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How do you digitize film negatives and photos today?

Jan 6, 2017 3:55PM PST

Technology has changed quite a bit over the years and I would appreciate hearing about what newer techniques and equipment readers recommend (benefits/drawbacks) to view and digitize negatives and printed photos. Thanks much. I very much enjoy your column. Happy New Year!

--Submitted by Betty C.

Discussion is locked

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Jan 6, 2017 5:11PM PST

I use a flatbed scanner, or my Canon all-in-one to scan photos. I've scanned in over 5,000 photos this way. I can scan four at a time.

For organizing I long ago learned not to use any of the many organizing products on the market for a few reasons:

1) They usually maintain their own database and if that database is lost all of the organization of the photos is lost.

2) If I move a photo to a different folder the database doesn't track it.

3) If I email the photo file no data goes with it.

Instead I use the "Tag" feature of the .jpg files. I tag each photo with the names of the persons in the photo, and sometimes other identifying tags such as the house or lake the photo was from.I even tried a number of programs to enter tags but nothing is as good as the Windows 7 Windows Explorer. In fact this is why I don't use Windows 10 because File Explorer totally threw away all of the good features of Windows Explorer.

I organize photos two ways. One is chronological in a hierarchy of folders. The other is by subject.

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Windows 10 has tags for images
Jan 14, 2017 10:39AM PST

Windows 10 has tags for images

If you click on an image file like 1.jpg, then go to properties and details tab you can edit tags.

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photos from Windows 7 photo gallery to Windows 10
Jan 17, 2017 8:19PM PST

If you have Windows 7 be sure to change all info such as names, locations, etc., to tags before going to Windows 10 to avoid losing all of your data

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Use a digital scanner
Jan 6, 2017 5:23PM PST

When I find an old photo that I want to digitally record, I use the camera on my mobile phone and take a snap of it, making sure there are no reflections or distortions other than the actual close framing of the shot. That works well for basic digitalization for photo e-files.
The bulk processors normally send your photos to processors in India, and they do a pretty decent job of digitizing and cleaning up the photos, film movies and files too.
Otherwise, I recommend buying an all in one printer/scanner (because they cost the same as a single use scanner and just as good) to scan photos on the flatbed. Some scanners offer hardware to scan negatives as well, and contacting a few manufacturers will narrow your choice of product.

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Scanning Negatives and Photos Requires 2 Devices
Jan 6, 2017 6:15PM PST

Scanning film negatives is usually done in a dedicated device called a film scanner. An inexpensive one may be all you need if the image in the negatives is not valuable or important to you. Think $99. Clearly superior results may be had from a more sophisticated film scanner. Think $399.
Scanning photos has been covered by others here already. I would add that there's a new app by Google called PhotoScan for Android and iOS phones which claims to produce better results by taking 4 snapshots of each old photo which helps remove glare, fuzziness, etc. Of course, your phone needs a pretty good built-in camera for this to succeed. New top-end phones all qualify, but you can also get good photos from the older iPhone 4S. Alternatively, if your printer includes a scanner you may wish to try that for scanning photos. Printers usually include scanning software to install on your computer. In that software you can maximise the scanning quality. In the scan software options/preferences look for adjustments like DPI and boost it to at least 600, maybe 1200. Scanning will take a little longer but you get a better result. Color correction for old photos is another consideration. Again, use the scan software if it offers color correction. Otherwise, try any photo editing program after you have scanned and saved the photos to your computer. Irfanview is free and good. Windows built-in Photo app can do it, too.

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Flatbed scanner
Jan 6, 2017 7:26PM PST

My flatbed scanner has a slide/negative fixture built into the lid. It will scan two images at a time. The same scanner can scan photos. So it is possible to use one device for both photos and slides/negatives.

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Scanning Negatives and Photos Requires 2 Devices - not true
Jan 13, 2017 7:04PM PST

Our Epson Scanner comes with both a slide holder and a negative holder and we have used both with excellent results. Our old Cannon scanner had both as well, but it was a little more finicky to use. Our scanner was not very expensive either.

