Scanning a Film Negative With Standard Scanners

If you have a slide or a film negative that you want to convert into a digital image, you should consider the option of using a standard scanner to do the job. Many people do not automatically think of using a standard flatbed scanner to do a job like this, and it is true that specialized tools exist that will do the job for you, but if you do not want to purchase a new piece of hardware and if you already own a standard scanner, it is something to consider. Below, you will find the steps you will need to take to effectively scan a film negative to a digital image. With a little patience and attention to detail, you will be well on your way to completing this project.

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Computer
  • Flatbed Scanner
  • Transparency Adapter
  • Film Negatives or Slides

Step 1: Understand the Mechanics

If you understand the way that scanners scan images and film negatives, it will make it easier to understand how to use your flatbed scanner to scan film negatives. Scanners typically work by bouncing light off of photographs or documents. A film negative, however, is transparent and will not allow light to bounce off. In order to scan a film negative into a digital image, therefore, you will need a specialized device known as a transparency adapter. A transparency adapter works by creating a separate light source behind the film negative that allows the scanner to "see" the image as a photo instead of a negative.

Step 2: Attach Transparency Adapter

Some flatbed scanners come equipped with a transparency adapter that can be clipped onto the inside lid of the scanner before scanning a negative. In other cases, external transparency adapters that incorporate mirrors into a triangular box may be used to project the image of the film negative onto the scanner bed. Depending on which type of transparency adapter you have purchased, you will need to install it in different ways. Consult the owner's manual for your transparency adapter to attach the peripheral.

Step 3: Scan Slide

After attaching the transparency adapter to your standard scanner, insert your film negative into the device and scan each negative or slide according to the manufacturer's recommended procedure. Transparency adapters are made in different sizes and can accommodate anywhere from 1 negative to an entire sheet of negatives depending on the model. Using a standard flatbed scanner, you can expect to achieve quality results somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200-2000 dpi depending on how nice your scanner is.

Step 4: Touch Up Images

The results you will achieve using a standard scanner to transfer film negatives into digital files will be of a lower quality than if you had used a specialized device built to perform the same job. As a result, your scans will typically benefit from a healthy dose of touching up using a program such as Photoshop. Use photo editing software to adjust the color and brightness of the images you have produced, and to adjust the light and dark contrast of the images.


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