The Coolest 1990s Film Scanner To Work With Windows 11

Unless you happen to be a retro enthusiast, it’s fair to say that any photography you do (whether on your phone or a dedicated camera) is going to be digital. The world of photography has all but completely moved away from film, but the transition was not instantaneous. Instead there was a period of about ten years from the mid-90s when film and digital existed side-by-side in some form. A profitable sideline for photography shops was providing scans of film, and there were a series of high-end scanners aimed at that market.

[Kai Kaufman] shares the experience of making one of these work with a modern Windows version, and it’s interesting both because of the scanner itself and the epic tale of software detective work required to bring it up to date. The scanner in question is a Pakon F135, the product of a Kodak acquisition, and an all-in-one device that simply spools in a roll of film and does all the hard work of identifying the frames, cropping the images, and reading any other data from the film.

You may never have seen one of these machines, but if you ever had your photos on a CD as well as printed back in the day you’ve probably had its output. The problem in 2022 is that these machines have drivers which only work with relatively ancient 32-bit Windows versions, so most of the write-up involves some significant detective work into the drivers.

Not every reader will be an expert on Windows driver de-compilation, but perhaps the most interesting pieces of the puzzle come from his detective work in finding the origin of some components. Example code from Microsoft and from a chip design company both make the job much easier, and the final result is a fully functioning 64-bit driver for the device. Not many people will have a Pakon film scanner, but for those who do it seems life may just have become a bit easier.

Thanks [adilosa] for the tip!

44 thoughts on “The Coolest 1990s Film Scanner To Work With Windows 11

  1. “ a period of about ten years from the mid-90s when film and digital existed side-by-side”

    Id say that timeline is a bit early and short.

    I used an early digital camera early-mid 90s; pretty poor, complete novelty. Phone cameras arrived early 2000s, but dreadful quality. Almost no one had digital cameras. I was an early adopter to digital in the 2000s with a compact digital camera; quality was poor and interface clunky. Ditched it eventually and went back to film. I finally moved off film ~2010.

    1. The first “nice” digital camera I used was a Fujifilm camera, 2.1Mpix that used Smart Media card. It took several seconds to save one picture. 1999 IIRC.

      I agree earlier camera like Apple Quicktake 150 (that I still have) were much more primitive with max resolution of 640×480, fixed memory requiring batteries to retain them (no flash memory), no zoom, no focus (fixed distance), requiring lens adapter for close up shots, and all. Film camera were still superior until late 90s when some of the pricier digital camera could take better shots than (for example) disc, 110 and 100 camera still in use and barely competed with APS camera. 35mm SLR was far superior to digital camera for many more years.

    2. Film and digital very much co-existed before digital cameras were common. We would get digital scans of our film images along with the prints. As mentioned in the post, Kodak PhotoCD was a mundane consumer option.

    1. This is a guess: If you have a high resolution screen and a SLR you could probably come quite far with that.
      (The new Polaroid company sells a device that let’s you make Polaroids from photos on your phone.)

    2. Such a thing did exist. I used one on NeXT computers to turn Powerpoint presentations into slides. I don’t recall what the name of the machine was or who made it, but it was a long rectangular box with a film camera back attached to it. The images were painted line by line raster style on a small screen and the camera basically took a picture of it. It was a long process and the exposure time for each slide was several minutes (5-10 minutes depending on how many lines/inch you set it for).

      No idea if any such things still exist now.

      1. I remember seeing one, it was an Epson box with what looked like SCSI connectors (2 of 50 pins Centronics and ID selector) and had Canon SLR camera perma-mounted to the front. All I remember was that this one machine had high resolution mono CRT inside and a color wheel. It take 3 images in separate R, G, and B, rotated the color wheel to the corresponding color, display image for the film to pick up, rotate to next color, repeat until all 3 colors were recorded onto the film, then the film was advanced for the next set of images. SLOW!!!! Today it’s easy to take a screen shot on computers or using gaming dev kit to take screen shots which can be used right away in magazines, posters, promo, or presentations

        Wish I knew what it was called, it was used to make photo or slides of screen from computers and gaming system for magazines at the time.

        1. That was probably a rebranded Lasergraphics Film Recorder. I looked inside such a thing 15 years ago expecting some laser magic and found a boring CRT with a color wheel. The interface is SCSI, designed to connect it to a Macintosh. Prints took a week if you include the time waiting for the processed slides to arrive.

    3. Yes, It’s called an LVT for its original usage of “Light Valve Technology”. Also originally a Kodak product, later manufactured by Durst. Basically runs as a drum scanner in reverse, creating an image on a piece of unexposed film line by line through pulses of 3 LEDs. I’ve got one up and running right now doing exactly what you said– making slides on Ektachrome for old slide projectors– but they can also be used to expose negatives and print insanely high resolution images to paper.

