Earlier this week I promised a "Quick Guide To Negative Scanning" and here it is. If you are not interested in negative scanning please feel free to skip this post altogether, it won't score high on entertainment value. If you are into negative scanning already, I apologise for the various shortcomings in this description : it is merely my way of doing things and better approaches may well be available.
WHY SCAN NEGATIVES?
I tend to scan negatives because for most of my pre-digital life I developed my own black and white films and therefore had a full catalogue of negatives but just a patchy collection of prints. Even when I used outside processors to develop colour print films I would keep the negatives, and I also built up a substantial collection of colour slides. I haven't owned a slide projector for decades and therefore the only way to access the colour slides is by scanning them and turning them into digital images. You can also potentially get far better quality digital images by scanning the original negatives rather than scanning subsequent prints : but beware, you not only enlarge the quality, you also enlarge the dots and scratches. You may therefore need to spend some time digitally restoring some of your old images.
CAN'T YOU JUST SCAN THE NEGATIVES?
You could simply place the negative on a normal flat-bed scanner but the results will be very poor indeed because for negative (or positive slide) scanning to work properly you need the light to shine through the negative rather than just reflect off the surface. therefore you need a scanner that has a dedicated negative scanning function.
There are several of these on the market and they are not prohibitively expensive. I use an Epson Perfection V500 Photo Scanner which handles both 35mm negatives and slides and 6x6 negatives because I have a considerable collection of the latter. There are cheaper models in the Epson range than will just handle 35mm formats and these are perfectly adequate for most situations.
HOW DOES NEGATIVE SCANNING WORK?
The negatives are positioned on the scanning surface using a plastic mount system. There is a light source built into the lid of the scanner that is positioned above the negatives when the lid is closed. Once the scanning process is started the light will track along the length of the negative strip giving you a high quality scan.
Negatives can be scanned in strips or individually. The software that comes with the Epson range allows you to expose and scan multiple negatives at a time - my scanner for example will scan 12 35mm negatives, or 4 35mm slides, or 2 6x6 negatives at one time. The scanning time will depend on the scale of the digital image you are intending to create.
If you are working with 35mm negatives or slides, the original size is, of course, rather small and therefore you need to build in an element of enlargement into the scanning process, otherwise your final digital image would be too small to manipulate. With 35mm negatives and slides I normally crank the resolution up to 2,400 dpi in order to have an image I can crop and manipulate once it is in a digital form.
You can do some basic editing and correcting on the scanning software itself, although you may prefer to do a fairly straight-forward scan and then do any corrections and adjustments using your favourite editing software. Be prepared for those dust particles and blemishes however, you will have scanned and enlarged them in the process and you will need to get rid of them by careful editing.
I hope this will be useful. If you have any follow-on questions, let me know and I will try my best to answer them. Let me finish with one of the images from the strip of 35mm negatives I used to illustrate this guide (it is the top negative in the first illustration).