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Film Friday: Lomography DigitaLIZA+ and Max film scanner review

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After more than a decade in decline, sales of photo film have picked up in recent years. Sure, the visual aesthetic of film, flaws and all, can be faked in post-processing. But an increasing number of photographers have sought out the authenticity of the real thing, as well as the more deliberate and considered shooting style film requires.

At the end of the day, though, we still live in a digital world. Even if our creations start off in the analog domain, chances are we’ll want a digital copy too. Film can also be pricey to buy, develop and have scanned – and as a niche market in an inflationary world, prices are continuing to climb – so it makes sense to find ways to save a little money.

For those who want to dabble without fully committing to all the equipment required for scanning film, the Lomography DigitaLIZA+ ($74.90) and DigitaLIZA Max ($99) both offer a simple and far, far more affordable way of digitizing your 35mm and medium format film.

Kodak Gold 200 Plus Gen 3 negative film from 1992, digitized with the DigitaLIZA+ using a Pentax K-3 II DSLR and 100mm F2.8 Macro lens.

The base DigitaLIZA+ is aimed at photographers who want to use their digital camera to do the “scanning” of their positive or negative film. The DigitaLIZA Max, meanwhile, lets you lock your smartphone in place and use its built-in camera instead. Since the DigitaLIZA Max kit includes all of the Plus kit’s components plus a few extras, this review will focus will on the Max kit and serve as a review of both products.


Key Features

  • Digitize positive, negative or B&W film using your smartphone* or camera
  • Works with 35mm (including panoramic), 120 or 127 film formats
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Backlight powered via USB or AA batteries
  • Bubble spirit level included to help align your standalone camera
  • Smartphone stand keeps phone parallel with film surface*
  • No software included

In the Box

  • Base plate*
  • Smartphone stand with clamp*
  • Backlight panel
  • 35mm film holder with removable spirit level
  • 35mm panoramic diffuser
  • 36x24mm film mask
  • 127 film mask

* DigitaLIZA Max only


The DigitaLIZA Max kit (shown) includes everything in this picture. The DigitaLIZA+ kit, meanwhile, includes all but the base plate (bottom center) and smartphone stand/clamp (top left).

Setup is as simple as it gets

The DigitaLIZA Max really couldn’t be any easier to set up and feels nicely made for the price. There are only a handful of pieces, all of which are designed to fit neatly together in their correct orientations.

The base plate is the heaviest component, ensuring that things stay nice and steady. An extremely smooth plastic slider mechanism atop this plate allows linear adjustment of your film on X and Y axes with only a very slight amount of rotation. (And as soon as you let go the slider straightens itself.)

The column for the smartphone stand slots into the back left corner of the base and is secured in place with a thumbscrew. On my review sample, this thumbscrew had no effect even when fully tightened, but everything was stable regardless.

35mm film strips are fed through the film carrier by rolling the red knob marked “Let’s Roll Together”. It’s marked only for counterclockwise rotation, but actually works fine in either direction.

The smartphone clamp then slides up and down the stand, securing into place with another thumbscrew that, thankfully, worked just fine. Rubber pads on the clamp ensure that it grips your phone firmly but without risk of damage from overtightening.

With the clamp assembled, you then set the backlight panel on top of the slider on the baseplate. Depending upon your chosen film format, you can either start scanning 120mm film at this point, or add another accessory for other film types.

Among the included accessories are frame masks for 127 and 35mm film, plus a 35mm panoramic diffuser and a 35mm film carrier. The latter has a dial at one end which when turned will roll your film through the carrier quite precisely.

As for DigitaLIZA+ users, you’ll get everything except the base plate, stand and clamp, which you’ll need to replace with your standalone camera and suitable tripod or stand.

The 35mm film carrier doesn’t always play nicely with curled film. It’s tricky to show, but if you look beneath the stylus I’m holding in the left image, you can see that the curled film collides with the plastic above the slot through which it feeds (right image).

The 35mm carrier isn’t a fan of curling film

I found that these components mostly worked well together, but there were a few quirks, most prominently with the 35mm film carrier.

While it worked well for the most part, I found that film strips could sometimes get caught while sliding through the carrier. This seemed to happen only with film that had curled, as the end of the film strip can collide with the plastic above the slot through which it exits the carrier.

To get the film to continue rolling smoothly, I had to press gently down on the center of the strip to guide it into the slot. I’d like to see Lomography fix this by giving the entrance to that slot just a bit more of a chamfered edge.

Although the backlight is fairly bright, it’s not strong enough to drown out reflections. You’ll want to keep ambient light levels low and be conscious of any light sources which could cause issues.

I also discovered that curling strips of film would sometimes slip when the dial was rolled, rather than moving as they should. It was easy enough to get them moving again by very gently gripping the edges of the film strip and giving it a little encouragement, though.

I also found that the whole strip could rotate just slightly even when fully within the carrier, which could lead to slight differences in orientation from frame to frame. It’s unlikely to be a real-world issue, but might result in frames needing to be rotated slightly if you’re intending to stack or stitch them.

