Negative Supply Film Carrier MK1 Kickstarter Launches Today

Negative Supply Film Carrier MK1 Kickstarter Launches Today

1281 721 Drew Chambers

For most film photographers shooting in the digital age, photos made on film are nearly always digitized. It’s a necessary step in the modern film photography workflow. But the number of digitizing options available to the home developer are few, and many of these can be unsatisfying or downright prohibitive. A company called Negative Supply wants to change this with a new product – the Film Carrier MK1. 

Current Digitization Options and their Pros and Cons

At the lowest end of the price and quality scale exist scanners like the Kodak Scanza, which saves scans as JPG files but doesn’t offer a sensor of high enough quality to match the definition or dynamic range of better scanners. In fact, the Scanza’s product listings even recommend a flatbed scanner if users are looking to get “high quality” digitization. 

Flatbeds, possibly the next best option offering respectable image quality, miss the mark in other ways. The workflow is painstakingly slow, the negative holders often don’t hold the negatives as flat as desired, and the reproduction of film characteristics do not regularly hold up (grain detail can be lost, color can be flat, sharpness and depth can be lacking). Not to mention price – at the top end (say, an Epson V850) we’ll be dropping a grand. 

In my experience with the V600, my scans were only ever fine. I never ended up investing in better film holders or ANR glass, because doing so felt like giving into the sunk cost fallacy – I wasn’t happy, why invest more into a process that wasn’t making me love film more? I quickly became dissatisfied and moved on. 

One rung higher we find dedicated 135 or 120 scanners such as the Plustek models. One of our authors, Dustin Vaughn-Luma, reviewed the Plustek OpticFilm 120 to only lackluster results – yes, the image quality was better than what he was getting with a flatbed, but the entire workflow made him think the enterprise was better off abandoned. 

Another level upward we find older dedicated scanners like the Nikon Coolscan or the Nexlab/Kodak Pakon. These, especially the Pakon, can run close to a $1,000 again on the high end of the spectrum and at least several hundred on the low end. Not to mention, we quickly run into frustrations with essentially retrofitting old hardware and software to run on new computers. With the Pakon, the resolution is fairly low and the scanner cannot truly handle E6 or black-and-white film. 

Finally, we begin to top out at the premier dedicated film scanners. Here we have scanners like the Noritsu, the Fuji Frontier, and Imacon/Hasselblad scanners. These, in particular the Imacon/Hasselblad scanners, produce outstanding results. For the Noritsus, expect to be out about a grand or four. For the Fuji, expect to be out upwards of six thousand. And for the Imacon and Hasselblad scanners, you could be paying over $10,000. No one will be buying one of these unless they’re interested in opening a lab and selling scanning services.

But even if a regular shooter buys in and can justify the jaw-dropping financial investment into one of these famed machines, he or she may still be out of luck – the scanners do not handle the color characteristics of E6 as well as they do the negative conversion of C41. 

At the very, very top end of all image scanners, film or otherwise, drum scanning rests, with the top-of-the-line Heidelberg Tango Drum scanner as its poster-child. I really have no clue how much these machines sell for, because they are so specialized and gargantuan. My research indicates that they’d be going for between ten and sixteen thousand. 

The Film Carrier MK1, shown in renders below, looks to simplify and minimize film digitization.

A Solution in Plain Sight

It feels like someone on the Casual Photophile team laments the scanning process on a weekly basis. The complaints are usually related to workflow and time investment, but no doubt those are both influenced by the amount of work and processing it requires to get a wonderful scan. 

There might be on panacea to this entire fluster though – digital camera scanning. Some may be familiar with the process, but for those who are not, it’s remarkably simple. At its simplest explanation, DCS is projecting light through our filmstrips and then taking a picture of each individual frame using a digital camera. 

In a bit more lengthy explanation, DCS involves using a light source like a light table or light pad, placing our film on top of it so that the film is illuminated, positioning our digital camera directly over the film using a tripod or copy stand, filling the entire frame with a single film frame of negative using a macro lens for close focusing, and then taking a digital photo of the film frame. This file, which can (and should) be taken in RAW format, can then be imported into Lightroom where it can be converted to color-corrected images.  

Perhaps the best and easiest way to convert RAW files is using a Lightroom plugin called Negative Lab Pro, which can be licensed for $99. The results make this cost seem more than worth it to someone who scans frequently, but for those who want to save cash there are manual ways to convert in Lightroom or Photoshop.  

Why would DCS make for a better scanning process? On the basis of image quality alone, a modern DSLR can produce photos with exceptionally high resolution, impeccable color from modern sensors, and incredibly deep dynamic range. 

