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OpticFilm 120 vs. Flextight X5 - Round 2

the plot thickens

in Scanning , Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Last week I published the first part of my Plutek OpticFilm 120 vs Hasselblad Flextight X5 scanner bake-off. The results from scanning XPan frames were surprisingly close, with the X5 subjectively winning by a whisker.

The key word in the above paragraph is “subjectively”. Because film scanning is nothing if not subjective. While preparing this second part, I once again fell down the rabbit hole of comparing output from different scanners, different software, different settings, reproducible bugs, irreproducible bugs, and indifferent customer support.  I learned, or-relearned, a couple of key points about scanning, which can be summed up by saying that magic features - like “multi-exposure” - generally don’t work. It’s better to keep to the basics.

That out of the way, this time around I’m going to look at two Medium Format scans, a Portra 400 negative taken with the Voigtländer Bessa III 667, and a Provia 100F positive taken with the Linhox 612.

First up, the Portra shot. This was taken in a secluded spot in Venice, far from the tourist gyres.  Note, you can click on any of these images to see them in larger size on Flickr.


Left: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), right Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

In this case I decided to apply a simple grey balance using the same reference (the letter box in the background, on the right) in Silverfast HDR for the OF120, and in FlexColor for the X5. For the OF120 I used Silverfast’s Negafix Portra 400 profile, for the X5 I used FlexColor’s Portra 400NC. As you can see, they’re pretty close. Preferences are subjective. I could show you a similar frame from my Sigma DP0, and you would see that there are differences, but if I went down that path it would never end.

So, what about detail ? Well, I decided to zoom in on the notice in front of the staircase. Since the OF120 allows a scan a 5300dpi, and the X5 only at 3200dpi, the size at 1:1 is different.


1:1 zoom - left: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), right Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

The extra resolution of the OF120 doesn’t really seem to add much, here. But it might be interesting to downsample to 3200dpi to get a better idea.


Matched resolution - left: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), right Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it ? As we saw in the last episode, the X5 is perhaps slightly less noisy, or possibly the diffuse light source is decreasing grain contrast, but in terms of resolution it’s pretty much a dead heat.  The OF120 scan is a little more contrasty, which may give the impression of more detail. On the other hand, it may really be delivering more detail.

So far so good, the Plustek has nothing to be ashamed about.  Let’s move on to the Provia frame. While colour negative film presents substantial challenges in colour representation, it is generally low contrast. Slide film , on the other hand, should present less problems for colour accuracy, but contrast is another matter altogether. Shadow areas can be extremely dense, and detail easily visible on a light table can be completely lost in a scan. Provia isn’t too bad in this respect, but Velvia is very tricky.  It’s just as well that I don’t much care for Velvia.

So, here’s our Provia frame:


Top: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), bottom: Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

You can immediately see a colour difference. The X5 scan is direct from FlexColor with all settings zeroed, and sharpening off. The OF120 scan has had some magenta removed from the highlights and shadows, and contrast reduced slightly. The FlexColor scan is a remarkably accurate representation of the slide on the light table, to my eyes. The greens especially are more accurate. The OF120 scan seems to be lacking a certain amount of tonal separation in the higher midtones. Still, I’m not sure there’s $23’000’s worth of difference.

So what about detail? Slide film is generally sharper than negative film, so this also could be more challenging.  Note, however, I’m not really very familiar with the Linhof 612 yet, and I have some question if I was using an optimal aperture here.


Top: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), bottom: Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

In the above illustration I have downsampled the Plustek scan to 3200dpi. Although contrast and micro-contrast might be playing a part here, I have to - just - give the prize to the X5. Looking at the tree branch, you can see a smidgeon more detail. But let’s face it, unless you make a print the size of a bus, it is totally insignificant.

Note though, if you allow FlexColor to do post-capture sharpening, the gap widens considerably. FlexColor appears to have very good sharpening algorithms, tuned to scan resolution and scan type.  Silverfast’s USM on “automatic” setting is also not so bad. But nowhere as good as the FlexColor / Flextight combination. Still, there are many options for sharpening.

However, there is one area where the X5 nails it. Just as we saw for the XPan slide scans, for shadow detail the X5 wins easily.  In the sample below, I haven’t even touched the shadow depth slider in FlexColor, which can widen the difference still further with significant downside.


Shadow detail - left: Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5), right Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120)

So, from this point of view, it is difficult to avoid envious glances in the direction of the X5, or at least it’s X1 sibling, which is only astronomically priced rather than absurdly.