    4. These were called “film recorders” and were a staple of the slide-production shops that made 35mm slide presentations for business meetings… a big business in the years before PowerPoint and video projectors. I used one with a DuPont Vaster Design System (a coffee-table-sizes, custom-built graphics computer) in a corporate job in the late ’80s. The film recorder was a vertical floor-standing unit with a high-resolution monochrome CRT at the bottom, a motorized Pentax film SLR on top, an RGB filter wheel in between, and a GPIB interface on the back. I’m sure film recorders were thrown out wholesale when the business-presentation business went digital, but if you find one, resurrecting it might be a worthwhile project. I still have some slides made on the Vaster and they look great.

    5. Yes. I have a Polaroid FreezeFrame Video Recorder that accepts live video input (15 KHz analog RGB or TTL RGB), lets you freeze the image in internal RAM, then when you are happy with the image you’ve captured, it displays the image as four sequential color-separated rendering, R, B, G, and gray, and rotates a matching color wheel in front of a mono CRT and exposes film in a real camera bolted onto the front of the device, either a Polaroid instant-film camera or a 35mm camera into which you’ve loaded slide film. In the case of the 35mm camera, it advances the frame after all four exposures.

      I have used my FreezeFrame to make title slides generated on an Amiga. It cost me ~$5-$6 at the time for 36 title slides (film cost plus developing) vs $3-$4 each if I sent the graphics out to a service bureau to render and image them for me.

      It’s been quite a while since I’ve _needed_ actual 35mm title slides, but this device does a fantastic job with them.

      https://www.radiomuseum.org/r/polaroidco_freezeframe_video_recorder.html

  2. don’t understand here, they already setup a virtual machine, why not just use or setup a virtual machine in 32bits, to use the older setup and drivers?

    I’ve used that to handle older hardware that newer windows just can’t handle.

    Not putting the effort and skill down here, good learning experience, but can easilly be solved with a whole lot less effort.

    1. Or using 3rd party software like Vue Scanner which can work with dang near anything made in the last 30 years, even if the drivers aren’t available for modern OS. Free to use with limit, monthly fee or one time purchase for more features (the slide scanner requires pro version). I do suggest monthly fee for a small batch (like your family’s 500 slides collection), then cancel. One time purchase is for someone who goes through hundreds or thousands per month.

      disclaimer: I have no connection with Vue Scanner and I am not getting paid to promote this

      1. To correct. The piece of software referred to here is Ed Hamrick’s Vuescan. Which provides a unified interface for film scanning with workflow oriented options and a custom driver which works generically with everything. The supported scanners list is enormous.

      2. Writeup author here – Vuescan is not compatible with the Pakon scanners and I doubt it ever will be. Pakon scanners are very specialized and different from most other scanners that people tend to use. I’m not sure how Vuescan would handle the concept of scanning an entire roll of film – the resulting image would be absurdly large and basically impossible to display or manipulate. This is also why the Pakon software is as complex as it is – there’s so much extra work involved. Implementing all of that into Vuescan would be a monumental engineering effort, not to mention a monumental *reverse* engineering effort.

    2. VMs are not ideal for using the Pakon scanners because of inherent performance issues in various areas (especially storage.) For a long time, using a VM *has* been a popular method, but only because there was never really any better alternative.

      I would argue that setting up a VM is now *more* effort than just installing the custom drivers (which is an extremely simple process that I plan to announce soon.)

      Also – if we look into the future, who says using a VM will still be a viable option 10 years from now? Things change, and that’s just one of the many reasons to spend time creating a new version of the driver – it provides some degree of futureproofing (at least until support for 32-bit software disappears from Windows, which is so unlikely that I’m not even going to worry about it for now.)

    3. If you do not own a Pakon I don’t think you understand. VM’s only work for some people I never had any luck setting it up with the pakon so I dual boot XP and 7 on my other computer. Many other people do not use a VM, and I never recommend this set up anyways. It’s much better to just buy a 50$ XP laptop and run it with that. The dual boot set up is a complete pain in the ass. I also have to unplug the main HD and only have the xp hd connected to boot to xp, and theres some weird issues with the display drivers. The VM set up has issues with USB drivers and many times it’s difficult to get those to work with the pakon, that’s why VM is never recommended. TLDR it’s a pain in the ass to only use xp units with this scanner and now I can scan on my main work computer without any issue.

  3. Cool! I remember Kodak’s Photo CD, still have some Sample CDs and the Photo CD Access Software for Windows 3.1!

    What’s impressive, the photos were stored in differed formats. From thumbnail size to very high-resolution (4k or 8k for medical purposes?).