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One device - Epson Perfection 4490 Photo Flatbed Scanner
Jan 14, 2017 4:27AM PST

I've owned an Epson Perfection 4490 Photo Flatbed Scanner for quite a while. It came with a holder for slides and negatives and will scan slides, negatives, photos, magazines, documents. These scanners are not expensive. You can scan multiple negatives, multiple slides, or multiple photos at the same time and the software will automatically separate the images into separate files. Everyone should own one of these devices. They are not expensive either.

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It is true if your photos are prints and not slides
Jan 16, 2017 4:55AM PST

For a quick scan of photos and printed articles, I use the IOS app ScannerPro from Readle. It automatically fixes the keystone distortion you almost inevitably get when using an iPad camera, and allows you to do most of the things a PC scanning program does: go monochrome or greyscale, do limited colour correction, lighten/darken etc.

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Scanning negatives and Slides
Jan 14, 2017 7:02PM PST

We use our Epson Perfection v370 Scanner and it came with a negative carrier and a slide carrier that does 4 or 5 at a time (I think, my husband does most of the scanning). We then import them into Photoshop Elements and can correct many things, but if the slide/negative/photo was not very good to begin with, you can only improve it so much.

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Digitizing Negatives
Jan 6, 2017 8:02PM PST

I recently had excellent results using my digital camera and an 8 x 10 light box. I mounted the camera between the legs of my tripod, by removing its center pole, reversing it and reinserting from beneath. Then set my camera to maximum image size,

I scanned about 2,000+ of my father's B/W negatives, from the 20's and 30's, in just a few hours. The collection varied from 35mm, 2" x 2", 2 1/4" x 3 1/4", 2 1/4" x 4 1/4", and 4" x 5". The critical ingredient is to hit the shutter the moment the negative hits the light box. The warmth of the light box will quickly cause the negative to curl.

Once all these images were in my computer, I was able to pass all through PhotoShop for straightening and cropping. That took about a day for all. Within this process, I was also able to convert the negative images into positive images, adding additional ability for various enhancements.

Have others tried this?

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Scanner vs camera
Jan 14, 2017 7:04AM PST

I use a similar technique on antique negatives. To prevent negatives curling, put a piece of plastic on top to flatten it out. These can be bought at Hobby Lobby. Although it soon gets scratched up, the scratches don't show in the photographed image.

I don't use a tripod. Instead I put the light box on the seat of a chair and put my arms on the chair back to steady the hand-held camera.

I don't use the 'negative' feature of a scanner. The scanner bar creeps slowly and the quality isn't that great, and my scanner doesn't do large negatives well.

There are directions on making a light reflector for a scanner, which reflects light from one side of the scanner to the other, increasing the light supply, so that the regular scanner mode can scan negatives. I haven't tried this yet, though I expect it'll be slower than using a camera.

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LIght box idea
Jan 14, 2017 11:37AM PST

Really appreciate the input.
I am not a Photo Shop expert/even rookie, but i do work with PS Elements with beginner success, hope that does the same thing..Will try. Assume you are doing a negative proceedure of the negative to give you the positive B&W. Anyone with Elements who knows how to do this, I would appreciate input.

There may be a solution to the curling heat of the light box. I happen to have a small edge lit acrylic backlit that is used for backlighting color transparencies. It is powered with low voltage LED, so i don't think there will be any heat.
Have not tried yet the negatives..hope to soon. but appreciate the idea.
(my Adobe Photoshop Elements is version 14)

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PaintShop Pro
Jan 14, 2017 6:48PM PST

I suggest that you look into PaintShop Pro Ultimate (PSP) from Corel as an alternative to Photoshop Elements (PE). Each has it strengths and weaknesses, but most people find PSP a bit easier to work with for dealing with photos.

PSP comes in 2 versions: basic PSP and Ultimate. The PSP program of each is the same. The Ultimate versions include third-party programs such as Perfect Effects from On1 or FaceFilter from Reallusion, and "Creative Content" add-ons such as artistic effects.

