Digitising Film Negatives


What is the best way to convert 35mm negatives to digital, without losing out on quality?

Answer by: Gurinder Osan, Photo Editor, Press Trust of India

Someone asked me, “How do you judge the image from negatives?” “View them positively,” I replied. That’s what we can do easily now with digital technology. There are many ways to do this, some professional, and some DIY. If high volume is your concern, then a professional scanner designed for this purpose may make sense. I am more of the DIY kind.

I built my setup using a tripod mounted with the Nikon D850, along with a 105mm micro (set at near 1:1 magnification for 35mm negatives), pointing vertically up to a darkroom enlarger above. The enlarger bellows were extended to cut glare, and obviously, there was no lens, as I was using the camera’s lens. The camera’s vertical alignment and centering is critical, so extra effort here is useful. The film, colour as well as B&W, is blown clean of dust, and placed in the negatives tray of the enlarger, as though making a print, except the camera is now my ‘paper’. The enlarger has to be raised or lowered, till the negative nearly fills the frame viewed through the tilt screen. Touch focus and touch shooting is also handy.

The D850 gives accurate conversions of a C41 processed negative, but only in JPEG format. One can shoot in the RAW format too, and then run the file through the various post-production softwares designed for the processing of negatives. The advantages offered by DSLRs includes the ability to shoot in the RAW format, good dynamic range (when set at the lowest ISO), HDRs by exposure bracketing, and speed. I also did some large format negatives, as my enlarger can accommodate the size, else one can do it by placing the negative on a light table (if not on the white screen of an iPad) and shooting with the camera pointing downwards.

PS: The resolution for most analogue lenses/films was benchmarked to an approximately 22MP result, so high resolution on the digital sensor may not offer a great advantage. Using the cellphone is an option too, and there are many hacks online.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Better Photography.