Looking To Make A Positive From Many Negatives
November 9, 2008 10:12 PM   Subscribe

[PhotographyFilter] Recommendations for an affordable negative scanner?

I have hundreds of 35mm film negatives from when I was an avid photographer in the 90s. Most of them are black & white, but many are colour. I'm looking for the shortest, most affordable path to getting high-quality digital images from them.

Am I right in thinking a negative scanner is my solution? Can I get a decent one for under $300?

Bonus: I also have a bunch of really old negatives my grandfather gave me, and they're all kinds of different weird sizes. If your scanner can do those as well, I'm interested. But price trumps flexibility here.

(I know this was discussed previously, but I'm assuming that things have changed in the four years since it was posted.)
posted by Bobby Bittman to Technology (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Nikon is basically the only major vendor left in the dedicated-film-scanner market. Their low-end product, the Coolscan V, is about $600. But it will only do 35mm negatives -- nothing larger.

Flatbed scanning of negatives has a justifiably bad reputation. There's more than just shining light through the film, which is about all the $100-level flatbeds do. Their DMAX (dynamic range) isn't sufficient to do film justice.

The exception to the no-flatbeds rule is probably the Epson V700, which is one of the highest-quality flatbeds you can buy. $550 or so, and often much less if you get a refurb unit from the Epson Store online.

While the Nikon might be able to eke out slightly better quality in some cases, the V700 has at least three major advantages:

1) It can handle documents and prints, not just transmissive media.

2) It can handle film and slides larger than 35mm, including medium-format and larger. Sounds like that's what your grandfather had.

3) Perhaps the real 'sleeper' feature -- it can scan up to four strips of negatives at the same time, and 12 35mm slides. This is a byproduct of its flatbed design, true, but it also means that you can "set and forget" a whole batch of items for scanning and processing. Because each scan can take a few minutes, and post-processing a few more, you really have to take into account the time spent advancing the film through the Nikons or similar devices. With the Epson, you can do a whole bunch of exposures in one fell swoop.

Bundled scanner software tends to pretty awful, although Epson's isn't half bad (Intel native for the Mac, and available as a plugin to Photoshop.) Many Nikon, Epson and Minolta owners use VueScan, which works with anything.

Because you're interested in color negatives, you should make sure whatever scanner you buy supports Infrared dust and scratch elimination. This is patented under the "DigitalICE" brand. Nikon and Epson all support it on their pro scanners. (The technique doesn't work on black and white film, due to the interaction between silver halide and infrared light.) While dust and scratch removal may not be crucial if your negatives are pristine, and while it does sometimes involve a small loss of detail, there's no question that it can save huge amounts of time that you would otherwise spend with the clone stamp in Photoshop.
posted by squid patrol at 12:00 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have the V500 and find it to be extremely useful for any negative scans I've thrown at it so far. I picked it up for $150 from Epson's refurb page on their website.

The only caveat that I can think of is the TERRIBLE 35mm negative holder. It feels flimsy and the hinged part that holds down the negative wasn't formed properly on mine. The holder is common to the V500 and the V700, so it doesn't matter which you decide to go with.

That being said, the Epson software has a feature that automatically finds the edges of your negatives (provided the image provides enough contrast to the edges of the frame) and will batch scan with minimal fuss.

Both the Epson models mentioned use an LED backlight instead of a CFL, which means the warm-up time is seconds instead of minutes. It is nice not to have to leave your scanner on for 15-30 minutes to make sure the color temperature isn't going to change on you.

Before you decide on a scanner, make sure it will work with Vuescan or Silverfast. They unlock some serious capabilities that the hardware supports but the vendor-supplied software can't touch in terms of control over histogram output and RAW image output.
An example of this is my Vuescan workflow. I scan in my MF negatives at 2400DPI and save them as DNG TIFF files (similar to camera RAW), then have Adobe Lightroom scan a project folder for images. Because the images are in RAW format, I get much more control over contrast control and recovery. The Epson software only allows me to save in standard formats like TIFF or JPEG. This doesn't matter for quick&dirty scanning, but it does matter if you're looking to make sure your scans are color correct or if you are wanting to make large digital prints.
posted by tmt at 1:46 AM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Nikon SuperCoolscan 5000 owner here.

To answer your questions:

Am I right in thinking a negative scanner is my solution?


Can I get a decent one for under $300?

Nope! But the good news is that you'll be able to make most of that back after you re-sell the scanner on eBay after scanning in all your photos (no point keeping it around afterwards). There are flatbed scanners that would presumably be a lot handier for other things to scan (documents, magazines, etc.) that come with negative attachments, but I haven't seen one that produces results I like.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:57 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just a note: From my limited experience and from reading others...scanning negatives seems like it would be fun and easy, but it's actually slow and excruciatingly boring.

I've heard some good things about this:

but have no experience with them.
posted by sully75 at 9:47 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

My buddy uses a CanoScan 8800F and I've been meaning to pick one up myself for a while. Reviews I've read all say that the image quality is 'good, not great'. To my untrained eye the scans come out just fine. Don't know what sorts of oddball sizes you're looking to scan but it does come with a medium format negative holder. You should find one easily for less than $200.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 11:41 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've recently been scanning an immense amount of slides for a veteran photojournalist, and I have to say that the results I've been getting from the Nikon CoolScan 5000 he has are frankly superb. Even horrible, horrible (for scanning) Kodachrome can come out looking like roses. A really important feature is the use of DigitalICE technology. It's basically infra-red technology that gets subtracts an enormous amount of dirt from the image. The difference is phenomenal, or maybe even beyond phenomenal.

The software that comes with these scanners can be quite varied. I've been using Silverfast, which is both superior to any first-party software I've used. It's a bit maddening and a tad clunky, but the results are great.

They are expensive pieces of kit, but they're extremely high-quality professional level scanners that are relatively fast and hold their resale value very well. If you can afford it, I'd definitely recommend it.
posted by Magnakai at 12:39 PM on November 10, 2008

tmt is correct that the Epson negative holders are nothing to write home about -- they feel very flimsy. However they do seem to get the job done, as long as you're careful with them. The 500 scanner has the advantage of the instant-on LED light, whereas the 700 series has the slower-to-warm-up bulbs. The 700 beats the 500 in maximum number of slides/negative strips scannable at one time, I do believe.
posted by squid patrol at 2:36 AM on November 15, 2008

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