PSP has reached the stage of development where you don't need the latest version--the differences from one version to the next are minor. For non-advanced users and general photo retouching, any version from around X5 through the current X9 will work pretty much the same and can do all the same things. If you check on-line you can find non-current versions for around $35-50.

All the Ultimate add-ons are specific to that particular version. In other words, X5 might include Perfect Effects but not FaceFilter and X6 might include FaceFilter but not Perfect Effects. Generally (but not always) the add-on installer will only work if that PSP version is already installed.

However, once the installer has run, the PSP version doesn't need to still be on the computer. So, for instance, you install X5 and add-ons A, B and C. Then you get X7 that comes with A, D and E. Most of the add-ons install as plug-ins, meaning they can run from within PSP. You can copy the plug-ins from one version's plug-ins folder to another and they will work in the target folder. So that means that to use add-ons from X3, X4, X5, etc., in X7 you don't need to keep every version installed. Many PSP users put all their plug-ins in a separate folder and just point to that folder in Preferences > File Locations.

Regarding third-party software that installs as standalone programs rather than plug-ins (e.g., FaceFilter), once their installer is run the PSP version can be uninstalled.

If you do get PSP, you'll want to install both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions (assuming you are running 64-bit Windows). Most older plug-ins, e.g., KPT Filters, are only available in 32-bit versions and many newer plug-ins are only available in 64-bit versions.

Also, most plug-ins designed for Photoshop will also run in PSP.

===== CAUTION =====
There is one caution about using both PS/PE and PSP on the same image (because each has its strengths). This does not apply to single-layer images such as GIF, JPG and PNG.

If you get into non-beginner processing, you'll want to learn to use layers. Layers let you work on parts without changing things in other layers. So, for instance, you take a color image and put a grayscale layer on top of it. The end result will look black and white--but the actual color image will be unchanged. (Actually, you would use a "hue/saturation" layer but that's a whole other discussion.)

The only image format that supports layers and which both PS/PE and PSP can process is Adobe's .psd format.

Here's the caution: The Adobe and Corel programs recognize each other's layers but often won't process them. So, using the above example, if you take a color image and add a grayscale layer in PSP, save the image as .psd and open it in PS or PE, the Adobe program will show there is a grayscale layer--but the overall image will still look color. The problem can occur in either direction--sometimes PSP won't process a PS/PE layer. If you're going to go back and forth, don't spend an hour editing in one program and then check it in the other program--you might find out none of those changes will have any effect.

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Canon 8400F flatbed scanner
Jan 7, 2017 1:57AM PST

Hi Betty,

I suppose it may not answer your request for "newer techniques" but I've used my Canon 8400F for this purpose for the last 10 years. It's a flatbed scanner for photos, I fill up the A4 platten and scan multiples at once, which saves time considerably, then use a photo editor (Irfanview is free, very easy to use and does a good job) to split them up and get the orientation right if they weren't all the same way round. The scanner is capable of a higher resolution than some very old B&W prints but the scanning software can adjust the scanning resolution.

For positive and negative film strips and mounted positive slides, the scanner has a separate light in the lid. It can scan 5 images on a strip or 4 mounted slides in each scan. The results are excellent, colour negative film (agfa) produces a very slight over "greenness" but Irfanview auto level adjustment corrects this.

Current model, I believe is the 8800F but since I'm not in the market for one, that might have been superseded by now. One caution, if you are a Linux user, be aware that Canon do not supply Linux drivers, so before investing in a scanner, do check the Linux SANE list to see whether it is supported (the 8400F isn't, even though it does have Mac support, I believe). The other downside with these methods is that they are slow.

A dedicated film/slide scanner is much faster but I've never been able to justify the cost for a single function device.

Finally, if you have many thousands to do, it may be worth getting a quote first from one of the commercial firms that undertake such a conversion, preferably one that doesn't send them overseas!

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Split your order
Jan 13, 2017 6:29PM PST

When sending film for processing, I always split my order (part of the film one week, part the next) so that a factory problem did not destroy all the film from an event or trip. Good practice when sending pictures or film for 3rd party scanning. If the order is lost, going or coming, you haven't lost everything.

