How to “scan” film using your DSLR and process it in Lightroom

Sep 15, 2016

John Aldred

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.

How to “scan” film using your DSLR and process it in Lightroom

Sep 15, 2016

John Aldred

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.

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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.

YouTube video

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.

YouTube video

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.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

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.

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9 responses to “How to “scan” film using your DSLR and process it in Lightroom”

  1. right_writes Avatar
    right_writes

    Thanks for this…

    I previously read that it is necessary to use macro, to get close… take multiple shots and then stitch together…

    But perhaps that is still the case if one wants to achieve maximum quality. Perhaps this is just about perfect for an old glass plate, but a top quality modern negative from large, medium or miniature format high quality modern cameras might require this approach?

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Whether or not you need a macro will largely depend on the size of what you’re shooting, and how close you need to be to get it all in the shot.

      If you’re shooting 5×4 large format sheet film, then you may be able to get by without one. If you’re shooting 35mm or medium format, then you almost certainly will.

      But, if you don’t have a dedicated macro lens you could always try a set of cheap manual extension tubes. You can pick those up on eBay or Amazon for under $20.

      If you’re in the market for a good macro lens though, and don’t mind spending a little money to get it, both the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G and Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lenses are excellent.

      If you want to save a little money, and you shoot with Nikon, you could get the previous generation 105mm f/2.8D micro-nikkor. It’s about half the price of the more recent G lens but just as good if you don’t need VR. I use the D version. I bought it before the G existed. I’ve never missed VR on it as I’ve always either got it on a tripod or I’m using it with flash anyway.

      Or, there’s the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro which, again, is about half the cost of the current Nikon & Canon 105/100 macro lenses.

  2. Laurent Roy Avatar
    Laurent Roy

    buying a decent scanner (I use a “HP Scanjet G4050”) would be less expensive than buying these… :-(
    Of course, I’m an amateur, and a pro would maybe need an even better quality ? dunno…

  3. J.L. Williams Avatar
    J.L. Williams

    I’ve used this technique to digitize 120 rollfilm, and in my casual tests I get better detail than I do with myflatbed scanner, and it’s much faster than my desktop film scanner. One under-appreciated advantage: The camera approach uses a diffused light source, so “grain aliasing” isn’t as big a problem as it is with a dedicated film scanner.

    The following is an early Tumblr post I wrote about my experiences. Since then I’ve refined my setup by using a bellows and an enlarged lens, which I bought used at a local camera sale for $20 total.

    http://jlwilliams-us.tumblr.com/post/113653952842/using-the-olympus-e-m5-mk-ii-as-a-film-scanner

  4. chatt Avatar
    chatt

    A simple way to align a camera for “scanning” photos of film, photographs, etc. is to place a mirror on the “scanning” surface. The camera will be aligned when the reflection of the lens in the mirror is centered in the camera image.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      That’s a great tip! :)

  5. fs999lux Avatar
    fs999lux

    A V550 or V600 costs less than 300 €. With better results at 3200 dpi !

  6. Assaf Cohen Avatar
    Assaf Cohen

    Ruthie Amano

    1. Ruthie Amano Avatar
      Ruthie Amano

      Woww!!!!