Practical guide to archival film scanning


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The negative holders provided with the 9000F are complete rubbish, I had real trouble getting good results until I got a holder from

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Depending on the volume of your backlog, and the negative format, it might be worth a proper dedicated negative scanner.

Flatbed scanners are, to put it politely, ‘value oriented’ devices as a rule. Not all of them are ocular sandpaper with terrible drivers(the others are optically adequate with terrible drivers); but they tend to be pretty middling in quality. Plus, since they are aimed at 8.5x11 or larger targets, however much imaging silicon you buy is being stretched across an area much larger than a negative, and thus mostly wasted(if it’s an A4/letter size unit, you are putting a 36mm wide target on a ~216mm wide imaging area. If it’s an A3/legal unit, the imaging area is ~300mm. You are only getting results from a fairly small slice of your sensor.)

You probably don’t need a humble Hasselblad X5 (never mind the $20,000 price tag, feel the three peltier-cooled CCDs!); but even fairly modest film scanners have the advantage of putting all the silicon you paid for on the target, plus the convenience of being mechanically suited to processing film, rather than having to babysit it onto a flatbed in batches.

If your job is too modest to justify its own hardware, you might also see if an area photo shop would be willing to sell you a block of time on something nicer than you could justify buying.


I recently bought a used V750 on Craigslist to scan a bunch of 3.5x4.5" family B/W negatives. It’s worked just fine. I might concur that a newer dedicated negative/transparency scanner might be better for 35mm, but this V750 runs circles around my very old Nikon LS 2000 35mm scanner.

I always scanned without the holder on there. Those holders are pretty awful! The ones you linked look a lot better, though.

I guess I wanted to target people with a LOT of unsorted negatives here. Once you know what you have and can look through it on your computer, it would make a lot of sense to go scan the best ones professionally. Not all negatives demand that kind of quality.

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I’d like to pass along my very high regard for VueScan, an excellent scanning app for both Mac and Windows.

No matter what scanner you have – even if you haven’t used it for years because you no longer had drivers – the odds are that VueScan will support it. It’s inexpensive, even if you get the pro version with unlimited updates like I did. (Edit – you’ll need the Pro version to scan slides and negatives.)

The link will do a better job describing it than I can here. The standard caveat applies; I have no connection to the company, and no financial interest. I just think it’s a great tool, and have used it for many years.

I am a luddite, and this scanning of negatives strikes me as kind of crazy as far as primary storage goes:

I have negatives that are over 60 years old that I can lay my hands on and get prints made from, if needed.

I defy anyone to give me examples of digital media dating back to the earliest available formats from the 80’s or 90’s that they have not had to migrate from one computer or storage medium to another over the years, always with the risk of screwing up somehow. Storing in a cloud: will the provider be there in 10-20 years and allow you to export your data if they go bust?

I realize that my negatives are subject to earthquake. flood, fire, and other acts of God. I think I will take my chances there rather than in digital format Might use scanning as a backup, but I probably have a better chance looking at the negatives in an envelope than I do getting the data off a 20 year old floppy disk…

I agree there are searching tools to manage and curate your collection that make digital collections a plus, but for sheer longevity and stability, I’ll put my B&W negatives up against anything else for now.

The Library of Congress is pulling its hair our over trying to store and curate the digital formats in use in the federal government as few as 15-20 years ago. Can’t find computers to run the programs or read the media. Old programs go boink on dates past 2000, Closed source programs source code was never released when the companies went out of business, so people trying to read the formats have to reverse engineer, if they are even allowed by law to do so.

I guess I think the digital world is way too much in its infancy to commit your personal history to it.

Grumpy Old IT guy for 30 years

Terrific article - chock full of good stuff! Many thanks, indeed.

I have a closely related question: in our closet are about thirty shoeboxes of photographic prints. Yes, I can go through and scan each picture on a flatbed scanner (just mistyped ) I guess it’s around 10,000 photos.

A glance at commercial phto scanning services suggests it’s about 8 to 40 cents/photo

Any suggestions on photo scanners (preferably with auto feed?)

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There’s also the low-cost method of a lightbox/diffused flash and a camera:

Perfect timing! I was looking for a scanner to exactly scan some of my mom’s old negatives.

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I still develope my own black and white films and I totally agree with you. Vuescan (proVersion) is the only scanner-software which can save the digital unmanipulated raw-output of (multiple) scanners (even under Linux, if scanner is supported). Converting the Rawimages with Photoshop-fu skills or gimp gives me very stunning results compared to the output of some “Instant-software” of the scannermanufacturers.
It takes some time to find a “own workflow” but it is worth…

I’m struggling with this at the moment too, although I’ve got 10 years of digital photos, close to a TB, spread over several computers and backups. Aperture and iPhoto insist on keeping everything in a database, and that database has become quite messed up lately (40,000 of 80,000 photos in one Aperture library are missing the originals); I’m trying to work out a better way to store photos. I used to just keep them all on my laptop, with a backup or two, but now there are far more photos than will fit on anything but my old macbook pro with two hard drives.

I was looking at a Drobo or something like that, but now I’m leaning towards a regular old PC with lots of drive bays, plus external drives for backup. It’s hard to keep the bit rot at bay though.

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Do you have any advice for scanning slides? My dad has a bunch of them from when he was in the Navy.

It’s not surprising that file formats and media from the old days are difficult to read. It’s more likely that today’s formats (JPG, TIFF, etc.) will be readable in 100 years since there are just so darned many files out there. As for dead media, that’s what the cloud is for. Just use several providers to guard against any one of them going belly-up. As with anything else, there are no elimination of risk, just reductions in risk.

I’d say it is more likely that negatives will be found in a readable condition. What will your great, great grand kids prefer to find in the attic, a dead SSD / hard drive / cloud account that would have been unreadable by any current computer even if it was working, or a box of slides and negatives they can see and convert into current formats?

Drobo is good, external drives are good. I use a regular old PC with two matching 2TB externals (working and backup) and then send it to the cloud.

I’d highly recommend dropping Aperture and moving over to Lightroom though, given Apple’s discontinuation of it. You can also wipe the slate clean, put all your images on the hard drives and import them all at once to Lightroom, thus finding everything again.

Dean - It’s far easier to use a DSLR to take B&W shots of the negatives while they are on a backlit piece of opaque material. I used a florescent fixture on a table, 1/4" opaque Lexan propped up above it, and then splayed my tripod to allow enough distance from the end of my lens (set to 15mm focal length). I was processing 4*6" glass plate negatives, and I simply prefocused for the shots, inverted them in Gimp, and then cropped, touched up, etc. So much less of a pain (& faster) than using a scanner.

How about some of both?

Higher quality too, my scanner does a 6mb file. My camera makes 23mb with a much higher resolution.

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