negative scanning

Let's say I wanted to get high resolution scans of around four thousand 35mm photo negatives. What would you recommend?

Besides (or in addition to) "an intern".

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69 Responses:

  1. boggyb says:

    A good photo developing place that'll stick them on to PhotoDiscs or similar for you?

    • hub_ says:

      The cost of scanning in a shop is highly prohibitive, even more if it is not at processing time....

    • gchpaco says:

      That would be ruinously expensive post processing, whereas it would be merely outrageous at development time.

      The best answer has been mentioned a couple times; Nikon makes an automated slide scanner adapter for its Coolscans; specifically the SF-210 attachment for the Coolscan 5000ED. Or if you want to go used there's the SF-200 for the Coolscan 4000. Either is probably just fine for your resolution requirements. Speed is not so hot, but then the amount of time you have to spend monitoring the damn thing apparently isn't very high.

      I do not do this for my negatives, because it is slow, because I cannot afford a dedicated film scanner that handles my medium format negatives (and so have to use the Epson flatbeds, which are surprisingly good but have no real automation potential and are slow to boot), and because the automation potential for cut strips of film is almost nil. I am forced to scan only negatives that I find particularly worthy, and I have to do contact proofs in a darkroom to figure out which those are.

      As an intermediate position, using the Coolscan to scan only the slides you really like will probably not take an unreasonable amount of time, unless you really truly do want 4000 slides scanned. In that case all DIY options will suck mostly because of the amount of time required. You could try throwing them at a service bureau, if you can find one that a) is trustworthy and b) not ruinously expensive; in my experience these are mutually exclusive. Your best bet is probably going to be to get an intern to feed the 5000ED slides every couple of hours.

      • gchpaco says:

        Oops, I was a boner and read "slides" for "negatives". The SF-210 is useless for negatives. The 5000ED is still probably a good bet: the digital ICE will clean up color negatives for dust and mean much less work there. But you'll have to lean a lot more heavily on manual labor in the input phase, which means that intern is probably going to be much more important.

      • boggyb says:

        I thought they'd be expensive, but on the other hand they're most likely to a) have high-speed equipment for it and/or b) know where to get said high-speed equipment (possibly without paying an arm and a leg).

  2. Not that I have an answer, but it would be useful to know what you meant by "high resolution". Also, how much willing are you to risk damage to the negs? How much do you want to pay vs. use your time.

    (For instance, if your negs are precious, and you don't want to pay a lot, a motivated intern and a slide scanner is pretty much your only option.)

    Also, someone will mention having photo hut scan your negs and give you a Kodak Picture CD. The image quality on these things isn't great, I wouldn't use them for anything other than web stuff. (Also, they're likely to scratch your negs.)

  3. bassfingers says:

    Black & white or color? Are they cut, or full rolls? How high do you consider "high resolution" to be?

    • jwz says:

      Color. Cut to 4 or 5 frames. Let's say "equivalent to a 6 megapixel digital camera."

      • baconmonkey says:

        6 megapixels will be just over a 2000 dpi scan.

        from this place, that works out to $0.69 per slide in quantities over 2000. for 4000, that's $2760

        this place is local, and they have an "economy option" at $0.55, which has no cpropping, rotation, or color correction, which puts 4000 scans at $2200

        using a DIY or DII approach, you'd need a negative scanner. The decent consumer-grade ones (which will drive you nuts since you're used to your fancy SLR digital camera's optics) are around $500-$700, and the cheap pro-grade ones run $1000-2000. You'll pretty much need to use mac or PC. Then there's the time factor. This $1100 scanner takes 20 seconds per scan. ignoring the time it takes to load film into the scanner, that's over 22 hours of scanning time. Once you add inspection, rotation, crop, color-adjust, and film-load time, that's going to creep up to closer to a minute per scan, for over 60 hours total. I doubt you'll find an intern who will suffer that much tedium for less than $15/hr, which is close to a grand

        • edlang says:

          I use an ED5000, and I quite like it.

        • nzchrisb says:

          Don't forget dust removal. Dust, dust, everywhere dust. Even from just developed taken stright out of slip and into scanner type slide, there's dust. For anything sitting around there's more, caned air and puffer brushes help but you'll still need to become acquainted with the clone tool... I think the Gimp has one now. Out, out damn dust.

        • scjody says:

          VueScan does a really good job with my Nikon LS-2000 and runs on Linux.

      • jayrtfm says:

        If you scan the neg at 3072 x 2048 (6 megapixels) you won't get the same level of detail as if it was shot with a 6mp digital camera.
        For most purposes, a 4096x3072 scan (32meg file) is good.

        I think what is really needed is a digital forox.

