Product Review: BetterScanning.com Variable Height Mounting Station

BetterScanning.com Variable Height Mounting Station

BetterScanning.com makes custom film holders for Agfa, Canon, Epson,and Microtek scanners. Specifically, film is mounted to the ANR glass (Anti- Newton Ring) of the Variable Height Mounting Station wet OR dry, and the position of the film/holder is perfectly fine-tuned to each individual scanner for optimized and highest quality scans. For comparison, my film is “snapped” into the stock Epson film holder supplied with my Epson V700, and the holder and scan quality are both marginal at best when compared to the BetterScanning product:

    * the Epson holder plastic flexes (allowing for less-than-perfectly-flat film while in the holder);
    * while in the Epson holder, the film is supported only at the edges, permitting the possibility of ‘gravity sag’;
    * the stock Epson V700 4×5″ film holder is simply NOT TUNED to the scanner’s sharpest focus.
    * the stock Epson 4×5″ film holder CROPS all four sides of your negs/chromes (including image area!), as the film edges are covered by the “frame” of the Epson holder. If you’re like me and compose your images “to the edges” in-camera, then you don’t want a film holder to trim your image area! Let me make this cropping choice, Epson!

Please note that this is not an exhaustive review, and I’m not going to provide any scientific or numerical data beyond the visual: the scans speak for themselves. I have been using the Epson V700 and BetterScanning Variable Height Mounting Station for almost a year, and I’m consistently amazed at the quality gap between these holders. See for yourself…

I posted the photograph (just above, at left) on this blog on December 22. You’re seeing the full image here, with the crops below taken from various parts it. Please note that the cropped samples below are raw scans with basic Levels adjustment (Photoshop) and NO sharpening. The film was dry-mounted to the Variable Height Mounting Station, and the scans were made with identical settings and resolution.

50% resolution crop

LEFT: Here’s a 50% resolution crop taken from the lower left corner. I don’t think I need to say much. Striking, huh?

25% resolution crop

RIGHT: Here’s a 25% resolution crop taken from the lower right corner. Interestingly, even at higher magnification, the difference in quality is fairly slight here, which leads me to believe that my Epson holder may in fact be warped or may hold the film far from perfectly flat.

25% resolution crop

25% resolution crop


LEFT: Here’s a 25% resolution crop taken from near the center of the image. Once again, I don’t think I need to say much.


RIGHT: And finally, here’s one also from near the center, this time at 100% resolution. Again, I say STRIKING!

To my way of thinking, the Epson film holder issue is a typical Epson problem. They make great printers and inks, but Epson papers are under-developed and behind the pack; they make a great black and white printing RIP (Advanced Black & White AKA “ABW”) but it’s not been fully developed (after this many years in production, you’d think you could save and recall ABW settings by now); they make great flatbed scanners (especially for the price), but the film holders are not well conceived and not well-tuned to the scanners for which they’re fit. It’s easy enough to use third-party papers and another RIP, but until the BetterScanning Variable Height Mounting Station came along, one had to live with imperfect Epson film holders and marginal scans or outsource drum scans.

Epson flatbed scanners have always made very capable enlargements up to 11×14″ or maybe even 16×20″, but beyond that, the scan resolution appeared to fall apart. With the BetterScanning Variable Height Mounting Station, even bigger enlargements are possible. I’ll refrain from stating the maximum possible enlagement, since we all have very different ideas of “acceptable” detail and sharpness (“A variable height holder will not turn your scanner into an expensive dedicated film scanner but it will help you obtain all of the potential resolution your particular scanner offers”). However, I’ll still argue that for the most critical output at the largest sizes, nothing will outperform a quality drum scan.

The Variable Height Mounting Station is available for the following Epson flatbed scanners: 1680; 2450; 3170; 3200; 4180; 4490; 4870; 4990; V500; V700; V750. The wet-mount-only holder is only $85, while the wet/dry holder is $120. If you are serious about your scanning, this is a nominal investment to make for a major scanning upgrade. Please note that I do not have any affiliation or business interests with the BetterScanning.com company, nor was I given a free Variable Height Mounting Station or paid for my review – I’m simply an enthusiastic user. How could I not be?

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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15 thoughts on “Product Review: BetterScanning.com Variable Height Mounting Station

  1. Michael, thanks for such a complete and helpful writeup. You’ve convinced me. I plan to order the holder tomorrow. I scan a lot of 4 X 5 stuff on the V700 and before that the 4990 and would like to be able to get better resolution from them. This looks like the solution. Thanks again! Bill Stice.

  2. Michael,

    Can you tell me a bit more about how you calibrated the “adjustable” part? Is it basically trial and error until you find the best height? Did you find one common height setting, or do you wind up with unique heights for the legs?

    Thanks, and Best Wishes for the New Year,

    Rick

  3. I’ve been using the BetterScanning mounting station for a couple of years now and I’m very happy with it. There is a definite improvement to be seen when properly wet-mounting a negative compared to the OEM holders (even though mine are decently in focus). It’s also my impression that wet-mounting takes away some dust and that it definitely hides some superficial scratches on the film. Kind of strange comparing to the old-style darkroom, where dust and scratches is “hidden” by using cold-light in the enlarger, with the side-effect of being less sharp. Wetmounting delivers both better sharpness and less visible dust/scratches.