But wait.  There’s an elephant in the room, keeping very quiet over there in the corner. Well, a very small elephant.  Take a look at this:


Same slide scanned using the Canoscan 9000F

The above version was scanned on the Canoscan 9000F flatbed scanner using Silverfast Ai Studio, calibrated with the same IT8 slide as the OF120. This is straight from the scanner, with all Silverfast settings flat. The colour accuracy is quite noticeably better than the pre-adjusted OF120 version, and it appears to have more shadow depth.

This is a bit scary. So what about resolution ?


1:1 - top: Canoscan 9000F, middle OpticFilm 120, bottom: Flextight X5 (X5)

Well, the 9000F can’t quite keep up, but at less than 1/100th of the cost of the X5, I guess it does a reasonable job. I only really bought the 9000F some years ago because I needed a document scanner, and remarkably it came bundled with Silverfast HDR: this was easily the cheapest way to acquire that software. So really I haven’t paid that much attention to it. It just sits there and does what it’s told. I am vaguely aware that it has a reputation of being rather under-appreciated, especially compared to Epson flatbeds.  These days you can pick up a 9000F MkII, sadly without Silverfast, for just $200. The film holders are truly horrible, but otherwise, it’s pretty good.

So, what about the OF120 vs X5 ? Well, I think the OF120 delivers quite enough resolution. Colour accuracy is another matter. Of course, one could blame Silverfast, but I have used the latest versio of Vuescan as well and have found similar issues. And the same Silverfast delivers much better results with the Canoscan.  I have made a whole series of Portra 400 scans with various combinations, which I may present as addendum, but in that case getting good colour out of the OF120/Silverfast combination proved quite a challenge.

On balance I think the Of120 put up a pretty good fight against the Flextight X5, but at the same time it is not as superior to the 9000F as it should be.  For scanning 35mm film I’d still go with the higher resolution of the OF120, but for medium format, honestly I’d be tempted to recommend the cheap but excellent Canoscan, or perhaps the more expensive but theoretically superior Epson V850 (which I’m tempted to try). One advantage that a dedicated film scanner should have is delivering better shadow depth and tonal separation for slide film. I’m not convinced that the OpticFilm 120 achieves that.

As a final note, I should point out that I haven’t yet extended testing to black & white film. That brings a completely different set of issues, and may well result in very different conclusions.  I don’t generally have much to do with black & white, but since I have 5 rolls of Ferrania P50 to burn through, I may have something to say on this later.

Finally, if you have any questions, feel free to ask…

Posted in Scanning on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 at 01:30 PM • PermalinkComments (13)


Project Hyakumeizan August 31, 2017 - 6:24
This review is a public service - you never know, it may end up saving me thousands of dollars. After all, "good enough" is usually good enough ... Incidentally, I sometimes find that for 35mm film the Plustek 7600/Silverfast combination sometimes gives the Nikon Coolscan a run for its money - especially with hard-to-scan stuff like Kodachrome. Nikon, though, generally does a better job with resolving every detail and with dust speck removal.


David Mantripp August 31, 2017 - 8:21
This type of "investigation" is never ending. I have now noticed that for whatever reason, there is quite some difference between a direct scan from Silverfast Ai, and Silverfast HDR output from a "Raw" version of exactly the same scan. God only knows why, because as far as I can tell the chaps up in Kiel don't. BUT ... there "straight" Silverfast Ai Provia scan is an almost exact match of the film on the Lightbox, and better than the X5 colour. I'm about to vanish for two weeks, but when I get back, at some point, I'll post some more info.


August Kelm September 08, 2017 - 12:05
Any chance of seeing a head to head between the Plustek OpticFilm 120 and the Braun FS120? I haven't seen much about the Braun, but keep hearing about Plusteks giving up the ghost faster than expected (considering the price tag). Looking to upgrade soon and since I can't swing 20k+ for the X5, I'm looking between those two models at the moment. I have considering the V850 as well since my long suffering V500 is still standing after nearly ten years of endless use, however I'd like something better for 35mm as I tend to shoot that more as opposed to 120, though I do shoot that as well.


