If you look through Father Pitt’s archives, you may see that Father Pitt used to do many of his pictures on film with a motley collection of ancient cameras. Lately those cameras have not seen much use, largely because Father Pitt’s old transparency scanner died, and it’s expensive to get a scanner that handles medium-format film.
A while ago old Pa Pitt heard of a photographer who used a light table and a digital camera to digitize large-format negatives. Would the same technique work for medium-format negatives? It might, but would one want to invest in a decent light table without knowing that it would? It would be better to have some proof of concept, as an engineer might say. If only it were possible to create an inexpensive light table, good enough to try out the idea and see whether it might work…
Father Pitt stared for an hour at the screen on his laptop computer, looking through various Web sites for ideas for a home-made light table. They all seemed to require materials that would cost almost as much as a commercial light table.
And then, after many sites, a light bulb suddenly lit up over Pa Pitt’s head. He was staring at a laptop screen. A laptop screen is a backlit flat surface. If we open up a blank text document and maximize it to fill the screen, we have a light table. Father Pitt was tempted to slap his forehead, but feared the effects on his periwig.
Here’s a picture of the Westinghouse Memorial in Schenley Park, taken on 120 film and digitized with the laptop light table and a digital camera. Obviously the laptop light table is not a permanent solution: you can see the pixel grid too clearly. But for a quick look at what’s on the negative, it works surprisingly well. More importantly, it shows that a proper light table would probably be just as good as a mid-priced film scanner, and much cheaper.
So Father Pitt’s 620 Special and his Speedex and all his other favorite cameras can come out of their forced retirement. It turns out that there’s an astonishingly cheap and simple way to digitize medium-format film.