Drum scanners were invented in 1957 and remain the most precise and sophisticated technology for digitizing film and prints. Though they are complex machines, here is a basic summary of how they work:

1. Film is attached to the surface of a clear acrylic drum
2. The drum spins and the scanning head starts moving across the surface of the drum very slowly
3. As the scanning head passes over the drum, a small point of light illuminates the film which is then recorded by photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) and converted to digital information
4. The scanning head continues moving across the drum one pixel width at a time until the entire film area has been scanned


Photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) are vacuum tubes which detect light and convert it into an electrical signal. This may sound complicated, but consider this: light bulbs consume electricity and produce light, so reverse that and you’ve got a photomultiplier.

What does this mean for your images? PMTs are much more sensitive to light than the CCD sensors found in scanners like the Fuji Frontier1, Noritsu2, Imacon (Flextight)3, and Epson flatbeds4. This results in better highlight and shadow detail, more accurate and subtle colour rendition, improved resolution and sharpness, zero digital noise, and a more natural analog feel to the image.

Trendy labs like Carmencita Film Lab, Richard Photo Lab, and Indie Film Lab talk a big game about how much they love film and analog photography. If that’s really the case, then why are they scanning your film with scanners that are essentially reconfigured digital cameras made by Fuji and Hasselblad?

1 Fuji Frontier models: SP-500, SP-1500, SP-2000, SP-3000
2 Nortisu models: LS-600, LS-1100, HS-1800
3 Imacon (Flextight) models: Photo, Precision II/III, 343, 646, 848, 949, X1, X5
4 Epson models: 4990, V370, V550, V600, V700, V750, V800, V850, 10000XL, 12000XL

Studio Matthew Brooks (SMB) is proud to work with Hudson Grafik Services (HGS) for all services related to our Linotype-Hell (Heidelberg) ChromaGraph S3400. For more information about HGS, please visit their website at hudsongrafik.com. Oh, and tell Karl that I sent you.