David Mantripp September 18, 2017 - 9:52
Hi, thanks for your comment, sorry I'm late in replying, I've been offline.
I'm afraid I've never seen the Braun FS120, or any of its close relatives branded as Reflecta or Pacific Imaging. From the little I've read it seems to be ok, but I don't think it has any clear advantage over the Plustek. I believe it has a quoted resolution of 3200dpi for Medium Format, and that it achieves that. If so, it is certainly adequate. However the Plustek delivers a little more (though not the claimed 5300dpi). My impression is that the Plustek build quality and mechanical operation is a bit better as well.
I guess you've seen the review ? It seems quite positive, but I'm not sure how much I trust it. For a start, the guy there has clearly got some sort of vendetta against Plustek. In his comparative comments about the Opticfilm 120 he goes on about "double pixels" - I have no idea what he is talking about. And then he states "With its nominal resolution the Plustek OpticFilm 120 takes ... about one hour for a 6x7 cm medium format scan." - this is complete rubbish. It takes just a few minutes. He also claims that the Braun FS120 and Reflecta MF5000 are different, whereas even the photos on his site show them to be absolutely identical. Still, this doesn't mean the Braun/Reflecta are no good, just that is not trustworthy.
The V850 does seem tempting too, but I've read some quite negative comments about its film holders. And fluid mounting, frankly, is a waste of time. Of course if you want to scan large format film, the V850 is the only economic choice.
It depends how much resolution you want. But a film scanner - any film scanner - will definitely dig more detail out of 35mm than any flatbed available today. Then again, for 120 even the Plustek 120 could be considered overkill.


David Mantripp September 19, 2017 - 8:24
Note on timing - I just made a 5300dpi scan of a 612 transparency - 2.19Gb. It took just over 5 minutes to do the scan (two pass, first RGB, then infrared for dust removal). After this, Silverfast carries on processing and saving for several minutes, during which time the holder can be removed and a new scan prepared. The new scan can be started while the first is processing (Silverfast 8 multi-tasks). So, not as fast as a Hasselblad, but a little faster than the claimed "1 hour to scan a 6x7 frame over at film".


lydasia October 01, 2017 - 3:27
It's awesome, thanks!! And please don't forget that, the Flextight X5 is not only 12.5 or 125 times more expensive, it uses special cold cathode, which costs $700 and has only 2000 hours lifetime...


rosshj January 12, 2018 - 7:47
Would love to know what you figure out here between the two. I’m debating purchasing a Plustek 120, so any more info (than the incredible amount that you’ve already posted) would be much appreciated


David Mantripp January 12, 2018 - 5:35
Hi - in this particular case it turned out that the problem was with Silverfast's Multi Exposure feature. When ME is enabled, colour management gets completely screwed. Turning it off gives identical "baseline" results between postprocessed HDR output and direct output. Frankly I'm not particularly convinced that ME is of that much use anyway. My feeling is that multisampling is more useful, but it's all pretty marginal. Silverfast is a core of very solid software with a whole bunch of marketing baubles nailed on.


Bert Vliegen July 28, 2018 - 9:09
Hi David, how about the shadow detail and midtones, did that improve with the 120? Does the 120 suffer from unsharpness because the negs are not flat?


David Mantripp July 29, 2018 - 1:09
Well, the overall rendering is not all that diiferent to the X5. The X5 is marginally better in the shadows, so if you have absolutely perfectly exposed film maybe the 120 is only giving you 95% potential. As for flatness, first, the film holders are _really_ good and help a lot with flatness, and second, the depth of field of the lens is very wide for a film scanner (which is by design, and is why it doesn’t need a focus mechanism). So, as long as the scanner is correctly aligned, sharpness is good, and even.


Bert Vliegen July 29, 2018 - 11:32
Hi, ok thanks. I currantly scan with a V750 with a better scanning filmholder. I used a Howtek D4000 drumscanner but because of multiple technical failures I dumped that which I really regret. I was thinking to buy a used Coolscan 9000 but they are very pricy. I read a lot about the Plustek but I'm quite worried about the online storys about the focus problems. It seems that Plustek made a hardware upgrade? So you think even with 120 rollfilm there are no focus issues? Would you buy a Plustek over a Epson V750 or maybe the Nikon Coolscan?


David Mantripp July 29, 2018 - 10:03
Hi Bert, If I could buy a new Nikon Coolscan 9000 today with up to date supported software an a warranty, I imagine I would probably choose that. At this point I wouldn’t pay the absurd prices ageing models are offered for on eBay. As for the V750, well, obviously, I didn‘t, so no. (I‘m sure the V750 is a fine product, but for 35mm and 120 film the Plustek 120 is way better. No contest)
As for focus, I don’t see any issues, no. But I am a sample of 1....
Note, I used a Minolta Dual Scan MultiPro for many years, until it finally become too unreliable. This scanner is considered pretty much the equal to the Coolscan 9000. Indeed some think it is better. Obviously I’ve compared Plustek 120 scans with Minolta scans, and worse case scenario is they’re just as good.


Bert Vliegen August 05, 2018 - 11:09
Hi David, thanks for the reply. The prices for a used Coolscan are on the heavy side especially when the chance for a technical failure is becoming greater. Good to hear that your very satisfied with the Plustek, I guess that makes my choice a bit more easy-)