Guide To Scanning Slides And Prints

How to get the best results when scanning negatives, slides and prints, and the do's and don'ts of scanning.

|  Film Cameras and Film
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Words and images by ePHOTOzine member paulbroad

Paul Broadbent

35mm FP4 negative, scanned at 3200dpi. Check on contrast. Scanning can increase contrast and thus lose tones in white and lighter colours. Pentax Me Super. 70/210 Series 1 Vivitar.
Some professional photographers still use film and scan the images to obtain digital files. Many people, not just long time keen photographers, have stacks of old prints, slides and negatives that they would like as digital files. The answer is to scan them.

You can get scanning done on the high street, but beware, it can be expensive and is sometimes not very well done. You are better off, especially if you have a lot of images to scan, to do it yourself. If all of the images to scan are 35mm, then probably a dedicated film scanner is the best way to go, but if you have prints of 35mm and larger format as well as old negatives, look at the current crop of higher quality flatbed scanners with slide/negative scanning hoods.

If you go for the flatbed option, and I advise it for home use, then you must be prepared to buy a good one. Towards the top of the range, an Epson or Canon is the way to go, but you can do very well with something like an Epson V500 (2012) at about £150. It will do everything the V750 will do for a third of the cost, but will not be as fast or have all the batch scanning functions.

If you are scanning for home use with a bit of semi-Pro work, the cheaper option will probably be good enough. If you are a full time Pro - or intend to be, you will be better spending a bit more.

Paul Broadbent
4x4 cm, 2/14 square colour slide on Fujichrome. Scanned at 2400dpi. Yashica D TLR on tripod. Be careful that larger format film does not bend causing focus issues and Newtons Ring interference patterns. If your scanner has negative/slide holding frames, use them.

Before we look at the method a bit closer, there are a few general do's and don'ts:

If the originals are badly exposed and un-sharp, they will be worse when scanned. You can improve tonal range and colours, but there are limitations.

Make sure the originals are fully cleaned before scanning. This saves a lot of time retouching dust later, and don't rely on 'digital ice' systems to remove all dust and scratches for you. They work, but reduce resolution and increase scanning time per image by three or four times. Clean prints with a soft static free cloth. Clean negatives and slides with a cloth and use a blower brush to remove new dust just before the scan. Clean the scanner glass regularly.

Before doing hundreds of scans, do some tests varying the scanner software settings. You can do a lot in the scanner software with sharpness, tonal range, colour etc. However, it is usually better to set most things to minimum and correct later in image processing software.

Modern scanners will be capable of optical resolutions up to and greater than 5000 dots per inch. What setting you use depends on the size of the original and how big you might want to use it. Say you want an A4 print. A 35mm slide is 1.5 x 1 inch, so to get an 11 inch print you should scan at about 3300 dots per inch (DPI). This is based on the fact that a high quality magazine glossy image is at 300 dpi. You can actually just about get away with half of this resolution for home use. Thus, if you are scanning a 6 x 4 inch print, you need to set about 600 dpi to get a file large enough for a top quality A4 print.
(Do not confuse scanning resolution for printing with the resolution that your printer actually prints at - that is very much greater than 300 dpi. See the section on printing.)

Paul Broadbent
Black and white print. Scanned by reflected light at 600dpi. For same size reproduction of prints, scan at 300dpi, if you may wish enlargement, increase scan resolution. 600dpi will allow a 20x16 inch print.

35 mm

For 35mm, and bearing in mind the comments above on resolution, you will need to set a high value for your scans if you intend to print the results. Even if you only need small prints for internet use, I would scan at a level to produce, at least, an A4 print. This then gives a file you can reduce in size for other purposes, but if you do ever need large output, there is no need to scan again.

Image quality is better on a file reduced in size than it is on one that has been increased. Increasing file size causes the software to make a guess at the colour of the extra pixels it adds. Not a good idea. If your scanner offers 'interpolation' to get much bigger file sizes, avoid it. It is making a guess at extra pixels too, and decent imaging software is usually better at that than scanning software.

Dust and hairs on the scan look terrible and can take an age to remove. Many scanners have software called 'Digital ICE' in the suite. That is to remove dust, hairs, damage etc. Be careful with it. It greatly increases scan times and works with a general softening of the image - often to an unacceptable degree.

Scanning colour and mono slides increases contrast. Do tests before any serious batch scanning to determine standard set up values that suit you. You may need to reduce contrast, and it is wise to keep scanning sharpening to a minimum - doing any sharpening later in editing software. I set sharpness to minimum, and leave all other settings off. I might set dust removal to the minimum rather than off if the originals are dirty.

Paul Broadbent

4x4 FP4 black and white. Scanned at 2400 dpi. Yashica D TLR on tripod. Converted mono scan to RGB and sepia toned.


It is often better to scan even a monochrome negative on the scanner colour setting. You then get an increased range of tones to work with, but a much larger file size. Again, experiment. Use either the colour negative setting, or black and white. To be fair, the B&W setting is usually quite adequate, much faster and a small file size. If you later wish to tone the B&W image you will need to use Duotoning, or convert the mono file to RGB.