Shooting a film frame with a 1:1 reproduction with a top-of-the-line digital camera (say the Nikon D850 or the Sony α7R II) can produce a print of 27 inches by 18 inches at print quality of 300 DPI without any enlarging. Factor in technologies like pixel shifting, as Mark Sperry from Northeast Photographic mentioned in his recent podcast with AJ Holmes of Negative Supply, and we’re talking truly massive files. The same can be said for multiple captures of a single film frame that are later stitched together in post-processing. 

That said, to produce high quality digitizations of film, we do not have to own a recent professional model digital camera. Even if we dip back into the closet to find a ten-year-old DSLR (or wanted to spend under $100 to acquire an older mode), we can produce outstanding scans. 

Consider the 2009 model year Canon EOS 500D/Rebel T1i. Even with its APS-C sensor, it’s possible to produce prints of 11×14 at 300 DPI with no enlarging and no need for multiple captures.  

All of this, however, depends on having the supporting cast to make digitizing both efficient and effective. There are a variety of problems that can crop up. If the film isn’t laying flat enough, sharpness and color will be wonky. If your light source isn’t consistent enough, scans will show harsh vignettes and color shifts. Moving from frame to frame can be time consuming compared to a dedicated scanner that precisely and automatically inches the film along. 

The Film Carrier MK1 from Negative Supply

This is where Negative Supply comes to save the day. Over the last year, photographers AJ Holmes of Nashville and Saxon McClamma of Philadelphia have been designing a product aimed at setting the standard for digital camera scanning. They’ve been shooting film for a combined twenty-five-plus years and have cycled through many of the various scanning options available from flatbeds to minilab scanners. 

Saxon, who had been using flatbed scanners and a Nikon Coolscan, decided that digital camera scanning might present a more satisfying setup. The main issue in AJ’s and Saxon’s minds was getting their hands on a reliable negative holder. Unsatisfied with what the market had to offer and with Saxon wielding a degree in engineering and design, the two decided to fill the gap and make their own apparatus. 

Since then, they’ve produced seven prototypes with early models using dozens of parts assembled by hand – but now they’re ready to begin production of the MK1 unit and are launching a Kickstarter on July 1 to do just that. 

[Samples in the image galleries below were digitized using the Negative Supply Film Carrier MK1]

The Film Carrier MK1 is a high quality 35mm negative holder that uses a drive mechanism to smoothly and accurately advance film over an opening for illumination from a light table. Thanks to smooth running bearings, silicon tensioners, and a completely greaseless unit, the film is kept remarkably flat and taut while advancement is smooth yet dampened. Thanks to the greaseless design, there is no risk of lubrication or particulate damaging the film. 

The film advances along the outer edge of the filmstrip so that captures of the frames can extend out to the black borders. Due to the spooling nature of the strip, the film keeps safely coiled on the entry end and the exit end of the carrier. 

The current model is made using a technology referred to as Multi-Jet Fusion (MJF) printing, which was created by HP. The resulting unit is assembled from two precisely manufactured Nylon halves assembled and finished with high-end hardware and beautiful stainless steel components.  

Through the months of R&D and computer-aided design, Negative Supply has put prototypes into the hands of beta testers across the United States. Northeast Photographic, a professional lab based in Maine, has been using the film carrier extensively and providing feedback to AJ and Saxon for application in the current model. The results speak for themselves. 

To sweeten the deal, Negative Supply is also offering what they are calling the Pro Mount MK1 and a magnetically-attached anti-static brush kit. The Pro Mount is essentially a stand for the Film Carrier unit that provides better stability through its heavy design, larger surface area, leveling feet, and anti-slip foot bottoms. The Film Carrier MK1 attaches to the Pro Mount MK1 using a secure magnetic connection. The anti-static brush attaches to the Pro Mount in the same way in front of the Film Carrier so that the filmstrip is brushed as it feeds into the carrier, meaning automatic dusting prior to digitization. 

How to Buy

The Kickstarter for the MK1 system goes live today. For the first 48-hours of the launch, Early Bird supporters can get the Film Carrier MK1 for $249 and the entire MK1 system for $399. The earliest supporters can expect to receive the products fastest, with Negative Supply expecting to ship in September. 

After the Early Bird period, prices increase by $30 for both options. As AJ and Saxon pointed out, finding a manufacturer to produce 5,000 pieces of their system would have been a piece of cake. Working with an industry as niche as the analog photography one, finding a manufacturer that will produce high quality goods at a reasonable price-point for film-community-sized orders, is not easily done. 

