How to Scan Slides and Negatives | ScanCafe

How to Scan Slides and negatives

When it comes to digitization, photographic film - mostly negatives and slides - is a different animal. But if scanned and processed the right way, it can yield much better images than prints. We all have archives of negatives that we can't afford to neglect. If you are looking to digitize your stash of film, be prepared for some challenges along the way. But whether you do it yourself or with professional help, this is a worthwhile and rewarding project for the photographer and family archivist.

Things to consider when choosing a service

Scanning many boxes of slides and negatives is not a fun weekend activity by any stretch of the imagination. So while it is possible to do it yourself, a reliable film scanning service can deliver superior results while saving you a lot of time.

Negatives are delicate and prone to damage. Black and white negatives are more susceptible because they often contain grains of silver halide that cause a buildup of tiny scratches over time - something that becomes even more noticeable when the image is enlarged. To compound the problem, dust particles stand out more on black and white negatives than on color ones.

Digital ICE, a scratch minimization technology integrated into most higher end scanners, doesn't work well on black and white film with silver halide. The crux of this technology depends on using infra-red light to detect and subtract out positions of dust and scratches from the final image. Silver halide grains create artifacts in the scan that are hard for Digital ICE to process in this manner.

A digitization service that has experience with scanning black and white film will know how to get around this challenge. For best results, each black and white negative should be digitally enlarged and repaired manually. At Scancafe, we also use a wet mounting process for scanning negatives, something that significantly improves the quality of the scans. Another service feature that becomes important with film is the option of discarding a portion of your scans. With film, you don't know what the final images are going to look like until it's been processed. And so, it will save you money if the service you go with allows you to eliminate low quality or miscellaneous images that you are not interested in preserving.

If you choose to do it yourself

Many of the scanners on the market today are designed to scan film and, with a bit of research, you can find one that's right for you. Some are purely film scanners while others can process print as well and come with attachments to hold slides or negatives. Optical resolution is probably the most important attribute to consider. The ideal resolution will depend on whether you are most likely to view your images digitally or also print them out in varying sizes.

Apart from Digital ICE to eliminate scratches, most of the better scanners also come loaded with software to enable a quick round of post processing on the scanned image - including correcting for color shifts and other age-related blemishes. Others may work with off-the-shelf editing software to enhance the quality of the final scan.

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