Thursday, July 21, 2016

On Pakon film scanner

Been film scanner operator for ~20 years, I tried many Minoltas, Nikons, Epsons ugly ducklings. I settled on Epson V700 photo for preview and Nikon Coolscan V for the final scans. Using this combo for a few years now, I scanned several hundred rolls and finally got tired of the slowness and the buzzzzzz.

Recently I started looking into the operatorless scanning of a whole roll of B&W 35mm film (I shoot black and white film only, no color). I checked what's available new on the market and >>tested<< Prime Film XA, also known as Reflecta ProScan 10T/10M in Europe. The PrimeFilm XA in theory could scan the whole roll, but in my case it did not work very well. Yes, when positioned right and the stars are perfectly aligned it could produce very nice scans; it also had some intrinsic deficiencies making the process very long, involved and tedious. I returned the PrimeFilm promptly.

Last week I tested Kodak Pakon F135 scanner; this is a pro scanner intended for the photolab market; it hit the shelves a decade ago and use to cost a wopping $12000 new; I acquired a well-used specimen for ~$300.

After some testing I liked the little ugly beast and it stays. Here is what I found out, in a few words:

mine is branded "Nexlab"; its the same Kodak Pakon F135.
A/D Conversion: 16-bits
Output Color Space: 16-bit
Output File Formats: Planar (RAW), DIB, JPEG, TIFF, EXIF, BMP
Digital ICE™ Technology
Color Correction: Kodak Image Science
Scanning Software: Pakon Easy Order Scanning Interface (PSI)
OEM Software Interface: COM
Operating System: Windows XP
Interface: USB 2.0 (Dedicated port recommended)
Light Source: LED
Power Requirements: 90-264 VAC, 50/60Hz
Dimensions: (WxHxD): 8.6x6.7x14.9 in. (317 x 343 x 406mm)
Weight (approx.): 9 lbs. (4kg)

Computer Requirements:
CPU: Intel® Pentium III or AMD Athlon 700Mhz
4 GB (min) hard drive free space capable of 30 MBs sustained data rate
OS: Windows XP or Windows 2000 supported
Memory: 256 MB RAM
Data Interface: USB 2.0

Film Types:
35mm Color Negative and
C-41 Black and White with v3.0 software

Pakon Film Scanners Resolutions and Throughput
35mm Images/Hour                          DICE OFF                DICE ON
1000 X 1500 ppi (Base 4)                     661                    496
1500 X 2250 ppi (Base 8)                     293                    220
2000 X 3000 ppi (Base 16)                    240                    ---

35mm Rolls/Hour *
1000 X 1500 ppi (Base 4)                     27                      12
1500 X 2250 ppi (Base 8)                     20                       9
2000 X 3000 ppi (Base 16)                    10                      --
* 24 exposure
The scanner has XP/Windows 2000-based software comprising few separate applications but since the requirements for the computer power by modern standards are low (see specs above) the system could happily run on a virtual OS. Many did just this but not me; I have older PC with 32-bit XP installed and had zero issues connecting the scanner to it and running the software. All I needed is to free up a few GB of disk space and connect scanner to a USB 2.0 port. After some testing and scanning a few rolls, here is the good and the bad of the Ugly --

1. The appearance of the scanner is extremely cool: yellowed plastic, strange forms; it is hi-tech and vintage at the same time; like a toilet from the soviet space station "MIR" I've seen once in the museum. I imagine the station been ditched; here its on TV, coming down in flames. Against all odds, the thing is in perfect working order and ready for a new portion of sh*t every single moment until the very end! :D
2. Using some strange unfinished piece of code called "TLX Client Demo" it could scan every 35mm frame at 2000x3000 and save it into 16-bit RAW file. (Standard photo Lab software PSI will give you 1500x2250 in 8-bit file).
3. Its super silent.
4. YES! It scans the whole roll fast (under 6 minutes) and without human interaction. Afterwards the framing can be corrected if necessary and selected (or all) frames saved to disk. The automatic framing is very reliable as the system scans the whole roll into one huge piece of data and divides it into actual frames programmaticaly; which brings us to (5) --
5. It is possible to scan panoramas of any lenght, as wide as the length of the film roll.
6. It is possible to scan a strip of 4 (and more) frames. Some reported 3-frame strip scanning but this I have not tested.
7. It is reliable but in case of a problem it is absolutely serviceable and the service manual is available for download.
8. I am delighted with the quality of the scans I got from Pakon while scanning Tri-X rolls. The grain is very nice, better than CoolScan's which I never liked. Nikon's grain is too sharp and too contasty for my taste. Tone-wise Pakon's scans are also great, most of the images can be used without much post-processing. And, if I still need a bigger scan...well, I do have Nikon :)
9. There is an active FB group dedicated to the scanner:

1. Its a decade old and could break.
2. to put you remember Windows 2.0? Well, I do. Nevetheless, I can live with it, and after few rolls I even liked it. I am an old IT rat. I have seen worse.

Here's a couple of examples, as scanned, without any post-processing:

I have not tested color and Digital ICE since I do not shoot color film anymore.

There are higher grade pakons out there (F235, F335): same resolution, more speed. I almost ordered the F335 but decided on F135 because of the size and weight. F335 is too big for my office.



  1. Thanks, Emir. I am a black and white photographer as well shooting primarily Tri-X. I have a Pakon 135 but was concerned with I saw it scanned C-41 B&W and other sites were iffy on on other Glad to hear you are having no problems scanning Tri-X. Are you using version 3.0 of the software? Thanks.

    1. Hi Doug, I am using Pakon more and more. I have F135 (non-plus); I installed the 3.0 from the CD but I now use the TLX software only, the latest I could find, to scan at 2000x3000 res. I tested 16 bit scanning and it worked but I scan at 8bit -- I have Nikon V if and when I need a tad better quality. For TLX, I also use some scripts I found in FB group dedicated to the scanner.

  2. Emir, this is great. Where did you find this machine?

    1. Got it from AAA Imaging Solutions on eBay. They supply it with 90 days warranty.

  3. Thanks. Do you think there is any reason to get the plus over the non-plus version?

    1. yes, the plus is faster and it could scan higher res with regular software. Non-plus is good enough for my load of few rolls/week

  4. I just ordered one, Emir. We'll see how it works.

  5. HI, I was wondering where you found the service manual?

    1. in the Pakon FB group, in the file section of it. Send the request to join the group; once approved, you'll be able to see all files.