    When I want a fast “contact print” just for reviewing my shots, I normally use the Epson OEM holder, but for anything which I like to print I then make a new scan with the BetterScanning mounting station. (I got a similar BetterScanning holder for 120 film, which can be used for wet-scanning too, even though not intended for wet from the beginning. Quite nice if I want to wet-scan two strips at once.)

    //Björn

  4. “When I want a fast “contact print” just for reviewing my shots, I normally use the Epson OEM holder, but for anything which I like to print I then make a new scan with the BetterScanning mounting station”

    I do the same, Björn.

    Thank you for leaving your comments!

  5. Michael,

    thank you for the review!

    I was holding off for quite some time purchasing a BetterScanning.com module (initially I planned to purchase the MF holder), but after reading your review I pulled the trigger and went ahead with the Variable Mounting Station for my Epson V700 as I am shooting LF too.

    I suppose I was one of those lucky guys that got a perfectly calibrated Epson holder. After a couple of days trial-and error to fine-tune the focus with the variable mounting station, I realized that my original holder is within plus/minus 0.2 mm (quarter turn of the BetterScanning.com adjustment screws).

    From my perspective, the obvious benefit compared to the Epson holder is the flatness of the negative, but the downsides (inconvenient mounting of the negative, the ability to scan one negative at a time and the added cost to the Epson solution) may defeat the purpose of getting the station, especially if one doesn’t suffer from curvy negatives.

    I will be very interested if you or any of your readers can share experiences with wet mounting and the BetterScanning.com station, especially if there are examples to display the difference.

    Thank you!

    Lucho

  6. Michael,

    Thanks for the review and for pointing out the obvious benefits of the BetterScanning holder. As one who has been soldiering on with the stock Epson effort (basically out of laziness, if I’m being honest) I feel it may finally be time for an upgrade.

    One thing that has struck me about Epson’s holders is that they hold the film such that the longer dimension is aligned with the direction of scan. Obviously this is likely to cause problems with edge sharpness and I wonder if this doesn’t also contribute to the softness we see with the stock holders. Although the BetterScanning solution is a little more inconvenient to use, it does seem to orient the film in a more optimal way.

    Now, where’s that credit card…. ;^)

  7. I, like Michael, found that my epson scanner was almost optimally configured. The results from a dry mounted bettermount scan are definitely ‘better’ but the improvement isn’t as much as you show in your article. I would suggest that the first step that people should try is to use the epson adjusters and possibly additional slim bits of plastic to adjust the height of their epson holder (see here for an example http://www.photo-i.co.uk/Reviews/interactive/Epson%20V700/page_13.htm).

    This will potentially get you pretty close to optimal but your film may well experience some ‘sag’ so you will need to choose between edge sharpness and center sharpness if your film does sag (obviously centre sharpness makes the most sense).

    Out of interest, do you mount your transparencies/negatives to the underside of the glass? (so that there is no extra glass in the way of the optical path)

    Tim

  8. Tim,

    I personally mount to the underside of the glass, emulsion mounted up (facing away from the ANR glass and respectively – down, when placed in the scanner). I initially tried emulsion down (towards the ANR glass), but I had to extend the adjusting screws almost to the limit. When I tried the other way, I was safely in the middle and didn’t notice any difference in sharpness.

    Lucho

  9. “I, like Michael, found that my epson scanner was almost optimally configured.”

    Wow, those are some diplomatic words, Tim. As you probably know, “almost” only matters with horseshoes, hand grenades, and atom bombs 😉 Scanning is not a place where “close” should be considered acceptable, and IMO Epson needs to ship their higher end scanners with better developed holders (the stock holder is seriously laughable).

    The problem with the stock Epson height “adjusters” is that you get three FIXED height settings. The BetterScanning holder allows EACH separate adjustment to be individually set at ANY height. This holder is superior to Epson’s in every shape and form.

    I’d love to say that I get a commission for advertising and helping to sell them, but I do not. I’m just an enthusiastic BetterScanning user who believes Epson’s holders are far from usable.

  10. “This will potentially get you pretty close to optimal but your film may well experience some ’sag’ so you will need to choose between edge sharpness and center sharpness if your film does sag (obviously centre sharpness makes the most sense).”

    Tim, I highly respect your work and your website shows you know a heck-of-a-lot more about these matters than I ever will, but I think it’s a sad state of affairs when Epson gives us a $1,000 product where we can have one of the other, but not both. And, it’s apparently the holders.

    I “only” have a 4990, which still meets my needs, but their holders are pathetic junk, plain and simple. The BetterScanning holders are, IMHO, a necessity.

    I clearly have friends on both sides of this issue, and I stand with my friends. 🙂

  11. Hi
    Can anyone tell me if betterscanning holders are still available,
    as I have been trying to get in touch with the company hopeing to order a 6×6 film holder for my V700 as yet the company does not seem to be available on the internet, or is there any other people who deals in metal negative holders for scanners.

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