    Also, please don’t confuse Photo CD with Picture CD.
    Photo CD was the real thing.

    If that scanner has had a TWAIN driver, it may still be working on modern 32-Bit Windows.
    – Back in the early 2000s, I surprisingly noticed that the 16-Bit Windows 3.1 TWAIN driver (from 93/94) for my Mustek handy scanner still worked on XP.
    I figured that the TWAIN system was a special thing (it’s more of a set of DLLs that real drivers, if memory serves).

    Best wishes from Germany!
    Joshua

    1. I remember when UMAX refused to produce Windows 9x drivers for their parallel port flatbed scanners, claiming it was “impossible”. While they were saying “impossible!” Mustek went and released Windows 9x drivers for their parallel port models. Might even have done drivers for XP too. It’s been a while.

      Some years back I made a contribution to making older SCSI UMAX scanners work on Windows XP. One problem was XP would detect the scanner as multiple devices. That glitch was solved by someone in Australia. The other problem was with the XP drivers not supporting the older models.

      My fix there was figuring out what and how to edit in the .INF to add entries for old scanners, also finding that UMAX had some drivers with modifiable .INF files hidden away on an FTP server in Germany. It wasn’t that the XP drivers *couldn’t* support older SCSI scanners, it was that UMAX just removed the model names and settings lines from the setup file to make them appear to be unsupported. Want to force me to buy a new scanner? We’ll see about that…

      I’ve no idea now where or if the info I put out there on the .INF hacking is still around, or where to get the multiple device detection fix.

  4. It seems that he did not release the updated drivers and application. A pity as a friend of mine is desperately trying to get his old xp laptop working again to use the scanner. a newer win10 machine would be soo much easier.

  5. My first digital camera was the Casio QV-10, the absolute bottom of the barrel as to quality. It produced a stunning 640×480 image that was almost impossible to print due to artifacts.
    https://www.theverge.com/2012/9/14/3330924/first-lcd-digital-camera-casio-qv-10
    At the 1995 price of $850 USD, I knew I had been robbed.
    Over the years, I purchased several “Flat Bed Scanners” that shipped with attachments for negative and positive film types. But again, not a barn burner as to quality.
    As I recall, Kodak was involved with early prototypes of digital images yet hung onto the chemical side of the cash cow. One year a COMDEX, Kodak hosted a large booth filled with film developing “Boxes” that were to be used in Target like outlets and local Photo shops. Try and find one these days.
    Like many I moved to a digital camera for my image needs.
    My Nikon Z6II performs quite nicely.

  6. I used a similar film scanner at art college around 2002 to scan dia film positives, by that time digital slr camera’s were still catching up to the resolution of film. I used an Canon 1D mk I back then, I think it had a 3 megapixel image sensor.
    Also, series and films shot around that time (late ’90 and early ’00) were transitioning to digital (HD resolution was hot). I remember that movies shot on film looked much sharper than the digital newer films. Series and movies for tv shot on film could be remastered for HD and even 4k pretty wel since the resolution was there, but when shot on digital there was little gain in remastering aside from some noise reduction and coloring.

  7. I have a minilab and use a pakon F135 film scanner and currently use it connected to a standalone windows xp machine. I would love to be able to acquire the application and the drivers to connect to a win 10 machine..how would I go about that?

  8. The resolution on these are exactly 6 megapixels so they’re probably best for making “contact sheets” if almost any other real film scanner is available. Given that real film scanners are kinda LosTech it’s more than acceptable though.

    1. You’ve never really used a Pakon I think. There’s much more to it than just the resolution. It’s the color rendition, the speed of it, the ease of use and 6MP is enough to get pretty nice prints. Back in 2005 my Nikon D70 was 6MP as well which is still usable for small prints.

    2. ….lmao have you ever seen a pakon scan??? Theyre more than capable of printing fullsize and are also great for digital display. The colors are unbeatable especially for the speed. You people talk without knowing anything about what youre talking about. Other film scanners take ages to scan a single frame, the pakon does a whole roll in 5 min.

  9. I’ve felt the pain of having hardware that only had a 32-bit Windows driver.

    I have a Needham’s EPROM programmer that connects via USB. It dates to the early ’00s, back before stuff like libusb made it a user-privilege interface. So it needs a driver to communicate over USB. They then got bought up by some other company that immediately discontinued everything. The problem is that all this happened just before 64-bit was a thing, and the driver is 32-bit. I’m sure it’s probably a general driver that handles parallel port connnections too, but it’s only around 10K bytes.

    I deal with it by using a crappy old Dell laptop with XP-32 to run the programmer app, but it bugs me that one of the promises of USB was not having to rely on legacy hardware (like parallel ports) that goes obsolete, yet they still managed to do just that.

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