Nikon D850 negative digitizer mode

Nikon D850 negative digitizer mode by Richard Haw

Hello, everybody! Here in this blog post, I will show you how to access the Nikon D850’s unique “Negative Digitizer Mode”. Now, I would apologize for the lack of sound on my video because for some reason my iPhone picked up nothing. So I was talking loudly making sure that you will hear what I was saying but once I got to see the video I was disappointed to find that no sound was recorded! This is probably good news for people who dislike my bastardized “Commonwealth English” accent. Again, my sincerest apology! I will make up for this!

I have been digitizing my negatives using DSLRs for some time now. I have been using the Nikon Picture Control so I will get a positive image when I preview my capture on the camera’s LCD. While this works well with monochrome pictures, I wasn’t very happy with this workflow when it comes to C41 process films due to the heavy amber tint and this requires more time and effort to fix in post but I have gotten used to it somehow (unfortunately) by now and Nikon rocked the boat so to speak when they implemented the new Negative Digitizer Mode.

Update - here is the new video:

Here is the brief video showing how the new “Negative Digitizer Mode” works. I wasn’t planning on making this video so I didn’t have any negatives at hand but I trust that you will quickly pickup what’s going on anyway.

You will have to enter into the Live View picture taking mode and then click the i button to bring out the menu on the right sidebar. Scroll down a bit until you see the icon for the Negative Digitizer Mode. Select which one you want between monochrome and C41 process film and begin capturing! It’s very easy!

As you can see from the picture at the beginning of the post, you will need a lens that is macro-capable and something to secure your negatives. I’m using an old Nikon ES-1 for this but Nikon is coming out with the Nikon ES-2 for strip film. It should be much better because it has a holder for strip film but the price is not cheap at $190.00 ($140 in the US)! Will I buy one? Hell, no!

Before I forget, you will also need to illuminate your negatives so you will need a flash gun. Some people just use bright LED lights or sunlight but I prefer to use my Nikon SB-700 instead. To be honest, anything should be OK so long as you’re illuminating your negatives properly.

Having the Negative Digitizer Mode means that I will spend less time working on the curves and white balance of my capture so that it will look as close to what’s it suppose to be. If you look at the video, you can see that the velvet mat on the table is red and as I point the camera towards it that turns blue because blue is on the opposite end of the colour wheel. The colour also gets inverted when you are in monochrome mode but as the name implies, it is best suited only for your monochrome negatives.

This all looks handy and nice until you realize that you will NOT get the results as a RAW file! I am not sure why because this can be easily be implemented so I am now thinking that this is just an extension of Nikon’s in-camera RAW editing features where post-processes like “Photoshop filters” are implemented and isn’t something that cannot be embedded within the RAW file. This is sad because the whole point for me using a DSLR to digitize my negatives is having the powerful RAW manipulation tools at my disposal like exposure, etc! This should make the purists and the “direct from scanner” crowd happy.

Will I recommend this as a way to digitize your negatives? Yes, of course! It can be very fast compared to a scanner-based workflow and the Nikon D850’s 44MP sensor will be more than enough. To be honest, I can really forget about having the RAW files if the captures look great. I haven’t seen anything yet outside of what is shown on the brochures so I cannot make any conclusions just yet. If I’m going to base it on marketing literature then the results look good enough. If it’s that good that you don’t need to play around with it at post then I am all for it.

Thank you guys again for supporting my blog. See you guys again next time, Ric.

This post was originally published here. Check also Richard's Facebook page. All pictures are used with permission. If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • Spy Black

    I don’t see the point of this in this day and age really. Just get a dedicated film scanner. They’re not that expensive, and even with the modern-day “prefocused” models you’ll still get better results and you can clean up dirt and scratches using the infrared filtration layer in scanners. Additionally, if you use Ed Hamrick’s VueScan program to scan your film, you can save your scan directly to DNG format.

    • Richard Haw

      Nikon should have just made this as a Picture Control and we would have RAW with it. I think the point in doing this is for people who don’t want to spend extra money for a scanner and just want to use what they currently have. Ric

      • SpecialMan

        Indeed. I would love to scan the odd neg or transparency I run across at the back of a drawer, but buying a real scanner is out of the question.

        • You can get a slide copier with a T2 adapter on ebay for any camera as little as £5, nothing new in this article, why pay more, even a top of the line one can be got for £15 pre owned, or MAKE ONE

          • AnthonyH

            How do you deal with the orange masking of negative film with a slide copier and no in-camera correction?

            • I’ve spent many hours researching and experimenting with “scanning” color negatives with my D7200.

              I tried 3 methods of color correction.
              1) complicated photoshop steps
              2) free trial of professional film scan color correction photoshop plugin
              3) manually adjusting color channel curves in Lightroom

              I found that method 3 gave me the best most accurate colors. This was comparing colors between my scan and a professionally scanned JPEG of the same image.