Dealing with these constraints, AJ and Saxon originally aimed for the unit to be priced at $500, but they realized that a lower price would mean reaching more film photographers and ultimately mean having a better shot at impacting the entire industry. 

They have planned for low order amounts and stretch goals of 500 units or more. The more successful the Kickstarter is, the faster Negative Supply can get medium and large format rigs into design and production, which will be compatible with the pre-existing Pro Mount MK1. 

In the next thirty days, Negative Supply plans to get their most current model into the hands of individuals around the world with experience in traditional scanning approaches, digital camera scanning, and scanning in museum contexts in order to solicit final feedback for the official production run. 

While film photographers have legitimately dozens of potential choices for their scanning, be it at home or in a lab, digital camera scanning may be both the best option, and the one that few people have tried. With Negative Supply’s new Film Carrier, those interested in exploring DCS should find it that much easier to do so. 

For more details, visit the Kickstarter campaign.

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22 comments
  • I was puzzled by the video. Nothing showing a stand for the camera, no mention of requiring a macro lens for 1:1 copying. Factor these in, and a light box,
    and, boy, does this become an expensive option. I use a Canon 9950F flatbed and a Minolta Dimage Elite II, both early 2000’s designs, and judging by the images posted here, I’d put my scans up against these any day, even those from the flatbed!

    I am thinking of trying digital camera scans, but in this case I have bespoke Leitz and Novoflex bellows copy units with slide/film holder units, and some macro lenses. This way I can even be sure that the lens axes and slide are in proper alignment. I can not accept that this way would be in any way inferior to this product. Indeed, I would anticipate it being superior as all light would be excluded by virtue of the enclosed bellows.

  • Wilson Laidlaw July 1, 2019 at 8:48 am

    I use an old E. Leitz device made for film copying called a BEOON. It basically is a device which holds the camera on a pillar with a threaded screw adjustment on the pillar (plus a locking device) to adjust the camera height above the table, where you can insert different frames for different size films. It has both L39 or M bayonet fittings plus a range of camera adapters that fit on the plate at the top of the pillar to mount any Leica camera from a 1920’s model A to the latest L mount digital cameras. Below the plate, you can fit various supplied extension tubes A, B, C and D in assorted combinations to suit the focal length of the lens on the end of the extension tubes and the size of negative/film image to be copied. I use a Schneider Kreuznach Componon S 50mm/f2,8 high quality enlargement lens with an L39 mount for 35mm film, as these lenses tend to have very high resolution and a very flat focus field. The whole device sits on an 5000ºK LED light panel. With this set up, I can scan 36 images in around 2 to 3 minutes with my full frame 24MP Leica SL camera. Obviously you have to set the camera to fixed ISO and a pre-set colour temperature rather than AWB. I have found these scans superior to anything other than individual drum scans or scans with a Hasselblad Imacon Flextite. If you would like to know more there is a good write up of the BEOON here: http://sculptingwithlight.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-other-day-i-bought-leica-beoon.html

    • Wilson, a nice set up to use. Sadly, the BEOON is not easy to find now, or cheap. Enlarger and macro lenses both work on the same principle, and it is a good point because a good enlarger lens is likely to cost far less than a good macro lens!

  • I strongly support this effort and have ordered the Film Carrier Mk 1 through Kickstarter. Anyone who is putting their passion, money, and sweat into developing good products for film photographers should be supported in my opinion. While it is true, that you can put together a less expensive rig to scan negatives with a digital camera dealing with loading and changing film strips is a pain and quite time consuming. My time is worth something to me, and this device costs less than an inexpensive kit lens. So I wish them well, and hope they reach their goal so that they will also produce a 120 film version.

    Article Typo Alert! Sorry to pull out my English teacher red pen, but, the proper word for describing holding the film tightly in the carrier is “Taut” not “Taught”. OK, OK, the red pen goes back in the pencil drawer now!

    • See, this is what happens when you’re editing at 1am. Thanks for pointing it out. Corrected!

    • Steve,

      Nope, the word you’re looking for is “firmly”.😊 Technically, 35mm film can’t, nor is it intended to be, stretched, so it can’t be pulled taut. Now if film was elastic, then yes, but it isn’t. Ah, isn’t English a fun language.

      • Terry, the substrates of films do stretch and contract, albeit very minutely. One of the issues with the behavior of film substrate is that it is not perfectly elastic (IE, it will not return to precisely it’s original dimensions in the event of being stretched), and the tendency for the cellulose base layer to change dimensions (even minutely) has been accounted for by manufacturers of photographic film for ages.

