BlackScale Lab’s BlackBox 120 scans medium format film with your camera
The proliferation of desktop manufacturing tools like 3D printers and CNC machines has done a great deal for film photography. It’s allowed individuals to design and make their own tools to modernize their processes and tools.
That’s the case with the BlackBox 120 (buy here) from BlackScale Lab. It follows on from the company’s popular BlackBox 135 (buy here) for scanning 35mm film. It comes with everything you need, too. Just add camera and lens.
Scanning by camera
Arguments about what constitutes a “scanner” aside, using a DSLR or mirrorless camera in order to produce high-resolution images of film negatives and slides has become quite common. It’s much faster than using a dedicated film or flatbed scanner.
We’ve seen a number of camera-based film scanners released over the last few years. Even Kodak got in on the action with a $40 cardboard box for your smartphone camera. There are also several DIY paths you can go down if you wish.
Or, you could just buy something like the BlackBox 120 from BlackScale Lab.
Built-in High CRI light
The BlackBox 120 connects to your camera’s lens using its filter thread. A range of step-up rings are provided, allowing you to adapt to just about any lens you wish. Obviously, you’re going to get best results with a macro lens, but you could also use extension tubes with a regular lens.
Below your lens is essentially, as the name suggests, a black box, with your film at the bottom facing towards it. Below the film is a USB-powered LED light, which the company says has a high CRI of 98. So, your camera should see the colours of your negative or slide exactly as they appear.
The LED operates at 5000K, so you’ll want to preset your camera’s white balance. This isn’t something you want on auto – unless you’re shooting raw and can change it afterwards. It offers a large 125×100 illumination area below your film.
It supports all 120 roll film formats from 645 up to 6×9 in its own medium format film carrier. It supports lenses up to 140mm in focal length, with height adjustment from 30mm up to 340mm, letting you place the camera at the perfect height for your minimum focus distance and to get the whole frame in your shot.
The easy way to scan
Digitising your images using a camera is certainly the quickest way to do it. Even if you still think using a flatbed or dedicated film scanner offers a better final result, that’s one fact you can’t deny.
Ultimately, it’s going to boil down to a compromise of speed vs perceived maximum quality. For some, being able to share their film shots online quickly will be the priority. For others, they may want more than their DSLR or mirrorless camera can offer.
But the two are also not mutually exclusive. There’s nothing to stop those who normally scan with a dedicated film scanner from using a camera, too. It’s a great way to catalogue and search your film collection quickly for reference, even if you ultimately pull the shots you like and scan the old-fashioned way.
Price and Availability
It would be nice, I think, given the price difference between the two devices, to see a 35mm film tray become available at some point for the BlackBox 120. Whether that will happen or not is unknown. It’s just a little wishful thinking.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.