Review of Nikon ES-2 slide and negative scanner

Update: I have now posted the results of testing the built in digitizer against Photoshop conversions for colour negatives.

Film is beautiful but scanning is a chore. The tedium of having to use Nikon Coolscans IV’s, V’s, 9000’s and flatbed scanners for many years hastened my move away from film. No doubt it did for many others as well.

This is a shame, as processing black and white negatives is very straightforward.

I’ve previously scanned film using cameras. The most successful attempt to date was a using Nikon macro lens supported on a Lego base !

Nikon ES-2 negative and slide scanner
Guess the Era

The Nikon ES-2 scanning attachment is a big step up over all previous 35mm negative and slide scanning solutions, especially when used with the Nikon D850.

It’s also relatively cheap and you can be up and running in 10 minutes from opening the packaging.

This first part of the review will concentrate on using the new inbuilt digitizing function found in the Nikon D850. I’ll explore using raw scans next time.

For this review I’ve been using it with the Nikon 60mm f2.8G and Nikon D850 camera in negative / slide live view mode.

In the bad old (and even current) days of scanners, the hardware was only half the battle – software also had to be tamed which would mean hours of reading technical documents.

The design and execution of the Nikon ES-2 hardware is simple and appears to be robust.

It’s useful that you can clip the negatives into place and then orientate the holder in any dimension in order to scan the image the correct way around.

As you manually move the slide holder across from one frame to the next, it gently clicks into place. Thus each frame is lined up.

If the negative is positioned incorrectly in a Coolscan or flatbed scanner repositioning the film takes time. As there are no glass surfaces involved we also avoid Newton rings that plagued the Coolscan 9000.

The negative holder can drop a mm or two when it’s in place. It’s no big deal but sometimes you have to gently touch the holder to realign it.

The negative scanning mode on the Nikon D850 cuts through a lot of Photoshop work. The output is Jpeg optomised either for colour or black and white. Coming off the D850 sensor the files at finest setting are huge, measuring 8,256 x 5,504.

Of course, the built in software in the camera has limitations – colour balance can be iffy, shadows can get blocked and highlights blown.

If you need more accuracy then you’ll have to revert to using raw scans of the negatives and time consuming post-processing in photoshop or lightroom.

That will be for part 2 of this review.

There’s also a simple but effectively implemented exposure compensation for dealing with film that is over or under exposed.

Other internet reviews of the Nikon ES-2 stress the need for balanced light sources and tripods.

However, if you’re using the inbuilt digitizer you can use this attachment handheld and point it out of a window or even in a naturally lit room. As the whole scanning structure is solid and inflexible you can hand hold at almost any speed – yesterday I was using the ES-2 in fading light down to c. 3 seconds without any deterioration in the quality of the scans.

One thing I have noticed is that putting your hand anywhere near the scanning end can cause uneven illumination of the negative. However your hands probably won’t be near the end when you’re scanning so this is not a great issue.

The huge advantage of the ES-2 and the inbuilt software is speed. It took me 50 minutes this morning to take out from their sleeves 121 colour and black and white negatives, scan them and put them back (which equates to 2.42 negatives per minute).

My Coolscan V with ICE would take approximately 1 minute 15 seconds per negative scan. The Coolscan IV took almost twice as long.

As for the Coolscan 9000…12 negatives with all software enabled would take over 45 minutes !

All this processing does chew through the batteries much quicker than if you were just shooting normal pictures.

The Nikon ES-2 doesn’t have ICE dust reduction software or infra-red hardware. Does this make the system less attractive ?

A couple of points about ICE are worth noting. You can of course only use it with colour negatives / slides and sometimes it will soften relatively large areas of the negative / slide.

A few simple precautions go a long way to reducing dust on film.

Firstly (and obviously) hoover regularly – robovacuum cleaners are a godsend for this. I’ve tried quite a few over the years and currently the best bang for the buck is the Eufy Robovac 11c (although if you’re really serious, dump the carpets).

In my studio it collect 2 large hand fulls of fine dust and gunk every day.

Secondly get a Giottos GTAA1900 Rocket Air Blower– but make sure it’s the biggest one. This works as well as any compressed air solution.

Thirdly, get an air purifier. The amount of dust it will collect in its filter will amaze and appall you.

Finally, try and keep the humidity high in the room you’re working in.

So far, dust and hair using this setup really aren’t an issue.

I haven’t used my Nikon Coolscans in a while, but I’ll do a side by side comparison later.

If you’re not obsessing about absolute quality (the highlights can clip and the shadows get blocky) and colour balance, then the new setup is close to the old solutions.

Sure, you may get better quality from Nikon 9000’s or, better still, drum scanners but are you really going to put 100’s or even 1000’s of slides through such machines ?

All in all, this is an excellent (and reasonably priced) accessory from Nikon.

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