        The article below was originally presented at a Kodak company conference in 1958, and they acknowledge that substrate expands, contracts, and stretches. The entire formulation of the film is designed to account for the fact that all of the component parts are at least somewhat elastic.

        http://albumen.conservation-us.org/library/c20/calhoun1959.html

        While its modulus of elasticity is more akin to a piece of aluminum than to a rubber band, it is still somewhat elastic, so even by your definition of “taut” (which I also believe is wrong), film can be drawn taut and held under tension.

        • Chris, please look up the dictionary definition of taut.

          What is being discussed is the stability of the material. I don’t dispute the fact that film does not stay the same dimensionally, but it is more a question of expansion or contraction due to the change in ambient temperature and/or humidity levels. These changes in film are more for technical discussions and so fine that for the purpose of this discussion are totally irrelevant in the context of this product.

          By your reckoning steel railway tracks are elastic. Yes?

          • I looked it up in the OED. Definition 4a. for the adjective is “stretched or pulled tight; not slack or loose.” The point is that the strip isn’t slack or loose in the carrier, but is pulled tight (as a strap with marginal elasticity could be pulled tight). I imagine I’ll next have to look up “slack,” “tight,” “pulled,” and “loose” in the OED, or we could just leave the etymological semantics aside and say that “taut” seems to be reasonably acceptable to describe the characteristic of the filmstrip when pulled through the unit. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            As to the tracks, steel does have a degree of elasticity and, in fact, elastic steel components (like “elastic rail clips”–this is literally what these parts are called) are essential for load-bearing and part-life extension.

            I’m all for arguments about linguistic precision, but substituting the verb “taut” for the adverb “firmly” doesn’t seem to be one worthwhile!

          • Terry, steel is elastic by its nature, so that is a horrible example. It’s the elasticity of different types of steel is key for choosing the correct material for a given application. This is measured using the Young’s Modulus of Elasticity. This handy chart breaks down the elasticity of a wide variety of common materials:

            https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/young-modulus-d_417.html

            I also looked up the dictionary definition of taut before I replied to you. You are simply reading an implication that is not in the definition, and your certainty in your position is not warranted.

          • Terry- additionally, Fujifilm discusses their use of collagen in their film products as a means of maintaining elasticity in the product over time. If the film were not meant to have at least some elastic properties, I should think that would not be necessary:

            https://rctom.hbs.org/submission/fujifilm-transformation-from-a-photographic-film-maker/

      • Well, whatever it is, it’s not “taught” which was the original typo! =)

  • Well, looks interesting, but for the workflow and when you’re shooting a lot (like I do) it’s really not the solution for scanning a lot of films quickly….
    I use the Epson V800 & Silverfast Pro, I can scan 24 pictures in one batch, adjusting easily the resolution, quality (TIFF) and tonality of the scans, using the MX function of Silverfast to get more latitude in the highlights and shadows. Cleaning and the scans afterwards in Photoshop with the SRDx plugin for removing the most of the dust and particles… so, this negative supply carrier is absolutely not what I need as it would terribly increase the time I need to scan all my films…
    And about the quality of scans, of course, flatbeds scanners aren’t the absolute best solution to get the highest scan quality of your negative, but it’s very good enough to publish on a website, FB or IG, and if I want to make a print of some of my shots, I rather go to the darkroom having a direct print from my negative…

    • Hey, Stéphane! I’m surprised you’re getting 24 frames per scan with your Epson! What negative holder are you using? Or maybe you’re wet mounting?

      In my experience, the flatbed scanning (even using Silverfast) is pretty time consuming just for the time it takes to get a scan. I was personally never happy with the sharpness, grain detail, and color. That said, I never used holders other than Epson’s own and I was not using a plugin like Negative Lab Pro.

      With a DSLR and the Negative Supply carrier, photographers have been able to capture a 35mm roll of 36+ exposures in three minutes producing. RAW files and a Lightroom tether. Seems pretty fast, but I know everyone has their own workflows that they’ve perfected.

      • Drew, you have to be correct regarding the timing. It’s not possible to do full scans in the time alleged. My 9950F can scan 30 negatives in a single pass, 5×6 exposure strips, but no way will it do full scans in such a short time. It does index preview scans very fast, but depending upon the chosen dpi, and grain dust and scratch removal, if selected, it can take anything from 90 seconds to a full 10 minutes per scan. I’ve no idea how this would compare with modern flatbeds.

