How to build a DIY 4×5 large format digital scanning back from a portable flatbed scanner

Mar 13, 2020

John Aldred

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.

How to build a DIY 4×5 large format digital scanning back from a portable flatbed scanner

Mar 13, 2020

John Aldred

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.

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Large format film still holds a huge draw for a lot of photographers. It has a look that the relatively tiny digital sensors today (yes, even the medium format ones) just aren’t capable of. But shoot large format on film can be a laborious task. For many, the end result is worth it, but if you want slightly more immediate results, digital scanning backs are the solution.

The problem is, digital scanning backs for 4×5 cameras can be very expensive (and they’re not exactly common). In this video, Sean at Fotodiox shows us how we can turn a simple small portable flatbed scanner into a digital scanning back for a large format camera.

This isn’t a completely inexpensive proposition, because the “scanning back” is based around modifying a portable flatbed scanner that costs around $180. But it’s still much cheaper than it would cost for a more commercial solution, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The process involves grinding the glass on the top of the scanning bed using 600 grit silicon carbide powder to turn it, essentially, into a ground glass focusing scree and then mounting it to the back of the camera where you’d normally put the holder that contains the film. It then scans the image projected by the camera onto the ground glass. This is similar to how 35mm lens adapters worked with small sensor video cameras.

There are many ways you can attach the camera to the scanner, and some may involve losing infinity focus, depending on how brave you are and how comfortable you are with modifying your camera and the scanner – and if you end up buying one specifically for this project, grinding the glass will almost certainly void your warranty – but ultimately you’ve got a large format digital camera.

The resolution isn’t very high with this particular scanner, offering only 300dpi for an image around 1500 x1200 pixels. You do still get that large format look with the super shallow depth of field and wide angle of view, you just don’t get the super high detail often associated with large format film. There are other scanners out there, though, that you might be able to modify, which do offer higher resolutions. The main advantage with this one, though, is the portability, requiring only a pair of AA batteries and having the ability to save its scans internally to an SD card. So, you can use it anywhere.

If you want to go a little more advanced, using a similar principle, check out this Instructable.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

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.

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2 responses to “How to build a DIY 4×5 large format digital scanning back from a portable flatbed scanner”

  1. Ignasi Jacob Avatar
    Ignasi Jacob

    Joan Linuxbcn Martínez

  2. Gary McMullen Avatar
    Gary McMullen

    Then why talk about it?