              Specifically regarding the orange mask, I am torn on this. I have read the research from very knowledgeable people and it seems that it really does exist. What I found though is that I could get great colors by pretty much ignoring it.

              Maybe it is image dependent, but the two that I spent many hours processing didn’t seem to hold me back as far as getting pleasing colors. This could be something I have to come back and find a solution for once and for all, but I am happy for now.

            • Photoshop

        • Allen_Wentz

          Just take the “odd neg” to a service bureau. You can get a real scan far superior to what folks like me did on pricey Nikon CoolScans.

          The benefit if scanners is when one needs to digitize _lots_ of film, like we did circa 2000.

          P.S. I hated scanning…

      • Raw is required only if the original is digital file where there is hidden details in lower end tones. As negatives are limited in tonal range and there is no extra advantage, raw is not needed. We can use tiff instead to get the max IQ.

        • Spy Black

          “As negatives are limited in tonal range…”

          Get ready to be crucified by the negative dynamic range police. 🙂

          Seriously however having a raw of the copied image serves the same purpose. There are hidden details in the shadows and highlights.

          • I already have armoured myself for the onslaught. 🙂
            But seriously, there is no extra detail in the negative. At least that is what ancient knowledge(film time) tells us. And whatever extra details are to be squeezed out are to be done in copying and hence recommendation of tiff shooting. In fact that is one very important difference between digital and film. The reason why we can expose digital towards dark and why we needed to expose a negative towards bright side.

            • Thom Hogan

              Let’s not try to rehash history incorrectly.

              Short form is this: film response wasn’t linear. This means that the toe and shoulder have information in them that need proper “printing” techniques to bring out.

            • film response wasn’t linear. Agreed but it also didn’t have radically extra information like digital in it. That is what I was saying.

            • Thom Hogan

              “radically extra information”? Not at all sure what you mean by this.

              But I think you’re trying to say that digital has more dynamic range, which would be wrong. Most of us overexposed negative film (with special processing) in order to take advantage of the non-linearity. What this did is allow us to recover highlights out of the compressed shoulder but add in shadow detail from the toe.

              Moreover, the data was analog ;~). The seriously big thing that most people still don’t even come close to understanding with digital is that we’re not even close to accurate. The cameras are running algorithms in hardware and the converters are running math using 16-bit floating point, best case. If you’ve ever used a real converter running 32-bit floating point that considers the two greens in the Bayer different, you were probably surprised that there was “more” living in your data. Could be even better. But because it’s sampled from analog, it is only an approximation of the original data, not exact.

            • Allan

              If I understand your explanation, we can look forward to more improvements in the amount and quality of data captured in digital photo files.

            • David Ridgley

              ” A release by Kodak showcased that most film has around 13 stops of dynamic range. Today’s modern digital cameras all average around 14 stops of dynamic range, with high-end units such as the Nikon D810 reaching almost 15 stops.May 26, 2015. ” From a search on Google from my Android home page.

          • PhilK

            My longtime understanding of the limitations of color print tonal range was primarily that the final output was almost always a reflective print, which was the main limiting factor.

            Which is why color slides have a wider tonal range: it’s only limited by the tonal range of a paper print if you choose to print them – otherwise if viewing directly with a light source transmitted through the film stock (eg slide projector, loupe, etc) the tonal range is much greater.

            Learned about this in the 1970s by reading Ansel Adams and Fred Picker. 😛

          • Black Spy

            Right. RAW always yields a bit extra, and it provides an original one can always revert back to.

    • This is for people who have got D850. For everyone else, scanner would be cheaper. And of course for negatives, colour corrections may be tricky -with scanner. I don’t know as I have never used one.

      • fanboy fagz

        I had the coolscan 4000 then 5000. you can hack an SA30 full roll of film attachment by jumping a specific wire from one hole to the other and the scanner software recognized it as having an SA30 attachment which cost $450 at the time.

        I opted to not pay and do the hack. meaning, you didnt have to cut the film in strips of 6 frames so it would fit it. I left it uncut then used a ziploc back in front and back and let the machine scan the whole thing. took about an hour for 15mb files.

    • Nick Hall

      I see the point. I have a Coolscan V that I’ve used quite a bit. Count on about 5 minutes per frame for scanning. With this setup it only takes few seconds. Massive advantage. I’ve done this for transparencies with the ES1 and a D800 and the results are very good. And now it looks like we’ll have convenient way to do negatives.

      • Spy Black

        If you have a clean neg or positive it may be advantageous. If the film is dirty or scratched it’s not going to be an advantage. Modern scanners are faster as well.

        • nhz

          I used several scanners including Coolscan 5000 and 9000 in the past. While they can get a little bit extra detail form the slides or negatives, usually the dust/scratch problems were WORSE with the scanner than when using a DSLR with macro lens and good lighting (I used a Durst M605 color enlarger head as slide holder/light source).

