Digitizing negatives at home takes time, patience, and curiosity

The darkroom has this mysterious pull when it comes to photography. Maybe it’s because of the lure of the darkness and quiet, or that life and surprises are revealed when film is developed… whatever the reason, developing old-school film can be a lot more rewarding compared to automatically seeing photos taken with a digital camera. There’s still active communities interested in developing film, like one I found called ZebraLabs in Geneva.

Early this year, I bought a new/old film camera and wanted to see what I could do with my rolls of film. Originally I thought of creating a darkroom in my apartment, but realizing the cost, chemicals, and wife’s disapproval, I decided to see if it was worth the effort to scan developed film at home.

I found plenty of resources online that showed how to scan film for free. The main thing was to have a decent scanner – there is plenty of choice that range from $100 to $25,000. Rather than fork out the cash for a dedicated film scanner, I thought I’d try scanning my negatives using the scanner from my HP A3 all-in-one-printer/scanner.

One thing I realized when scanning is that that in order for the negatives to show when scanning, I needed an external light source to illuminate the negative. I used the Softlight app from Duddel Labs and placed it on top of the negative before scanning. The result is below.


As you can see, what the scanner picked up was the “negative”, and that’s why film is actually called negatives. With the negative digitized, it was pretty easy to reverse the scan to turn the negative into a positive. I useda simple solution from the Adobe Forums on how to do it with Lightroom which led to…


In the below image, I’ve placed the scanned photo from the photo lab (left) side by side with my scan (right) as a comparison. While my image came out the way I wanted, as you can see, there’s a big difference. For one, there’s no color in my image because color film actually requires a bit more work to develop. Second, the quality of my scan isn’t as clean as the one from lab. Overall, the exercise was useful in understanding how much time and effort it takes to digitize color film.

My takeaway from this? Invest in a dedicated film scanner or pay the lab to develop and scan film… unless you have the time, patience and curiosity to do it yourself! Also, I’m going to shoot only B&W with my film camera.


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