How to “scan” film using your DSLR and process it in Lightroom
For those that shoot film, developing and dealing with chemicals isn’t usually the biggest hassle. Often it’s scanning the resulting film into the computer. Many lower end scanners simply don’t have the quality. Higher end ones, even flatbeds like the Epson Perfection V850 are out of the range of many film shooters. Drum scanners like this Hasselblad are even more expensive. And that’s their cheaper model.
So, what else can we do to digitise our film shots? Well, in these two videos, we see how we can use a lightbox, copystand and DSLR to bring our film shots into the computer. Such a setup can be had relatively inexpensively if you shop around. Or you could pay an absolute fortune for one if you wish. If you’re going to spend that kind of money, though, I still think I’d go with a scanner.
The first video is from PhotoVideoEDU by Kaiser. Kaiser manufacture various copy stands, light boxes, and the “Copylizer” (which is a copy stand with built in lightbox). So, naturally, their video highlights their products. However there are alternatives (which we’ll get to later), and they show how quickly and easily you can inverse the images in Lightroom.
The second video is from photographer Jamie Maldonado. He takes a lower budget approach to scanning his film, but it uses the exact same principle.
Copy stands have been around for decades. Hunting around on eBay will let you pick one up pretty cheap. If you can’t find a copy stand at a price you like, you could also consider an enlarger. Many enlargers are fairly straight forward to adapt into copy stands. Some even have dedicated copy stand attachments. Enlargers are often cheaper because there’s so many more of them out there. Less are being used, so supply & demand drives the prices down.
Lightboxes can also be purchased quite inexpensively, but you will want to try and make sure that it covers a suitable colour spectrum for photography. Many cheap LED lightboxes don’t cover the full spectrum. If you’re just shooting black and white, this might not be an issue. If, however, you’re shooting colour negatives or transparencies, you’ll want it to be right. You could also make your own. We have a tutorial on that here.
I use an Epson Perfection V700 for scanning my negatives. I scan 35mm film at 4800PPI, which gives a resulting image file of around 37MP. With the resolution of DSLRs today, this is certainly a viable alternative now. Ultimately, it’d probably be a much quicker alternative, too.
Do you photograph your negatives with a copy stand or other rig? Or do you prefer to use an actual scanner? Are you thinking about giving this a go now to see how it compares? Let us know what you think in the comments.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.