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DIY Film ‘Scanning’ with LEGO and an iPhone

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Want to scan some film but don’t have a scanner handy? You can actually do some high quality digitization using some LEGO blocks, a smartphone or tablet, and a camera with decent resolution. Filmmaker Zachary Antell uses a method using those components, and his results are pretty impressive.

Antell first built a 100% LEGO film holder that contains a thin slot for the film and a large window that a smartphone is placed behind. The film is held a short distance in front of the smartphone because placing the film directly on the phone’s screen can result in pixels and banding showing up in the ‘scan.’

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To use it, you simply slide a strip of film into the slot and place a phone behind it with a pure white screen at full brightness:

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You then photograph the film directly from the front. Antell uses a Canon DSLR and a Rokinon 35mm lens with 2-second exposures.

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He then loads the RAW photo into Adobe Camera RAW for cropping and processing. Here’s an example ‘scan’ Antell did of a film photograph he shot for school:

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After cropping a bit and inverting the image:

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Here’s what he ended up after further cropping and color correction:

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To test out the quality of his method, Antell had the same photo scanned at a professional lab. Here’s what he got back:

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“Obviously sharper but they always over sharpen and contrast. They also crop,” Antell says. “My method is fine until I get a scanner.”

Antell estimates that he can scan a 36-exposure roll of film in about 10 minutes using this method — not bad, given that he has a great deal of flexibility with how the RAW ‘scans’ are processed afterward. He also notes that his results could be improved if he were to use a proper macro lens for the photos.


P.S. Here’s a short film Antell created recently that contains pictures scanned using the rig and method detailed above.


Image credits: Photographs by Zachary Antell and used with permission

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