How to scan negatives and transparencies

Man scanning 35mm film negatives using a scanner

Instant cameras aside, film may seem like an outdated format. However, digital SLR photography has only really been with us for around 15 years. So if you were bitten by the photography bug back in the days of film, chances are that there are dusty boxes filled with your old prints, negatives and slides tucked away safely somewhere.

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They’re no use there, so why not give them a new lease of life by scanning your slides, negatives and old photographs, and converting them to digital images? Once you’ve created a digital clone on your computer’s hard drive, you can keyword and catalogue them, share them, and of course edit them like any other digital image.

From film strip to hard drive, here's how to scan your dusty slides and negatives into digitally backed-up files.

Scanner setup

First you're going to need to set up your scanner. We’re using

, which is especially designed for scanning negatives and slides. It’s bundled with SilverFast 8SE software, which also works with a wide range of other manufacturers’ scanners. 

You can download a 30-day free trial of the software from Silverfast (or apply the basics of this tutorial to your other scanner software).

The best film scanners

Be selective

Scanning can be a long process, so don’t scan out-of-focus or poorly exposed shots. Be picky and find your noteworthy prints in advance of starting. 

If your film was developed in a minilab, the frame number may be printed on the back of the shot, to help you identify the negative you want. 

If scanning slides, hold them up to the light (or pop them on a lightbox) to see which make the grade.

Right way up

You’ll need to ensure that the film is correctly oriented, otherwise the scanned images will appear upside down, flipped left-to-right, or both. 

To check, hold it to the light and make sure that any text – like the make and type of film – reads correctly, and note this down. 

Handle negatives by the edges and don’t touch the surface. If dirty, clean them with PEC-12, a specialist emulsion cleaning solutions. This is best applied using PEC Pads, a lintless disposable cloth. Both are made by Photographic Solutions.

Start scanning

Carefully place your negatives into the supplied caddy, lining up the individual film frames with the cut-out windows – our caddy allows strips of up to six frames (though minilabs typically cut them into strips of four). 

Insert the caddy into the scanner, and push it firmly until the first frame clicks into place. For each subsequent scan, simply push it in for another click.

The scan settings

The easiest way to get started is to click SilverFast’s ‘Workflow Pilot’ icon, top left. Change the Source drop-down to Negative. For the Task drop-down we selected Archive. 

Click the Start icon, then keep Multi-Exposure on to extend the dynamic range of the scanner. A prescan shows a preview. You can arrange the image area by moving the red scan outline. 

Set the size

The default Scan Dimensions are set to 1/4 size, which scans the image at 1800dpi. Scanning at Full Resolution (7200dpi) gives best quality, but takes longer and more hard drive space. 

Select the film type under the Negfix option, for us Kodak Gold ISO200. Tweak the Exposure and Tolerance sliders if needed, and click Continue to scan and save your hi-res image.

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