Scanning your Film Negatives

Quality Fine Art prints from film negatives begin with high quality, optimized digital files. We approach the process of scanning as a craft in order to achieve high resolution, archival digital files.

There are 3 methods of scanning film that we recommend and use in our studio. Each process differs in their quality and efficiency, but all follow the same editing flow to achieve exceptional fine art prints.

Film Scanners: Flextight X1 Scanners

Dedicated film scanners are typically able to produce a higher resolution scan of your film negative. This method takes a little longer as they usually scan individual negatives one by one. However, the resulting digital files maintain an optimal balance between file size, and the amount of information contained in the files themselves.

While scanning, be sure to turn off any of the scanner’s automated color adjustment settings. This will ensure that your digitized negative is of the highest quality, while providing optimal flexibility during the editing process.

Flatbed Scanners

Flatbed Scanners can be used for scanning multiple film sheets at a time to create contact sheets and previews. The common misconception about this process is that it yields quality scans due to the larger file sizes that are produced using this method. Since the primary design of this tool is for large flatwork it is not ideal for capturing all the qualities of a piece of modern film. We recommend it only for proofing. The very large files and scan resolution are misleading due to efficiency loss in the optics and light path.

Since this system is for proofing only, allowing the scanner to auto adjust may be acceptable to allow for quick and dirty index images. The resulting scans do not provide enough quality for fine art prints.

Digital Camera

This method is evolving at a fast pace. It’s becoming a viable alternative to the traditional scanning process and can yield sharp, consistent and efficient digital files. Currently, only the most expensive digital cameras and special macro equipment rival an Imacon scanner. The cost and complexity makes this solution better suited to large scanning projects where there are hundreds, thousands or millions of pieces of film to be scanned. The file size of these digitized films are typically more manageable because the digital cameras married with good macro optics can be very efficient meaning you get lots of resolution and color quality with every megapixel of data. We have tested solutions using 80 Megapixels (MP), 50 MP, 39 MP and 20 MP, and are excited about the possibilities even if a turnkey solution is not on the market yet.

Overall, the resulting digitized file should accurately replicate how the film appears in reality. One of the key things to keep in mind when scanning, is to forgo any auto correction settings while scanning. Once the film negative has been scanned with these settings applied, it is irreversible and cannot be undone during the editing process.

Our studio will be hosting a Seminar on this topic on Wednesday January 27, 2016.  

Spaces are limited so make sure to RSVP to