Thursday, November 3, 2016

Option for Scanning Negative Film (with comparisons)

I'm here to show you one negative frame scanned three different ways. One was done by a pro lab (FIND lab in US), another image was scanned using my printer/scanner (Canon MP980) alongside Vuescan and the final image was using my DSLR.  Both of the last two methods, also used Photoshop and Lightroom for colour, exposure and contrast corrections.

Can you pick which is which?

First I would like to say, I think they are all passable scans and I'd be happy with any of them.  Things I noticed was the middle scan had more contrast and lost some details in the shadows.  The bottom scan was the softest and they all had slightly different colours.

Okay want to know which is what!

1) The DSLR scanning method - which you can read about here Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3
2) The FIND lab - a lab I highly recommend with great customer service
3) Using my MP980 flat bed scanning and Vuescan program - which you can read about here Part 1 / Part 2

DSLR method / FIND LAB / Scanner + Vuescan

I thought it might be useful to also point out some pros and cons of each method :)

DSLR Scanning Method

Cons / Expensive set up, if you don't already own most of the equipment.  There is also some building involved if you want to make your own copy stand. Even though Lightroom and Photoshop choose the white balance with an auto select, you do have final say in colour and contrast, which may be a plus or minus whichever way you look at it.  It's also the most fiddly to set up and the method you have to be the most diligent with, making sure dust is minamilised on the scan and everything is level and flat and all the settings are correct on your camera

Pros / Despite the fiddly set up, once you have the set up "scanning" your roll of negatives is super quick and you're not limited to different sized negatives.  If you have a local film shop develop your roll or if you do it yourself this could mean you have your film processed and scanned in a very shot turnover time. Obviously once you have your set up, scanning your negatives is free.

* good option if you want quick scans at an affordable price and you want to make the colour/exposure/contrast choices


Cons / Overall the least cost effective in the long-term as you have to pay for postage of your film there, the scanning fee and then if you want your negatives returned, a further postage fee.  For myself in Australia, this definitely becomes a con but would be substantially cheaper for someone in the US, or finding a pro lab in your country.  If you opt not to pay extra for express shipping and rush fee you could be waiting weeks for your scans back as well.

Pros / Trust in a professional doing your scans.  You can also state on your order form (for FIND lab), whether you want, warmer, neutral or cooler for colour, brighter, neutral or darker for exposure and high, neutral or low contrast.  With the other two methods you need to make the edits on those finishing touches yourself (again this could be a plus or minus depending on your perspective).  Apart from filling out the form, sending the film and opening up the digital files on completion, there is substantially small effort on your part.

* good option if you want to put your trust in a professional to make the colour/exposure/contrast choices and you want to spend less time scanning and editing.

Printer/Scanner + Vuescan method

 Cons / Depending on your model you may be restricted by film size - my Canon MP980 can only scan 35mm film.  Vuescan also takes considerable time, especially because you want to do at least 3 passes (scans) to create a higher quality scan. Like the DSLR method you also have to choose your own, colour, exposure and contrast (again maybe a pro or a con depending on your outlook).

Pros / The cheapest-long term method

* good affordable option if you already have a printer/scanner and you want to make
the colour/exposure/contrast choices

Other Methods
Have a local lab do your processing - you'll save on shipping and hopefully have less waiting time.  The lab could potentially be lacking the expertise that comes with using a pro lab and you also give up control of choosing your own edits.  The plus side is a local lab could potentially be substantially cheaper then a pro lab.

High end film scanner - the most expensive option, which ruled it out for myself but it may be a consideration for someone else.

If you are a film kid, let me know what method you use and why in the comments, I'd love to know
Personally, I'll be sticking with the DSLR method but I'd happily use a pro lab or my printer/scanner for a back up option as well.


  1. Great to see comparisons! I use pro lab all the time but I am very curious about doing it myself. Your set up guide would be useful if I ever get around it!

    1. definitely pros and cons to both sides but nice to know there are options :) :)


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