SCANNING FILM NEGATIVES WITH A DSLR – A MAKER’S GUIDE

Well, lets just say I’ve gotten better at this over the last couple of years. The left image was one of the first I’ve “scanned” with my DSLR, and the one on the right I’ve just rescanned using the techniques described below (higher resolution available here). Right now I can get higher resolution and better image quality that what street labs give you on CD.

I’ve seen many articles on the web explaining the basics of digitising film negative or transparencies with a digital camera. The basics are quite simple: you take a photo of a negative into a light source and invert. That’s it. But that alone led me to scan negatives that looked like the one on the left, above. Because I’ve never seen one tutorial that told me “the whole story” of how to do it properly, I’ve decided to put together what I’ve learnt during the last two or three of years of scanning film with my DSLR.

0. WHY?

  • Street labs can usually scan the film but I’ve got bad scans and missing/cut frames more than once. Also, when you scan, you make some artistic decisions over contrast and colour that are often definitive. By leaving these decisions to a machine or someone else, you are losing control over your creative freedom.
  • I often develop film myself and I don’t own a film scanner. Even if I did, good film scanners cost a fortune and I get better quality from scanning the film with my DSLR than I would if I used an average scanner.
  • Very precise control over colours, highlight and shadow curves, while making use of the vast film dynamic range.

These are my reasons, you may obviously have different ones. Some people do this because it’s faster than using a scanner, but that depends on how much time you spend post-processing, and I do spend a bit more than I would like to admit, but it is a time spent doing something that gives me pleasure, not pressing buttons on a poorly designed software and waiting for a tedious scan.

All the following instructions have the objective of achieving the best possible resolution, colour depth and dynamic range out of the film, while keeping image noise as low as possible. Also, I aimed at keeping the whole process as quick as possible. I think each time I’ve made a scan I’ve got better results than the time before, because I keep improving the process and now I’ve got to a stage I’m quite happy with the results.

I’ve separated this tutorial into five sections, and you may want to skip, or skim through some of these.

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