          Agree with Nick that there is a massive advantage in time for using a DSLR, simply no comparison. I’m using my DSLR tethered to the computer and I can do 5-10 slides per minute, instead of 5-20 minutes per slide with a scanner. For negatives it’s another story because it is very difficult to get the color and tones right without special software (that has profiles for color negative films etc.). Very contrasty slides can be a problem as well, but Coolscan 5000 doesn’t handle those well either.

          I doubt the D850 trick will work well for negatives if you don’t get a RAW …

    • jvossphoto

      I use a Nikon 5000ED scanner which, BTW costs plenty to buy a good used one, but in order to get results I have to almost always downsample to be totally rid of noise, dust and scratches. With the added resolution of D850 files downsampling will be that much more efficient.

    • Got any recommendations on a good scanner to use?

      I tried using a flatbed and quickly moved on to using my D7200.


  • fanboy fagz

    thats just laziness. no sound, redo the shoot, its 2 minutes long. mediocre mindset.

    • Nick Hall

      Yup I agree. D minus for this “blog post”, more effort required, see me after class.

      • fanboy fagz

        if youre doing a 2 minute video, its not an issue to can record your voice while watching the video and use that as explaining whats going on. simply lazy mediocre mindset. when I did a shanny flash review, I did 5 reshoots of 7 minutes each time. I realize the best way is to shoot and voice over explaining. or do short clips of yourself talking and mix those together.

  • No sound on video, no negative….this is really “A” blogspot. A reasonable good scanner is 200, no need a piece of plastic for it. It’s just a good accessories for those who has no macro lens, because you will buy one. Nikon makes money, and you can play a bit with that scanner thing.

  • Photoman

    This review doesn’t tell us much. Where are the results?

  • Mike

    For some reason I don’t think this will replace my Nikon Super Coolscan 9000ED anytime soon.

    • AnthonyH

      Especially if you shoot medium format film!

      • Mike

        Absolutely! I am doing 6×7 exclusively now. I shoot and develop my own Ektar 100, scan with the Nikon ED 9000, print on a 24″ Epson 7880, and for special jobs, make traditional darkroom prints using an LPL 6700MXL enlarger and processed dry-to-dry using a massive Fujimoto CP32 desktop processor. I might eventually get a 4×5, but I’d have to upgrade to a 4×5 enlarger – likely an LPL 4550XL 4×5″ dichroic for the wet side and an Epson V850 scanner for the dry/digital side.

    • Allen_Wentz

      It depends on what volume you do, and what the end use is to be. If one is digitizing old vacation pictures to distribute to the family, scanning with a CoolScan is best quality and appropriate. If OTOH one is digitizing hundreds or thousands of professional captures for databasing for possible later commercial usage a much faster solution is needed.

      • Mike

        Agreed! I had my 35mm and 6×7 legacy negs and trans commercially scanned – several thousand frames – it would have been insanity to do them one by one, though they never do as good a job as I do – so use the Coolscan 9000 for the frames that matter most, and since then just do them in low volume batches where the Coolscan 9000 shines.

  • Max

    I don’t really get why one would need to scan negs to RAW.

  • you mean slide copier, they have been around since I was a child and before, nothing new here. I agree with Spy Black get a scanner

  • Oh and you do NOT need a flashgun as stated, we were doing this 40 years ago, just point the copier at a gray sky through the window

  • karayuschij

    Review? I did not view nothing… neither I heard.

  • Sorry, I hate to be “negative”, but a well planned and executed article really is the minimum level of content required these days. I would not have posted this until it was complete.

    I have done “scans” using my D7200 and a home made “negative holder” (cardboard box with a hole) and probably could have provided more useful info than this.

    Hopefully the author can complete the article with a full example (and possibly a comparison to other methods) to show us whether this feature is beneficial or not.

  • Peter Cook

    seems to been shot at a Nikon show room !

    • Black Spy

      That’s what I thought…

      • Richard Haw

        it was. there’s actually an adjoining office beside it and a gallery/repair section.

  • Allen_Wentz

    A decade ago I did _lots_ of scanning, and decided scanning sucked, even using Nikon’s best Coolscans at the time. Way too time consuming and b o r i n g.

    The original film is in every instance better than the scan, by definition. So I decided to just database digital photos of the film using a cardboard box, a 105mm micro and a light box for reasonably color-accurate light.

    The captures were pretty sucky, not good enough to use to build ads around. But they were fast, ~6 per minute, and the resultant file could be digitally databased, reviewed by clients, etc. just fine. Then IF an image was selected for use, and only then, the original film could get a quality scan appropriate for the usage; perhaps even a drum scan via service bureau.

    Or if the final product is a one-up print the original film makes the best print anyway.

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