  4. coldacid says:

    Are there enough people suggesting interns that you have to explicitly state that you aren't looking for one? Or do you have more than enough interns as it is and are not looking for others? If you have an overflow of them, I'm willing to help...

  5. lars_larsen says:

    You could get a high-end flatbed scanner that handles transperancies. The nicer ones can handle 8"x10" so you could put an entire roll in the scanner at once. You still need a trusty intern, but I cant see any way around that.

    • jwz says:

      Your answer sounds suspiciously like "here's an idea I had, though I haven't actually ever tried anything like it."

      • lars_larsen says:

        My scanner has a 4"x5" transperancy. I can scan multiple negatives on it at once, but not an entire sheet of them. You still have to draw a box around each negative image and scan them one at a time, but its a lot faster than reloading a negative for every image like a slide scanner does..

      • mattbot says:

        I've done contact sheets with flatbeds before but to do higher quaility stuff on a flatbed you really should remove the negatives from the plastic sleeves and oil mount them, which is messy and, uh, labor intensive. Oil mounting will fill in many of the sratches and help deal with the dust while blurring the film grain some what. (Some people thinks that's a good thing; I don't.) This will save you hours of OCD like behavior cloning them out in photoshop. ( Or gimp maybe in your case.) Doing multipals in one pass would require precise placement on the scan bed and some photoshop script fu. Some flatbeds come with mounting (but not oil mounting as far as I know) brackets and scripts to help with this. Did I mention labor intensive?

        A film/negative scanner is faster and can be automated easily up to five negatives per pass for most models I've dealt with. (Nikons and Polariods; I perfer the Nikons.) You still have to photoshop the dust and sratches out with a photo editor. Don't use an automated filter; they suck.

        After 4000 images worth of cloning and stamping out dust motes, now I don't wanna sound like I'm promising anything here, but I think you'll have a really good shot at Zen enlightenment. Or, one might say, you're totally fucked. Just do the ones you want to print or whatever.

  6. ioerror says:

    Whatever you do, don't go to Ritz camera. Their idea of high resolution scans is around 1MP. Total crap.

  7. hub_ says:

    Nikon CoolScan, and the intern.

    • hub_ says:

      As for the model, I forgot, but LS-40 (discontinued) or LS-50 (current) are the lower-end film scanner, $600 USD. LS-40 works great with Linux, either with the proprietary VueScan (Intel arch only) or the free software SANE. The LS-50 works for sure with VueScan.


      I use a LS-30 happily on Linux.
      For negative film, I must say that VueScan may be required.

      • mattbot says:

        NikonScan is the way to go if you can run it; VueScan is slow as all get out, at least on Mac OS X. Don't know about the other OSs.

        • scjody says:

          VueScan is pretty fast on my Linux box. Processing time after scans is just a few seconds on a ~2000 MHz Athlon. I haven't tried it in about a year, but Sane SUCKS. Poor colour correction, no automation, and no dust removal.

  8. _fluffy says:

    I'm a big fan of Epson's Perfection Photo series of scanners. I have the Perfection 2450 Photo and it's quite nice for scanning both negatives and slides. Though, you'll want an intern to do the actual scanning.

    • _fluffy says:

      Oh, forgot to mention, Perfection 2450 Photo works great in SANE (even in negative/slide mode), as well as with Image Capture on the Mac. Dunno about the newer Perfection ones.

      • cjensen says:

        My 2450 came with annoying dust on the underside of the flatbed. Enough to piss me off when scanning negatives. According to Amazon's customer reviews, I'm not alone in this.

        I also have thousands of negatives that are annoyingly offline. Hopefully, I'll get to watch and learn from Jamie's experience.

  9. crackmonkey says:

    Tim Bray had this same problem, and his solution was to buy a scanner and do them by hand, slowly, over time. Basically, he turned it into a ritual where he shares the photos.

  10. Outsourcing.

    Or robots.

  11. valentwine says:

    Why hire an intern when you can hire an Indian?

    • ammonoid says:

      Your comment offends me on so many different levels. Uh, maybe because he doesn't want to ship his photo negativesfrom his business off to a foreign country?

      • valentwine says:

        Your offense delights me on so many different levels. :-)

        I thought Jamie was a booze pusher, not a photographer, but either way: maybe this is his chance to pair a luxurious Indian vacation with a tax deductible business expense.

        • ammonoid says:

          I spent part of my childhood in India. I object to you putting luxurious next to Indian in the context of vacation. Unless by "luxurious" you mean "capable of giving you nasty diseases".

          I think you may have missed out on the music part of business that Jamie is in. He sells booze to people who have come to listen and dance to music, sometimes played live by these groups of people playing instruments. Sometimes people like to take pictures of other people playing instruments on a stage.

