I didn’t think this whole film photography thing through when I chose to jump in and buy a camera and lenses. Turns out, pressing the shutter and developing your film isn’t the end of the story. Since I don’t have a dark room and the nearest public one is a three hour drive away, I had to come up with a way of digitizing my negatives. The fledgling film photographer has several options: buy a flatbed scanner, buy a drum scanner, send them off to a lab, or use a digital camera and stitch images together.
I didn’t want to shell out another large chunk of money for an Epson V700 or comparable flatbed scanner; drum scanners are so far out of the question that they aren’t even worth mentioning; sending negatives to a lab is costly and takes way too long. So I chose to use what I currently own — a digital camera with a macro lens. The cheapest scanner is the one you already own. I will discuss my scanning process in a future blog post.
I was still missing one key ingredient: a trustworthy light source. I had been using an iPad with a blank white screen, but at large magnification the pixels are visible, which is obviously not ideal. Searching for light tables on a site like B&H yields a number of options ranging from about 40 dollars up to several thousand dollars. Sorting by “Best Sellers” I noticed one brand come up several times in the top handful of light tables — the Kaiser Slimlite Plano line.
After not much deliberation, I purchased the Kaiser Slimlite Plano 19.6” x 13.8” version (at least two smaller versions are available) and my ability to scan negatives with a digital camera were immediately vastly improved.
The Slimlite Plano offers two power modes: USB and battery powered. The light table end has a micro USB port which is plugged into a standard wall charging unit. The two modes are toggled by a switch on the upper left-hand side of the unit.
The light table is very simple to operate. There is a touch sensor which turns the unit on and serves a duel purpose as a dimmer when on battery mode. Simply press and hold the power button to bright or dim the display as necessary.
The bezel around three of the four edges is less than an inch thick, and on the side with the power button is about two inches thick. Around each edge of the lighted section are metric and imperial unit scales; I have found that these are very helpful when taking multiple images that will be stitched together later. With the scales I can accurately position the negatives to ensure even overlap on each frame to be stitched.
I am not sure if the unit I received is faulty, but I have noticed that when I’m on battery mode that the table is not quite as bright as on USB mode, even at full brightness, and that it flickers somewhat. It also seems to drain the battery very quickly. The table when on USB power is bright, evenly lit, and I have not noticed any flickering in a couple of months of usage. See the picture which shows a side-by-side comparison of the light table at full brightness on battery mode versus USB power.
The light table is very slim, as the name implies, at about 0.3” (8mm). Although the table that I bought is large in the two other dimensions, because it is so thin I can easily store it upright and it takes up very little space in my room.
Overall, I have been pleased with the Kaiser Slimlite Plano. I bought a large size, which can easily fit six 4x5 negatives and a couple of strips of 35mm film at once. Depending on your needs, it may make more sense to use a smaller version. If you’re a film photographer, especially one that shoots large format, and you don’t have the ability to scan or print your negatives in any other way, I think this is a viable option to consider. The brightness is good, the color is neutral, and for the size I don’t think the price is outrageous.