35mm Film Scanner – A Tool for Preserving History

35mm Film ScannerIt is only within the past decade that photography has shifted en masse from film cameras to digital cameras. While digital cameras have changed photography forever, there are still many photographers, architects, medical researchers, and professors who have collections of thousands of slides and negatives they have amassed over the years. Not only do those film products contain priceless information, if they were to be destroyed by fire, theft, or simple aging, they will be lost forever. However, with the help of a 35mm film scanner, they can be made into JPG files that can be copied, duplicated, modified, and even stored online to preserve them indefinitely.

Digital 35mm film scanners that also function as film slide scanner can be purchased for as little as US$100.00 to as much as $1,500.00. To use these devices, you place a negative or slide into a holder on the scanner, then basically push a button. The scanner makes a scan of the slide or negative and converts it into a digital image. It is like using a photo slide scanner except that 35mm film scanners have focusing optics so as to get a high quality image from a small slide or negative. Most of these devices come with imaging software for image adjustment, resizing, or cropping. And, of course, once the film product is converted to digital form, it can be manipulated with digital image processing software like Adobe PhotoShop, LightRoom, and Google Picasa.

Clearly, your needs, wants, and budget will influence the 35mm film scanner or the 35mm slide scanner you choose. If you are an art professor with an irreplaceable collection of slides that you used in teaching for 20 years, you will want to get the best quality scans you can for them. But if you want to preserve some of your favorite childhood vacation snaps, you can probably get away with spending in the $100 to $200 range. With the low-end 35mm film scanner or a slide transparency scanner, you will most likely need to use PhotoShop, Picasa, or other processing software to get the images just right. While most of these negative film scanners work with Windows operating systems, not all work with Macs, so if you’re a Mac user, check that out up front.

The Nikon Super CoolScan 5000 ED, which costs $1,200, is an example of a high-end 35mm film scanner. Its optical resolution is 4000 dots per inch (dpi, just like in printing), and it comes with advanced image processing for scans of color negative film. The scanner can be loaded with 50 or so slides, then can be left to work automatically after setting the resolution. At this pace, it isn’t unreasonable to scan 200 slides per day. The automatic slide loader gives it the convenience you need for scanning large numbers of slides, and its optics are excellent: even detail in shadowy areas is reportedly better than expected. This model’s main drawback is common to all 35mm film scanners in that it occasionally jams, but jamming is reportedly rare with this model.

At the other end of the price spectrum, the Wolverine F2D costs around $100. It does not claim to be for high quality scanning. The software and installation of this model is reported to be easier than other scanners in this price range. It consists of basically a 5 megapixel CMOS camera with a fixed focus lens and white LED lights to illuminate your slides or negatives. Exposure and color balance are chosen automatically. Therefore, scans of good negatives will come out better than scans of ill-exposed or unfocused ones. For best results, processing with PhotoShop or similar will be necessary. Straight from the scanner, the images are reported to be dark with color balance favoring reds and browns, but this can be overcome with PhotoShop. This machine is another good choice for scanning large numbers of slides or negatives.

There are massive numbers of film slides or negatives that contain vast stores of personal and other history that simply can’t be replaced, and for these products, photographers are increasingly interested in conversion to digital form for posterity and for safety. In the choice of a 35mm film scanner or slide scanner, it is very important to be aware of what you’re getting up front. For $100 or so, you can get a competent film scanner that will do an adequate job on large stores of negatives or slides. For many home photographers simply looking to preserve memories from decades past, who are willing to do some post-processing, these machines are fine. However, for preserving archives of historic or otherwise very valuable slides and negatives, then a high-end 35mm scanner like the Nikon Super CoolScan 5000 ED will be a more satisfactory choice.