          • ivo says:

            hurrah for days of TD...

          • valentwine says:

            I think you may have missed out on the funny business I'm in.

            Who wants a body massage?

          • valentwine says:

            Also, how vituperative of you. :-)

          • jesus_x says:

            I had a friend who was sent to India on business for a month. After only two and a half weeks he came back, saying how retched it was. He'd try to tell stories about it, but he got halfway, paused, and would just say, "Everyday there was a fresh pile of camel shit EVERYWHERE."

            • ammonoid says:

              Camels? Where was he, the western part near the Thar desert? Usually its cow plop, followed in quantity by garbage and dead rats everywhere.

              Its not so much the stuff, as it is the smell of everything, rotting in 120F heat.

              • jesus_x says:

                No, it wasn't actual camel dung, he's just not the most politically correct person in the world, and in 1984 India was somewhat less civilized than it is now. He'd call them dot heads, etc. :)

      • grahams says:

        Because when he is in that foreign country he can look for your missing sense of humor.

  12. valentwine says:

    Also, this might be your most justifiable excuse to buy an Imperial fucklot of Lego Mindstorms.

  13. sjn says:

    Most consumer level scanners will only mount a small number of negatives at a time, here at work we have a big fancy flatbed scanner, and it will only mount negs in a 5"x10" area.

    Next, you are going to have to clean dust etc off of the negs.

    Additionally you are looking at color correcting all of them, as different emulsion bases and age all affect how a negative is seen by the scanner. In many cases the negative will scan flat and green.

    Depending on what your end use is, I would not discount the PhotoCd method. I don't believe that they supply 6mp, somewhere around 4 or 5 is their max (it's been years). All the solutions are a trade off of time/quality/money. You can get 2 out of 3 as long as one of them is money.

    • sjn says:

      google search for "negative scanning" brought up these guys:

      3000 negs = $2000 on dvd

      from a time = $$ standpoint this would be worth it to me as any scanner is going to cost you between $3-500 for decent quality

      • edlang says:

        Uh, I think your pricing is way off. He said he wanted the equivalent of a 6MP camera: for a 16-bit RGB TIFF, that's about 36MB per image, and there's no way 3000 of those are going to fit on a DVD.

        This webpage has a more accurate breakdown of how much you might reasonably expect to pay for that sort of image quality.

        • sjn says:

          If i recall, it was on 10 dvd's, and that was for their middle resolution. 2000 dpi at 100%, you can go up to 3000dpi @ 100% for a little bit more.

          Realistically, if you go over about 2500dpi on a 35mm negative you are just making up pixels anyways.

          Also, FWIW, that was the first link on a google search...

          If we were to do it here at work (high end pre-press), it would be about $275,000 dollars. Lowest I have seen around SF for a neg scan via the pre-press route is about $10-15 a scan, and for that you may as well buy a scanner at Office Depot and do it your self.

  14. edlang says:

    Drum scanning. A quick overview. I don't get it: isn't <lj user="rzr_grl" />, like, studying photography or something? Wouldn't she know shortlist of decent and not overly expensive service bureaux in the SF/surrounding region?

    Better yet: why don't you hire an intern, a lightbox and a loupe, and cut down the number of negatives you wish to scan.

  15. If you don't have a budget for this little project, it should be noted that any community college or university with a journalism department will most likely have a computer lab equipped with negative scanners. That's how I get mine digitized.

  16. cetan says:

    I would recommend digging deep into that bank account.

    Or digging deep into the time bank with a negative scanner. :)

    You might also want to consider not scanning /all/ the negatives because (probably?) not all of them are worth scanning.

  17. hallerlake says:

    Four thousand negatives? Yikes. I recommend a tall cool glass of hemlock.

  18. ghewgill says:

    I had this same question just last week. Thank you for asking the lazyweb for me.

  19. adameros says:

    A drum scanner from B&H. An intern might be cheaper.

  20. pir_anha says:

    *ow*. you said negatives, not slides. that'll suck for automation.

    i'm doing this very thing, and i have no budget for it. ergo, i bought a cheap but decent quality flatbed scanner which i can also use for other purposes (canon canoscan 4200F, CCD, USB2.0, 48 bits, 3200x6400 dpi in hardware -- more than enough for 35mm -- cost me a mere C$140), and i've started to feed it negatives whenever i feel like killing time.

    loading the negatives is a manual job (take the adapter out, remove the just-scanned negs, align the next set, snap the adapter shut, put it back into the scanner), 5 sec scanning (it's speedy and extremely quiet compared to my old umax 1200S) -- but then comes the cleanup in photoshop. from what i've seen re automatic dust-n-scratch filtering i've not been impressed, and do my own. the extra bit i really like about this scanner is that it can scan multiple positives at once (i have a slew of old ones of those), and separate as well as straighten them by itself.