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color slides
Jan 14, 2017 11:42AM PST

Does this work for color slides in their holders?

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I really got scared when I found film scanner dying out ...
Jan 7, 2017 4:25AM PST

I started out witha flatbed scanner many years ago - it connected via a parallel printer port - USB hadn't been invented yet (nor had 'all-in-one' office printer/scanner/fax machines). That worked well for printed photos and other documents. But I always felt that in order to get the best out of my slides and negatives I should get me a film scanner. And I did. Yes, it was rather slow and the resolution at 2700 dpi seemed oky but not quite up to Kodachrome or fine grain b/w film. Plus it only handled 35mm material. Then my Windows crashed. And I found out that the driver that came with the SCSI adapter that came with the scanner (USB still hadn't been invented) wouldn't install on my Windows 2000. Correct - I had installed it on Windows 98 and then later upgraded the machine to Windows 2000. Did I have to now install 98 just to install teh SCSI driver and then migrate up to 2000 again - or ratehr straight to XP, which was current at the time? Newer drivers? Forget it! So for a while I had no working film scanner. When I searched for one on the internet I panicked, since the species seemd to have died out. Second hand only, on ebay? And what about drivers then? At least the remaining units all had USB.

Then I needed a new flatbed scanner and found that there were current models that had a transparency facility (light in the lid) - but would a scanner made for a letter or A4 size page be doing justice to a 35mm slide or negative? Actually yes. There are scanners out there that do 9600 dpi (mine is a Canon 9000F) and that is quite allright, thank you.

And where the 2700F would scan one slide or negative at a time, the 9000F handles two film strips or four framed slide at a time (or a length of 60mm film - somewhere upwards of 2 inches for the not-so-metric part of the world.) Plus, the scan cycle is a bit faster, too. Unless, that is, you use the scratch and/or dust buster feature of the software (which, however, eats a bit of sharpness, but then, you could keep your material in great shape and you wouldn't have to worry about any of this ...)

(To the proponents of the 'all-in-one' equipment: I have one opf those, too, but only use it to scan documents to PDF files, mainly when I need to scan a stack of pages at a time. These units are not made to scan film.)

And, yes, there are also situations where using a digital camera (in or out of a smart phone) is the way to do things. A single photo that I find somewhere or complete photo albums that I photograph a page at a time. Then I can either crop single photos out of the pages or edit the pages a bit and send them to a photo finisher that will print the whole album for me - any number of copies and technically at a better quality than the original - or even in a different format - bigger or smaller, whatever may tickle my fancy.

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Flogging a dead horse, sorta kinda.
Jan 7, 2017 2:55PM PST
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Ah yes, we did cover this topic previously in 2013...
Jan 13, 2017 10:41AM PST

Thank you finding and bringing that up, richteral. 3 years past and there are probably a lot more efficient, new technology, or discovered methods by our member to make this undertaking less painful? You're into photography and digital cameras, right? Have you found new tricks or tips you can offer your fellow members on this topic? If you do, we'd love for you to share them. We'd appreciate it.


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Greetings, Lee!
Jan 15, 2017 6:13AM PST

"...there are probably a lot more efficient, new technology, or discovered methods..."

Not that I would know of. The principles of the process remain the same, which is why they are exactly that - principles; they will remain so until there is a paradigm shift in technology. It will be a watershed event, and everyone will become aware of it in very short order since there is currently nothing like a big box wherein one would dump all the prints, negatives and/or slides, press a button, go to bed, and in the morning, voilà - magick!

As you will know best, the thread above that I have referenced is fairly voluminous and comprehensive. I find it useful to the point that, from time to time, I revisit and check up on the wealth of information provided in those four pages. The current enquirer would be well advised to do likewise, otherwise I would not have bothered providing the link. Frankly, the only thing that would have moved on are the scanner model numbers (my Canon is ca 5 years old, to provide a yardstick on that point).

Waiting for a breakthrough? Sure!

