If you have a choice, scanning negatives or slides is always preferred over scanning photo prints. By scanning the “originals” (film) you will get a much better image than if you scan the “copy” (print). The only downside to scanning film products is that it can involve a bit more work.
If you plan to scan your slides or negative with a flatbed photo or slide scanner, below are a few tips to consider. These tips should help you get better scans and hopefully improve the speed of the process. It is better to take the time up front to plan out your scanning runs than realize after many hours that you made a mistake. If you are using a simple slide converter, some of these tips may not apply. Instead, check out my page on slide converter reviews.
Negative and Slide Scanning Tips
1. Sort Slides by Quality and Theme
If you have a lot of slides or negatives to scan you don’t want to just scan through them quickly and be left with an unorganized mess later. If you can organize your slides by some sort of theme (year, holiday, vacation) then you will be able to organize the files for easy retrieval later.
Another consideration is the quality of your slides and negatives. Anything that is damaged or dirty may need both extra cleaning and extra processing during the scan. It will be easier to get the “easy ones” scanned first (the ones that don’t need much intervention) and save the more difficult items for last so you can take your time with them.
2. Determine your optimal scanning resolution
Slides and negatives require a much higher resolution when scanning than photo prints require. This is because they have more detail to capture and because their small sizes require more enlargement for viewing and printing. If you simply want to convert your slide to digital images for archiving with no plans for print enlargements, you can save yourself some scanning time by going with a lower resolution.
But if you plan to do more with your slide scans or anticipate some restoration work, then a higher resolution will benefit you in the long run. A resolution of 3000 dpi is a good starting point for scanning any film product if you are unsure. Just realize that the higher the resolution, the larger the image file size and the slower the scanning speed.
3. Clean your slides and scanner
It is always a good idea to make sure your scanner is clean before starting a scan session. Carefully wipe down your scanner bed with a lint-free cloth before you start.
Cleaning your slides or negatives is also important, even if that means you just remove any dust with a can of compressed air. You can also gently wipe your film with the lint-free cloth. Damaged or very dirty slides and negative can also be cleaned with film cleaner when all else fails, but save that as a last resort if you can.
4. Do a test run with the scanner
If this is your first time scanning film, then do a few test runs and play with the settings. Check your image outputs and see of you are happy with the results. This is a good time in particular to play with the resolution setting and see what will give you the best results without producing unreasonably large files.
Most slide scanners will have the ability to remove dust and scratches from your scans, a function which some people like and others don’t. Make sure you pay attention to these settings and see what produces the best images before running through 500 slides. Once you think you have the settings you want, do a timed test run to see how long it will take to run just one set of slides or negatives (one adapters worth). Multiply that by the number of slides you have and see if it is realistic.
5. Choose a file type
Your outputted file type will greatly affect the amount of storage space you will need. Since film products require such a high resolution scan anyway, expect rather larger image files. You can save some space by saving your files as JPEGs rather than TIFF files but you will lose a bit in quality. PNG files are also a good choice if you want to retain quality.
6. Use recognizable file and folder names
If you can be organized with our file naming system as well as set up identifiable folders, you will thank yourself later. If all of your scans are simply labeled scan1.jpg – scan1000.jpg finding your slides from the family’s Christmas trip to Disney Land won’t be very easy. If you were able to organize around themes prior to scanning, use those themes to also name your files and folders. Including years in your file names is also very helpful.
7. Think about file storage
Depending on the number of scans you generate and the quality/resolution you choose, you could end up with a storage issue. If you don’t have enough room on your computer’s hard drive then consider a secondary storage system like an external hard drive. But even if you have enough space on your computer it is a good idea to still have a back up copy in case your hard drive crashes and is unrecoverable. In addition to an external device there are also online storage solutions.
8. Organize scanned slides by order
After you scan your slides, try to organize them in a slide box (or negative holder for negatives) in the order that they were scanned. If you were a little hasty in your bulk scanning and later find a slide that you would like to re-scan, it will be much easier to locate in you have scanned items organized.
After all the work of scanning is complete you can breath a sigh of relief. You can then begin editing and digitally restoring your collection as you see fit. Depending on the number of slides you have, this can be a long and tedious process. But if you plan ahead and do it well, the effort will be more than worth it.