    *urk*. this will take forever, i'm sure. if i were to do this professionally, this ain't the way i'd choose. as it is, i don't really mind, but if you can afford it, definitely hire that intern. it should come out cheaper than hiring a proshop.

  21. romulusnr says:

    befriend a photog for a nearby campus newspaper?

  22. scjody says:

    If you're doing it yourself or using an intern, I second the recommendation of a Nikon CoolScan or similar film scanner. I've tried flatbeds and the quality just isn't there, nor do they do dust removal [*]. I've never tried a drum scanner but that sounds awkward and expensive, and a film scanner can provide the resolution you need.

    The main problem a slide scanner won't solve is feeding the film. You (or your intern) will have to put each strip in the tray and insert that. There is an optional 60 slide feeder (which can be reloaded while it's running so you can scan continuously) but it requires plastic- or glass-mounted slides. You may be able to find a photo lab willing to cut and plastic-mount your negatives though, which is why I mention it. I have no idea how much they would charge for such a service; it's normally included in the $20 or so I pay for a roll of prepaid slide film.

    [*] Dust removal: good film scanners have an infrared channel as well as RGB, which can be used to "remove" dust on film with the right software. VueScan automates this.

    • adolf says:

      Some film scanners will take complete rolls of negatives, at once. It is sometimes a shame that the photo labs almost universally cut them into short strips these days. (Hint: Writing "do not cut negatives" in bright colors on the envelope gives you about an 80% chance of getting them back intact, rolled up in a plastic film can.)

      Here is an example of a Sony model which can perform this task. I have a perverse amount of experience with this machine from a former life that I'd like to forget.

      The scanner generally did at least as good a job as the shop's enormous and finicky Fugi printer did of properly setting exposure and frame alignment, and was much faster than the automatic strip-fed Nikon that we also had at our disposal. We also had an adapter for APS film which worked slicker than greased shit, and a contraption for doing slides (one. at. a. time.).

      Quality, with the Kodak software we were locked into, was horrible.

      I hated those machines, all of them, but that was probably the fault of gross mismanagement more than any wrongdoing on the part of that particular film scanner (which would probably perform marvelously in the hands of some real software).

      • jwz says:

        Yeah, all mine are cut.

      • scjody says:

        On the rare times that I shoot negatives, I get them uncut. The lab I use actually wraps them in some sort of protective plastic and loosely rolls them in a tube - much better for the film than shoving it back in the canister. I discovered a side benefit of this is that some labs will reprint an entire roll cheaply, since they can just run it through as if it was freshly developed.

        Unfortunately for jwz, his negatives are cut, hence my recommendation to see if they can be plastic-mounted for a slide feeder.

  23. alecm says:

    i went round this loop a while ago; i opted for a epson flatbed scanner after deciding that I was going to be doing at least 40% paper scanning, but if I had persisted with my theory of having a pure negative scanner it woulf have been either a Nikon Coolscan 5000, or a high-end Minolta.

  24. sidcarter says:

    An Epson Scanner 4990 doesn't cost much and can scan up to 4800 dpi. It compares to most good high-end scanners.

  25. phygelus says:

    Good luck finding any service that pays attention to 35mm film scans now that essentially all pros have gone digital.

    Nikon or Minolta for the scanner is what everyone will tell you. Me, I settled on the Epson 3200 flatbed scanner a couple years ago, the direct successor to the 2450 others have recommended. Why I went that route: the better flatbed scanners are about the same price as an entry-level dedicated 35mm scanner but are a lot more versatile (i.e. it's a regular flatbed scanner, and also a medium and large format film scanner), though that probably doesn't matter for your application. With a bit of I-give-a-shit attention, it does a significantly better job than the Photo CD service agencies I'd been using off and on, even though Kodak Photo CD scanners are (in the right hands) capable of much better scans than any scanner you could justify buying for even a large scanning task. A dedicated scanner should be even better. If your intern gives a damn, you will be pretty pleased with the results. 20-year-old slides of mine from my first real camera produced scans that wow digital camera users.

    And for 4000 negatives, you'll want a case or three of cans of air. And whatever they're recommending for archival storage of negatives these days to put them in when you're done. Which is probably still Mylar envelopes:

    And depending on how they've been stored, you might need to mix up a batch of photo-flo to clean some of them. Carefully.

  26. gadlen says:

    I've been using an Epson Perfection 2480 LE with an automatic print loader for a week now and I'm very happy with it. read my blog entry about it.

    Mounting slides would go a lot faster for the hypothetical intern if you could get your hands on several film holders.