A bright and even backlight, but watch out for reflections

The backlight panel is quite bright and evenly lit, but it’s not always sufficiently powerful to fully chase reflections off the top of the film from external light sources. Hence you’re best off shooting in a dimly-lit room or, failing that, ensuring that there are no light sources within direct line-of-sight of the film surface.

The DigitaLIZA Max’s smartphone stand holds the phone securely and keeps it roughly parallel with the film, but you’ll need to supply your own app to convert the negative film photos.

Power for the backlight comes courtesy of either micro USB port (at one end of the backlight panel) or a pair of AA batteries that slot into its base. The battery compartment hangs out from one side of the panel with a large gap between it and the base plate beneath. That design decision can cause the entire panel to disconnect from the slider mechanism if the power button is pressed too firmly.

Honestly, the battery compartment feels a bit unnecessary. I can’t think of a good reason you’d want to use the device away from a power source, but even if you did then using a USB battery pack would likely suffice. Still, it likely doesn’t affect the cost by much, and the option’s there if you need it.

The smartphone holder is great and the spirit level’s useful too

The extras included with the DigitaLIZA Max kit make for a quicker and easier setup than with a standalone camera, since there’s no need to fuss with careful alignment to ensure camera and film surface are parallel. You just pop your phone into the holder, tighten it and that’s it.

Unidentified ISO 200 negative film from ∼1996, digitized with the DigitaLIZA Max using a Google Pixel 5a 5G smartphone set at its minimum focusing distance.

Although it’s only supported on one side, your phone will still be held very close to perfectly level. (And the position doesn’t really change from frame to frame as you gently interact with your phone screen.)

Should you prefer to use a standalone camera, you’ll find the included spirit level to be very handy. Simply pop it out of its storage compartment in the 35mm film holder and set it on your camera’s LCD panel.

Once you’ve fiddled around with getting the camera level, then you can move the DigitaLIZA+ into the right position to center the film within your image. It definitely isn’t as quick and easy as with a smartphone, though, if convenience is your primary concern.

With a standalone camera and tripod, you’ll need to do the work of getting things into alignment yourself. Thankfully, the dual-axis spirit level built into the film carrier can be popped out and set on your camera’s display to help make the job easier.

Software isn’t included, and chances are you’ll need it

There is one piece of the puzzle that’s still missing, regardless of whether you’re using your smartphone or a standalone camera: no software is provided, so you’ll need to supply your own.

If you’re just digitizing black and white or positive color film which is clean and unfaded, you may not need anything beyond the camera app on your phone or the JPEG straight out of your camera. But if your film is in less-than-perfect condition or needs to be converted from negatives, you’ll need to supply the necessary editing tools.

Keen photographers shooting with standalone cameras may well have the necessary software already. However, users considering the DigitaLIZA Max kit as a way to digitize their old family photos likely won’t have an editing app aimed at film scanning.

It feels like a missed opportunity for the phone-friendly kit not to include software for Android and iOS users, whether developed specifically for the DigitaLIZA or simply through a partnership with an existing app’s developer.

Medium-format 120 film is fed through the middle of the backlight panel, which opens up as shown on the left. Two AA batteries in the bottom of this panel provide one power source option; the other is to draw power via USB cable.

Performance is definitely a strong point for the DigitaLIZA

One area in which the DigitaLIZA excels is the speed with which you can digitize your film.

With my aging Nikon Coolscan film scanner, a strip of six frames can take upwards of 15 minutes to scan, and even with a modern flatbed scanner you’re looking at ten minutes or so to scan a dozen frames at high quality. But with the DigitaLIZA and a little practice, you can cut that time in half.

I was able to get my average down to just 35 seconds or so per frame, and that’s counting the time to switch film strips, albeit with the strips of negatives laid out and ready to pick up quickly. The ability to get high-quality scans in very little time is clearly a big selling point for the DigitaLIZA products.

Unidentified Fujifilm positive film (likely Provia-series) from ∼1990, digitized with the DigitaLIZA+ using a Pentax K-3 II DSLR and 100mm F2.8 Macro lens.

Scanning old film is slower without the clever hardware tools

But while performance is a strong point, there’s another area in which many film scanners will likely still have a big edge over the DigitaLIZA. It won’t be an issue for those working with just-developed rolls, but for those planning to digitize older film it could be a big deal or even a dealbreaker.

Plenty of standalone film scanners scan your images not just under normal illumination, but also using an infrared lamp to help determine the locations of dust and scratches. This allows them to correct damage to the image automatically, while largely avoiding loss of detail elsewhere.

By contrast, if you’re scanning old film that’s scratched, marred by the growth of fungus or coated in stubborn dust, Lomography’s offering leaves you entirely to your own devices. Each scratch and mote of dust will either need to be cloned out by hand, or you’ll need to spend time experimenting with filtering, costing yourself a fair bit of time and effort either way.

Kodak Gold 100 Gen 2 negative film from ∼1991, digitized with the DigitaLIZA+ using a Pentax K-3 II DSLR and 100mm F2.8 Macro lens.

