My Thoughts On the Pakon F135+ Film Scanner
One question that seems to come up a lot within the analog photography community these days is whats the best way to scan my images? And the answer to that has a lot to do with what your final plan for the image is. Most of the images I take are going to end up on the web, but I also like having the flexibility to print them later on. I've tried a few different options now before deciding what works for me, so I figured I'd do a few entries on the equipment that I use, and my process.
To start it off, this entry will be about the Kodak Pakon F135+ film scanner. This was the first film scanner I bought after I got back into shooting film. I have since moved up to a Noritsu LS-600 which I'll cover in a later entry, but the Pakon is still a very good unit, and may suit your needs.
What The Pakon Is
The F135 was introduced in the early 2000s and sold under a few different brand names including Kodak, Pakon, and Nexlab. It was intended for the minilab / 1 hour photo markets as an easy way for lab operators to produce photo CDs. Eventually the F135+ was introduced, which was slightly faster and could scan at a higher resolution (kinda, more on that later). There were also larger F235 and F335 models produced which could scan faster, but they are relatively rare compared to the F135 and F135+.
When they were new the Pakon was an expensive machine costing several thousand dollars, but as film fell out of style and digital took over minilabs began to sell off their old equipment. Pakons could be had for as little as a couple hundred dollars. Recently though, as the popularity of film began to resurge, and people began to look for ways to scan their negatives at home, the prices have picked up quite a bit, with the average F135 going for $600-$800 and the F135+ for a few hundred more than that.
Using the Pakon after it's setup is fairly simple: start the included PSI software, assign your roll a number, set your scanning options (I always left mine on maximum quality), and click scan. Feed the film in on the right hand side and it will emerge on the left and coil into the bowl at the front of the machine. After about 5 minutes you'll be presented with a screen full of thumbnails, select the images you want to save and you're done! I think this simplicity is one of the biggest reasons for the popularity of these machines recently. With that being said, there are a number of other Pros and Cons...
Pros and Cons of the F135+
Whatever the Kodak color magic is that they've weaved into this machine is - It works. The color is consistently excellent. I hardly ever had to tweak the color after the fact. This shot is straight out of the scanner with no editing, as are all the samples at the end.
Speed and the ability to scan uncut rolls
The Pakon can scan an entire 36 exposure roll in about 5 minutes. Nothing else comes close to this speed. The entire machine is designed around the ability to scan uncut rolls, and while it can scan strips, you should design your workflow around scanning the uncut roll and then trimming afterwards.
Look at the comparison picture above. That's pretty much all that needs to be said on the topic. I actually bought it when I was out of town and brought it home in my carry on luggage. It's half the size of the Noritsu and a quarter the weight. It's also a simpler machine with relatively few moving parts.
While these days it's easy to take USB for granted, but many film scanners of the era relied on SCSI connections which basically don't exist on modern machines. Even the FireWire connections that some later scanners used are becoming hard to find. This could be a deal breaker for those who need to be able to use the scanner on modern hardware with a virtual machine.
The Pakon comes with two software packages and the driver, all of which are Windows XP only. While some people have had luck running it within a virtual machine, I found that it was most reliable when running on it's own dedicated PC. I was lucky enough to have an old notebook available which ran the software perfectly.
The primary application PSI is relatively easy to use but has certain limitations, particularly if you have one of the earlier F135 (non plus) units.
The second piece of software is called TLXClientDemo, and I'm not exactly sure what it's original purpose was, but if you want full res scans on a regular, non plus unit, you'll need to use this software. You also need to use this software if you want to scan half frame, panoramic, or b/w negatives. TLX is not as intuitive as PSI, although there is a very dedicated Facebook group which has come up with a number of scripts to automate some of the more tedious operations
The plus model will scan a standard frame 3000x2000. That's as good as it gets. The non plus model will do the same, albeit slower, if you use the TLX software. If that's enough for you then look no further, if not you'll need to look for a different scanner. This was one of the reasons I eventually moved to the Noritsu.
No Native Support For Slide or B/W Films
The Pakon out of the box will scan C41 color negative films and C41 based black and white films. There are scripts and techniques which have been developed to scan true black and white negatives, as well as positives, but they complicate the scanning process significantly, and produce varying results
In my opinion the number one reason to go with a Pakon over the alternatives is its speed and its simplicity. At the point where you have to start using third party software and scripts I think you would be better suited with a different machine, at least, I decided I was.
All of these images were taken straight out of the scanner with no post processing.
The Pakon F135+ is a great scanner and even though their prices have skyrocketed in recent years, I still think they are one of the best values available. Whether or not I would recommend one to you depends on a few questions though:
- Do you shoot mostly color negative film?
- Do you shoot mostly standard frame sizes?
- Do you shoot mostly for the web or small prints?
If that's you then I think the Pakon is a perfect fit. If like me, you find yourself shooting lots of positive film, B/W, or non standard frames (XPan review coming soon!), you may want to look at other options. I ended up settling on a Noritsu LS-600 which I'll cover in a later post.
If you're thinking about getting a Pakon or looking for help getting yours set up your first stop should be the very helpful Facebook group which was my primary resource while I owned mine.