BASICS: A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO DIGITIZING
WHY SHOULD I DIGITIZE MY FILM?
Preservation of Quality: Film negatives and slides require specific conditions to prevent deterioration. Optimal temperature is around 68°F (20°C), relative humidity of 30-40%, and the air should be dust and chemicals free. Every time the film is extracted from a climate-controlled storage, there's a chance that humidity will set in, causing potential damage. Digitizing them ensures that the images are preserved in their original quality, eliminating the risks associated with maintaining these demanding storage conditions.
Ease of Access and Sharing: Digitizing film allows you to store and access your images on various digital devices, making it easier to share with friends and family or integrate into digital projects.
Creative Control: Digital copies enable you to utilize photo editing software to enhance or modify the images, adjusting color, contrast, and applying various effects, something more challenging with physical film.
Space Saving: Film negatives and slides require significant physical storage space, climate-controlled atmosphere and meticulous organization. Converting them to digital format allows you to store thousands of images on a single hard drive or cloud service, thereby decluttering your workspace. The originals may be stored off-site.
Integration into Modern Technology: Many contemporary devices and services are oriented towards digital media. Digitizing your film collection allows you to print copies, create online galleries, or use the images in digital presentations and social media, seamlessly integrating your treasured memories into today's technology-driven world.
WHAT IS EASIER TO DIGITIZE - SLIDES OR NEGATIVES?
The slides (aka transparencies) are much more easier to digitize than negatives. When you capture slide image with a camera, you can see the result immediately and can make easy adjustments. When digitizing negatives, it takes from couple minutes to hours before you see the resulting image which should go through so called inversion process with photo editing software. Start your journey with digitizing slides - it will help you understand the process and tools better.
WHY SHOULD I DIGITIZE MY OLD FILM PHOTOGRAPHS?
Your old film photos are precious memories trapped on a fragile medium. Digitizing them not only protects them from the ravages of time, but also allows you to share and enjoy them in a new way.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED TO START DIGITIZING?
To start, you need a digital camera with a good macro lens, a film holder, and a light source. As you get more invested, you might consider a dedicated camera scanning rig. More details can be found below in "What equipment do I need to start digitizing? Can you itemize?" section.
CAN I DIGITIZE SLIDES AND NEGATIVES MYSELF?
Absolutely! With some patience and the right equipment, you can turn your home into your own personal scanning lab.
CAN I DIGITIZE COLOR AND BLACK & WHITE FILM IN THE SAME WAY?
Generally, yes. The same process applies to both. The well exposed color slides are easiest to deal with, black and white negatives are relatively easy to process as well, color negative film is the most complex to process unless you use specialized software like Negative Lab Pro.
Very simple setup based on Nikon slide copier ES1
Canon DSLR, Nikon ES1 Slide copy adapter, Canon flash. The rail is optional and is needed to keep adapter and camera aligned - otherwise adapter would freely rotates around lens axis. Changing slides require certain accuracy and aligning slide mount inside holder is responsibility of operator. That's why this setup make sense only if you scan no more than couple dozens slides at a time.
HOW LONG DOES IT TYPICALLY TAKE TO DIGITIZE FILM PHOTOS?
It depends on your setup and the level of quality you're aiming for. Initially, expect to spend 3-5 minutes per image. As you get the hang of it, you'll get much faster.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED TO START DIGITIZING? CAN YOU ITEMIZE?
To start, you need a digital camera with a good macro lens, a film holder, and a light source. As you get more invested, you might consider a dedicated camera scanning rig. Here is some details:
HOW DO I MAINTAIN THE QUALITY OF MY PHOTOGRAPHS WHILE DIGITIZING?
The key to maintaining quality is proper alignment, even lighting, and sharp focus. Good software helps, but being skilled in basic image correction helps a lot.
IS THERE ANY PREPARATION REQUIRED BEFORE SCANNING?
Yes, clean and carefully prepare your film to get the best possible scans. Use a soft brush or air blower to remove dust. Wear thin knitted cotton gloves. Handle your film by the edges to avoid fingerprints. It’s far easier to remove dust physically now than digitally later on! Use PEC12 and lint-free paper pads to remove fresh fingerprints or smudges. Never use any water-based cleaning solutions on film. Small scratches on base (shiny) side may be "healed" with nose grease (nasal sebum) - but be really careful with that.
HOW DO I STORE DIGITIZED PHOTOGRAPHS?
Store your digital images on a hard drive, and consider cloud storage for an extra layer of protection. Professionals go with 2+1 rule: two copies on premises, one copy off premises. Decide in advance if you are going to store the initial scans or keep the processed and cleaned-up files only. 16 bit TIFF with LZW will make it easy to re-edit file if needed. Don't forget to organize images in a way that makes a good sense to you! There are certain books around (like https://thedambook.com/ ) solely devoted to proper image organization.
HOW CAN I ENHANCE THE RESOLUTION OF DIGITIZED IMAGES?
The actual resolution (size in pixel) will be set once camera trigger is pressed. The aim of all subsequent steps is to avoid deterioration of image quality. Generally speaking, use a good lens, ensure your film is flat during scanning, and digitize at the highest resolution your camera can handle. Post-processing software can further enhance the perception of the images, but not the resolution.
HOW CAN I PRESERVE THE ORIGINAL FEEL OF FILM IN MY DIGITIZED PHOTOS?
It's all about careful editing. Don't overdo it. Aim to preserve the original contrast, colors, and grain. The goal is to emulate the film, not erase it. Play with different film simulation modes in software (say in Nik plugins) to learn what makes "film look".