You will find it best, if you intend to batch scan, to pre-select the images in sets of similar content. That will make the scanner software more likely to get each image close to correct. Don't have a portrait and a landscape in the same batch.

Scanning colour negative film is interesting. Most colour negative films have an orange mask to aid printing, but these masks vary with manufacturer. When you set 'colour negative' in your scanner software, it will probably ask you to identify a film type to help with the conversion. If your type does not appear, select 'generic'.

The other scanner settings are as for 35mm above, minimum or off in most cases. Watch contrast levels. If in doubt, reduce the contrast and correct later. If the contrast is too high on scanning, detail will be lost in highlights which cannot be regained.

Medium Format and Larger Negatives
Medium format or larger transparencies or negatives need less enlargement and are easier to handle. Most decent flatbed scanners come with carriers for different film sizes or slides. There will also be a facility to lay the film directly on the glass. This can work well, but beware of finger printing the glass, and clean it regularly. Watch out for Newton's Rings as well, which are shapes on the scan which should not be there due to the film touching the glass and causing interference patterns.

Paul Broadbent
645 medium format negative. Scanned at 2400dpi. Mamiya 645 1000S, 80mm lens, flash fill. Be careful with such shots. The UV from the weld arc can permanently damage the eyes. I had my back turned and eyes shut when I released the shutter.

Flatbed Scanners

For most photographers, a good flatbed scanner will do the trick. Be prepared to spend about £150 and make sure the unit has a film scanning hood.

Modern flatbed scanners have extremely high resolution levels and very high quality lenses in the better versions. Those available for £50 or so will be quite good enough to scan prints and documents, but a serious photographer should be prepared to pay a little more.

Much of what has been said for specifically scanning 35mm applies here for all formats. Cleanliness and software settings for example - the glass plates of the flatbed must be cleaned regularly and with care - make sure not to scratch them! Scanning prints and documents should only require resolutions up to 300dpi for same size reproduction. They only need more if the final image is to be an enlargement. Set the scanner for reflected light scanning for prints.

Scanning 35mm will require the best that the flatbed can do to maintain quality, but the back lit hood system will also allow the scanning of larger slides and negatives. Remember to remove the foam/plastic plate that protects the scanning hood glass before selecting transmitted light, which turns on the hood light. If you forget, you will get a totally black scan. (I've done this before!)

A good flatbed allows you to scan most film sizes. Look at the dimensions of the original and what your final requirements are, then decide the scanning resolution. A 6x6cm negative or slide from a medium format camera will produce a very satisfactory file scanned at 2400dpi. You need not always use maximum settings.

The scanner will come with a series of mounting devices to fit under the hood to hold the various types and sizes of film as mentioned above. Store these carefully - you need them and they can break and get lost easily.

If you are scanning film, make sure it is flat. The holders supplied are designed to assist, but the depth of field is minimal and it is possible to have part of the negative sharp and part blurred if it is not flat in the mount.


Scanning is only of major use to a photographer with a lot of existing film and print material. It is useful to budding professionals who may be asked to work with old images, or for simply scanning documents to retain on computer as records.

I scan, then print out copies of car and travel insurance on light weight paper to put in my wallet rather than the originals. I scan all important documents to file and keep them safe.

Key Points To Remember:
1. Keep everything clean. Saves lots of retouching later.
2. Do tests and remember the results, especially for batch scanning. Be careful of contrast increase.
3. Keep scanner software settings to a minimum. Correct later in image processing software.
4. For batches, keep image types in sets.
5. Never use interpolation, only actual optical scan resolutions. Scan to the highest resolution necessary, but don't over do it.
6. Experiment before committing hours to large projects. You will regret it if you don't!

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I recently copied my treasured collection of 35mm Kodachrome 25 and Fujichrome 100 slides which are over 30 years old and now have the pleasure of digital files which I can crop and retouch on my own PC.
I copied them on a Soligor Zoom Slide Duplicator,attached to my Nikon D800! So I now have 36mb Raw files which I can 'Play' with until my hearts content!
I have managed to produce some wonderful A3 prints on my Epson printer

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paulbroad Plus
12 131 1285 United Kingdom
That is another way to do it. Results will depend on the quality of the lens built into the duplicator. In my experience you get good, average and bad. If you get a good one, great, if you don't, quality will be impaired. You need to show an image and it would be nice to upload your best. Quality can be in the eye of the viewer as the critiques section often illustrates.

I had a soligor duplicator and used it with film. The results were quite adequate, but not to magazine reproduction standards. May have got an average lens.

I then built my own set up using good 1:1 macro lens, slide holder with white diffuser at the back and a flash as light source. Once set up and calibrated it was entirely reproduceable and worked well. Just a bit fiddly.

Certainly something to look at if you only have a couple of hundred images to copy, or odd ones occassionally.

@ redken60 and paulbraud
I confirm that this method works quite well. My solution was made of a Kaiser repro table, my Nikon D700, associated with a lightbox powered with an Elinchrom flash unit. The results with slides demanded a serious réduction of contrats . More délicate is the post production of the color négatives. One possibility I've found is to make first an auto white balance on the rim(mask) of the négative, then inverti and finally adjust the contrats and color balance of the final positive. Has anybody a better workflow?

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