Thursday, 6 February 2014

Plustek Opticfilm 120 Review: Plustek, interrupted

Yep, it's big
A few days back I mentioned I had added a Plustek Opticfilm 120 to my "photographic arsenal". I then managed to share a couple of Hasselblad negs I had managed to scan while learning the ropes of the obscurantist software suite called Silverfast. I was excited to have the ability to scan medium format film with good results.

I continued scanning my Hasselblad black and whites happily until I reached a colour roll where the top half of the image was blue sky. I scanned those negs in and discovered a strange coloured streaking. Initially thinking it could be either at artefact of processing or the camera, I tried another colour roll and the same thing happened.

The streaks, while light, were definitely visible. And they impacted on the whole image.

Coloured streaking running vertically throughout the images, in addition to a large band of discolouration on the far right-hand side
This was alarming. Could my camera be damaging my negatives in some way? Have I been getting shoddy processing since forever?

To eliminate the film as the cause of the problems, I cut out a single frame and rotated it 90º. If the coloured streaking rotated with the film, then it was the film's fault. If it stayed in the same direction as the scanning mechanism, then it sure as hell wasn't the film. Sadly, this was the result:

After cutting the single frame and rotating it 90º, the streaking now runs horizontally. If it had been on the film, it would have stayed in the same direction as the first image
A quick scan (pun intended, sorry) of the Opticfilm 120 Flickr group revealed one other person having the same problem, although apparently being given short shrift by Plustek Germany. Note to Plustek: this is a problem and other customers are having it, so please don't dismiss this fault as "unique" to one person. No, it's not the individual's electricity supply, no it's not the film, no it's not the software, no it's not the alignment of Mercury and Venus at the Autumnal equinox - it's the scanner hardware.

Unfortunately I've now had to return the scanner for a refund. The local distributor suggested I send it back for a service, but after only having a new scanner for 4 days, that's simply not an acceptable option. I'm now waiting, again, for new stock.

The Good
Let me say this first: the initial results I received from this scanner were top notch. My black and white 6x6s looked stunning and were incredibly detailed. My colour images, where sky was not present (or not a large portion of the image) also looked stunning. Even with my (and many others') whinging about Silverfast, I found it fairly simple to get good results from the scanner straight out of the box.

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State Library of Victoria - Kodak T-Max 100
Getting a Hold(er) on Things
For once, we have (and I had) a scanner that comes (came) with proper film holders, instead of the crud Nikon sent out with their enduringly popular Coolscans. They are three times heavier and immeasurably more rugged than even the best Coolscan carriers. Plustek's magnetic latch design is simply magic and it's clear a lot of thought went it to them, except for the 6x6 holder which doesn't always fit three frames in perfectly (the middle frame distance isn't adjustable).

But the 6x6 holder is an irritant, a mild irritant that can be worked around. I've worked with NikonScan and shoddy Nikon film holders for 6 years, I know what irritating scanning is like. Unfortunately, I can't live with a fundamentally broken scanner.

Now this might strike you as a bit of a whinge: it's a broken product, I've got a refund, what am I complaining about? Well, it's that I would happily - more than happily - take another Opticfilm 120, but there aren't any in the country and probably won't be for months.

Responses
I'm not fussed by a faulty product, that happens all the time. Working in retail, I know that faults, whilst frustrating, do not make or break a situation, it's the response that matters. Plustek's US representative has been very active in discussion forums and social media regarding the problems the Opticfilm 120 has been having. This is to be applauded and more companies should follow this lead (*cough* Nikon D600 *uncough*).

But after various reports of problems on the internets (and yes I know that is rarely an accurate gauge, but in this case I think it's valid) I don't have faith in Plustek's quality control on this product. Plustek has already halted shipments once, after a problem with lens alignment or some such and now, almost 18 months after its initial announcement, it's still yet to come into steady supply.

As I understand it, the initial delay was due to the original CCD supplier (that formerly large company from Rochester, NY) being sold. Not much Plustek could do about that. And credit to Plustek for admitting there was an issue with the lens/focal plane alignment and fixing it. But as quickly as one problem is fixed, it seems another arises.

Prospects
I've survived almost 6 years with my Nikon Coolscan 5000ED and (NikonScan notwithstanding) it hasn't missed a beat. With Nikon no longer producing Coolscans and second-hand prices going through the roof, there is no one else out there making affordable, quality film scanners.

If I do choose to get another Opticfilm 120, I can test my replacement model to see if it has the same streaking problem straight away, that's not an issue. The real issue is the long term: how reliable is it? Will it be able to be serviced if there is a problem? Will Plustek still be around in almost 6 years' time? Or will I be left with a unwieldy paperweight on my desk?

For example, if I buy a DSLR today, I can be fairly certain if it's broken or lost in 5 years' time, I will be able to purchase a superior replacement. Not so with a film scanner; longevity and reliability is very important. If Plustek QC lets an obvious error through, what other overlooked problems might rear their ugly heads years down the track? When your warranty is toast and your film shooting days rendered over?

That's a frightening thought. I'm almost more willing to play Russian Roulette with a used Coolscan 9000ED at reasonable price (is that an oxymoron?), but hold out hope the Opticfilm 120 will return to the fold.

I'll be back?
There is clearly a great scanner waiting to break out, one which blows away all of the competition currently available brand-new. Credit to Plustek for sticking with this model and producing a product that while has some demand, is clearly not a mass-market product. Photographers appreciate that no-end, Plustek.

Hopefully one day soon, I'll be able to do a full and proper review of this product, but until Plustek get their quality control in order, the Opticfilm 120 is likely to stay an untrusted white elephant.


4 comments:

  1. My first Plustek 120 had to be returned to them for a replacement. This second one has fewer problems but still not perfect. Film tray rejection at pre-scan seems to be an issue. Unplugging solves it. But should the customer be saddled with idiosyncrasies like this? I think not.

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    1. Katherine, I'm looking to purchase this scanner (simply because there is nothing else available other than the crappy Epson flat Bed Scanners- I have the V550).I see you are from Australia and I would be interested to know how you have got along with the Australian Distributors.I only shoot medium format BW and as such would probably use the scanner with Vuescan which is pretty simple to use.I have a Fuji GA645 and Mamiya RB 67 so I'm assuming the film holders would be suitable.Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated Peter Lee (peterlee10@optusnet.com.au).

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  2. Im non my third one , having returned the first two to different resellers. Same problem with all of them , vertical stripes in the blue channel. Called Plustek Germany , and after a round of not so pleasant e-mails with them , in which I provided photographic evidence of the problems of this scanner , and even compared the same Image to my Nikon ED5000 output , They refused to budge. They want me to send it back for servicing , I mean a new Item ??? I can accept one failure , even two , but three brand new Items all having the same fault??? Sorry plustek , you will get it back for repair ( walk in service , at my cost , as they refused to issue a RMA to me ) But I do not hold out any hope what so ever for a fully working , as advertised device. Last product from this shoddy company i ever buy.

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    1. Sorry to hear that, Gord. Alas, it's not surprising. The thread I started in the Opticfilm 120 Flickr group features a few more disgruntled voices. It's really sad considering the potential of this product. Oh well, back to the V700 for me.
      https://www.flickr.com/groups/plustek_opticfilm_120/discuss/72157640418824644/

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