Nonstandard negative scanning
March 21, 2005 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I have inherited approx. 100 very old family photo negatives, many of highly nonstandard sizes, some non-square (seem to be hand-cut with scissors, perhaps), etc. I started scanning a few and fell in love with them not only as heirlooms but as Americana--they're dynamite. But I'm getting lost when I try to figure out how to get the lot safely & archivally hi-res scanned. [MI]

I've done some quick reading about DigitalICE, found out it will work for chromogenic C41process B&W but not traditional silver halide. From there on, I'm lost; don't know how to ID exactly what I have. I'd also love to find a provider, particularly (but not necessarily) one located in Minnesota (handing over these negatives will be nervous enough, without mailing them to boot) who could handle the scanning for me. Any recommended tools or vendors? Dankeschoen!
posted by clever sheep to Media & Arts (12 answers total)
BTW, yes, I've been watching discussions about particular scanning equipment (e.g., Coolscan 4000) and sites. Guess I just need more hand-holding to connect the dots!
posted by clever sheep at 3:21 PM on March 21, 2005

I take it you're in the Twin Cities? There's a professional photo lab called Procolor in downtown Minneapolis that would likely be able to do the scans. It costs $$$, though. I don't have much personal experience with them, but they have a fairly good reputation from what I've read on

Scanning it yourself would be a very iffy proposition, if they're nonstandard size. Even 35mm scanners are very expensive, and medium-format even more so. And judging from what you're saying, they may not even be medium format.

If they are MF, any lab with a Frontier 370 (I think that's the correct model number) with a MF scanner attachment should be able to make high-quality digital scans.
posted by neckro23 at 3:31 PM on March 21, 2005

I don't have any real solutions since I don't know what exactly you have, just to say that if you have any glass negatives, NEVER touch the image with anything. It ruins the image irrevocably.

If these are antiques, I would suggest calling the Met, as they now have the most important photography collection in the world.
posted by scazza at 3:38 PM on March 21, 2005

stating the obvious, i guess, but please remember to keep these carefully, even after scanning. chances are that, many years from now, the digital files will become corrupted, lost, or simply unreadable due to media obsolescence, while the negatives themselves will continue to function.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:49 PM on March 21, 2005

If you want to archive the negs in order to *preserve* them, any handling will reduce the value of the information on the neg. So I'd figure out from a photo-conservator (maybe at a local museum?) what sort of negs they are, and what the correct preservation procedure is for archiving each type of neg. Archiving itself will not necessarily involve any scanning/handling fragile negs.

If you want to archive in order to *see what's on them* maybe you could get some professional archival quality prints made from them, again perhaps by a conservator. Start with a contact sheet, maybe? Then you'd have a set of prints, and you could very easily scan the prints themselves for a personal archive, sending to friends/family, etc. This might be easier than trying to locate a scanner for unusual format negs. FWIW, the local photo stores here charge an arm and a leg for high res scans just of plain ol' vanilla 35mm and 120 stock. And also, they can be idiots sometimes.
posted by carter at 3:55 PM on March 21, 2005

i wouldn't get them drum-scanned, but flatbed--bending would be a problem for things this old. You can do it yourself--a few each weekend.

Or you might want to find a photo student with a good scanner to do it for you--it'd be cheaper than a pro place, and give them spending money.
posted by amberglow at 4:13 PM on March 21, 2005

P.S.: Are these people useful?
posted by carter at 4:17 PM on March 21, 2005

The first thing I would suggest you do is get a pair of gloves for archiving photographic materials and then put the negatives in archival sleeves. I use PrintFile sleeves. Another firm that sells archival materials is Light Impressions.

The next question is if you want to scan them yourself or if you want to pay someone to do it. For the latter, I don't know where you live. If you are in a place with a professional photo lab I would suggest you visit the lab (after you put the negatives in archival sleeves) and discuss it with them.
posted by dclawyer at 4:25 PM on March 21, 2005

It'd probably be easiest (and cheapest, despite scan prices) to have someone do this for you. Call a few professional photo labs. They'll be able to get past the silver halide issue and will likely have ways to scan MF negs and any other oddities you have. If you can't figure out who to get ahold of, try calling some portrait studios -- they can point you in the right direction. So can archival departments in museums, and they'll be happy to help you figure out how to have things digitized.

Under no circumstances hand any of your goodies to a lab that shares a building with a pharmacy or is in a mall. That's asking for it to get ruined.

I swear by PrintFile neg holders for storage. They are excellent, and they come in more sizes than any one person could possibly need. I'd also suggest that you have proofsheets printed, when you get everything scanned. You can put those into plastic sleeves in the binder with your negs, and it'll make it easier to know what images are where.
posted by cmyk at 4:48 PM on March 21, 2005

Is it particularly important to you that you keep the physical negatives? Depending on the contents, I bet you can find a culture/folklore/art library collection that would love to have them- and would probably give you digital versions of the negatives if you asked nicely.
posted by bobot at 5:46 PM on March 21, 2005

Thanks for all the advice so far, everyone -- I'm learning a lot!
posted by clever sheep at 7:52 PM on March 21, 2005

You should contact the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). They have some pretty serious rocket scientists types who know EXACTLY how to keep things around for 100 years, how best to convert things from one media to another, and what standards should be used for storage and conversion. No kidding. Rocket scientists. Or... like... records scientists... Ha!
posted by ewkpates at 11:19 AM on March 22, 2005

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