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Some tips from CNET How To staff
Jan 13, 2017 5:28PM PST
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Issues with dust
Jan 13, 2017 5:52PM PST

I use a Canon 8800F flatbed scanner with an attachment that came with it. It's easy to do the physical scanning, but it is VERY HARD to keep the dust off the negatives. I wipe them each time and use a lens brush before loading them into the adapter, but no matter what I do, dust always seems to end up in the images.

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Labor of love for posterity
Jan 13, 2017 6:01PM PST

I bought a Plustek 8200i Slide and Negative Scanner, and scanned every 35 mm negative and slide (thousands). This went fairly rapidly. I sent old, old larger format negatives and all pictures I could find to a professional lab (Scancafe) that advertises all of the time. It would have taken eons to scan every photo that I have spanning 75 years .They did a bang up job. I also sent them all of the 8mm films I could find to the same lab with excellent results. I was able to digitize with an easily attainable gadget that hooks up between your computer and the player. the VHS, Betamax, and smaller digital formats laying around the house in multiple places.
Everything, after digitization, was then put on a dedicated server (Plex) so that it is available to my children and grandchildren.
At least going forward, everything will be digital from the get-go!

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Don't forget backup
Jan 13, 2017 6:04PM PST

Just in case you haven't already done so please make a backup copy of that Plex server that contains all your photos.

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High volume scanning
Jan 14, 2017 6:23AM PST

@drbruce2 I, too, used ScanCafe for a very large job that would have taken eons. We had SLIDES, inherited from my husband's father. It took me several weeks just to go through those and glue together dried out cardboard slide frames for scanning. We sent photos and negatives, too. No organization to what we got back on the CDs, but I can do that.

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How do you digitize film negatives and photos today?
Jan 13, 2017 6:11PM PST

I have about 2,000 35mm color slides that show a lot of family history over a period of almost 92 years and I want to digitize them for my children and grandchildren. I haven't tried THIS YET, so I do not know how it WILL turn out, but I think it should work well. I have tried just about everything else, including an Epson Perfection V300 flat bed scanner with a photo slide attachment, but have not been satisfied with the quality of anything that I have tried to-date..

I have a Kodak slide projector and, when I find the time, I plan to project the slide images onto a basically white wall (or a projection screen) and snap photos with my digital camera (on a tripod of course). I expect it to go rather quickly (because the slides are all in carousels) and to give me better quality than I have gotten with the other methods that I have tried.

Once I have them digitized, I will create slide shows of them.

If someone has already tried this, I would appreciate hearing how it turned out.

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Tried and failed
Jan 13, 2017 7:34PM PST

I tried projecting slides onto a wall and taking photos of them. It simply wasn't as good as scanning the slides on a flatbed scanner with a slide slot built into the lid of the scanner.

I spent 3000-5000 hours scanning photos and slides, and creating an family tree to sort out who was in the photo. I also tagged every photo with the names of the people in the photo.

Had i sent the photos out to have them professionally digitized it would have cost a fortune. Doing it myself was a labor of love. The project completed and I've moved on.

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Using a Projector
Jan 13, 2017 7:49PM PST

Fuggedaboutit! It's better than nothing I suppose, but the resolution will NOT be good enough for decent prints. If you value your slide pictures, either buy a dedicated scanner or send them to a company like ScanCafe. If you look for promos you can get it done at a reasonable cost. Life is too short to spend it all on converting 2000 slides. I do photos myself on a flatbed but leave the slides and negatives to others with the right equipment. ScanCafe claims to do software-based adjustments as part of the service, although it doesn't work perfectly on all slides. You might want to redo the few where you don't like the results yourself. I started out with the projector approach but wasn't satisfied because I wanted the capability of printing selected photos at 8x10 size. If posting pics on Facebook is good enough for you, then anything is OK. Keep in mind your end objective and choose accordingly.

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Using a projector - bad idea
Jan 14, 2017 6:53PM PST

We use our Epson Perfection v370 scanner. Then import them into Photoshop Elements (current version is 15). But the real thing to remember is that if you take a picture with your million megapixel camera it may actually make it look worse, by emphasising all the imperfections. You can correct some things with software, but in the end a not very good picture will not look like a great picture.