FilmToaster Scanner Review

No, we’re not cooking color slides and film negatives in a pop-up toaster like Eggo waffles. The FilmToaster is a device that enables you to create digital image files from virtually any size film or transparency up to 4x5. You supply the DSLR and macro lens. If you have a shoebox full of family negs like many of us do, prepare to bring those old images back to life.

In every large family there’s always one member who is the curator of the family negative collection. Usually it’s the person or couple who have the most photographic knowledge—probably someone just like you. And odds are it’s a motley collection of celluloid—everything from clean 35mm Kodachrome slides to curled up 126 Instamatic to rolls of 120 negatives with rubber bands around them. But they are priceless and irreplaceable.

Or if you’re a pro photog or hardcore hobbyist who began taking pictures before 2001, you most certainly have a few folders full of glassine sleeves filled with negatives—color and black and white. They deserve to be digital.

Bronx Braves, around 1948. Black and white 4x5 negative.

The FilmToaster, the brainchild of Cecil Williams who is an accomplished professional photographer in addition to being an inventor and the author of six books, is a contraption that combines the best characteristics of film scanners with those of slide duplicators. If you’re old enough to remember the Bowens Illumitran, you’ll see the family resemblance straight away.

The FilmToaster uses your DSLR (full-frame model preferred), your macro lens, and in some cases, a set of extension tubes. The official list of requirements cites these three components plus a steady desktop, an electrical connection and general understanding of both your camera and macro photography. To that list I add the following: patience, an eagerness to experiment and a fistful of negatives or slides.

Nova Scotia, 1991. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

I used a Canon EOS 5D (original full-frame, 12.8-megapixel, 2005 version) and a Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact-Macro lens. All images seen here were captured at f/8 with the camera set on Aperture Priority. I used the self-timer to help reduce camera vibration during exposure.

Setting up took a bit longer than I’d anticipated but that’s primarily because there are so many options. The FilmToaster comes complete with slide holders and film carriers and a constant, white balanced light source.

I highly recommend that you use a DSLR that has an articulated LCD so that you’re not straining your neck to look into the viewfinder. I used a 10-year-old (but high quality) Canon that has neither liveview nor a floating LCD, but then again, I wanted to test it under the worst case circumstances, not the slam-dunk setup.

Included accessories.

The Process
The process is simple and straightforward. Use a bulb syringe or negative brush to remove loose dust from the subject film. Load the film in the carrier, decide which slot to use (by trial and error until you get the hang if it), focus and shoot. Use a small aperture to compensate for the inherent curvature of film. Check exposure and sharpness in the conventional way and repeat the process.

Here’s a quote directly from the User Guide which says it as well as it can be said:  “Depending on format of the DSLR, to achieve perfection in focusing, you must use a combination of optics that will allow camera scanning film in one of five slots, which with Adjustable Film Plate, positions film plane, three to nine inches away.”

It’s easier than it sounds, but like all worthwhile things, you have to work at it some.

After capture, processing the newly-digitized images was much, much easier than you might suspect. Aside from some minor sharpening and a minute tweak in saturation here or there, all I did was adjust the levels and invert the image from negative into positive using the simple tools provided in Adobe Photoshop 2015 (Creative Cloud).

The black and white image of the Bronx Braves you see above was shot in 1948 on monochromatic 4x5 film. The color stuff was shot about 25 years ago with a Leica M4 and a 35mm f/2 Summicron.

Nova Scotia, 1991. ©Jon Sienkiewicz


The verdict? If you have hundreds of the same format film to scan, or require super-high resolution output, you’re better off with a self-contained film scanner, something like a used Nikon Coolscan or a used Minolta Scan Multi. Unfortunately, both brands of scanners have been discontinued for quite a while. If you have a collection of various types and sizes of film and slides—even up to 6x9 and 4x5—then the FilmToaster is perfect for you.

The FilmToaster is available from FilmToaster Photography, where you can also see more samples of digitized images, learn about rent-to-own options and leave messages that will be read by the inventor. Purchase price is $1695.

—Jon Sienkiewicz

peterblaise's picture

$1,700 for a scanner-less-'scanner', and you bring your own digital camera and lens?!?

I want to see sales figures, and who buys this!

Google [ film scanner for SLR ] and there's no need to spend a penny: