life left in it. So film scanners should be readily available for years. The decline will be slow and gradual, not sudden.

And if you scan film yourself, you should be okay for many years, provided you make…

Contingency Plans for Your Scanning Needs

Some film shooters are extremely loyal to a particular scanner. If you’re in that boat, and your scanner of choice gets discontinued, consider buying multiple units immediately. This way, you’ll have a backup, and possibly an investment.

Some discontinued film scanners like the Nikon Coolscan 9000 and Imacon Flextights go for a pretty penny on eBay. Heck, you could also scan other people’s film and make some nice money. I would also scoop up accessories like film holders ASAP. You’ll want to keep computer compatibility in mind. As time goes on, a discontinued scanner may not work with newer computers. So you may need to hang on to an older computer just for scanning.

Give Flatbed Scanners a Try

It may make sense to look at multi-purpose scanners like the Epson flatbeds, which will probably outlive film scanners. Flatbeds may give slightly inferior results, but I’m sure you can narrow the gap by improving your scanning and post-processing skills. And if you’re not making giant prints, you’d probably never notice that difference anyway.

Also, Consider a Club or Collective

I would also consider joining (or even forming) some kind of club or collective which provides access to film scanners. I suspect these organizations will become much more popular in the coming years as it becomes harder to find quality dedicated film scanners.

This post was originally published over at On Portraits.