Image quality will be almost entirely dependent on your camera/phone

Ordinarily in a review of a product aimed at digitizing your film, I’d be focusing in large part on what image quality you can expect. The thing is, with the Lomography DigitaLIZA, image quality depends almost entirely on your choice of smartphone or camera and lens.

Chances are, you’ll get better results from even an intermediate standalone camera and macro lens than you will from a smartphone, simply because smartphones aren’t typically made with macro photography in mind, but rather for more general shooting.

But the quality of those results will likely vary even more between individual brands and models. At least some phones are capable of surprisingly decent macro work and could give a less-than-optimal standalone camera/lens combo a run for its money.

Detail comparison: Nikon Coolscan V vs. DigitaLIZA+ with Pentax K-3 II and 100mm F2.8 Macro.

A real-world comparison with a standalone film scanner

With all of that said, it nevertheless feels wrong not to give any indication of how results might compare to a mainstream film scanner. To give you a sense of what you can expect, I’ve therefore included a couple of 100% crops above and below.

In these, you can compare a scan from my Nikon Coolscan V film scanner (a rather old but still very capable unit with 4,000 dpi resolution) against shots using the DigitaLIZA with a standalone camera and with a smartphone. In all cases, we’re looking at the same frame of 35mm negative film (Kodak Gold Plus 200 Gen 3) shot in New Orleans in approximately 1992.

For the comparison above, I used the DigitaLIZA+ with a mid-range Pentax K-3 II camera and 100mm F2.8 macro lens, aiming to fill the frame with the negative being scanned. The result is, as you can see, nearly indistinguishable from the Nikon Coolscan result in terms of subject detail, although the scanner did a better job of correcting color from the slightly faded film, plus added a touch higher sharpening.

Kodak Gold 200 Plus Gen 3 negative film from ∼1992, digitized with the DigitaLIZA+ using a Pentax K-3 II DSLR and 100mm F2.8 Macro lens. The 100% crops above and below came from this image.

The one below shows a similar comparison of the DigitaLIZA Max against my Google Pixel 5a smartphone, placed to shoot from its minimum focusing distance. Here, the phone simply can’t focus closely enough, and so there is significantly less detail available. (And much of what fine detail remains has a somewhat pointillistic feel thanks to the algorithms Google is using to wring this much detail from a tiny cameraphone sensor.)

Clearly, then, your results will vary depending upon what you’re shooting with. But even an older, mid-range standalone camera and macro lens like I used should be able to derive similar detail levels to a film scanner.

Detail comparison: Nikon Coolscan V vs. DigitaLIZA Max with Google Pixel 5a 5G.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a way to digitize your film, the expense of paying someone else to do it or buying a scanner dedicated to the task can be offputting. With the DigitaLIZA Max and DigitaLIZA+, Lomography offers a much more reasonably-priced alternative, aiming to parlay your previous investment in your smartphone or standalone camera into a capable film-“scanning” device.

There’s no denying that the DigitaLIZA devices make the initial scanning process much faster. But depending on the film you’re scanning, you might be in for more work. Older film, in particular, can require extra care to run through their scanner, and more still afterward to correct for fungus, scratches, and fading.

You’ll also need to supply your own software, something which likely makes sense for standalone camera users but seems less justifiable for the smartphone kit. We’d really like to see Lomography create or license suitable software for both Android and iOS and include it in the product bundle, even if that means a somewhat higher price tag for the mobile version.

Kodak Gold 100 Gen 2 negative film from ∼1989, digitized with the DigitaLIZA+ using a Pentax K-3 II DSLR and 100mm F2.8 Macro lens.

For Max users, you’ll also want to be conscious of your smartphone’s minimum focusing distance, which could limit your ability to fill the frame with your film photos, reducing the resolution or leaving you reliant on digital zoom to try to fill in the gaps.

In our review we did find a couple of minor ergonomic and usability issues, largely to do with the 35mm film holder, which doesn’t always play nicely with curled film. But these are fairly easy to work around, and likely (again) to be more of an issue for older film collections than it is for photographers who’re shooting film today.

But although it does have some quirks, these are definitely offset by the speed with which you can get your images into digital form. (And with excellent detail, too, if your camera is up to it.)

For newly-shot film, that convenience along with the cost savings should give the DigitaLIZA devices appeal. But for those who want to digitize older film and for whom image quality is a significant concern, we’d recommend looking to a dedicated scanner which can automatically correct for dust, scratches and fading at the very least.

What We LikeWhat We Don’t
  • Very affordable, especially when compared to a dedicated scanner
  • Works with the camera or smartphone you already own
  • Supports not just 35mm but sizes up to medium-format 120 film
  • Capable of great resolution if your capture device is up to it
  • Undeniably fast once muscle memory takes over
  • Included spirit level helps with standalone camera setup
  • Max variant’s stand keeps your smartphone positioned well
  • Compact and portable with dual power sources
  • No software included, even for mobile phone users
  • Dust, grain and fade correction are entirely up to the end user
  • Minimal price savings for the DigitaLIZA+ variant
  • 35mm film holder is prone to catching and slipping
  • Backlight panel can detach if the power button is pressed too hard
  • Some smartphones will struggle to get close enough without accessory lenses

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