      • Hey Drew, I use the holders from the previous version V700 that has 4 lines of 6x35mm per line, a 6x120mm (in 6×6 format) in 2 lines, and a 12 mounted slides one. Never liked the actual holders that came with the V800, there’s less frames for each kind of film and I absolutely dislike this plexiglass on the holder to keep the film flat, it just adds a lot of dust and particles to the scans.
        For the time needed, all depends in which resolution and output you scan it. If it’s jpeg at 300dpi x800% for the size it’s quiet fast (but can’t give you a precise time, but I think around 5-10mn) If you scan in TIFF 16bits/48bits and with the MX function and at 300dpi x1000% size, it’s quiet longer, of course (estimated around 30mn, but it’s not a problem for me, as I launch the whole 24 batch, and do something else meanwhile, kind of multitasking…), with pretty good scans you can work on and largely sufficient if it’s for online publishing. And I even made some prints from these scans in a relatively large size (up to 80cm large) and it’s really ok! Of course, it’s all about habits in each ones workflow, not only about time efficiency…

        • Gotcha! I didn’t know about the 4×6 holders; not bad!

          If you’ve got a good process in place, then it makes sense to keep using it!

  • CHRISTOS THEOFILOGIANNAKOS July 1, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Looks well-made and easy to set up and operate, but keeping the film stretched and flat is only one part of the equation, there is no obvious means of attaching a DSLR, let alone keeping it parallel to the film plane. At that price, given the need for some sort of DSLR holder, a light source plus the DSLR (I for example shoot lots of film but I don’t have a DSLR) and a good quality macro lens, the cost quickly skyrockets. Even with their limitations, dedicated 35mm scanners like the Plustek or Reflecta machines plus some time spent in post-processing (which is needed anyway) are an overall easier (and potentially cheaper)method of digitizing 35mm films. Expensive Epson flatbeds like the 750 or 850 (at comparable cost for the whole setup) have the added bonus of being able to scan 120 film as well, so even if results for 35mm are (marginally) inferior, I think they still present a more cost-effective solution.

  • At that price tag, you can purchase a decent flatbed scanner or PlusTek. I can see how this might be a faster system (snapping images with your camera is indeed faster than scanning), but the system does not have a reliable camera mount for aligning your camera. I think the product needs some work, but is an interesting idea. I also know nothing about how scanners work and if there is anything lost when using a camera vs. a scanner.

  • I haven’t tried the Plustek Opticfilm 120, but I own the 135 version, and I LOVE it. The scans it produces are very sharp and accurate, nothing like the grainy mud I used to get from my flatbed. If I had the money (I’m not a professional photographer), I’d buy the 120 version in a heartbeat. I think it’s THAT good. Silverfast 8 is also bundled, which makes Opticfilm 8100/8200 unbeatable for its price IMHO.

  • Hmm. I think it would be extremely helpful if they actually showed it in use. With a digicam attached copying the film. I dont see how they maintain planarity with the film and camera. And of course you still need to supply camera, macro lens, light source.
    I use the Nikon ES-2 film copier which works perfectly and very simply with my 60mm macro lens. It is very quick to use and costs $150-ish. And because it is attached directly to the lens planarity is not an issue.

  • Such mixed comments so far.

    I think if you want a thing that does what that thing does, it does it better than any thing that does that.

    By which I mean; if you have a studio setup with a light table and a camera stand, you’d be looking at all that and thinking, “wouldn’t it be great if there was something to hold negatives flat and in steady light that I could easily advance through frames of an uncut roll of negatives and snap photos of them?

    This product is really well designed, easy to use, and invaluable…. for about 0.5% of the people who shoot film and scan negatives. (or some similar exaggeration thereof unbacked by real statistics, but you get the point)

    Personally if I already had the light table and the studio stand I’d just buy two pieces of glass, a roll of paper towel, and some window cleaner and I’d fully acknowledge the MK1 is a better product while doing so.

    If the makers are reading; great product. you’re 80% of the way there. Build a light box into it (it wouldn’t be that hard, really) and an adjustable armature built around a 60 to 105mm macro lens that uses a Manfrotto or similarly common tripod base plate system, and because of top heavy-ness, make it work horizontally so it doesn’t tip over and smash your camera.. Pretty sure you could add simple lights and an armature for under $200 and a sub $500 film scanner is quite reasonable, especially if it fits in a drawer when not in use. I live in Vancouver, the MOST EXPENSIVE CITY IN THE WORLD (cost of living vs avg income) and I’m not giving up any of my square footage to a light table, but there’s some space on the shelf in my closet for the scanning rig I’ve described…

    To be clear though, what’s been designed and marketed is really good, brilliant even, for doing what it purports to do. It’s a really good product. I just don’t think it helps the vast majority of us who shoot film and are looking for a way to scan our negatives more effectively.

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