The initial promise of APS
Advanced Photo System (APS) is a photographic film format that held sway briefly in the late 1990’s before being edged out by the rise of digital. APS was part of an attempt by film manufacturers to shake up the status quo with a more user-friendly product. APS film was a contained unit that was designed to protect the film better; the cartridge was a breeze to load in a camera, and it automatically advanced each frame without any effort on the part of the user. Given the contained design, it was possible to remove a partially exposed roll from a camera and reload it to resume shooting at a later date. These simple but convenient features were expected to make APS the next big thing in film photography.
But it became really popular with the introduction of smaller point and shoot cameras that were designed for APS. Given the film size, camera manufacturers were able to produce units that were half the size of existing automatic cameras. These just required a small cavity for the film, leaving the rest of it open for electronics. So, in terms of design, APS was revolutionary compared to what had been available up to that point.
What made APS different
APS came in three formats — High Definition (H), Classic (C) and Panoramic (P). Most APS cameras had the ability to handle all three formats and it was also possible to shoot an image in one format and print it in another. The panoramic prints possible with APS also set it apart from standard 35mm photographic film.
APS gave people the ability to record details such as camera settings, date taken and image format on the print. The cartridge and each image had a code printed on them, which made it easy for the roll developer to locate specific images for reprinting.
However, by the time interest began to pick up for APS, the die had already been cast for digital with the first digital cameras already on their way to the market. So, it was essentially the kid that arrived at the party just a bit too late. Despite this, many people did try out APS for a while. After a roll was developed, the negatives remained securely locked within the original canister. However, retrieving these images today is not a straightforward task.
Developing and digitizing APS film
Developing APS film was always a little tricky given the three different image formats. It wasn’t simply a matter of just pulling the film out and putting it in a chemical bath. APS required a special machine and equipment to produce different image sizes based on the specification. This is one reason you may not be able to drop off your APS rolls at the vintage film developer in your city center. If they don’t have in-house capability to process APS, they may end up shipping it out to someone who does.
If you are trying to digitize your stack of APS photos, you can use prints if you have them handy. However, the original images in negatives are better preserved and so these are preferable as a digitization source.
You can check the indicator on the canister to see if the roll has been previously processed. If it has, then you can send it to a professional service for conversion. This really is a job to be outsourced to the pros since most people are unlikely to have the equipment needed to tackle it at home. You may end up damaging the roll if you attempt it at home. Go professional and spend some time finding a service with the right tools and approach.
Make sure the service you go with has a solid track record in digitizing APS film. An inexperienced service without the right equipment may destroy your source negatives by pulling them out and cutting them up for scanning. Apart from the handling equipment, the service needs to have quality professional grade scanners to take your APS photos and scan them at an optimal resolution.
Final fixes for beautiful results
Even after the images are digitally freed from the APS canister, the job isn’t over. Although APS film is sealed within canisters, these images may suffer varying levels of degradation. Some may have scratches or dust spots while others may need to be color corrected or brightened. In cases where the negatives are more significantly damaged, advanced restoration may be needed to bring them back to life.
Two photos from an APS roll ScanCafe recently digitized for a customer.